Stranger in a Familiar Land


Finally back from a near two week vacation, I am slowly picking up all of the pieces of unfinished business I left at home, the daily routines, and the toys forever scattered across the floor, to get back to normal life.

I drove from Nebraska to Massachusetts with my two kids, and back again. Just us, because Mike does not get any vacation time from work until next year. Before we departed I was already in a bit of a crashed state. I was worried about how I would be able to navigate things like pit stops, hotel accommodations, and driving eight hours a day for three days each way, with two young children.

To help manage this, I balanced organization with wiggle room. I packed everything we might need. Favorite toys and books, weighted blanket, plenty of clothes, Advil, nail clippers, everything, everything. I downloaded some videos to the iPad in case we found ourselves offline and in need of electronic entertainment (we did, and that was extremely useful!).

I mapped out our route including picking out towns we could stop in overnight (giving myself two options in case I wasn’t able to make it to the further destination that day). I price compared hotel chains so that I knew which hotels to look for, but I did not make reservations in case our schedule did not go as planned – I didn’t want to be stressed out about making it to a precise hotel each night. I packed snacks, brought water bottles, and my brother-in-law lent us a DVD player for the car so I brought ALL the movies.

I packed one giant suitcase for our main stay with family, and one small rolly case that contained everything we needed for two nights in hotel, so that I could carry it all up to the room myself (assuming the kids would not help carry anything, because you just don’t want to depend on little kids being 100% helpful!).

And of course, I mentally prepared the kids for what we were doing. That we would drive for three days to get to their Nana’s house. That daddy couldn’t come but we could call him on the iPad and do a video call. That we were going to be driving a special surprise car (I rented a car so I could not describe them WHAT kind of car it was until I picked it up that morning). That we would sleep in hotels two nights and then we would be staying at Nana’s house, and also Pop’s.

The traveling went quite smoothly. Once I was in motion, I was not as nervous as I’d been when I was anticipating the trip. I was reminded of a blog post by M Kelter, in which he wrote, 

It took me a few years to understand why [when] I traveled, felt completely out of place…yet oddly comfortable at the same time…then finally realized: I’m more at ease in strange settings. Awkward is my natural state…so trips overseas, where I’m an outsider, a tourist, and the expectation is that I won’t mesh with the surroundings…that’s a good fit for me.

For me, that’s what travels means. Suddenly, my daily, inexorable social discomfort is appropriate to the context. It’s a rare thing to feel. I like it.

That is true for me too.

The children traveled well. We drove about eight hours each day. The last hour was always a bit frayed, but we made it through. We ate fast food, which we never do in regular life, but was easy and kid friendly and fast while traveling. We got pizza delivered to our hotel one night, spaghetti another. On the way out they finished all the snacks I’d brought by the end of day two. On the way back we were better prepared, food-wise.

The hardest thing about traveling with kids and no other adult is that you all have to go EVERYWHERE together. One person has to pee, everyone goes to the bathroom whether they like it or not. Even if one of you then decides they didn’t have to pee after all.

If, after lugging all the stuff up to the hotel room finally at last after eight hours of driving, you realize you left your phone charger in the car, hey guess what kids, we’re going on a super fun adventure back down to the lobby together!

Overall, though, it was surprisingly not bad at all.

We made lots of good memories with family, including boat trips, ferry rides, swimming at the beach, a pool party, feeding chickens, and even a trip to the Agricultural Fair in my hometown. It was lovely to see my kids strengthening bonds with geographically distant family members.

I often felt lonely in a crowd while traveling, but that feeling had a comforting familiarity. I missed Mike and texted with him a lot, but the upside was that there were times that other family members were entertaining my kids so I got some restorative time alone. And not insignificantly, it was a confidence booster for me to realize that I could accomplish something as epic as a solo-parenting 3000 mile journey by car.

Re-entry into regular life has been a little rocky, as the end of vacation tends to be. Though we are back to our old routines and to our missing family members (Mike, but let’s also not forget our canine buddy) and to our beds and our home, we’re also back to the grind. No longer is driving or swimming the only thing on the itinerary – even without school, we have appointments and obligations galore. I have messes to clean and meals to prepare.

While I was traveling I had a rekindling of imagination, comics and blog posts springing to mind fully formed, but they’ve partially evaporated in the faster pace of home. Time to myself no longer arises organically but must be carved out, sometimes with painstaking force. There is, to be frank, a certain letdown in realizing that a vacation was not a permanent cure for what was making me feel pulled so taut before we embarked. And so I push on through.

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