Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Are You Looking At?

As I drove down the highway, melting in my driver's seat with the hairdryer hot air blowing in my face, I noticed people were staring.  "What are you looking at?" I thought while giving them a Billy Idol sneer.  Except I'm a sweaty, almost 40-year-old mother with a fan full of sweaty, red-faced kids, not Billy Idol.

I may not have the cool swagger of an old-school British pop star, but I have buckets of attitude.  You look at me funny, I'll give it right back bitch.  Go ahead just look at me funny, I dare you.  Pretty good right?

Yeah, I was feeling all kinds of "bring it" attitude in my overheated toaster oven of a minivan.  I wasn't just full of attitude, in the beginning of my trip I was full of anxiety and doubt and defensiveness.  The trip seemed overwhelming, the cards (no air, little money) seemed stacked against me and the world just seemed scary.

And people were staring at me. Judging me. So I sneered and judged right back.

Then people started honking. A white Lexus pulled up next to me and honked. Rich, mean people, great. What the hell?  The woman in the passenger seat rolled (don't we still call it rolled even though there's no roller?) down her window and  yelled "Have a great road trip!"

What? I forgot I painted the windows of my sad minivan. 

She was a nice rich person.  Hell, maybe she's in debt and running from creditors in her nice ride.  Who cares.  She just wished me well.

As the drive went on, so did the well wishes.  I sneered less and smiled more.  I judged less and laughed more. The world seemed a little less scary.

Then all of a sudden the world got a lot scarier.  I read a brief article about the Colorado shootings on my phone Friday morning waking up at my aunt's house.  I didn't watch the news.  I played with my kids in her backyard.  Normally, I am a news junkie who would be waiting to hear Anderson Cooper's take on all the madness.  I would want to know everyone's story.  I would cry and worry and be scared.

But I didn't get the chance.  I played with my kids and got ready to get back on the road for the next leg of my trip.

At McDonald's where we stopped (again) for lunch, the kids went and sat at a table while I ordered.  The place was packed with people.  A lot of men that looked like they had been doing something very difficult and hot outdoors.  One of those men in a ripped t-shirt and a very dirty hat was staring at me.  It wasn't the kind of stare you are thinking, that hasn't happened in a million years.  He was staring at me trying to get my attention. Without putting his cheeseburger down, he pointed to my kids and then up at the TV.  He was concerned about my kids hearing all the Colorado coverage on CNN which was directly above the booth my kids were shoving each other into.  I hurried over to the kids and moved them to another booth away from the TV and nodded my thanks to the stranger.

I found that to be the case throughout my travels.  People looked out for my kids and me.  
Little JT ordering his own lunch at one of the 28 McDonald's we stopped in for lunch.  It felt good to let go a little and let the kids do things themselves.
Every time we piled out of our car at a gas station all red and sweaty, people gave us tips on how to stay cool and let us stay in their gas stations for almost an hour.  My favorite bit of advice we got was from a well-meaning young man who suggested we open the side doors of the minivan and just drive down the highway.  He said he had seen it done.  As tempting as it sounded, I didn't open the side doors going 80 down I-65.

All my good, happy feelings were getting a little tired when baby Wade's fever spiked again on our way to Alabama.  We stopped in Rome, Georgia and my apologies to Rome, but I wasn't impressed with the particular gas station where we chose to stop.  I muttered to myself "I hate this place. Thank god I don't live in Rome. Rome is stupid."  Yes, that was me muttering, not my child.  Okay it was my grumpy inner child that doesn't always stay so inner.  Well, I was sneering a big old sneer at Rome, Georgia, when a nice woman rolled (whatever) her window down and said these words:  "I like your car paint.  Welcome to Georgia, I hope you have a great vacation."

I'm sorry Rome.

Yes the world can be scary.  But it can also be good.  And yes there are creepy people, but there are so many more good people.

On the way home, we stopped at one of my favorite places in the world, GunTown Mountain.  It's kitschy, old-school and just all around fabulous.  We skipped the Haunted House and did the black light mini golf instead.  Next year we said we might be brave and do the haunted house.

In the parking lot, a man was leaning against his motorcycle picking his teeth.  He looked like a cross between a member of ZZ Top, Sam Elliot in the movie Mask, and the bass player from the Muppet Band, you know Floyd Pepper.  Well he sauntered over to us and said "Are you there yet mama?" inquiring about my van paint.  We laughed and he told me about his daughter and his grand kids and how he couldn't wait to see them again.

In a week that should have been scary and filled me with anxiety, I found warmth and community.  I prayed for the tragedy in Colorado and instead of crying, I appreciated life more.  I lost the sneer and defensiveness, rolled (I'm over it) down the window to the world.

By the end of the trip the hot air felt less like a hairdryer and more like freedom.


  1. girrrrrrrrrl, this post totally made me tear up. loved it, loved your finding of all the good nuggets. your kids are going to have hella good memories of this trip...and so will you! xo

    1. Oh you! I am so glad you liked it. I always look forward to hearing what you think of the posts. for real.

  2. also, i do not believe for a second that you haven't gotten "that kind" of look in years. quitcher lyin.

  3. the sam elliot guy is my favorite part of this post. "are you there yet mama?". That's pretty awesome. Plus, great job on creating memories for your kiddos...

  4. "Look at what happens in schools and at movie theaters and in malls in the United States! That is terrifying. How do you feel safe in such a scary world?" Anxiety after drinking