By Rosalind Kaplan, MD
I had the rare pleasure of a mother-daughter roadtrip last week. Not in the car above, though that could have been fun, but also maybe not so safe...
My 28-year-old daughter, who was living in Austin, TX decided to move back to Philly. I had to be careful not to get too excited when she told me this. I'm thrilled she'll be nearby, by I don't want her to feel like her dad and I will be in her face all the time. She's been on her own for years, and this is not 'moving home.' It's a decision that she wants to put her roots down where she was raised, though, and that's pretty great. She got a job and an apartment. Then she needed to do the actual moving.
When she asked me if I'd help her, I couldn't say no. For one thing, I hated the thought of her doing the trip alone. She is strong, smart and competent now, but it's hard for me not to see a pink-cheeked, curly haired toddler or a slightly rebellious and exceptionally spacey teenager when I think of her. Besides, how many mothers get such an opportunity for intimacy with an adult daughter?
I flew to Austin to drive her car the 1700 miles back to Philly with her, towing a U Haul trailer. Of course, my scheduled flight coincided with an impending ice storm in Austin. I flew a day earlier and checked into a Marriott Residence Inn near where my daughter was living. Then I sat in the hotel for 36 hours, while she packed up her remaining belongings and cleaned the apartment. It was 10 degrees in Austin, windy and sleeting. The sidewalks were sheets of ice, but the roads were salted, at least.
We managed to get an early start on a Friday, with a route adjusted to account for snow and ice over most of the middle of the country and some of the southwest. We headed southeast, with plans to drive over 4 days, stopping in Baton Rouge, Atlanta and Roanoke, VA.
It's not a myth that mothers and daughters bicker a lot. The two of us can get into it, usually by accidentally hurting each others' feelings and failing to recognize the problem until we are both angry and tearful. I had set an intention to maintain my own equanimity during this trip- to avoid taking offense for no good reason, and also to say as many positive things as possible, to avoid negative messages as much as I could. The best laid plans.... of course, on the very first day, we bitched at each other about the little trailer we were hauling.
Me: I've never driven with a trailer before.
Her: It's no big deal, this one's really small and it's easy. Just make sure to make really wide turns. And we'll have to make sure the parking lots of all the places we go can accommodate the trailer.
Me: It doesn't seem easy when you say that. Are you sure this was a good idea? I already don't like it.
Her: Now I feel guilty about the trailer. But I really couldn't fit all my stuff in the car.
Me: I said I didn't like the trailer, not that I don't like you for wanting the trailer. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty.
Her: But you are.
Me: Nobody can make someone else feel anything.
Her: Yes they can.
Me: No they can't.
You can see how it goes. But we stopped ourselves. And made the choice to get along. And it worked! We didn't argue the rest of the trip.
I wish I could say we had no further problems. But of course, life is never that easy.
Did you know that even the smallest UHaul trailer hitched to a car will decrease the gas mileage by 7-8 miles/gallon? I didn't. I also didn't know that my daughter's Honda CRV didn't have a warning signal for a soon-to-be-empty gas tank. That's how it happened that we ran out of gas on a highway overpass in Mississippi on day 2 of our adventure. I wasn't watching the fuel gauge because I assumed a full tank would get us more than 150 miles, and because my car warns me with a loud bell and flashing lights when the fuel is low. She wasn't watching because I was driving, and she assumed I was watching. I managed to pull onto the right shoulder. But the shoulder was really narrow, and there were enormous trucks in the right lane going 85 mph. We called AAA and then decided to get out of the car (on the passenger side, of course-I gracefully climbed over the console) and stand on the grassy knoll a few hundred feet ahead and to the right of the shoulder, where we couldn't feel the vibrations of each vehicle that passed, and didn't have to worry about dying if someone hit the car or the trailer. Ninety minutes later, a guy in a truck showed up with a gas can and we were on our way again. We didn't get upset. We felt proud of ourselves for being calm. I guess that sounds kind of sad, but we're okay with it.
That night, traveling toward Atlanta, we had to call the state police when we saw a vehicle with sparks shooting out the exhaust on the road ahead of us. Hope his car didn't catch fire.
There was a two hour delay in North Carolina-- all five lanes of a five-lane highway blocked off because a car went off the road into a gully and actually did go on fire. A low tire that evening led to a rather long detour to find a gas station with an air pump in rural Virginia in the dark. We also had some trouble parking the car with the trailer at one of the hotels we stayed in. It took us 40 minutes, with my daughter outside the car yelling to me, "turn the wheel a little more to the left, now a little more right, no go straight, watch that car's bumper!" We were so tired when it was finally done that all we could do was laugh hysterically.
When we entered the hotel lobby, still snorting like hyenas, the (male) desk clerk blinked at us and asked, "Don't you have a man to help you with the trailer?"
I answered, "We don't need no man. We are strong, independent women!" I thought my daughter was going to pee her pants laughing.
I had a vision of us being like Thelma and Louise on the trip, really badass women, only without the attempted rape and murder and then the suicidal crash at the end. I think we turned out to be more like Lucy and Ethel, but that's okay. Either way, we were women sticking together, helping each other, taking care of each other, laughing together, and ultimately getting the job done.
How lucky I am to have shared such a journey with my daughter.