It takes less time to do thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.

Learning As We Go (Road Trip Knowledge Gained the Hard Way)


Yesterday afternoon my girls and I got back into town after almost a week away visiting relatives for Thanksgiving. It was a nice trip, we drove a lot, we laughed a lot, we ate a lot and, for the most part, I really enjoyed getting some road trip time with my kiddos.

It’s always interesting to see how your kids behave in different situations and this week my girls were good travelers and generally agreeable companions. We’ve made versions of this trip many times over the past few years and it’s remarkable to me how much easier it gets as they get older and more independent.

My kids are 10 (10!) and 8, and it’s hard to believe I made these kinds of trips with them as the lone adult when they were 4 and 2. Hard to believe because they were so little, and because I was so clueless.

One year my youngest daughter developed a mystery rash right as we began ascending a mountain pass where it’s impossible to stop and where the nearest civilization is more than an hour away. She wailed “Hot! Itchy! Back! HOT! ITCHY! My BAAAAACCCCCKKKK!” uninterupted for what seemed like forever (probably about 45 minutes), until we were able to stop at the first town and locate some cortizone and some candy.

(Ha, see now, it doesn’t really sound all that bad when I write about it 6 years later…but it was bad. Bad. Hours later we arrived at a relative’s house where my cousin’s wife took over, tenderly plopping my hot, still-itchy mess of a child into a bath of colloidal oatmeal while I wept quietly, trying to regain my sanity. I was newly single, new to the world of traveling with the kids alone. (Let’s face it, I was still kind-of new to motherhood!)


A few years later the girls and I were making our way from Oregon to Nevada to spend an extended visit with my mom. Our ’99 Subaru Legacy was jam packed with what seemed like everything we owned. I had planned for everything. I had a first aid kit even! So this same kid (this kid is actually pretty mellow, not sure why all my examples are of this kid), falls and skins her knee in a parking lot. It was one of those skinned knees that bleeds and bleeds and bleeds, but I wasn’t worried because I had a first aid kit, remember?

Yes, buried (and I mean really buried) underneath all our luggage, pots and pans, and the (proverbial) kitchen sink, there was a first aid kit and a band aid, totally inaccessible and therefore totally useless in this minor emergency…

So I unloaded half the car in a parking lot in Weed, California (did I mention it was about 90 degrees out?), and found my crying daughter some antiseptic wipes and a band aid.

Now when I pack I have a system where I can actually reach things I might need on the road. This sounds so incredibly obvious, so common sense, it’s embarrassing to admit I had to learn this the hard way. But after minor first aid emergencies, flat tires, dead batteries, failed clutches and nights where we couldn’t find hotel rooms, I’ve learned it really is worth it to plan ahead. (Fortunately, the flat tire and failed clutch scenarios didn’t happen when I had my kids with me, but you can bet that I now have AAA, jumper cables and my car checked out before I take long trips. I also always make sure to make room reservations and travel routes in advance.)

So my kids are getting older and more independent (but I guess I’ll get to that in another post), and I’ve just learned to anticipate all the little things that can pop up and turn into big things if you’re not prepared for them. I hope my girls don’t remember what a mess I was those on some of our earlier trips, and if they do, I hope they give me points for improvement.

I’ll make more mistakes to be sure, and hopefully I’ll continue to improve at the practical side of this parenting thing. Because really, I’ve come to accept it: motherhood is a work in progress just like childhood, and most knowledge simply comes with experience.