Of course I could do without the sticker shock at the pump, fears over the engine light flashing on and food-encrusted toddler seats.
Road trips give me best thinking time I ever get. And, when my wife is in the passenger seat, we open up to each other in ways we somehow can’t manage in other settings. Sometimes just looking at her profile is enough to bring our marriage back in line. She might be nibbling on a carrot stick to stay healthy and set a good example for our sons or making sure the boys stay entertained in the back seats with a favorite story.
Sunday night, I marveled at how she took over the driving chores for me in hour three of a 10-hour trek and silently decided to keep driving until we were back in our driveway. We were returning from a quasi-family reunion in Des Moines, and we had planned to break up the trip into two segments with a hotel respite in between. She understood I had to work a regular shift the next day and did all she could to get me home on time – even if it meant her sleep schedule would be wrecked.
The trip let us open up about our respective families. She worries that her parents are getting older, and she can’t help but think what a sudden illness could do to their otherwise robust lives. We also took time to appreciate how our sons are getting to know their Grandma and Grandpa with every trip like this. Our boys will never really know my Father who passed away two years ago. Their early memories of him are fading now, and by the time they reach school age Pop-Pop will exist only in stories and fading photographs.
Road trips also provide a perfect metaphor for marriage. It’s just you and your co-pilot, period. Anything is possible along the way – engine malfunctions, harsh weather, economic hardships and, of course, a tantrum-hurling child in the back seat. Couples don’t have their parental accoutrement like they do at home to save the day, nor can they phone a friend for a quick transportation reprieve.
It’s Husband and Wife vs. the Road, and on more than a few occasions the Road wins. Couples have to absorb minor hardships, salute the unexpected victories – “look, the lane is finally clear of construction cones!” – and share some really fattening food when you simply need to leave your diet in the dust.
Even the music pumping out of the radio plays a part in a couple’s road trip connection. I endured roughly five hours – it felt like a dozen – of the Indigo Girls in the final leg of our journey. Every third song I wanted to protest, to crack some sensitive singer-songwriter joke I’ve told a dozen times before. I didn’t, of course. My Wife was driving, and she deserved every emotional boost she could find. If that meant suffering through one touchy-feely ballad after another, so be it.
We arrived home from our trip suitably exhausted, and when we simultaneously hit the pillow with only an hour or so of darkness left in the sky, I started thinking about where we could drive next.