I am pretty sure road trips with a baby are part of an alternate universe where time seems to stand still and miles go backwards and items get lost forever. It used to be that a road trip meant loud music, a lot of caffeine and the sunroof wide open with the sun shining down. A road trip meant a time to be quiet and do some serious reflection; a time to be inspired by nature, music and life. A road trip meant a time for my brain to focus on its thoughts and think about the future. As a new mom, now the only similarity with my old road trip self is the caffeine.
When I told people I was driving 12 hours, or 800 miles, with my mom, her dog, Owen and a car full of stuff, they said we were crazy. I said it would be fun. Now that the miles are behind us, I realize there were parts that were fun, sure. But there were also parts of the trip that were really hard. My parenting road trip self and my parenting at home self are similar. In my every day parenting world, things are so very good but can also be hard, depending on the moment.
Before the trip, my brother and I had this great conversation about happiness. My brother is a writer too, and he has made a career out of it over at Elite Daily. I mention this obviously as a shameless plug for him, but also because he is excellent with words.
And the thing he told me about happiness is this: it is relevant and depends on the moment.
We went on to talk about how happiness waxes and wanes throughout life, even through a day or an hour. And I realize that he is so right.
On our road trip my happiness was up and down, depending on the level of caffeine pulsing through me or the weather or the baby or the dog or my mom or a million other things. My happiness varied by the moment and the mile. And I realize I am okay with this. I actually think this is how it is supposed to be, at least for me. In order to appreciate the moments of happiness, I need to have moments of exhaustion or frustration.
So yes, being a mom on a road trip is still a great time and place to reflect on life and happiness. But being in the car driving with a baby is not much different from being with a baby at home. Owen still needed to be fed, entertained and kept safe. I still felt like I had a million things I wanted to do, even in the car where there was only so much I could actually do. And my moments of happiness came and went like normal.
In the car, I still wanted and tried to have deep conversations with my mom, only to be interrupted by baby sounds or cries. I still tried to nap and my mind was too overstimulated to slow down and rest. I was still frustrated that I was so tired and we still had so much to do, only this time the to-do list was 800 miles long, literally.
I have learned so much about myself in the last 11 months as a mom. I learned a lot on our first long road trip, too. Happiness truly is relevant. Happiness is also a choice. Owen makes me the happiest I have ever been. At one point on the trip I told my mom I could not wait for him to wake up from his nap simply so I could give him a hug and a kiss. Even though I so desperately had wanted him to fall asleep 5 minutes before that comment.
Our brains are funny things. We are meant to reflect, learn and grow. But we are also meant to stay still and be present in the moment, right where we are. Our road trip was a perfect example of trying to find this balance of staying present, but also reflecting on the past and planning for the future.
My future as a mom, writer, teacher, wife, person is unknown. And that is how it is supposed to be. But I do know my future is full of hope and full of relevant happiness. I also know that underneath the exhaustion and parenting to-do list, pure happiness is at my core. And as I continue to reflect but also balance staying present, I will do so with the pursuit of happiness one moment at a time.