The Mom Stop: Trips spur lifelong memories
I was on the cusp of turning 10-years-old when my mom packed me and my sister up and sent us on a 3-week journey with our grandparents in their RV.
At the time, I only knew it was going to be a really long road trip — something that my fifth-grade self, prone to motion sickness, was less than thrilled about. But my grandparents were determined to do what they did when their own kids were young: Head West. We were to see the National Parks, a trek that my own grandmother had taken as a child with her parents during the 1930s.
During the weeks on the road, we went horseback riding at Mount Rushmore. We were in awe at the Badlands. My sister tried to coax a prairie dog out of its hole at the Grand Tetons. We saw the geysers at Yellowstone Park and hiked at the Garden of the Gods.
Over a 3-week period, we hopped from one KOA campground to the next, traveling through 11 states along the way. But while I remember being impressed by the mountains with the natural beauty completely unlike what I saw at home — it’s other details that now stand out to me.
I remember sleeping in a bed that converted to the RV dining room table, while my sister slept on an inflated pool float on the floor. I can still hear the sound of my grandmother’s coffee brewing in a percolator, something I woke to each morning. While I would have given anything at the time to have a McDonald’s Happy Meal, I can still taste my grandmother’s deli meat sandwiches, which we ate at picnic tables at rest stops across the West, because my grandparents saw no need for drive-thrus when they had their own kitchen on wheels. Now, a little more than 25 years later, I can still taste my grandma’s homemade roast beef on rye with sandwich spread. I wish I appreciated them more then.
The faint hiss of a gas lantern still brings me back to roasting marshmallows by the campfire with my grandfather, whose job it was to stir the embers and make sure none of the kids caught anything on fire. And the sight of a Barbie doll still reminds me of my sister, who was 6 at the time, who hung her bucket of Barbies by their hair on the campground laundry line.
While I do remember being amazed at the National Parks, what I remember most was the time spent with my family. I was reminded of that last summer when my husband and I took a 10th anniversary trip to the Canadian Rockies. While we had an amazing time, the mountains and glaciers, the crystal-blue lakes stirred something in me that had been seemingly hidden since I was an awkward, motion-sick kid traveling cross-country with my grandparents: I want my kids to experience the National Parks.
Now, I’m not much of an outdoors person. While my husband enjoys wilderness camping and hiking on seldom-used trails, I’m the woman who requires a toilet and an electric plug no matter where I sleep. While trekking up a popular trail in Lake Louise, Canada, last summer, I was the lady jingling with “bear bells,” worried about wildlife despite being surrounded by a swarm of tourists.
We considered taking our kids to the Grand Canyon for spring break this year. But the mere thought of trying to corral my three young kids, including a toddler, away from canyon cliffs gave me anxiety. We’ll wait until they’re teenagers for that trip. And so, we headed to Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks last month instead. We hiked easy trails, took pictures while posing at the bases of the giant sequoia trees and played in the snow that was still on the ground at 6,000 feet above sea level. We gazed at the tallest waterfall in North America and hiked across bridges to open fields and sheer granite rock walls.
I’m not sure if my young kids will remember visiting the parks. But more than anything, I hope they’ll remember the time spent together. After all, it’s what these family trips are really all about.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.