On the Road: Perfect Imperfection

The Mesa Top Loop Road in Mesa Verde National Park is a six-mile driving tour of Ancient Puebloan culture and history. There are some 10-12 stops along the way, each of which provides a window into the lives of the people who once called the mesa their home.

Somewhere around stop four or five, a minor infraction turned into a major meltdown for one of our girls. As Jonathan took the other two kids down the short path to the point of interest, I stood outside the [running and air-conditioned] car as she wailed and raged inside. Every few minutes, when the storm seemed to be abating, I called through the cracked window, asking if she wanted to talk, if she wanted a hug. The answer was always an emphatic no.

As other people walked past us, many gave me an understanding look or a sympathetic nod. One mom paused, briefly, to ask if we needed anything. I told her thanks, but no thanks – that my girl just needed some time and space. She smiled, looking down at her daughter, and said, “We know how that goes, don’t we?” Her daughter, who was maybe eight or nine, nodded. “We all need time and space sometimes.”

As we drove into Amarillo, TX, the rain came down in sheets, hard enough that Jonathan slowed the car to a crawl and turned on his hazard lights. We pulled ahead of the storm – barely – and made it to our campground with just enough time to rush the kids into the camper and get the bare essentials connected before the first heavy drops fell.

It poured rain in Bentonville, too. I think that’s where we picked up the mildewy smell in the storage space under our bed. We pulled out what we thought were the offending items and cleaned them thoroughly, spraying them with odor eliminator and leaving them in the sun to dry. I picked up a package of moisture-absorbing pellets and let them work their magic. All of this has made a considerable difference, but I still catch a whiff of it every now and then.

We were in Ohio for a total of seven days, of which I think two were sunny. Jonathan did a three-day bike-packing trip from Cincinnati to Cleveland with some friends over Memorial Day weekend. During the first two days of his ride, it was rainy and windy and cold – enough so that none of them got much sleep the first night. Our friend from Ohio claims that in the past thirty days, only two or three of them were not sunny and bright and beautiful.

We purposely put the northern route on the back half of our trip, hoping to enjoy cooler temperatures on these summer days. During our time in Marquette, Michigan, which sits at a latitude of 46.5° and is right on Lake Superior, the high hit 96°. We drove to the Minneapolis area yesterday. The high here today was 97°. It’s never this hot in early June, our friends told us. Never.

I don’t mean to complain. After all, we’ve made memories at every step of the way. It’s all a part of the adventure.

It’s just that the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperative, is all.

When people comment about the adventures we’re having or the memories we’re making, I have this strange urge to fill them in on “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.

I want to tell them about the tantrums and the tears. About the long days in the car when all the snacks in the world don’t seem to be enough. About the bug bites and the scrapes and the bruises and the falls, and the complaining they elicit. I want to mention the fact that all three of the kids have thrown up at least once – and not because of motion sickness. It seems only right to tell about the accidents (of the “how-can-such-a-small-bladder-hold-so-much” variety, and not, thankfully, of the “call-the-insurance-agent” kind). I should talk about the times I’ve lost my temper. When I’ve yelled instead of remaining calm, when I’ve not had the patience I should have with three small humans who have had their routines thrown so wildly out of whack, when I’ve forgotten that I am supposed to be the adult in the room.

When people praise our adventurous spirits, I want to confess that in my low moments, when I feel as though I’m running on fumes and my kids are doing worse, I wonder what we’re doing to them.

I’m sure, dear reader, that you can look at my previous post, at the photos of adventures and smiles and learning and wonder, and read between the lines. You know that such posts only tell a part of the story, that they show the good moments – of which we have had so many! – but that there are other moments that have not been so good.

I’m sure you know all of this without me reminding you of it.

Me, on the other hand, I’m prone to forget this. To think that others live charmed lives, without the mess and the chaos. To think that somehow, other people have figured out how to create beautiful memories (on trips, during adventures, in life) without also experiencing pitfalls and hiccups and exhaustion.

Sometimes, I forget that good and worthwhile pursuits rarely come without a bit of work, without a bit of pain, without those moments where we all need some time and space.

Tonight, after a long day with little chance to rest, when Abby was exhausted beyond all bearing and we were doing everything in our power just to get her into bed, Jonathan mentioned that we might be home late tomorrow night.

By “home” he meant back to the trailer, but my poor depleted four-year-old with no sense of distance didn’t know that, and his statement set off a fresh wave of tears.

“But I don’t want to go hoooommme,” she wailed.

Yesterday, on the long road from Marquette to Minneapolis, the longest driving day of our trip, we had a call to check in with our Education Specialist (the name they give to our amazing resource and guide and guru and teacher at our homeschool charter).

She asked how our trip was going, whether the girls were having fun.

“Yes!!!” came the unhesitant, enthusiastic reply from the backseat, and it made me smile that they could be so excited still, a month into this thing.

Later, during that same long drive, I asked the girls what their favorite part of our trip had been so far.

Katie didn’t hesitate.

“Seeing [our friends in Bentonville]!” she said. “And spending time with all our cousins!”

Abby, surprisingly, didn’t mimic her sister’s response. Instead, she grinned.

“All of it!”

When I pressed her and asked her what she would do again if she could only do one thing, she shook her head.

“The whole thing, Mama. I’d do the whole thing.” She paused a moment, then said sagely, “Well, maybe, like, 80% of it. Yeah. I think I’d do 80%.”

Back on the Mesa Top Loop Road, after the tantrum had passed and we had moved on to other stops, we saw many of those same people again – the ones who had nodded, who had acknowledged us as they walked by during the storm. They smiled to see the return of my cheerful girl, red-eyed but skipping hand-in-hand with me down the path.

I’m glad that’s the last memory those strangers will have of her (assuming they think of her at all). I hope it’s the one she’ll carry forward, too.

2 response to "On the Road: Perfect Imperfection"

  1. By: Cissy Murphy Posted: June 8, 2021

    I’m still kind of giggling after reading your latest blog post. I know you’re trying to keep it real, but the pictures you paint of the not so pretty pieces of a long trip with young children are something with which all parents can relate. We’ve all been there (maybe not on a trip as long as yours ?). Your girls’ responses to your questions are proof of how resilient children are. It also validates your friends’ comments about your adventures and the amazing memories being made. Hang in there, momma, and stop being so hard on yourself! You’re entitled to your own moments of frustration, especially hormonal moments. Love you guys and I look forward to your next post. ?

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