I’d forgotten, somehow. Knowing it to be true for me, but disregarding it for the sullen and slothful demeanor of my teenagers. I’d forgotten the power of nature; the inexplicable ability for the landscape to overlook the sour and lethargic and unexcitable attitudes of my children and beckon them into something mesmerizing and unexplainable and beautiful. To inspire them to play again; to laugh; to stand mouths dropped and eyes wide with awe at something so vast and fascinating. Desolate and barren and harsh and unwelcoming and somehow all those things lead us into the decision that Death Valley, for those who are willing to lose themselves in it and appreciate the magnitude it embodies, is anything and everything opposite of it’s first name.
Reluctant road-tripping, we’ll call it, at best. At worst... well, let’s just leave it at best. I smudged the line a thousand times trying to figure out where to draw it. Do I say they have to go? Do I let them opt out? Do I engage them in the process of picking where to go and what to see? Every place I drew the line was met with equal and unavoidable obstacles from my ever-so-willing-to-verbally-challenge-their-mom teenagers. To the point where I threw up my hands and said, “Get in the car, packed or not.”
And in doing that, something moved. Not immediately, but a slow leak. In me. In them. I shut up and they followed suit and we rode in silence for a long while. And what happened after that is nothing short of a miracle. I’d forgotten the magic of the ‘road trip’. The feeling of freedom on the open road. The undeniable draw of windows rolled down and loud music and eating too much candy. The way that being too close together for too many hours draws out every form of obnoxiousness in everyone to the point where you scream as loud as possible out the window for everyone to shut-up and then everything boils down into one chaotic mess of laughter and singing and shouting and making up the same stupid games I played as a kid as if it were the first time they’ve ever been played. And at that point, the kids are debating whether it would be better to die at the hand of the scorching sun left alone on the side of the highway in the desert or by the hand of your own mother who is literally about the strangle you if you repeat that same line of that movie one more time.
I hope you know what I mean. Because it is something horrific and beautiful at the same time. And what happened can all be summed up in this:
After driving for hours and being in and out of the car visiting the sand dunes and the salt flats and a bunch of other ‘points of interest’. I’m reading the informative plaque about the formations of salt on the ‘Devil’s Golf Course’ and it’s fascinating and incredible and I can’t get enough of it. My toddler is walking toward me crying because she took one step out there and gashed her shin on the ‘pokey stuff’. My son, already way out, is breaking off the ‘pokey stuff’ and hucking it at his older sister, my middle daughter, who is running toward me disgusted shouting, “Mom! Mom! Norah has poop coming out of her shorts and...make Perez stop. He’s regurgitating his food and spitting it up all over me and trying to take me out with that pokey stuff.”
I smiled at the lady next to me who was also reading the sign. “I’m sorry you had to hear that. Road tripping with toddlers and teenagers. Can’t get much better than this!” And, I actually meant that. For the first time, in a long time, I actually meant it.