When my mother suggested we take a summer road trip through Michigan, I thought briefly of the children I’d seen on TV who’d successfully “divorced” their parents, but doubted any judge would rule in favor of a child’s right to air travel. “You kids are spoiled,” she said. “My family used to drive to Florida—all seven of us in a station wagon.”
My mother was not particularly keen on the laments of her children, especially when they pertained to the family-vacation planning. My sister and I, even at 13 and 10, were vocally opposed to spending a week with our family in a hot car. I think my father secretly took our side, as I often suspected he did, but was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.
Because we lived in Illinois, Michigan wasn’t exactly an exciting tourist destination. We’d spent the previous Christmas in Grand Cayman, where my father played beach volleyball while my mother sunbathed. They took turns chasing us down with globs of sunscreen covering their fingers. We even snorkeled out to a coral reef as a family, our heads popping up intermittently to point out a fish the others had yet to see. Inevitably, my sister would get burned by fire coral or stung by a Portuguese man-of-war, and we’d all have to head back to the beach, where I’d be scolded for trying to pee on the affected area of her leg.
My mother and father grew up in small towns in Illinois—in families with little disposable income. They met in medical school, both on scholarships, and married soon after. I think my mother feared we were becoming too comfortable with our privileged lives. Parents always want better for their kids, until they see what better looks like, and then they want to make sure you know you haven’t earned it. Now you just wait one minute, little missy. I’m not sure who you think you are, but we’re going to Michigan, and that is final.
I dreaded the weeklong drive through the Great Lakes all summer long.