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Instructions for Successful Family Road Travel

Our family just took a terrific trip to Chicago, both a summer vacation and a distraction for our 8 year old from her gigantic cast and limited summer activities. I could tell you all of the fantastic parts of our trip, but it’s more fun to tell about the parts that my friend and I called “making memories”. Because without these moments it all would have seemed too easy right?

Instructions for Traveling long distance in the Car and Visiting a Big City

Traveling in the Car: Make sure your children have not taken a road trip in at least two years. That is plenty of time for the 6 year old to forget that there are distances further than the local library. “Are we there yet?” will start before you’ve crossed the county line, fifteen minutes into the four hour drive (part one of the two day trip). It helps that you yourself cannot stand riding in the car for hours, knocking your start level of patience down to  a 7.

How to stop at Cracker Barrel: Since you don’t take regular road trips, your children will experience their first trip to Cracker Barrel. Unknown to you, you’ve picked the location with the employee who’s personal agenda for the day will be to follow your children around the store. At first she’s polite and comments on objects your family should buy, twenty minutes later she’s very close and very quiet, eyes narrowed for a better view. The two year old picks up very cute, breakable, animal objects but lucky for you she’s distracted just in time with unwrapping a giant roll of smarties and depositing the large pink disc into her mouth. The security guard/biscuit maker missed this incident as she dealt with other newcomers, so you hurry to the counter to purchase the stolen candy. You get the kids outside finally and just as you settle into those cute rocking chairs, a bus from the juvenile detention center unloads onto the porch. You decide your Cracker Barrel experience is complete and head back on the road.

Arriving at Your Destination: Two days of traveling is finally drawing to a close as you look at the GPS and see 20 short miles remaining. A phone call from your friend reveals tornado sirens and her entire family is in the basement. You look up from your GPS to see a collage of lightning strikes, alive against a horizon that is now the color of imminent death. What can you do but keep driving? You arrive and your child with an arm cast gets inside without getting wet.  Your husband, who carries an amount of luggage equal to a small U Haul, is not so lucky.

Traveling on the Train: You leave the house without enough time to stop by the bank and get money for tickets. Frantically you borrow your children’s souvenir money (which is contained in cute girl scout wrist purses), which your husband holds in his lap until the train attendant comes by for your fare. The train attendant looks at the pretty wrist purses and then at your husband with pity and then with a wink says, “Your children are all under seven right?”. And off to the city you go.

Visting the Field Museum: You’re pretty sure that visiting a large museum with your two year old should be as much fun as going to Disney World with the same age child. You also feel the trip will be a success if you don’t lose any of the six children in your party. You strap your two year old to your back and only let her get down to refuel with snacks from the museum bakery. Four hours later you slide your toddler off your back, count the children, and call the trip a success. You climb into a taxi feeling relieved (your back does, at least) and settle in for the ride which will take three times as long as the cab to the museum, but you don’t know that yet. You enjoy a deep breath.

Traveling on the Train, the return trip: Congratulations, you’ve purchased tickets with your debit card at the end of your last train ride to avoid hocking your children’s souvenirs for travel money on the return trip. However, you’ve left an hour late from The Field Museum, taken a taxi is rush hour traffic and arrived just in time to run (all nine of you) to the train. The train starts moving as soon as you get the last child on, and then you proceed through one car after another (all nine of you) looking for empty seats. The electric doors will try to close on your children as you move into the next car, and the cars will sway frantically as you start to imagine a stunt from Indiana Jones (with all nine of you). “We’re making memories!” you shout at your friend who is 5 children and one car ahead. You walk past all of the weirdos and serious businessmen who look completely uninterested in moving their briefcase for your six year old to sit down. Eventually everyone gets seated. You only have one hour and one poopy diaper left to go.

Time to Go Home:  As a seasoned traveler (the past week has given you a confident sense of road experience) you climb in the van for a smoother trip home. You only have five hours to drive for leg one, and you anticipate the best. At 6:30 you arrive at your hotel to find a party in the parking lot of the hotel, one of the jovial gentleman bears a shirt which causes you to turn your head quickly. The hotel room doesn’t feel clean and you can’t imagine waking up to the hangover party people in the breakfast room and another day of traveling tomorrow.

Finally: You confer with your husband and agree to drive on home. General logic suggests your children will fall asleep and you’ll arrive home near midnight. But you laugh because you know better. All four stay awake until you’re thirty miles from home.

But still, you see the dark silhouettes of the Tennessee hills and you’re glad to be home. And you’re glad for all the memories that traveled with you.


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