Our first big road trip to Disneyland as a family took place when my oldest daughter turned three. Her little brother was barely a year old and we loaded up the Honda Accord and took three days to drive the 1800 miles between Seattle and Anaheim.
In the thirteen years since, we’ve done the trip a few more times, and we’ve improved on our travel time, cutting the trip from three days to less than eighteen hours, driving overnight and stopping at the same stops along the way. The system has proven to be successful, with the kids sleeping through the night and waking up as we drive into the Disneyland Resort. It’s a nice way to wake up, and we do the reverse system on the way home.
Last fall, we drove home from our October trip and let’s just say the return trip was less than ideal. Late start, Los Angeles freeway system completely shut down and pushed onto side roads, barfing children, and an eventual rest stop for yours truly because of some truly troubling stomach concerns. When we finally got home, my wife and I turned to each other and said, “We are never driving again.”
When we announced this to the kids before our most recent trip, you would have thought we told them we were killing the pet kitten, Figaro. (Yes, our cat is named after the kitten from Pinocchio. Big surprise, right?)
“That’s our favorite part! We HAVE to drive!”
This was not just the little kids, but the teenagers, too. Turns out that predictable 18-hour drive, with predictable stops at Sonic Drive-In, Starbucks, and In-n-Out, with lots of Disneyland music playing, games being played, books being read, pictures being drawn is a highlight of their vacations to Disneyland. To them, it’s as essential to the experience as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or a picture with Mickey Mouse.
This is what I mean when I say it’s not what you think it is. You may think the big thing is what makes memories with your kids, that it’s those “wow” moments that are their favorite parts of their lives, but the truth is different. That crazy, long drive is one of their favorite family memories.
Looking back on my childhood, it’s the same for me. Sure, I remember the National Parks, the trip to Washington, DC or New York City, and the road trips across the country. But what I really remember with fondness as a highlight of my childhood are those smaller, everyday things that I’m sure my parents didn’t even realize were essential to my childhood: the kick-start of our annual summer road trip with the marathon drive to Missoula, Montana and the elderly couple who always had dinner ready for us; the annual summer blockbuster with other missionary kids at the offices in Greenwood, Indiana (Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom come to mind); the drives to my grandparents’ home in San Diego; the bike rides to Dairy Queen; the summer nights where we sat in the backyard and just laughed and listened to music.
As parents, we want the “big” thing that we’ve saved up and planned for to be what our kids remember, and they will. The kids won’t forget those moments. But let’s not forget that memories are made in those smaller things, too, and we need to spend time creating those moments, too.