I am writing this from a plane with my kids on the way from our NYC home to Chicago, where we will spend two weeks visiting friends and family, and the places where I grew up in a small town in Northern Illinois.
Tomorrow morning I leave on a 10-day road trip with my kids, ages 3 and 5.
I thought of cooking up a clever intro to this post, but the bare-bone facts seem to be plenty compelling to anyone to whom I mention this adventure.
The trip — New York to Chicago, Milwaukee, rural Illinois and back — will be long, yes. And — mark my words — it will be fun. Even for me.
We could have flown. I have flown many times with my kids, and I have to say that they are awesome flyers. Airports are exciting, and they get into the protocol of check-in, boarding, ordering whatever you want to drink from the attendant. Dollar-for-dollar, flying and driving come out about equal — gas, hotel, restaurant meals considered.
But I believe driving will be better. Here is why:
1. Driving is more freeing. My family's life is so structured. We have a routine, each and every day. As a divorced family, we have even more than others: the weekdays are built around work and school, evenings and weekends split between my house and my ex's. Rushing to catch planes is just one more time-sensitive task that I am compelled to avoid. So I am.
2. I want to reconnect with my kids. If we flew, we would be going from our crazy New York life to the home of friends and relatives. Sure, I would spend plenty of time with each of my children over a week and a half. But when it is just the three of us on four wheels for days on end, we will get into the groove of it being just the three of us. Otherwise, I can get into the groove of either being without my kids, or looking to the hours when I am without my kids. I want it to be different.
3. Kids need to learn how to just be, and not be entertained. My neighbor Jen, now in her early 50s, has very fond memories of annual month-long roadtrips starting when she was aged 3 and her brother 5. Her parents took the backseat out of their VW Bug and the kids would play, nap and snack as they cruised leisurely across time zones. For weeks on end, people. True: I am bringing my iPad loaded with two movies: Charlotte's Web and Night at the Museum (I figured out how to mount the device between the front seats with a bungee cord). I downloaded the audio recording of Stuart Little. Then we will pass the time by counting silos and sing 99 Bottles of Beer, just like I did as a kid. Except it will be fun.
4. I want to feed my ego and thumb my nose at all the people who tell me I am crazy and that I will do a U-ie on Rt. 80 when my kids are pooping in their booster seats and throw half-gnawed organic yogurt-covered pretzels at the back of my head like confetti. Because a) my angels never act like that, and b) if they do, I will just crank up the Feist and continue on with cruise control until the next rest stop. Where I will bind them to their seats with the bungee cord.
5. I want to learn how to indulge my kids. This is something that is hard for me to do, and I want to get better at it. Do special things, spoil them a little. I don't believe in buying lots of stuff — for adults or kids. My children have never tasted fast food. But we will be stopping at McDonald's PlayPlaces and it better blow their goddamned minds.
5. This scene is rich for material. I am opting not to video record / seek endorsements / take copious notes on this trip, despite what my colleagues urge, en lieu of taking a proper vacation. You know, a vacation? Like, days and weeks when you do not work? That. In fact, I just turned down a big radio interview, even though I could have figured out how to make sure I was in decent cell service off the freeway in Pennsylvania at 3 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, but that would be stressful. And a radio interview, as fun as it is, is classified under work — not vacation. Instead, I think something even better will come of focusing on my kids. Like living stories to write about. Stories that will make me rich and famous. And so check back here over the next couple of weeks. I don't have many plans, so I can't tell you what you will find. But you may just get reportage from the field. Field of happy vacationing. In a 1999 red Subaru Forester named Rosie. With two kids. And a mom. Whose blood pressure is actually lower than when she departed.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.