It seems that every year, the window that defines summer vacation closes ever so slightly: Cranky has a summer school class, Whiny needs to be back for sports, Punch has camp. Summer used to mean June, July and August—Memorial Day to Labor Day. Now, summer is a two-week span in mid-July. Nevertheless, I’m determined to make the most of it, so I pack the car, load the family and head north. No matter how demanding the family schedule, nothing can replace a northern Michigan getaway. And, of course, whether we go for two weeks or two months, one thing always remains consistent: the drive.

Now, I must admit some aspects of the drive have changed over the years. We have gone from babies in car seats and toddlers in boosters to tweens with iPods and teens with disdain. This summer marked another milestone: Cranky (16) is now a licensed driver, and Whiny (15) has a permit. I’m still not exactly sure how that happened, but I’m not convinced there isn’t some elaborate permit-for-cash scam going on at the DMV. Regardless, we left for the family trip this year with four drivers, three licenses, two cars, and a partridge in a pear tree—oh, and a newly updated and modified AAA membership. I may have signed away some vital organs. It was worth it.

When I’m the one driving on a long car trip, I think about a few things: the gas, my speed, the song selection/book on tape, the white jeans I forgot, the appliance I left on…typical stuff. When your teenager is driving on a long car trip, you think about a few things, too: the cop in the median, the car she’s tailgating, the helmetless biker in the passing lane, the phone vibrating in the drink-holder. It’s like a giant Rube Goldberg device is about to set a chain of events in motion that will result in, well, bad things, like: A teenager headed to his parents’ lake house tosses a banana peel out the window. The wheel of a boat trailer hits the peel and swerves. A minivan of folk-singers skids onto the shoulder, kicking up gravel that flies into a Le Baron convertible and startles a dog, causing him to jump into the driver’s lap and momentarily blinding the person at the wheel. The dominoes continue to fall, ending in flames and explosions to rival an action film. All the while, Cranky barrels down the highway fiddling with a play list and arguing with her brother, completely oblivious to the impending destruction. It’s like she doesn’t see the butterfly flapping its wings leading to the inevitable tsunami.

So I contain my hysteria, tamp down my panic, muffle my anxiety and dig my nails quietly into the dash board as we continue on to our destination. It’s a good thing we’re heading off to vacation, because after this, I’m going to need a break.

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