“Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushing me around
But I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down”
As we belted out the words to Tom Petty’s feisty anthem, fists pumping along with the rest of the crowd at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus, the decades seemed to melt away
All of a sudden, it was just me, a 31-year-old newly single mom, sitting at the steering wheel beside a four-year-old tow-headed boy, cruising the south-of-the-border roads to the seaside resort town of San Carlos, Mexico.
The year was 1989, and we were on our first official road trip. Technically, there were just the two of us in the pickup truck. But it turned out our friend Tom was there the whole way as well. Time and time again on that long, hot drive, we popped a tape of Petty’s recent hit album, “Full Moon Fever” into the cassette player.
A good 20 years before “The Walking Dead” would make zombies all the rage, my son gravitated to “Zombie Zoo.” I had a soft spot for “Alright for Now.” We both loved “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “I Won’t Back Down.”
Little did I know at the time that road trips – and really, travel of all kinds – would become a lifelong thing for my son and me. Or that, from that week forward, whenever I heard the opening chords to “Free Fallin,’” I would be back in my old truck, feeling the warm breezes and the sweet bonds of motherhood.
So, when my son – the same age now as I was that long-ago summer – bought tickets for a Tom Petty concert as an early Mother’s Day gift to me while I was visiting in his new hometown of Austin, Texas, it couldn’t have been more meaningful.
It got me reflecting on how that trip to Mexico, which turned out to be epic in so many ways, whetted both our appetites for travel.
Over the years, we’ve taken countless more trips together. Weekend jaunts to the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico. Multi-day cross-country road-trip marathons from our home in Arizona to visit family members in North Dakota. And one especially wonderful three-week-long camping trip up British Columbia’s west coast and then south through Alberta’s spectacular mountain ranges.
Every growing-up milestone, it seemed, was celebrated with a trip. High school graduation: A cruise to Jamaica. College years: A backpacking trip to Ireland, the Netherlands, and Italy. College graduation: Waikiki and the North Shore of Oahu.
Then, when my son met the girl of his dreams, we all traveled to Taiwan to meet her family and see her beautiful country. A couple of years later, another major milestone: A destination wedding along the Russian River in California’s Sonoma Valley.
I’m back to traveling mostly solo now, while my son and daughter-in-law make their own adventures. I can rest assured, though, that I raised a good traveler – one who learned to take the inconveniences in stride, and appreciate the uniqueness of foreign places rather than finding the faults. So, on this week that celebrates mothers, I raise my glass to the pleasures of raising a child. It’s a fun ride!
Sure, there were some travel fails along the way. Don’t ask me about the pitfalls of taking an 18-year-old boy to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Or one slightly awkward visit to a coffee shop in Amsterdam. Or the confused looks we got while traveling together in Europe, where we learned very quickly that mothers and daughters travel together all the time; mothers and 21-year-old sons – not so much.
But overall, I realize that I used travel as a parenting tool. It was a way to bond when the going got rough. There’s nothing like 12-hour days together in a car to clear out the cobwebs in a parent-child relationship.
And always, somewhere along the way, we would hear or play or sing one of those Tom Petty songs. Because, really, what says “road trip” better than this?
“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ Little Runaway
I was flyin’
Yeah, runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream”
(Lyrics by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Mike Campbell)
(NOTE: Just five months after this concert in May 2017, Tom Petty died at the age of 66).