Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Road Trip

by Caroline Stanistreet 

As I sit on a plane heading home from a national sales meeting, I can't help but think about the next time I will head home in a plane.

That will be the time I return from driving my son 12+ hours south to his college destination. It's his dream come true, and for me it's going to be tough. He's the last one to go, and while my daughter is also going away, she will be only a half-hour drive due west.

I think of all the time and hours I spent driving them both to a wide variety of places. With my daughter, it was horseback riding lessons, Irish step dancing classes (thankfully that lasted only about a year), swim club, marching band and high school musicals.

For my son, it was mainly sports - first hockey, a little cross-country, then lacrosse, then golf. That was mixed in with a few years of piano lessons (those, I wish he continued, but maybe he will pick it up again after his recent discovery of some "new" pianists...named Billy Joel and Elton John).

I felt so liberated when the day came that one of them began to drive. But, then I reminisced to the careful coordination of carpooling with other hockey moms in our neighborhood.  Some days I was "off," and on a few of them it saved me all from seemingly risking life and limb to get them to hockey practice in rather unpleasant weather conditions (snow totaling 1-2" per hour with high winds for one). One day, I drove 6 young hockey boys and 6 stinky hockey bags in my Chevy Suburban, now topping the odometer at 131,126 miles since it was bought in 2010. We don't owe it a thing, since it served its time and continues to roll along as a towing vehicle every so often.

Driving my daughter was more entertaining - and less pungent - as I would listen to the don’t-take-a breath chatter between her and her theatrical or musical friends about rehearsals and how they thought a show or performance was coming together.  The conversations and varied opinions always made me chuckle.

In both cases, there were always remnants, or trinkets, of the numerous trips in my Suburban.  Hair bands, candy wrappers, broken pencils, coins, golf tees, partially consumed Gatorade bottles, and the occasional missing hockey glove were among the items.  Strangely enough, a cell phone was once located in the 3rd row seat, but was reported missing several days after bringing one of my son's friends home....that I still can't understand since this kid is a teenager!


Well, here I am - just a few short weeks later, on the plane home and trying to be a brave girl. Just 2 days before, Sean and I took the big road trip South, and it’s really his first time he’ll remember heading to South Carolina.  I did, of course, put a photo album together for him of his life.  There is a lot of good stuff he didn't remember as a boy, so it was my job to remind him and to make myself feel better (it didn't work).  But he really enjoyed looking at some of the events he barely remembered, and it at least reminded him of the friendships he forged, the places he went and the smile he ALWAYS had on his face.

We stopped after 8 1/2 hours from Central New York to just south of Roanoke, Virginia, as I thought the full 12 hours would be too much for me, and I was right (CONFESSION - I wanted to extend my time with him as much as possible).  It will be difficult, obviously, to repeat that same memorable trip with my daughter, as she will be a mere 30 minutes away (perhaps 37 minutes away in the winter).  But the pain will be the same.  Saying goodbye to your college-bound child reminds me of the same unique pain I had during childbirth. You just can't explain it, but it's a whole different kind of hurt than anything you can really describe, and Moms everywhere may know what I mean!

So during my last hours with Sean, especially during the chaotic yet scenic trek through Pennsylvania and mountainous Virginia, I did what any good reporter (though retired) would do...ask a lot of questions to get him to talk - and get to know him a little bit better than his 18 years, 7 months and 28 days, and 11 1/4 hours of life (but who's counting?)....

    "What classes are you taking?"
    "Uh, how do you pronounce the name of that 'singer' again? Wiz Kalifah?"
    "I could really go for a beeeeerrr...uh, ice"
    "What else can I buy you?!"
    "Maybe we can find a driving range near the hotel?"
    "Where are your roommates from, again?"
    "When will you be home?"  "I'll book your flight now if you'd like!"

    Just the usual questions.

As we continue at 30,000 feet into a bright evening summer sky, the makeup-laden tears have dried on my face, temporarily.  I won't contact him daily like I conspired to do, as I need to cut the cord quickly for both our sakes. However - I'm going to correspond the old-fashioned way, something both my parents did - which I'll always appreciate - I'm sending frequent letters - and care packages and maybe some money! My husband suggested I send him gift cards to the southern fast food places there, which is a great idea, and an excuse to let him know we are all still thinking of him.  Not sure if he will save the letters or notes like I did. Since both my parents are gone, any of their written correspondence is priceless to me now, especially the brief, yet humorous, writings of my father from his personalized sea foam green 5 x 7" notepaper with his name and full calendar on the upper right hand corner, circa 1980.  It was normally folded 3 ways with either a crisp $10 bill or a check written with his beautiful prep school handwriting for the same amount. And may I remind you that $10 was a FORTUNE in 1980?!

As that song, or many songs say, "don't you forget about me."

I think we did our job, and a pretty good one at that. I've discovered that through observing my husband and his relationships with his older adult children, being a parent will never have a retirement opportunity, and that's totally OK with me. I just don't want our kids to ever forget their childhood, their upbringing and the unconditional love they have always had and always will. But it's time to let go and let them grow into their own wonderful selves, as incredibly different as they are from being just 51 weeks apart (and yes, yes, yes, I would do that all over again).

For those of you who are still carting your kids to hockey practice, play rehearsal, golf or tennis lessons, or lacrosse clinics, cherish every moment, because it goes way too fast.  It's not a cliché; I'm living it right now. Smell those stinky shoulder pads, pick up the change and the Bobbie pins stuck to the car floor, and hum the tunes the kids would try to harmonize on the car radio together. Those road trips are the best, although the one I just took with Sean probably topped my list.

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