If I thought my mother a saint for piping thousands of tiny frosting stars onto my childhood birthday cakes, the fact that she willingly piled two children, multiple suitcases, coolers of sandwich ingredients, books on tape, barbie dolls, and travel games into a car and drove for four straight days across the country through Texas (Texas people!), well, let there now be no question of her levels of patience and love.
My sister, eager to call shotgun, always frustrated me with her cry for the front seat, but somewhere during my rearrangement of my backseat nook complete with portable tape player and headset (remember those orange foam covers?) so that I could hear that soul-affirming "ding" that reminded me to turn the page when reading along with books on tape, I forgave her.
From Virginia to New Mexico, we drove all day, spending hours in a car filled with the sounds of two young girls yelling out inaccurate lyrics to classic songs, shouting out demands for others in the car to look out the window, crying at our mother that we hated the other of us, and quietly simmering about how unfair our lot was at any given moment. With all the fighting and whining and emergency bathroom stops, it's a wonder we ever made it to my grandparent's house. Really, looking back, it's amazing they looked forward to what would spill out of the car once we arrived.
The truth, through all my memories of frustration and tears and well, vomit, is that I look back on those trips as some of the best times of my life. I remember odd tidbits, like the fact that Denny's still allowed children to eat for free and the toys they gave out one summer were little Flinstone's toys that rolled on tiny wheels and it drove me crazy that I couldn't get Wilma out of that damn stone car.
Thank you, Google, for remembering her, too.
And though my memory holds a strong tie for what was better - the frustratingly fantastic time in the car or the moment we saw our grandparents come out the front door, I'm glad I had both - a quick flight across the country just wouldn't have done. We had rock forts, neon paints, pony beads, and mud pies to look forward to, and as any good traveler knows, it's as much about how you get there as what you do when you arrive.