“Roadkill!”, my mom hollered from the passenger seat, as I swerved to avoid yet another lifeless raccoon sprawled out across the asphalt. She let out a few giggles at her own joke— and it was at that moment, with a brilliant burnt-orange sun setting in the rearview mirror, and miles and miles of open road ahead, that I was reminded just how much like my mother I really am.
We were an unlikely pair on the on the road that day. Just a girl in her late twenties, her mom, and a car loaded up with stuffed animals, onesies labeled with clever sayings, and a wooden baby crib— an old heirloom handcrafted by my mom’s dad, used by both of my sisters and myself, and brought out of retirement to rock my older sister’s soon-to-be bundle of joy to sleep at night. We had spent the day in a maze of corn fields, big rigs, and a smelly variety of deceased animals, substituting as mile markers on a particularly long stretch of I-80.
We were on a mission, bound for Kansas City— the home of thousands of newly depressed Royals fans-- and my older sister, her husband, and their two ridiculously adorable pugs. It was my mom that casually threw out the idea of driving the crib and all of the former items from all of the shelves of aisle 6 of Babies R Us out to Missouri. I was in desperate need of a spontaneous road trip, and even though my mom and I hadn’t spent a great deal of time together in the past few years, I packed a bag, and away we went.
When it comes to road trips, picking a good partner-in-crime is crucial. The best road dawg is someone that already knows your flaws, and weird sleeping habits, and is all too familiar with that awkward pitchy off-note you hit when reaching for gold in every Celine Dion song on your playlist. (Don’t judge me. You’re probably listening to a Justin Beiber song at this very moment…) Like pretty much ever other mother-daughter relationship, my mom and I had our fair share of spats as I was growing up. As a kid, a teenager, and an adult, I’ve always been stubborn. And fiercely independent. And unrelenting. All qualities I share with my mom. But as the years passed, the emotions and traits that make us the same have evolved enough to bring us together. It’s like my entire life, we've been trying to keep our balance on opposite ends of a tight rope, and we’ve finally both carefully made our way to a supportive middle. With each mile, and hour, and town, I felt better and better about traveling with my mom. It’s not like woman I had known my entire life had changed— she hadn’t. She had always been adventurous, and caring, and funny. I was the one that had changed. I’d grown up. And my mom was no longer the woman grounding me for the fifth time that week. She wasn't the woman hiding exhaustion from three girls with countless passions and hopes and dreams. She was the woman sitting across from me at 11 o’clock in the morning on a weekday, sipping on samples of craft beer in Nebraska’s oldest brewpub. She was the one that was wholeheartedly game when I half-seriously suggested we tour the National Roller Skating Museum along the way. She was the one telling me stories of our past. Stories I’d always been dying to hear. Like about the moment when I entered this world on schedule— making it one of the last known moments I was ever on time. She told me stories about her father, who had passed away over a decade before. She was the person to my right, making sure I was drinking plenty of water and holding the bag of carrots out so that I could enjoy a healthy snack as I drove. She tolerated my eclectic music choices for more than twenty hours, but belted out the words every time a Beatles song came on— because when it comes to crafting the best road trip playlist, the Beatles are the great equalizers.
When we finally found ourselves nestled back between our beloved Colorado mountains, we didn’t hug. We’ve never been the hugging type. But as we said our goodbyes, just like every other goodbye we’ve ever exchanged, I started thinking about our next road trip. Where would go next? I bet she would love the palate of fall colors in Vermont? Or maybe Boston. Our trip theme could be “Tea Party”, which she’d enjoy, because she thinks I drink too much coffee. More memories will come from our next adventure. And when it comes to family, growing up, and adventure, it’s all about the memories.