My two teenage sons and I started the summer with a road trip. A road trip of the sort that we all both dreaded and looked forward to at the same time. A trip across the entire United States … or at least most of it. Their dad and I had taken our two oldest children on a three week road trip when they were aged three and five. Our youngest hadn’t been born yet. Hearing about that adventure most of his life, he casually threw out one day, “I want to do a road trip.”
I decided this was something I could give him, requiring nothing more than a car, gas and food and hotel money, and time. Lots of time. We would start at their dad’s house in North Carolina, where my daughter was graduating high school, and end at my house in Los Angeles. Once I had plans well under way, I let the boys know we were going to do it. They were not happy.
“I thought you wanted to go on a road trip,” I reminded my youngest.
“Yeah, when I’m 16,” he said. “Not now.” I decided this was a good thing. Every kid needs to experience the tedium of the iconic family road trip, right? Neither of them had grand expectations. It wouldn’t be too hard to surpass their nightmares of what the trip would be.
Planning a road trip as a single parent was a little daunting. My 16-year-old has his learner’s permit, but because I was renting a car for a one-way route, he would not be able to help drive. Rental car companies require drivers to be a minimum of 21. As the day approached for us to leave I began to worry whether I could physically drive 36 hours in a week’s time. Usually I lost stamina for driving after just a couple hours, and often came close to falling asleep at the wheel on long trips. I planned a couple non-driving days along the way, just to ease my mind and give us a rest.
We left Statesville, NC, on a Sunday and drove just five hours to stay with my cousins in Atlanta. It was a good primer. From there, we drove through Selma, Alabama, where my grandmother was raised, and into New Orleans to stay with my friend Betsy for two nights. We left New Orleans for San Antonio, making it in on the night the city celebrated the Spurs’ NBA victory. Then onto El Paso, the lowlight of my trip, but the highlight for my sons who spent two hours skateboarding in a wide drainage channel. We ended the trip in Tucson where we stayed with my mom for two nights before driving the last leg to L.A.
We survived. There were some tense moments and angry moments and tiring moments. But lots of good moments too. Eight hours a day in the car with my sons renewed my knowledge of them. We took turns playing our music. We talked about their old schools, and houses and neighborhoods. We reminisced about summer and family and friends. We shared lots of silence. Comfortable silence. And I only had one day of uncontrollable fatigue – the day I splurged on sugar against my better judgment.
When we reached Los Angeles, my sister met us for dinner.
“How was the road trip?” she asked.
“It was good,” my 16-year-old replied before I had a chance to respond. His brother nodded his head in agreement. And with that, the road trip was everything I had hoped it would be.