We made such a trip this past summer. Winding our way from south central Texas up through vast empty plains, large cities, more vast emptiness, rolling hills... and then finally the woodsy, stretched-out places of central Illinois.
This trip was one that we made feeling the pressure of an impending deadline: we needed to make it for a wedding, so we had to make the trip in no more than two days. We also were pinching pennies, so we stayed at the cheapest hotel we could find at the halfway point.
We did a ten hour day... and arrived at one of those scaryish economy hotels that are parked next to a freeway, surrounded by a field of busted cement and rows of semis. The rooms all face outward to exposed walkways. Ramshackle diners stood at the far end of the hotel parking lot, and the whole feel of the place was dismal. When I went in for our key, I was informed we were on the 3rd floor. Which meant trucking the kids and all our things up, up, up three flights of stairs. (And then make the trip back down, down, down for every random thing we'd forgotten in the van). However, as we climbed the metal stairs up to our room, all I could hear was our kids' excitement. Whhhatt?? We got to sleep all the way up here? SOOooooo cool!! Whoooaaa! Look how far we can see!! This is sooo awesome!!" And I thought, "Yes. Why not?" And, when it turned out that the hotel was noisy and stinky, I again tuned into what my kids were expressing... And they were expressing nothing. No frustration, no disgust. And I thought, "Yes. Why not?"
The next day we got on the road as quickly as we could. We wanted to put the next 8 hours behind us. About an hour out on the road, we felt the warning wobble of the van--and within minutes our rear tire was flat.
Even in this flat tire though, there was beauty. It happened early in the day, so the July heat that was ramping up still was at a lower temperature. It happened yards from an exit ramp. The exit ramp led to an abandoned gas station with the gas station free-standing roofs, which provided shade for Rey to work on the tire. The gas station was gutted, graffitied and overgrown with tall grass and weeds. An abandoned van was left parked outside it. There was broken glass littered everywhere. And again, I tuned into the kids. "What an adventure! Oh, my gosh! Why do you think this gas station is empty? Why did noone what their van? Hey, let's break rocks with a hammer... Hey--look over here...!" And, then I thought, "Yes. Why not?"
Rey put the spare tire on the van and it got us another hour down the road to a Walmart, where we were able to purchase a replacement tire. The wait was around 2 hours. But, we were in an air conditioned place. With food for lunch. And a toy aisle to distract. No complaints from the kids.
That day stretched into infinity. We started and ended the day in that van. Our planned 8 hour drive turned into an almost 12 hour ordeal. Yes, the last couple hours--driving in the dark down unfamiliar country roads--were hard and plain awful. I felt suspended in some horrible dream at certain moments... but, upon arriving, Rey and I looked at each other so very pleased. So happy to know that there is a way to go through hard and yuck and not turn on each other. Not make bad worse.
I don't think it was by accident that the book I had along with me for the ride was Shauna Niequest's Bread and Wine. It was definitely one of my top favorite books that I read in 2015. Among the many things I took away from the book was this thought:
I found in my phone a note a made during the trip, and it was so good to go back to it. I wrote:
Often, the attitudes that need adjusting in any given group are the attitudes of the grown ups. The children are often happy to be happy, to be in the moment, on the journey. Their first reaction to many new experiences is a natural awe, joy & sense of adventure. I am finding out that more and more, the best thing I can do is follow my kids' lead. Their need for interaction, connection, time. To tune my rhythms more finely to theirs seems the greatest thing I can do. To not be so consumed and frustrated by how they are not fitting into "my plan" and "schedule", but learning to gracefully bend into their lack of future-controlling. I am learning to more quickly yield my plans to their needs; to give honor to their ideas and dreams; to live life's full joy in the moment that is--not squelching it by wishing it was something that it's not.
Have you seen this to be true? That often we can be taught so much about right attitudes in life if we see the situation through our child's eyes? It's amazing how many "horribly annoying inconveniences" can melt away when we just don't take it so seriously and choose to find the joy even in (maybe especially in...?) the unplanned.