When the center line blurs, the Rascal Flatts song, “Life is a Highway” from the Cars movie, runs through my head. It is on open roads that I long to hit the pedal to the medal. It is this picture (below), taken four years ago, that I see in my mind. It is still one of my sons’ favorite movies. I think of all the adventures we could have on Route 66. Life isn’t about the destination, but in the stops and misadventures in getting there; wherever “there” is.
It is just recently that I’m learning to apply the brakes; to slow life down. I look in my rearview mirror as the scenery flies by; hair unfurling in the wind. It is when I am most happy. All thoughts and problems are let go…my mind clear.
Long road trips are when my favorite memories are made. These days the voices are deeper, louder; the arms and legs cramped and intertwined in our back seat. Tempers flare as the miles are logged but eventually, as the majestic granite cliffs and towering redwoods come into view; the car quiets. The scenery unfolds before our very eyes.
The windows come down, the music turns off and the rush of wind blows into our lungs. It is no wonder that we feel compelled to return to this area, time and time again. This, from the girl who absolutely had NO CAMPING blood in her small town veins.
As usual, the plans changed. What was originally a group family trip, on my side, became a solo adventure; the only last minute takers…my childhood girlfriend and family who I’ve known since aged four. It was in seeing her, with her young sons, that released an avalanche of memories of the past. Of family camping trips.
The passage of time is swift; currents pulling every which way.
I watched as our teenager chose to sit alone; enjoying his solitude. This son, whose temperament is like my own, and I continued to butt heads and the light bulb turned on as I read Stephen R. Covey’s book. A dear girlfriend gave this tome to me two years ago and I had gotten stuck on page 97. I am 3/4 within its pages and I could swear Mr. Covey (rest in peace) was directly talking to me.
“Why do people shout and yell at each other? They want to be understood. They’re basically yelling, ‘Understand me! Listen to me! Respect me!'”
~Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. Golden Books. 1997. Print.
Empathy. It is something I constantly drive home to my boys to learn. As a mother of young sons, my words nor actions, were ever questioned. But alas, I am called out. I had forgotten how to be empathetic to my own sons.
Empathetic Listening. I was not listening to my son’s heart; nor interpreting his body language. It is a skill I am most adept at when it comes to other people and in the workplace. But within my four walls it is forgotten. I reflected as I watched my girlfriend and husband with their three and five year old sons. Being tired. Overwhelmed. A solitary military dependent wife with three kids and a deployed husband. I was guilty of ignoring their voices or pretending to listen. As they grew older I had to listen more intently to their words but it was selective. I’ve learned to be more attentive and finally; empathetic. It only took me 371 miles and thick black smoke of a campfire; tearing my eyes amidst testing toddlers, that I could clear the air and finally see and hear. Because really, when I look at my teenager…it is the first picture that I always see.
But this is one that sits before me now. The one whose heart I need to hear. No longer do the lub dubs pitter-patter near my ears; they sit far away. With headphones on. And so, on this camping trip I began to make the concerted effort to hear; to seek to understand. It is easy when your children’s personalities complement your own. Much harder when you have to look at your very own self reflected in the hormonal pubescent teen towering above.
As we dropped off our beloved canine; my mother-in-law told my hubs to drive safely during our camping trip. As he walked away my father-in-law teased her as she fretted. The kid can drive. It’s not like he can’t land an airplane on an aircraft carrier at night or handle being shot at while flying it. She sheepishly explained that she sees her son as an 18 year old; leaving for the Navy. And I understood. I see my boys as young toddlers; unwilling to acknowledge the passage of time. It is a young child trapped in another body. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, perhaps?
Lorde. We live in cities you’ll never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each other’s team
I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air So there “Team.” Pure Heroine. CD. Lava. 2013.
The song above is on repeat on my car stereo; written by Lorde, a 17 year old teen, of her friends and family in New Zealand. I finally tuned into the words. I want my family to know we’re on each other’s team and that I really am tired of throwing my hands up in the air. My four walls, my ruined palace of broken tile and disrepair, may not be perfect but our family is healthy; happy. My idyllic perfect home needs to be let go; the focus on the inhabitants that share the roof with me. I need to sit quietly and tune in. To listen. With Empathy.
I would awaken like clockwork, each morning, from vivid dreams of my childhood mixed with the present. I find myself crossing bridges as I transition from one stage of my life into the next. Recent events have made things in my life very clear; accentuating where my focus needs to be. I continue to step out of my comfort zone to explore new territory.
And hiked within three feet of bears. I motioned to the group to stay quiet as the bear padded across our trail from the adjacent river. I am learning to stay completely still and to become aware of my surroundings. This is the joy of camping; to be plucked from the every day, first world trappings and to become attuned to the vast world around us. Nature. The Milky Way. My nine year old named various constellations to my amazement. My hubs reminded me that his third grade class had just recently visited a planetarium before schools end. The stillness of the night had me craning my neck to the panoramic view.
I have traversed many roads and trails with my family and know that this time of parenting will transition as these sons continue to walk independently away from me; to climb their hills and run their races. I want things to remain the same; to carry them with me a while longer upon my back. It is hard; the letting go.
Mist Falls, 2003. Yosemite.
We return to this same Sequoia tree as we exit the park; estimated to be 1650 years old. We have taken pictures at various angles throughout the years (2006, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and I am reminded of Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree about a mother’s unselfish and tireless giving nature. Its redwood trunk is massive; the branches towering high overhead.
And I hope it’s not too late to tune in. I need more road trips.