I have never been a fan of long car drives. It probably has something to do with being the youngest of three and having to sit on the middle hump of the backseat of the car while my sisters leisurely stared out the window taking more than their fair share of space while I sat squished staring at the rearview mirror.
For many years, the day before Thanksgiving was spent in the back of a Toyota Corolla driving 55 miles per hour on the uninteresting stretch of Interstate 80 from Omaha to Chicago. My dad would smoke his William Penn Braves and listen to AM radio while my mom broke up the occasional fights that erupted in the backseat. We'd read or at least try to, write and draw, listen to the endless news stories and mystery theater shows on radio, and try not to drive my parents to the brink of insanity where they'd actually go through with their threats to leave us on the side of the road to fend for ourselves.
Arriving in Chicago sometime around rush hour, we'd suffer through yet one more hour of traffic jams along the Dan Ryan before finally getting to my great aunt's old brownstone. She was old even when I was young. She had never had kids so there were no random toys about the house and the only TV barely got three channels. One might think three girls who suffered so greatly on that 11 hour drive might find our surroundings unbearable, but we loved it there.
The long weekend was spent sifting through my aunt's books, looking at all the curious things she had collected over the years, staring at pictures of long-gone relatives, exploring the city with my parents as my dad told tales of growing up there, and talking to her, the only living relative of my grandfather's generation. We never longed for talking to friends back home, toys left behind, movies, or our everyday things--we lived in the moment of where we were. To my recollection (though my parents might remember it differently), nothing was better than Thanksgiving in Chicago.
Fast forward some 20 plus years when my oldest son, Nick, was three, and we headed to Colorado to visit my brother- and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving. As I packed the car for our less than eight hour drive, I worried about Nick. We'd travelled plenty, but mostly by plane. And most of our destinations had been to places with lots of toys and kids to play with. What would he do in a car for so long not to mention four days in a place that was kid-free?
I decided to do what any sane (??) parent would do--literally pack the entire playroom into small plastic boxes, collect enough kid movies to last a good year of viewing, and buy every last scrumptious snack a three-year-old could ever want. I searched for fun car games, bought supplies, and hoped I'd never hear the words I'm bored. As my husband loaded the car, he didn't say anything about the entire back end of his SUV being full of Rescue Heroes, Imaginext figurines, legos, and toy power tools--he wanted this to go as smoothly as I did.
The car trip was actually pretty easy. Between watching traffic, a Pixar movie, a long nap, and drawing pictures, by the time the mountains were in sight, the excitement was enough to carry us to Evergreen. Whew!
When we reached the house, most of the snacks were still in the cooler and the majority of "fun" things in the backseat had been untouched. I'm sure our relatives thought we were crazy rookie parents as we unpacked box after box of toys despite the assurances from my brother-in-law that there was plenty to keep him occupied over the next few days. We persisted--God forbid he had any boring moments or needed to use his creativity to find something to do!
What we learned on that trip was that we were way too paranoid about the entertainment of a three-year-old. Sure, he played with his toys and watched some movies; after all they were right there and available. But what he seemed to like the most was hanging out with his aunt and uncle and experiencing the way they lived. He liked walks in the mountains, peeing in the woods (what boy doesn’t?), the foxes that came up to the house that we'd toss bagels to, flying balsa wood airplanes off the deck and down the mountain, listening to his dad and uncle play guitar, and entertaining all of us with his silly personality. We didn't need all the comforts of home to make him happy.
We've made that Colorado trip off and on since that first year. Both boys love it, they want to go there. Sure, there are moments of boredom, random fights and bouts of bickering, long stretches of interstate travel that feels infinite, and the worry that they'll miss something back at home. But like my sisters and me all those years ago, being someplace different with family who loves them makes up for everything.
We pack a lot lighter now, secure in our belief that kids should (and will) be bored now and then. We know that they will find something to do, be it get along with each other, enjoy the ever expanding family, or find solace and comfort on the mountaintop. And though we are not heading west for this Thanksgiving, the boys still ask, probably hoping that their persistence might change our plans.
Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy being with your families wherever you might be. Don’t stress about what the kids are going to do; they will make their own memories that hopefully will stick with them for the rest of their lives.