Thanksgiving! Christmas! The beach! The mountains! Families have lots of reasons to hit the road, and Rocket City Moms and Dads are no exception.
I am proud to say I have a family of true road warriors. When it comes to settling in and turning the crank, I will put my wife and boys up against anyone. More than once, on the way back from the beach, we have driven from the Bates House of Turkey in Greenville (that’s exit 130 on I-65) to our driveway non-stop. That’s just under 227 miles.
Funny thing, though: I remember it being such an ordeal going to see my maternal grandparents when I was young. Yet Google tells me the door-to-door distance was only 287 miles. Above I’m bragging about my family pulling nearly 80% of that in one shot. Part of it is that they’re great travelers, but that can’t be all of it. So what’s the difference?
I am not allowed to pack the car. I have not been allowed to pack the car since 2003.
For one thing, Lea is usually comatose before we get to the highway. (Actually that was true of my mother too.) Ah, but my boys also sleep. That I can recall, my sister and I never did, even when we’d leave really early in the morning when it was still dark. Sleeping passengers are great allies when you’re making good time, and I actively accommodate them. (It’s a tactical blunder to have to stop for gasoline when everyone is asleep, for example.)
For another, the speed limit is significantly higher. Back then, it was 55 miles per hour, and you could run 62 or so without attracting police attention. Those numbers are 70 and 77 now, respectively. That cuts an entire hour off the trip. Set the cruise control on maximum boogie, and you can be sitting in the Gulf in less than six hours.
Our traveling arrangements are also more luxurious now. Mom’s Buick wagon was not a small car, but we were all still pretty much right on top of each other. There is more separation — more personal space — in a minivan. (Sadly, there is not quite enough to prevent a kid kicking the seat. To be fair, it generally only happens once, and a single reminder that such is not tolerated is usually enough.) We also have the magic of portable DVD players now, and though Lea and I are fairly strict about screen time day to day, there are no restrictions on it on the road.
So yeah, the above are definitely factors. You can see how they would smooth family road trips. There is one killer thing I haven’t yet mentioned, though, and it’s the single most important one. The main reason we succeed so wildly as a highway-going family is that Lea is an exceptional planner. She observes. She analyzes. She notes past successes and failures, and reacts productively to them.
For example, I am not allowed to pack the car. I have not been allowed to pack the car since 2003. And men love to pack the car. Jerry Seinfeld did a whole bit on it earlier in his career. “Hey Dad, where does this suitcase go?” “Put it down right there. It goes in some special way that only I understand.”
OK, so I’ve already said that I drive a minivan on these trips. Now I’ve also admitted that I don’t even pack it. Are you cackling at what you perceive to be my emasculation?
Just have your laughs. There are many times during a marriage at which you should pause and ask yourself “do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” This is one.
The male ego is fragile, and it was a minor blow to mine to relinquish packing duties. But Lea has a much better mental inventory of all of the odds and ends to be packed, mostly kid-related, than I do. So she has to redo much less than I do.
So I never spend any bandwidth on it, and I’m happy from mile one in the driver’s seat, rather than having to get to Cullman or so before I’m over my frustration. (I do unload, both at the beach and when we return home.)
Lea also causes things to appear magically in transit—things like a new movie, or chips and water.
That I can recall, neither boy has been carsick in years, but she can still put her hand on a bucket immediately, just in case.
I’m good at driving, both safely and for endurance. I’m good at knowing exactly where we are. I’m good at coordinating gasoline and meal stops, and ensuring they coincide with restroom needs. I’m very good at estimating arrival time.
I stay good at these things because Lea is so good at the rest of it.