This past year, my younger son and I toured a few of the colleges on his wish list. After visiting schools two years ago with his older brother, I knew these college tours were going to be as exciting as waiting in line for 26 hours to get a driver’s license, but I was looking forward to spending one-on-one time with my over-scheduled son.
A few of the schools were farther than seven hours away, so we flew to each one. Even if the schools had been only two hours away (which my son wouldn’t have considered, knowing I could drive there at any time), we still would have flown. The two of us had ruled out any possibilities for a college road trip.
My decision to fly instead of drive goes back to when I spent two weeks every summer of my childhood on forced road trips my parents called vacation. Their idea of family time was cramming five bored siblings, a scruffy dog who slobbered on all of us, and a sofa-sized cooler filled with soggy sandwiches to eat at rest stops (before they became creepy), into a wood-paneled station wagon. After those soul-crushing, bone-crushing, and dreams-of-being-adopted-by-another-family-crushing road trips, driving wasn’t an option.
The last college we visited was in Memphis. We took a 5 a.m. flight in a plane the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, but with less leg room. We landed, rented a car, and when we realized the college tour didn’t start for three hours, we drove to the place where the magic happens: Graceland.
Expecting the tackiest tour in history, my son and I actually enjoyed seeing where Elvis Presley lived and played. Only The King could make shag carpeting and wood paneling look cool. We left Graceland without Elvis shot glasses or “skinny Elvis” bobble heads, among other overpriced souvenirs that dedicated fans wearing Elvis has not left the building t-shirts waited in long lines to buy.
We arrived at the college with 20 minutes to spare, took the mind-numbing tour, and then drove straight to the airport. After we made it to the gate and waded through the crowd that was camped out on every available inch of the floor, the gate agent told us that our flight was delayed for over two hours. We were going to miss our connecting flight…the last one of the night.
Our choices were to hire a private plane and find a millionaire to pay for it, or rent a car for the seven-hour drive home. At 8 p.m. we stepped into the car and my son (always the eternal optimist) said, “Road trip, mom!” We were going on a Thelma & Louise-type adventure: mom and son edition, minus the headscarves, cops, guns, and cliffs.
Armed with a Diet Mountain Dew for me, and two cans of energy drink for my son, nothing was going to stop us (except for a few bathroom breaks…thanks, caffeine). I thought he would sleep while I drove, but instead my son was awake for the entire trip. Maybe he was trying to be considerate by keeping me company or after driving with me for so many years he was questioning whether I was heading in the right direction.
During the drive home we listened to music from the ‘80s (“How do you know all the lyrics, mom?”), laughed at a comedy album my son had downloaded, and did something we rarely made time to do in our text-filled, snapchatting, Instagramming lives: talked.
I’ve thought about contacting the airline about delaying my flight, making me scramble to make other arrangements, and giving me no choice but to drive alone with my son for seven hours, the longest amount of time (aside from vacations) I’ve spent with him in years.
The problem is, I’m not sure whether or not they accept thank you notes.
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer, the proud mother of two college-aged sons, and the author of five books about working from home. She writes the blog Forgot to Tell You. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter.