Living Spontaneously: Losing my travel companions

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Pit stop at the fastest place on earth.

After a rough week of being sick and then dealing with the devil more than usual during a shortened work week, the weekend loomed like a colorful piñata.

The potential was palpable, but I would have some convincing to do.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we used to pack the kids up on a whim and drive to Mexico for spring break.

The first time we did it was after a particularly rough quarter at college. I wasn’t completely convinced I was doing the right thing, and the stress was eating away at me.

I discovered we had $1,000 leftover from student aid that could be used for living expenses , and at that point in time, I needed to do some living.

We put our two young boys in the back of our 1994 Ford Ranger (by back, I mean the extended cab folding seats) and booked the cheapest hotel we could find near San Diego, which was more than a thousand-mile drive from Salem.

It was $300 for the week, and we could park and walk across the border to Tijuana, where we would go for margaritas and tacos in the evenings after spending our days on the beach.

After a week of sipping pineapple juice and coconut rum, eating seafood off the pier in Imperial Beach and playing with the boys in the sand, I was healed and ready to return to my studies.

We did that all four years of my university career, and they were some of the best vacations I can remember.

When I started working as a journalist, vacations were subject to the pecking order, and senior reporters were able to take spring break off, while I worked with the other cub reporters to cover their beats.

Over the years we learned to take spontaneous vacations when we needed them most, whether they fit our schedule or not. More often than not, we just pulled the kids out of school and took off for some place with warmer temperatures or a different point of view.

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a spontaneous vacation, due in part to the kids being more involved in school and sports.

Absences count more in these days of incessant testing, which means Cheryl and I do day trips when we can, but we rarely get out with the family any more other than a well-planned summer trip.

I’ve watched the tensions boil over after this long and arduous winter  to the point of too much bickering and not enough perspective.

On the way home, while stuck in a monstrous Friday afternoon Chicago traffic jam, rather than going all William ‘D-Fens’ Foster, I resolved to call a family meeting and propose an impromptu vacation. 

I’ve been sensing that the days of carelessly wandering the countryside with our kids in tow might be coming to an end. My oldest will be sixteen next week, and he can’t be convinced to do anything that involves spending time getting from point A to B, unless it involves going to an all-day track meet halfway across the state.

The other two are still game at 12 and 8, but it’s harder these days, and there is more negotiation involved.

I like to think we run this family democratically, but I still believe in pulling rank when I need to.

This was one of those situations.

And it didn’t go well.

Either I’m losing any ability I had to argue, or my children are as skilled as trial lawyers these days. Either way I’m unable to convince them of the fun of spontaneous vacations any more, it seems, and I end up resorting to half-assed promises like staying at hotels with swimming pools and stopping at souvenir stands.

The first obstacle was my wife, keeper of the financials, and therefore a crucial piece of the plan.

I probably used up all of my persuasive juice on her while at our customary Friday night date at our local martini bar.

But it worked, and she agreed that we could do an overnight trip with the possibility of a second night, depending on the level of fun and relaxation had by all.

Fresh off my first victory, I returned home with a well-rehearsed speech (mumbling to myself on the five-minute-drive home) in my heart.

The next, and arguably more difficult to convince, is my oldest boy, so I hit him in his interest points – sports.

“We’ll stop by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the University of Louisville and Churchill Downs on our way to Kentucky, son, and then we’ll spend a day exploring the largest cave system in the world,” I said.

“I don’t want to go,” he replied, which is his standard reply any time I bring up going on a trip.

Rather than appealing to his secondary interests, I should’ve appealed to his primary interest – driving.

He needs 50 hours of driving before he can get his license.

But I got caught up in my role as dad and chief decision maker.

This resulted in a very heated argument that went nowhere.

Later, as I lay in bed thinking about our interaction, I realized that the first time I really fought my parents about going on a road trip with them was spring break in 1993.

I was slightly older than my oldest is now, but I had a new girlfriend at the time, and I desperately didn’t want to be away from her for a week in Canada.

For the first 400 miles, I thought about sneaking away at a rest stop and trying to hitchhike home.

But I couldn’t work up the courage to do it.

So I sulked the entire trip, likely making it miserable for my folks and my siblings.

When I woke up this the morning, I opted not to force him to go. I’m not sure why exactly, other than maybe my own experiences colored my decision some how.

But I missed him all day, especially as my middle boy and I tried to catch up on March Madness action during fuel stops and once we got to our hotel.

I miss having all of us in the same place and experiencing things together.

Transition is tough, there’s no way around it. As much as I love spontaneous trips with my family, I know that they will drop out one by one, and I will be left alone with my favorite travel partner.

That’s not a bad thing, but it makes me a  little sad when I think about how much remains to be seen and how much better it is with them around.

Still, I’m encouraged by the fact that although I once hated trips with my family, I found my need and love of them again when I had my own family.

I hope that my kids continue this tradition with their children some day, because there is nothing as good as hitting the open road with your favorite people hoping for adventure and new experiences.

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