I took my 13-year-old son on a road trip from Chicago up into Wisconsin across the Upper Peninsula to Michigan, across Ontario, down through the Finger Lakes and home on our own little Outward Bound journey, and here is what I learned:
1. It makes me feel better when my child is playing games and listening to podcasts on his phone while driving through beautiful parts of America and Canada (occasionally looking up at picturesque lakes and farm tableaus) than when he is sitting in his room playing games and watching YouTube on the computer.
2. I mostly hum tunelessly to songs on the radio, except for the chorus (when I know it), which I belt out with great abandon. Such a thing is very annoying to a teenage boy.
3. Mean things said to me about my lack of knowledge of things, like song lyrics and camping, sting worse when I’m about to get my period. I feel sons should understand that the mean things they say are often received all the worse when their mothers are about to get their period.
4. Sons don’t really want to hear about their mother’s menstrual cycle.
5. When see-sawing with someone half your size, it is very fun for them if you come down hard on your side and send them flying in the air.
6. Setting up and breaking down campsites with someone day after day is a lesson in patience and collaboration.
7. Patience and collaboration are not easy to learn, or practice.
8. The silence does not always have to be filled, or, as I learned to repeat to myself like a mantra: independent activities while together are okay.
9. I like strange Midwestern foods like fried cheese curds, frozen custard, and pasties, but my son doesn’t.
10. Seeing lakes and farmhouses across the Midwest and into Ontario and down through the Finger Lakes is endlessly interesting to me, but not so much to my 13-year-old son.
11. My son is excellent at picking campgrounds. And he hates it when I tell him he is excellent at things.
12. My son probably wouldn’t choose me as a friend if he had a choice, but since I am his mom, he will tolerate me.
13. Learning tolerance is a good thing.
14. I cannot light a campfire to save my life, even with Firestarter logs.
15. My son is far better at building campfires and far more organized than I am.
16. I like just being with my son … in a tent, in a motel, in a cabin, in a car, in kayaks … even when it feels a bit like a hostage situation.
17. Talking to my son about how much I love being with him is a bad idea, kinda almost worse than talking to him about my period.
18. It is best to walk away when your child is playing with fire, as it is fun for him to shock you, and could prove dangerous.
19. Trust your 13-year-old to do things on his own, like break down the tent or start a fire.
20. Not showering for four days never killed anyone.
21. Give in sometimes, like going to a motel with a hot shower.
22. Remember to enjoy your 13-year-old, even when he says mean things and looks at you like he can’t stand you. He is fabulous and will (hopefully) remember this too-many-hours-in-the-car camping trip you took together fondly.
23. It doesn’t matter if you only have pictures of lakes and scenery because your 13-year-old refuses to be in pictures. The memories are etched in your brain.
24. Dealing with rain, mosquitoes, cold, heat, too many hours in the car, being unprepared, lack of understanding, differences of opinions, being right, being wrong, disappointment, and menstrual-induced emotions brings people together, even if it’s not the kind of bonding that could be depicted on a billboard for a campground.
25. A road trip with my 13-year-old is a gift I very much appreciate.
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