The Road Warrior rides again — my first solo trip with the kiddos!

And yes, those ARE my new Coach rose gold aviators! Swoon!
And yes, those ARE my new Coach rose gold aviators! Swoon!

When I met The Hubs, I gave up a few things, including my apartment and seafood. I also gave up long-distance driving and freeway driving. It’s not because The Hubs is some control freak who insists on driving. It’s just that he is a terrible passenger. He can never relax, perched at the front of the seat like some hawk-eyed driver’s ed teacher. He doesn’t mean to grind my last nerve, but he does. He would never, ever in a million years close his eyes. So I figured, huh, why shouldn’t I just let him be happy? I discovered I much preferred passengering to captaining because I could sit and read for hours, uninterrupted. I could spot places I wanted him to pull over so I could shop. I could commandeer the radio and our lunch spots. I could even sleep.

I haven’t driven further than Abilene by myself in 14 years, and I haven’t driven in Houston, Austin, San Antonio or Dallas in 16. Truthfully, I don’t miss it. I have become increasingly paranoid since we always have the kids in the car. Now it is summer, and we are ready for some fun, but The Hubs is out of vacation time. Our two choices: sit at home or hit the road — alone. After much thought, I decided I should reaffirm my own independence with a solo road trip.

Anyone who has ever traveled with little ones knows it is exhausting, and I wondered whether I could manage a week on the road. We had several stops to make. Could I pack, unload, reload, buckle, pack, unload, reload and buckle over and over again? In this heat? But I really wanted to visit my Spice Girls in Abilene, see the grands and spend a few days with a longtime friend and her family. So I decided to suck it up and planned a Texas tour that included stops in Cisco, Abilene, Dallas and Texarkana. Seven days, eight movies and roughly 30-plus hours in the car. One marathon Allen outlet mall shopping trip. Holy moly.

When we were kids, my parents never went to all the trouble today’s parents go to. I got a book and a Coke. My dad stopped only once for potty breaks. There were certainly no boosters or seat belts involved, and I spent plenty of time laid out across the back windshield speaker ledge of my mom’s seafoam green Buick LeSabre reading while my brother played in the back bench seat. Cringe.

Mack Daddy was an amazing driver. Somehow he could power down the highway, never resting, talking or listening to the radio. He could swat you with one of his giant meathook hands without ever taking his eyes off the road. I am not that coordinated. Hence, all the activities to keep the kids occupied. My brother and I would never have dreamed of telling him we couldn’t find something in the car if he told us to. Of course, there was a lot less to look for. A Coke can, a book and a travel size Connect Four. And you better find all those darned pieces, kids!

To his credit, my dad never yelled at us in the car. Didn’t have to. We would be carrying on and next thing you knew, meathook. If he tapped the brakes to pull over on the shoulder, you better get ready because you were about to get it. So after we were in first or second grade, we knew how to behave. My kids are so not there yet.

But to their credit, they battened down the hatches in Dallas traffic. And I finally figured out how to oreouse Bluetooth Audio and Google maps. I never missed a turn. What I did miss, however was exactly how to pay on the toll roads. I couldn’t figure out the stick figures on the freeway signs. It’s hard at 75 miles an hour when you’ve never used a toll road before. I passed at least seven sets of toll booths coming and going on the Bush Turnpike, never paid once. I’m sure I’ll get a bill in the mail.

Even though my Pinterest-inspired travel hacks were a fail, I did have a few strokes of genius halfway through the trip. I thought I should share them with those of you wanting to cram last-minute trips into the schedule before school starts and save you the hours on the computer trolling through my Pins.

Sweet boy, I wish I had all the answers

Image taken from diatribe.org
Image taken from diatribe.org

I have really been struggling this month. There are so many questions I just don’t have the answers for these days.

My precious nephew Cole Austin died a month ago, for reasons no clearer today than they were then. My son wants to know why Cole hurt himself, and my daughter wants to know why Jesus “took him” from her. It is hard to explain to Little Son that we don’t know why and probably never will. But my son is secure in his knowledge that Cole is now happy, whole and in Heaven. Bodacious, not so much. It is hard to explain to a 4-year-old that her father and I do not believe that God “takes” people any more than we believe God “lets” terrible things happen to us. But I have to remember that she has a child’s very literal Sunday school view of God. God sent the flood to cleanse the earth. God gave Jesus to Mary. Jesus cried out to God on the cross, to no avail. So I understand why she thinks God, like some cruel child who steals a favorite toy away on the playground, took Cole away from us. We have tried to explain to her that she feels grief and loss – that we all do. That we probably will for a long time, and that being sad is ok.

But there has been so much to make me sad this month. Last week, as the kids and I sat eating breakfast at a hotel in Texarkana, we watched the live news coverage leading up to the eulogy of slain South Carolina pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. A foot away, the black family at the table next to us was watcing the television as intently as my son.

The anchor led us through photos of Dylann Roof holding his Confederate battle flag then later photos of him smirking at cameras. Next we saw courtroom clips of the families of his victims offering Roof their forgiveness. Tears streamed down my face at both the senseless violence and the amazing grace that people showed him. The anchor recounted all the information that had been gathered on Roof and the shootings, and I silently prayed that my son would not ask me an endless round of questions.

Big eyes, solemn face. “Why did that boy shoot the reverend and his friends?” he asked.

Why indeed, sweet boy. Why? I struggled for words. Because I don’t know. What on earth could motivate someone to shoot nine people to death at a church Bible study? I cannot Continue reading

I survived: Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Check out that hat!
Check out that hat!

The Hubs has been traveling a bit for work again. But when he said he was going to Birmingham, Ala., next, I said there was no way in hell that he was going without me, you are not leaving me home alone with your kids again the kids and I would love to come with him.

I have heard so many good things about Birmingham, and even though it was going to be a very short trip, I was excited to go. I reviewed a lot of things close to our hotel that were kid friendly. We do zoos and science museums a lot already, and I loathe amusement parks and water parks. So I decided we should do something completely different. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens looked like the perfect spot to get some sunshine, stretch our legs and see truly vibrant gardens. The botanical gardens there are essentially a living museum with more than 12,000 different plants on 67 acres and in 27 unique gardens. Meemaw gave the kids cameras this year, and this seemed like a brilliant opportunity to use them!

What I did not anticipate about Birmingham though, was that is a lot like Houston. Only so much worse. It was 100 degrees by 10 a.m. and so humid, we could not breathe. People. My sweat was sweating. So our first stop had to be the new Super Target, an immense air-conditioned slice of heaven, filled with sunscreen and floppy, wide-brimmed hats. Bodacious even found a pearl-studded baseball cap that she said made her look “awesome.” I thought she looked like a tiny old woman, but what the heck! We were on a mini break and I intended to go with the flow.

So, $80 later we were back on the road again. Ish. Because now we needed to stop and eat some lunch. But it was so hot inside the sandwich shop, we actually took our food outside to eat in the car. When we left, I took a wrong turn onto the freeway and it took me another 10 minutes to get turned back around. It’s amazing we got there at all, really. I can’t read a map and I couldn’t hear the mapping directions on my phone over the movie and video games that were cranked up in the car.

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We have all melted together!

But success! I am parking the car in the last shady spot available. It is now 2 p.m. and I am starting to look … wilted. In my mind, I was channeling Julia Roberts in the polo scene from Pretty Woman, but I suspect that I actually looked a little crazy. I had on my orthopedic tennies, a black and white striped skirt and light brown t-shirt, plus the biggest coral straw hat you have ever seen. Make-up running down my face ala a sobbing Tammy Faye Bakker. And we haven’t even started trekking yet. Sixty seven acres. What was I thinking? Continue reading