We’ve logged tens of thousands of miles road-tripping from coast to coast with our two kids. When it comes to the family road trip, Clark Griswold has nothing on us. We’re experts.
My family has woken up to some stunning scenery. From the shadows of sheer canyons in a remote corner of New Mexico to the shores of Bahia Honda, having an RV is an immersive experience. For instance, this dispatch comes to you from a gravel lot in Jersey City (that’s in New Jersey).
From the bed in our RV, I can see a collection of boats in dry storage, an old crane yard, and a giant tour bus belonging to “El Alfa El Jefe,” (yes, the Dominican music sensation). Just beyond, brand new high-rise condos with views of Lower Manhattan start at a cool $1 million. (I was hopeful when the sign said, “325 Grand,” but that was the address.) We’re camping in the “next Brooklyn.”
One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “How do you spend so much time together without killing each other?”
Keeping peace in our rolling tenement is an art. We’ve learned that drives longer than four hours turn our sweet offspring into Children of the Corn. It starts with one child humming, the other gets annoyed and starts tapping and in mere moments the passive-aggressive decathlon is underway. (Other events include whistling, talking, not talking, chewing and breathing.)
I typically respond by reminding them that if they don’t heed my soft warning, the scorched-earth justice of their mother will follow.
Is it an idle threat when she declares that we’ll leave them on the side of the road? I’m not sure. But the other day our kids were faced with something far worse than total abandonment: a drive without their electronics. Would they survive the drive from the Smoky Mountains to Northern Virginia, without YouTube? Without Fortnite?
Our kids dug deep and summoned the courage to ride down a road, unentertained. They’ll eventually write a book about their experience. Two hours into the drive, our son stared out the window and mused, “It’s pretty here.” We’ve driven just about every corner of Virginia over the last three summers and he just noticed.
Spoiler alert: they survived.
Honestly, it’s usually great. Our kids have adapted to road life. They’ve learned to love historic sites; they indulge the backstories we tell them in order to give the context of why someplace is “interesting”; and when the going gets tough, they feign interest when they have none. We dragged them to William Faulkner’s house in Oxford, MS. Our daughter threw me a bone: “What’s your favorite book that he wrote, Daddy?” I haven’t read any, Sweetie. Just look at the famous dead guy’s house.
Oh, the look of dread on the face of tour guides when they see two kids join their group. But they invariably surprise the experts. The guide at Helen Keller’s birthplace was ready to hire them. And I’m not kidding when I tell you that we left them unattended with Civil War re-enactors for an hour at Bull Run while Monica and I did a walking tour. When we returned, our son was giving commands during their gun firing demonstration and our daughter was polishing off her third piece of “hard tack.”
The truth is, we tend to remember the good moments and forget the dark times. We once ate at a restaurant in Mammoth Lakes where no one spoke except to the server. For a month in 2018 we couldn’t use the word “hike” around our daughter.
But if there’s one time the wheels fall off, it’s when we get lost. The kids get nervous when my wife and I both have our phones open to Google maps. Once, we found ourselves on the wrong trail during a massive thunderstorm in the Shenandoah Mountains. Our kids have a hard time believing that it could’ve been worse, but it’s not like anyone got caught naked on the side of the road or contracted Lyme disease that day.
Actually that did happen. But I still had fun.
Jon Kile is a stay-at-home dad, writer and amateur homeschool teacher in St. Pete. He and his wife Monica, a nonprofit consultant and marathoner, have a habit of loading their two kids into their RV and disappearing down the backroads of America. After he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Jon adjusted his lifestyle while finding inner peace and humor. Visit dontmakemeturnthisvanaround.com.