Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Slow down and travel

Boiling rage. No, frantic gotta-get-there-ism. Or maybe it’s just plain impatience.

For us guys, we often find ourselves in one of those emotional states when traveling with the family. Maybe it happens to single guys, too, but I usually see it in us husbands/fathers. It’s always ugly. It’s oppressive to the other humans in the cars -- our spouses/kids.

I’m guilty. I’m partially cured. And I’m here to urge you to resist the urge.

You know the drill. There’s a nice vacation planned. Or maybe you’re visiting your family, or hers. It’s not intentional, but far in the back of your skull, a compulsion sprouts. You need to get where you’re going. Soon. As soon as possible. No stops…or as few as feasible.

Kids need a potty break? “I SIMPLY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT! Do they HAVE to go? Can’t they hold it until we stop for lunch?”

Wife’s pregnant belly smashing the blue blazes out of her bladder? “YOU’RE AN ADULT!”, you scream. “Can’t YOU hold it?”

The disease usually includes the need to drive at least 10 or 15 miles an hour over the posted limit.

Great way to add to the interstate tension, eh?

I’ve tried to diagnose the madness, and here’s all I’ve come up with: In some respects, men feel responsible for getting the family to the destination safely. The quicker we go, with the least number of stops, accomplishes that goal in the quickest way possible. The stress ends at the destination. It’s over --at least until the return trip, when the fever starts rising all over again.

Admittedly, that may be putting the most benign face on a terrible malignancy. But like I said, it’s what I’ve come up with so far.

The good news is that I’ve found a painless cure, at least for myself.

It’s age.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve gained the great benefit of hindsight. It has shown me clearly how my teeth-gritting impatience harmed my family and sucked much of the pleasure of travel out of my family’s experiences. I remember well a return trip to North Carolina from my native Philadelphia, when an inevitable traffic jam caught us in Virginia. I escaped I-95 by driving, in reverse, up an on-ramp. In my impatience, it didn’t dawn on me that I had no idea what route would take me beyond the slowdown and eventually back to the interstate.

The result is that we got lost in Fort Lee. That was just making the trip longer – and besides that, I was feeling very guilty for having acted so impetuously. Instead of an apology, I tried to blame the situation on my incredulous wife.

I’m ashamed of that incident, burned in our family’s memory, to this day.

That and other bad traveling decisions have taught me to slow down. Traveling can be fun and a terrific bonding opportunity for your family. We don’t have to get there with all due speed. In fact, we’re more likely to get everyone there safe and sound if we take a few breaks --if we eat lunch slowly; if we laugh and joke with each other; if we risk an hour’s side trip when an interesting historic site presents itself on one of those big brown highway signs.

If, in other words, we make a trip out of our travel. We’re in it to make a memory…a good one.

There are times when we do just have to get there…in the case of a relative’s illness, for instance.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve started doing. We leave at a sensible hour, not at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic even though everyone in the car is miserably sleepy. We stop whenever anyone needs to – which now includes two delightful little grandsons and their Dad, besides our original little nuclear family. We do stop at quilt shops and Wal-Marts and scenic overlooks. Life goes on if we arrive 30 minutes later than planned.

The disease still reasserts itself now and then. But I’m better at resisting it.

You try it. The advantage: fewer regrets – and many warm memories – when you get my age.

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