Two adults, four children, six weeks, and eight states.
It was gently suggested that I not get my hopes up, that my teenagers wouldn't appreciate and my younger children wouldn't remember the monumental effort and expense we were about to expend in the interest of family togetherness but we decided to roll the dice. We needed...something.
There was a stagnation to our everyday lives. A layer of scum was growing over the fresh water of our lives, obscuring the clear waters and the bountiful vitality below. We were distracted and disgruntled. Easily persuaded to irritability by our responsibilities, our schedules, the politics of the day, and the moods of the moment. It was taking an effort - a genuine struggle - to see the silver lining. And this, my friends, is not typical of me. I am an eternal optimist.
Like, people don't invite me to funerals because I always find something that makes being deceased seem favorable and that makes it weird for everyone still living.
So, off we went. In search of a salve for our sad sap affliction.
I won't sugarcoat this. We literally were confronted by situations we had no experience with which to draw from. Tornadoes. Thunderstorms. Flooding. Hail. Heat. An RV kitchen. A single bathroom.
But though we experienced a loss of privacy, counter space, and confidence that the universe wasn't out to get us - we gained much more.
We would be driving for hours hemmed inside 280-ish square feet. The teenagers engaged in reading books and helping attend to their younger siblings. The little girls were mostly content to have the luxury of iPads, coloring, and snacks while the vehicle was in motion. I would sit and contemplate both the beauty of our nation and the beauty in a family's shared goal. We ALL wanted to go "see the things" and without any previous discussion everyone seemed to recognize that we had to work together to do it. My teenagers had never previously been so accommodating without complaint and procrastination. What was this magic?!
I, too, recognized a magic at work within me. As a dedicated introvert I was drawn to persistent inquiry of completely unknown passersby: Where do you live? Do you like it there? What brings you here? What else have you seen? Where are you going? What has been your favorite on your travels?
I've concluded that my Home team plays much differently than my Away team.
And much like sports seasons as a kid, we grew closer as a team. And I liked it.
Since I have lived the entirety of my life in the western states I was able to experience the journey through Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota just as my children did - for the first time. And visiting parts of Montana and Idaho that I had not seen as a child made those states feel brand new as well.
We collectively marveled at the landscapes, the variety of fauna, the differences (if any) in topography, the beauty in the architecture, the general feeling of a community or city. We discussed the definition of a mountain versus a butte (I'm still not clear but my kids seem to think they know). The teenagers talked about whether they could envision themselves in this college town or that, while my husband and I tried out being food and microbrew critics across the country.
We saw natural wonders that are oft explored: Old Faithful, Mt. Rushmore, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. And added to each a memorable personalization: a frantic quest for first aid at Old Faithful, $300 of sweatshirts (and a "free" blanket) on our way to Rushmore, and somersaults in the prestigious Lincoln Presidential Library.
We saw small wonders that few probably notice: the geological composition of the cliffs in the Black Hills, wild flowers we don't see in our northern climate, fireflies (!), the magnitude of work done by the farmers of America, the entrepreneurial spirit and grit of Middle America, and the kindness of strangers.
All in all we realized that the difficulties we experienced at home were not unique and also made too significant. See, we are often brought low by the weight of our ordinary world. The news and negativity painted across the landscapes of our lives leaves us all exhausted and hopeless. The world seems bleak and ugly, but such a world view is myopic -- focused singularly on the trying issue immediately before us. Changing our scenery and adopting an openness to adventure makes the small seem significant, and the overwhelming feel a little silly.
Coming home was a challenge. We had fresh perspective and felt that we now had alternatives available to us. Our priorities experienced a shift, our future seemed changed, our possessions too burdensome. We felt contented in our gypsy-like summer and the home coming was both overwhelming and liberating (ALL the counter space!).
We felt more sure of ourselves. More experienced and confident -- a welcome balm to this anxious soul. Less "of the world" as though each state we walked added to a lightness in our being, like hopping from one cloud to another. Our little girls, too, more readily talked with and sought out new friendships and adventures. We felt less separated from others though we still enthusiastically marveled at differences in custom and culture. The differences made us more excited rather than estranged.
I have long been a reluctant social media user but felt my inclination to broadcast my personal life all but disappear. Life seems too fragile, too easily swallowed up in the pressures of the day, to be concerned about "creating content." Even now I hesitate having sat on this blog post for months instead of adding noise to an already deafening cacophony. There is something so humble and beautiful in accepting that your life may only occupy a small space in the world. So guard it, marinate in it, hold it dearly and tenderly and privately, knowing that the pictures and tidbits you put out into the world cannot mean half as much to onlookers as they do to you.
It took me some time to articulate the ways I am changed. And truthfully, the more time we put between us and our trip I sadly see its effects diminishing. So I'll place them here. Permanent and plain; to revisit, to remember, and perhaps to revise. But here they will be as a testimony for a time when I need help recollecting:
I will not force myself to share on a schedule. I will not be pressured to create content. I will authentically show up when and where and how I feel nudged to do so.
I will rejoice in the insignificance of my existence on the grand stage. Because there is beauty in being big in my small life. It allows me to love more graciously, to empathize more deeply, to focus more intently on the person in front of me rather than the concerns or trends enveloping the masses.
As far as I am able I will minimize my to-do's, my obligations, and my possessions so that I am fully present and fully content with what I have.
I will seek situations beyond my comfort to stretch myself, to challenge our family, so that we aren't awesome in our bubble but competent where ever we find ourselves.
We went on a 6-week road trip to find ourselves in the world but we joyfully got lost in it instead.