By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Road trips were a major part of my childhood. My dad’s work as a carnival showpainter took him all around the country and often he’d pull me out of school to accompany him. We drove from Albuquerque to Dallas, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma and Little Rock, Arkansas and once all the way to Florida. On that trip, we made it a point to stop at every McDonalds we came across, certain that we’d collect enough of their “Monopoly” playing pieces to win a million dollars.
We didn’t win the cash, but we had a few amazing adventures and I saw a lot of the country glide past my window. These trips were fun and exciting and often dull as dirt. I was bored in the desert and in the prairie and through the piney woods. I didn’t have an iPad or a DS or even a decent Walkman. I had the music from my dad’s tape deck (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Gene Autry) and the thoughts in my own head. Dad and I would talk and sometimes I’d read stories aloud, but on a trip of any length eventually everyone lapses into silence. It was in this silence that I explored the inside of my head. I daydreamed and made up conversations. I conjured stories for the people I’d seen at a rest area, created histories for the dilapidated houses and barns we passed and reimagined my own life a thousand times. I think it was some of the most valuable time I have ever spent and I still look forward to a long drive and this kind of uninterrupted thinking time.
I wanted my children to have this same experience and so last week, I piled them into the car and headed east toward New Mexico. I packed books and colored pencils and drawing paper. I downloaded Willie Nelson onto my iPod, but also Katy Perry for my daughter and Tom Petty for my son (he’s on a classic rock kick). I did not pack any sort of “screens.”
When I mentioned my plan to fellow parents, they were slightly horrified. They wondered if I was worried or scared or just plain nuts. I will admit, I packed the DVD player and a cache of kids’ movies in a secret bag in case they were right, but I thought I could prove them wrong.
And I did. We did. My kids looked out the window and read books and asked questions. My daughter found shapes of people and animals in the hills of the Mojave, my son was thrilled to see the Petrified Forest. We ate road food – Sarsparilla in Oatman, Arizona where wild burros roam the streets, Fig Newtons bought at a gas station outside Holbrook and gigantic ice cream sundaes at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff. My kids were adventurous and eager and bored and cranky. They told stories, blew bubble gum bubbles, and sang songs. Of course they fought a little bit, but they were game for most everything. Our trip took two days on the way and two days on the way back. I never pulled out the DVD player.
My father gave me many gifts, but I think the one that has stayed with me the longest is the idea that a road trip is a little bit about seeing what’s outside the car and a little bit about seeing what’s inside your head. This is a gift I plan to share with my kids again and again.