This article was originally published HERE on January 4, 2016
When my mother suggested that on our Christmas family vacation the seven of us drive three hours from Phoenix, Arizona to the red rocks of Sedona we all jumped at the opportunity against what should have been better judgment. We figured the excursion was a chance to see something different, something new, it was a chance to Instagram, a chance to find an In-n-Out burger on the way, a chance to bond, even.
Unfortunately, when you pack four siblings and two stressed out parents into a minivan, it doesn’t matter how much time has lapsed since the last family vacation, behavior leans towards that of a National Lampoon’s script. Add in one ferociously witty, charismatic spouse and you have yourself the entire movie.
I grew up with two parents who valued family travel a great deal.
It was always a good idea to drive places — we would go from Kamloops down to Disneyland, from Vancouver to Terrace, from to Port McNeill to Prince George — wherever we wanted to go we would do it on four wheels. It was always a good idea, that is, until we shut the doors.
Putting aside the fact that even the largest of vehicles isn’t comfortable for 6 people long haul driving, enclosed spaces just aren’t the most beneficial for a family’s sanity. Even if you can agree on which of the Toms to play (Petty, Stompin’ or Cochrane?), even if you manage to synchronize your bladders, even if you can stop backseat driving —which, I mean, good luck — even if all the stars align and those three things are not your problem the fact remains: it is impossible to peacefully co-exist for long with people you’re trapped with.
As we age, we come to accept our families for what they are: wild, obnoxious and irreplaceable. We take each other’s idiosyncrasies in stride as we repeat like a mantra the words, “you are my family and I love you.” We whole-heartedly enjoy small doses of time together and we proclaim loudly that we would do anything for each other — and we would.
But no matter how old we get, our siblings will always push our buttons. Our parents will always have the authority to tell us to quit biting our fingernails and watch our Corona intake and, for some of us, the power to influence us in such. It does not take long for our sense of self to start radically diminishing when we are with our closest family members.
We are reminded, often, of the past. We are viewed, frequently, as being the same as we always have. We are treated, constantly, in a raw manner that we are not used to in our daily lives.
So why do we do it?
As I sat — crammed into a middle seat that would have been too small for a 7 year old — watching the Sedona cliffs fade into the desert behind me, I listened to my mother sigh as my dad ignored her directions after a long day of faulty GPS. I felt the vibrations of the seat back punching into my spine as my 26-year-old brother kept punching it. Another one of my brothers sat groaning in the back as my husband proceeded to whistle an entire Willie Nelson song in harmony. I felt the head of yet another brother bob gently on my shoulder as he slept awkwardly through the turns of the 101.
I was more than spent and ready to open the doors and escape the confines of the van, but for the first time, I couldn’t help but see the situation for what it was — the most beautiful proof that love can be unconditional and that in all of our dark moments, there are people who will see in us only the light.
As one of the Toms put it: Through all these cities and all these towns/ it’s in my blood and it’s all around/ I love you now like I loved you then/ this is the road and these are the hands.