In 2000, my husband and I took our three children to Alaska for a family vacation. At the time the kids were 6, 4 ½, and 6 months. Alaska had been a dream of both of ours; something about the wildness of it, the breathtaking majesty of it. We were dying to go, to make Alaska real for us, instead of just glossy images in travel magazines and coffee table books. Being the homeschooling family that we are, we also look for opportunities for our children to experience the world. Adam and I could have gone alone on this trip, but then we would have been plagued with thoughts of, "Oh, I wish the kids could see this!" Thus, it wasn’t really a matter of question.
Adam planned an event-filled itinerary for us. After all, if we were finally going to Alaska, we wanted to see it all. We rented a minivan and toured around, using Anchorage as our hub. We stayed in Anchorage, took some day trips, traveled as far south as Seward, back to Anchorage, and then as far north as Fairbanks. All in all, during the two weeks we were there, we drove almost 2000 miles. That’s a lot of driving with three young kids-- especially with a nursing baby and a daughter who is notoriously carsick.
Our friends had given us a suggestion: "You know," they said, "they make these TV’s for cars now. They have VCR’s and you can just pop in movies and your kids will be just glued to the thing so you can drive in peace." Hmmm. "But," I said, "how will they be able to watch for animals out the car windows?" After all, we had psyched our kids up for this grand adventure by promising them abundant wildlife. We told them about the moose just walking around like they owned the place, bald eagles everywhere, maybe even a bear!
Our friends said, "They can look when you get there. Isn’t a nice peaceful car ride worth it?" Now, don’t get me wrong. I drive around with kids all the time, and I’m not oblivious to what that can mean. I do like nice, peaceful car rides, but this was our adventure. Because we would be spending so much time in the car on this trip, the car ride was a good deal of that adventure. I didn’t want them to wait till we got there to look around and be amazed. I didn’t want them to miss the Dall Sheep on the side of the mountain, or the waterfalls cascading down the sides of mountains from melting snow, or the ethereal blue of the icebergs floating in the bay thinking they could probably see that "when we stop". I wasn’t going to zone them out for the sake of a ‘nice, peaceful car ride’ and sacrifice the learning and their big, wide-open eyes, and the excitement that we could experience all together as a family. So, we opted for no TV and VCR.
We did stop many, many times along the way. We stopped at all the scenic viewpoints. We stopped for Adam to follow a moose up a grassy embankment. (Not the smartest idea, I know, but Alaska gets to you that way.) We stopped to watch a cocky red fox trot down the side of the road with some fresh road-kill in his mouth. We stopped for Lyndsay to throw up. We stopped to nurse the baby. We stopped to stare at Mount McKinley. We stopped for potty and food breaks. We stopped to watch salmon. We stopped to eat salmon. We stopped for Lyndsay to throw up. We stopped to touch the Alaska Pipeline. We stopped to nurse the baby. We stopped to watch for whales breaching. We stopped to watch a baby mountain goat manage with finesse the sheer rock face of a mountain. We stopped to watch dozens of regal bald eagles sitting on the wet sand of low tide. And you know what? It was fantastic fun. It was as if we had been transplanted to an untouched world of beauty, and we all learned so many things every single day. Who would have wanted to watch movies? We did sing songs. We did listen to books on tape. And we played lots and lots of guessing games. But in all those things, and in all the wonder around us, we grew as a family, all along the way. It was a time none of us will ever forget. Even now, though that marriage ended within two years of our trip, he and I both regard that adventure as one of the finest we ever shared, and we each are grateful for the experience. The memories and the joy were in the journey. What made the difference for us was not waiting to be somewhere, but enjoying getting there.
So it is, hopefully, with my personal journey in motherhood. I need to continually remind myself that the joy is in the process of raising children, not in having them raised successfully. I am prone to staying on the road with the car on cruise control, focused on my goal of educated, articulate, well-mannered, poised, and lovable children. I must remember to look out the windows from time to time and just enjoy the scenery. Much of the journey is simply the monotony of doing that which has been un-done over and over again. Much of the journey is drudgery and boring. Much of it is thankless. But there are scenic points along the way, and I don't want to miss them because I'm focused on the destination!
It isn't all that far off that my nest will be empty. In four years my oldest child will go off to college. Her siblings will soon follow suit. My days of little ones underfoot are short lived. When my oldest was born, I thought I had forever. I see more clearly now. If I don’t pay attention to the scenery along the way, I forfeit one of the greatest thrills of the motherhood ride. I love the days when things go smoothly. But that isn’t every day. It isn't even most days. I'm learning to be okay with that. I want to play outside with them on a sunny day. I want to talk with them past bedtime. I want to read them another story, even though they're teenagers. I want to play a board game even though there are dishes to do. I want to be in their presence with absolutely nothing to do but be. I want them to enjoy the ride, just as much as I am. And once I get them to where they're going, I want them to always remember the way back home.