Recently, my family took a road trip to visit my parents in Ft. Myers, Florida. We’ve taken this trip many times. It is about six hundred miles, door to door, mostly on long, boring stretches of I-75, with not much to look at but billboards offering vasectomies, strippers, religious salvation, and outlet malls. There are plenty of construction notices. There are miles and miles of orange cones and barrels, and even some bits of torn up roadway and construction equipment, but precious little actual constructing going on.
We usually take this route during spring break, along with most of the eastern seaboard, and many people to the west of the Mississippi. My son, bored enough to resort to old school car games, managed to see license plates from 38 out of the 50 states, as well as two Provinces in Canada. There is a lot of traffic. Often, it is stop and go. More stop than go.
It has the potential to be a disaster. It is a wooden tinderbox in a lightning storm.
My kids complain. There is plenty to complain about. They’re tired. They’re physically uncomfortable. They have to go to the bathroom. They’re hungry. They’re bored. They complain despite access to iPods and a built in DVD player and arts & crafts supplies and books and filtered air flowing precisely the chosen temperature. Inevitably, my husband and I feel compelled to tell them to quit it because (cue wavery old-person voice and shaking fist) back in my day we had no air conditioning and sat without seat belts on vinyl upholstery that made the back of your thighs stick, with the silver metal buckles and other car-related hardware that reached temperatures hot enough to melt rock branding your knees and elbows, with the AM-only radio blaring something staticky only an old person could possibly find entertaining, and oh by the way the windows were all the way rolled up and my parents smoked like chimneys so that the air was thick and hazy. Quitcher bellyaching with your cushy individualized captain’s chair, SpongeBob on demand, and earbuds spitting out whatever song you choose in perfect privacy.
We say this in a condescending way, like there is some inherent value in suffering that our pampered children are never going to benefit from. You will never be as good as I am, goes the subtext, because you are soft and squishy and don’t know how to tolerate real discomfort.
Naturally, they resent this.
It is as useful a discourse as telling them they should eat their yummy Brussels sprouts because there are children starving in China. It doesn’t make the Brussels sprouts taste any more like chocolate ice cream.
Often, with a little funky raincloud of irritation over my head, I bemoan the fate of humanity. We are raising the least tough generation to date. These kids have no idea how to do without. They get twitchy and anxious at the first sign of a lack of Wi-Fi. They don’t know what it is like to wait all year for the Wizard of Oz to come on television because if you didn’t see it that night you weren’t going to see it until the next year.
Then it finally dawned on me. So what? Exactly when are they going to have to sit in an uncomfortable, smoky car without air conditioning, or even have to wait to see a movie or television show they feel like watching? They don’t even have to watch commercials if they don’t want to, except if they are in a hotel room. The ability to put up with what I put up with is about as useful to them as the ability to fire a musket. Sure, it is possible they might have to do such a thing, but it is entirely unlikely.
I then remembered camp. My kids go to Camp Chatuga every year, and have since before they can remember that they didn’t. This will be my son’s 6th year, and my daughter’s 5th. While there, they don’t have air conditioning, Wi-Fi or any other electronics, and they sleep in rickety bunks with thin, crinkly mattresses. And they love every second of it. Fifty years from now, if you mention Camp Chatuga to them, I am certain they will get the same misty look in their eye that they get now. To them, that gnat-filled place is paradise. They don’t think of the creature comforts that they lack, they think of the gorgeous scenery, campfires, swimming, games, friends, and private jokes.
I felt better. Complaining in the back seat while on an interminable car trip is as American as apple pie, baseball, and Netflix. I’m proud to be able to provide for my children as many things as I can, and proud that they also know other ways to have fun and enjoy themselves. And I’ll tell you this – those earphones that allow them to watch whatever ridiculous movie they want in the back seat while blocking out whatever it is that my husband and I are saying to each other? Priceless.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.