catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 19 :: 2013.10.18 — 2013.10.31



You’d think my husband and I hate driving.  I will do almost anything to avoid driving the car for those in-town trips: quick grocery runs, library visits, school pick-up (whatever happened to the school bus?). I’ll pay too much for milk at the expensive grocery store in town; I’ll spend a whole morning walking to my little town’s 1940s main street to run errands; I’ll endure my seven-year-old’s moaning and gnashing of teeth when she realizes that her awful mother has, once again, walked to pick her up, and that her afternoon trip home from school will involve walking. And, to be fair, she really does have to walk uphill both ways to school: there’s a huge foothill in the mile between her school and our house. That’s just how it is when you live in a suburban neighborhood perched on the spine of mountains that runs up and down the San Francisco Peninsula.

We have one car and my husband almost never uses it. He’s a dedicated bike and public transit commuter. We’ve never owned two cars, and we’ve always figured out a way to make it work, even when that involved, for him, an hour-long train commute that started with a two-mile bike ride over snowy roads in the winter. My work often necessitates a car, though I did once work at an urban church where, with an occasional taxi ride, I could get away without one. I don’t know if we’d ever agree to take on jobs that would require us to have two cars: after 15 years of doing it this way, the added expense of a second car seems silly.

But we are at our best as a couple, and now as a little family, on the open road in our eight-year-old Scion xB. Give us a day off, and we throw the kids in the car to see the big wide world around us through the giant windows of our boxy little car. Heck, I don’t even need a day off. Our school district has a half day every Wednesday and I’m thrilled about this because it means I can hit the road with the kids, drive over that spine of mountains, and cruise along the Pacific coast on Highway 1. Even when we lived in the Midwest, it was like this: there are stretches of road in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota that hold stories for us, like the section of I-94 eastbound from Minneapolis where we decided on the name for our expected daughter. We love to drive.

When it was time to plan last summer’s trip home to the Midwest, I looked at airfares for a family of four, considered gas prices and the cost of a few hotels, crunched the numbers, and decided we were going to drive. I would drive eastward, with two kids, solo. My husband, the one with the job and the limited vacation time, would fly to Chicago and meet us two weeks later. We would all drive home together two weeks after that. (In the end, my Dad had mercy on me and flew to meet me in Salt Lake City, so that I got the glory of two days of solo driving with small children, and the pleasure of a multi-generational family road trip for the next two.)

I knew I’d made the right decision after we ate dinner on the first day of driving: the sunset behind us amped up the mineral desert colors of the Great Basin as we sped toward Elko, Nevada. My seven-year-old took over with the camera from the backseat, snapping pictures that could never match up to the spectacle we were seeing.

It wasn’t just the scenery that made the trip. And that’s saying something, because by the time we got home, there had been 14 states, three national parks, mountain ranges, endless prairie, rolling green farmland, the Mississippi and a few Great Lakes.

My kids now believe that the best hash browns in America come from a restaurant in Billings, Montana. They’ve heard stories about their grandpa’s cross-country drives from Michigan to California during college. They asked questions about farming, and casinos, and Indian reservations. The seven-year-old can sing most of the lyrics to “I’ve Been Everywhere.” They’ve experienced the kindness of a tattoo-ed librarian in Salt Lake City, and the warm welcome of a 70-something waitress at a tiny casino in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada.

We saw things and did things and talked to people we never would have if we’d flown over, which I treasure not just for the tourism or the human interest factor; it’s part of raising my kids into wholeness. It’s part of restoring wholeness in myself.

My husband and I went to a college where “global citizenship” was nearly as important to its institutional identity as its Christian mission. Someday I want them to see Istanbul and Scotland and Guatemala. I want them to read the BBC news when they grow up, and care about what’s happening in Thailand and Norway and Mali. But what if, in all that flying around, they miss what’s on the ground, both the places and the people? It’s well and good to know what’s happening halfway across the world, but what about halfway across the country?

As much as I complain about the high cost of living here, wedged as we are between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, my kids are growing up with incredible privilege. They are living in one of the epicenters of the U.S. economy. The parents of their classmates, by and large, are very gainfully employed members of the high tech community. But this is only part of the picture of the country in which they live. I want them to see God’s creation, stretched across this continent from the Pacific coast, over mountains, through deserts, and across the plains. I also want them to understand that across this country are people like them and unlike them, all beloved children of God. And I want them to have a heart for people who live very different lives than they do. We would miss all of that on the airplane. But that’s where the wheels of our car took us this summer.

So I’ll keep walking and using my bike around town: we see our town in detail that way. But I’ll take my car for slowing down the longer trips: it takes some extra time to drive, but it takes time to see the big world and all God’s people.

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