I’m sitting on my bed, the light from the laptop iluminating my face in the dark room. Tsuri is asleep beside me. The kids are still rolling around in bed, asking for water, complaining it is too dark, too light.
Our evenings often look like this. Tsuri conks out early after a day of driving, the kids drag out bedtime for way too long, and I stare at a screen for a couple hours and then close my eyes.
It’s a bedtime routine we’ve gotten used to. And now after three weeks of traveling, we’ve grown accustomed to ways of living I thought we’d never accept:
- Long drives.
Today for instance, what was supposed to be a “short” 3 hour drive turned into 4 hours. We encountered a road that was closed and had to backtrack and change course. Surprisingly, the kids barely complained. Sure, we had the regular – I’m cold/I’m hot debate, but for most of the drive they sat quietly – one listening to music on his phone, one reading on a kindle, and one playing endless 20 questions. I actually got to listen to my own music for most of it. Paul Simon went perfectly with the rolling hills we were passing.
This is a phenomenal development from the torturous car rides we began with. It just goes to prove – you can get used to anything.
- Living in small quarters.
For most of our trip so far we’ve been in one-room hotels with two queen beds. One kid sleeps on an air mattress. After you do that for long enough the prospect of a bit more space seems palatial.
When we arrived at our last place, which had two whole bedrooms, and three beds in the kids room, the kids were EUPHORIC. They each got their own bed! If you follow me on IG you saw they’re gleeful celebration when they saw they wouldn’t be waking up with their sibling’s feet in their faces.
For a short moment it reminded me of Laura Ingles’ elation when she finally received a simple fabric doll on Christmas. Until then her doll had been a stalk of corn wrapped in cloth (!). Her sweet Charlotte. Ok, fine. My kids’ situation is nothing like Laura Ingles’ minimalism. But gone are the days when they complain about not having their own room. At least for the moment.
Most of the places we’ve stayed in haven’t had kitchens. We’ve gotten pretty good at using the camping burner everywhere. Tonight we set it up in the bathroom. And the gourmet meal of the night was yet again – pasta. “No!! Not pasta again!?” Yes. Again.. But they eat it anyway knowing that’s what we got.
- Each other.
The kids have been playing with each other a lot more than usual. It’s kind of like the pasta. When you’re hungry you have to eat what’s there. When you want to play, you play with whoever you’ve got. Yesterday they played an hour long game challenging each other to climb up a rock in different ways. Today they planned a whole Minecraft world together in which they were the kings and queens of the land.
It’s not all roses. They also tease, bite, hit, yell and poke at each other more. But I’ll take more of the bad stuff if we can get more of the good.
- New places.
I just counted. We’ve stayed in 13 different places since we started. That’s a lot of walking into a strange place and calling it home for a night. A lot of packing, forgetting something, dressing quickly, taking toothbrushes in and out of the bag. In those moments I’m reminded of our indigenous friends who were skilled at quickly breaking down their camp and teepees to follow the bison to their new home. Ok fine, maybe folding up the air mattresses is not exactly like moving a village, but I’d like to see Sitting Bull get my kids to brush, dress, eat, study, and get the hell into the car all before check-out.
- Same clothes.
Remember when we packed 5 t-shirts, 5 shorts, and 5 pants and it felt like like so little? We actually haven’t even dipped into most of the clothes yet. We end up wearing the same stuff. When there is a washing machine nearby we need to use it anyway to clean underwear and then we just wear the outfit at the top of the bag. Especially for my middle kid, who used to do wardrobe changes at least twice a day, wearing the same outfit every day is a big deal.
So basically the lesson here is – don’t be afraid to deprive your children.
Despite everything we’re getting use to, every day has been a new adventure.
Since that shitty day I told you about in our last blog, we headed to another area in south Dakota. This was really our first journey into the nature of the area. We toured the badlands, the black Hills, and Spear Fish.
Even though our hotel felt like a Covid trap, with a guy behind the desk who made no pretense of putting a mask on, we will remember the area fondly.
The landscape was spectacular and the parks were so diverse despite being less than an hour apart. The badlands were rolling layered hills made of clay. The black hills included an area called needles, in which rock formations called Buttes dove out of the ground creating huge tall stone structures. The kids had a blast climbing on all of it.
Before we headed to Mount Rushmore we went to see the monument of Crazy Horse, who defeated Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn. We’ve been diving deep into the history of this land, and are learning about the repeated attempts of the indigenous people, over hundreds of years, to reclaim their land.
One of our goals for this trip was to make it educational as well as fun. We weren’t sure we could make it happen, but so far I think we’ve done pretty well. And we’ve had some help.
Have you ever heard of the App called Gypsy Guide? Guys, this is a find. If you ever take a trip to the national parks you must use it. Its basically a traveling tour guide who gives you info as you drive, following your progress on the map. We learned about the battles of the indigenous people, the nomadic movement, the infiltration of the US, and even what movies took place in what area (Tsuri and I rewatched Dances With Wolves because we were in the exact spot the movie takes place.) the kids were as riveted as we were.
Luckily, my son is in 4th grade so he’s learning about the Westward Expansion. His lessons fit perfectly with the landscape we are passing and the history we’re learning. Its so great to bring the dry descriptions on his computer to life.
So by the time we went to see the 4 white guys on the mountain the kids understood the complexity behind the monument. Perhaps my favorite moment at Rushmore happened while I was getting us ice cream. I chatted with the server (who was probably the only person in South Dakota who wore a mask) about how many tubs of ice cream he goes through every day. He said – “especially vanilla”. “Really?” I said “chocolate is obviously the better choice.” He answered – “Well people want the full experience”.
I guess he felt safe to make that joke since I was his only mask-wearing ally and unfortunately that is a political statement as much as it is a health precausion these days.
As we were leaving I took another look at the monument and it seemed to me like there was a 5th face, hiding over to the right. This one was not sculpted by man but rather by nature. The expression was thoughtful, knowing, peaceful. I imagined it was Black Elk who managed to get on that mountainside after all.
From there we took a long drive to the most southern point of Montana. The 5 hour drive was so grueling that my daughter actually got out and ran alongside the car at one point. Whatever it takes.
In a week our trip will change drastically. We will have toured Yellowstone and won’t be rushing anymore (most of the areas in the park will have closed.) we won’t have a specific goal in mind. We can go anywhere. We can stay for as long as we want. That will be a very welcome change for all of us.
I have a fantasy about what our routine will look like. Although we know that no mother’s fantasies ever come true. But just the thought of a regular schedule makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Ok dear travel mates, till next time. Stay tuned to hear if Yellowstone was all that – worth the long haul, the “active labor”, the million hotel rooms, the covid risks, the parental insanity.