Sometime during the past school year my fourteen-year-old daughter surprised everyone by announcing that she wanted to go on a family trip across Canada in our thirty year old motor home after all. A year before, when my husband had suggested the same thing, both my daughter and I had scowled at the thought of being stuck in a confined space as a family for weeks on end. Now I was the odd man out, the only one who didn’t want to go. My husband said it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. “Yeah” I thought, “I bet it would be.” An opportunity for what? To be kept awake by everybody snoring? To experience conflict with each other about every little thing? To get stranded in the middle of nowhere? But I was outnumbered and so, with my knees shaking I said “yes” to the trip while crying out “no” to the challenges.
Looking back I can say that everything that I was afraid of happened and more. People snored, we had conflict and the motor home broke down in the middle of nowhere. Wouldn’t you think that is just a given with four people driving 13,000 kilometers in a tired and aging RV? Yet something started to occur to me as we made our way across the country. I seemed to have a sense of entitlement that these things shouldn’t happen to me. Where did this come from? I realized that I had a lot of fear and yet I only had so much control. I couldn’t control the other drivers. I couldn’t control the weather conditions or the mechanical breakdowns. I couldn’t make my kids have a good time although I did give them heck if they didn’t look out the window enough. My inflated ego was insisting that things go a certain way and yet reality was about to teach me otherwise. What I really could control was my own level of resistance to life on a road trip and what it would throw at me. I could say, “yes” to the adventure and unearth the treasures that lay beneath.
When it came to sleep, there was a lot more than snoring disturbing me. At one point in Halifax, it rained so hard that our roof developed a major leak right over my daughter’s bed. At two in the morning she ended up having to crawl into my bed. We giggled as we watched the drops of water plunking into pots. Every time my husband reminded us he was trying to sleep, we laughed harder. Wrapped in each other’s arms everything was funny and in that moment there was nothing else. My son slept through it all and his snoring wasn’t an annoyance but a peaceful reminder of his steady nature. This was no tragedy; it was an unexpected moment of joy and closeness.
There were times of conflict yet the beauty of having nowhere to run meant that we either let things go or we talked. A lesson came to me during a state of agitation when I announced that I wouldn’t play mediator or peacekeeper and they would have to sort out their gripes themselves. My son patted me on the head and said, “Good for you mom, it’s about time.” What? I knew he was a foot taller than me but could he really see a part of me that I couldn’t see? So I let go and after that something wonderful happened: I discovered all my interference was really unnecessary. Okay, it was darn right annoying and stopped people from finding their own creative ways to solve problems. When I let go I freed myself from self-imposed suffering. When I could accept conflict it meant I could get on with life rather than getting caught up in how things played out. It was incredibly liberating, for all of us. I developed more faith in my family’s ability to work things out and they did so with humour, warmth and compassion. In this I found equality and a sense of trust within my family.
The lack of breakdowns began to feel like a miracle although we had some problems but nothing that couldn’t be solved with duct tape, twine or a coat hanger. We narrowly escaped tornadoes, were eaten alive by bugs and we even managed to get some airtime when a road came to an unexpected ending. At one point we were stranded in the middle of nowhere because we ran out of propane but rescued by kind hearted people who went out of their way to help us. We were left feeling grateful and humbled by people’s big hearts and willingness to help. There was a sense of connectedness that moved beyond our family and into the air we all breathe together.
We learned that we could make plans expecting to be in control of how the day unfolded but open to the fact that things didn’t always go according to plan. Our comfort began to lie not in what we thought we could control but our commitment to deal with what happened. This was complete freedom because we could be open to life’s challenges without feeling entitled or too weak to endure them. We were ready, and believe me when I say; we toughened up to the givens of a road trip but softened to the nature of being human. In this there was the peace of surrender; not the fear of defeat.
On that road trip I still had a physical and emotional place for myself even though four of us were confined for five weeks within that space. I could still look out the window and acknowledge this was a point in time that would come to an ending. It seemed like life was staring back at me with a reminder that everything changed and nothing lasts forever. I could always be there for myself and I could continue to commit to learning how to love without fear, control and conditions. With every “yes” I say to the challenge I receive more peace, joy and more space in my happy place.
So perhaps somewhat predictably I am saying the road trip was a reflection of the bigger picture. I know there will be “givens” in my life as a parent of teens. I will go through pain and discomfort. I might break down or be shocked by the unexpected. Perhaps if I can hang on to that sweet sense of surrender I can face anything that life has to offer me: not to fight, but to embrace the challenges that will lead me along the heroic journey of being a parent.