Chicago mom yearns for nostalgic family road trip

My husband and I are both products of the 1970s single-income parenting philosophy where luxury was defined as any new item not handed down from an older sibling.

And this would include underwear.

Raising four kids on a tight budget produced countless stories of ingenuity and insanity that still make me laugh. Yet my favorite tales always involve the family vacation. There were no planes. Hotels were for sissies. And GPS? That would be my dad, his old Rand McNally map, and a carefully researched route highlighted in yellow marker.

My father viewed these trips as a personal mission from God to break the land speed record for Chicago to Florida. The man would drive 18 hours straight, stopping only for gas. As kids, we knew all too well that there would be no second chances for “having to go.” An ice cooler of homemade sandwiches sat at my mom’s feet and a clipboard for recording gas prices and average miles-per-hour was tucked under the driver’s seat.

For entertainment, we wrestled to be nearest the front of the van for bragging rights, “I’m the first one in Tennessee!”  We counted state license plates, read books and listened to Neil Diamond on the radio. Best of all? We talked.

When it came time to vacation with our own kids, my husband and I shared one brain. Of course we would road trip.

With only hours to go before our inaugural trek, Joe wandered into the kitchen as I dumped ice into a cooler.

“What are you doing?” he questioned, confused.

“Making sandwiches! Packing drinks! I figure we can make it there in 18 hours!”

“What are you talking about?” Joe asked, producing his list of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

“We’re eating at RESTAURANTS?” I demanded, appalled by his lack of shared vision and disregard for basic frugality.

“Yes. And we’re not driving straight through. I booked a hotel in Georgia. It’s not 1979. If I want world-famous barbecue, then by God, we’re getting world-famous barbecue.”

As I tried to wrap my brain around a vacation without salami, my husband removed the boys’ violins from our minivan. He green-lighted the kids bringing their DS games.

“Look,” Joe comforted, “I know you have this idea about how you want things, but our parents did stuff a certain way because they had no other choice. We have options. Let’s just enjoy that fact, OK?”

“But,” I kept on stubbornly, “I LOVED driving through the night—it made me feel like a Von Trapp family singer fleeing the Nazis. I loved talking and dreaming of what was to come.”

“What was to come,” Joe responded, “was a life where we can stay overnight at a hotel occasionally and eat world-famous barbecue in an actual restaurant.”

My husband made solid points. Yet I always believed having less material stuff made for happier adults. I value friendships, family and a funny story more than anything, and I wanted the same for my children. But somehow I had forgotten to include Joe’s priorities in how we were raising our kids.

I had forgotten to include good barbecue and a decent night’s sleep.

Our vacations have been a compromise. Limited video games. Routes planned around dining options.

But there is still talking and laughing.

And I suppose that is what matters most.

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