“Are we there yet?” 13 miles into our annual 900 mile trip from Tennessee to Minnesota, the inevitable question rings out from the backseat.
The inquiry comes from our 10 year old. He knows we’re nowhere near our destination, but driving parents crazy on road trips is a time-honored tradition of children everywhere.
Our cross-country trek starts with the entire family in good humor. We love everyone and everything. 893 miles later, we’ve crossed through Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin and we cross the border into the final state on our journey. Jubilant cheers rise from the back seat of the van as the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign comes into view and the Garmin shows single digit miles to Grandpa’s house.
As much as the beginning and end of the trip are full of happy feelings, the middle of the family road trip is where those happy feelings go to die. The middle is where the baby brother bugs the big brother. It’s where the big brother crosses the invisible middle line of the back seat, getting too close to the little sister and everyone loses their collective minds. If Dad is going to have to threaten, “Don’t make me pull over,” it’s going to happen in the middle.
We never cheer as we get to Kentucky, Illinois, or Wisconsin because we’re focused on getting to our destination.They may be lovely places to visit, but on this particular day they are a means to an end.
We can learn a lot of about how to live our lives from the annual family road trip. We live our lives, right here in the middle. If we’re honest, we treat most of our daily responsibilities like the hours our family spent driving through Illinois. Necessary, but not meaningful. We tell ourselves to keep going and that once we get to the next big thing, we’ll be doing something significant. We don’t want to waste time with unnecessary stops along the way and we dread the detours that slow us down. Our gaze is fixed so singularly on a place so far away on the horizon we miss the magic of where we are right now.
I can’t say when it happened exactly, but over the last several years, we decided to enjoy the road trip itself and not just the destination. If we were going to spend 13 hours in the car, we might as well make the most of it. We’ve listened to hours of our favorite radio drama’s, followed billboard signs enticing us to random tourist traps, told stories, played games and made countless memories together.
We all need to take time to enjoy the journey. We can find meaning in the mundane, if we look hard enough. No, we’re not there yet, but we’re closer than when we started, and there’s a lot of life to do in the middle.