Little Van on the Prairie

As a child, I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie series. Seriously. I wanted to be Laura. I’m not a huge outdoorsy person, but I could just see myself in the covered wagon or the sod house, living the pioneer’s dream. I was also a big fan of Oregon Trail and played it on our family’s computer a lot. I got pretty pissed, though, when my character died early on; pretty sure I remember throwing a few fits over such a loss because I hated to miss out on the whole trip…as if my parents could have done anything about it other than start the game over (which I don’t think they let me do).

Maybe it is this wannabe prairie girl in me that has relished a bit in the ridiculous parenting behavior in which I am now partaking on a regular basis. Did I mention that because of this behavior I damn near ended up in Kansas today? On accident?! How does one accidentally almost end up in Kansas? Well, you start driving your kids to sleep each afternoon and it is funny where life and little Nebraska highways will take you!

Never in a million years did I expect that I would be driving my kids to sleep. But when that is what it takes to get both kids to sleep at the same time (and the only thing that works AT ALL to get the older one to nap AT ALL), you just do it. I am very much from the school of You Do What You Have To and You Do What Works when it comes to parenting these days. And with that being said, there have been several afternoons this week that I’ve loaded up the babes and hit the road, no real destination in mind.

At the start of each journey, I make sure Raegan is comfy, cozy in her seat and that Harrison has his two trusted advisors, Cow and Monkey, along for the ride. I drive through McDonald’s to get a cheap Mocha (mmmmm, how I love mochas), and I tell HD that we’re going to look for trains. We drive around town to check a few tracks while he winds down and then we head south for the the little roads that just go on and on through the countryside. Why south? Probably because I know more of the territory to the north (that’s the way we travel to get to my family in SoDak), so going south has been a way to explore this area where I’ve been living for the last five and a half years. Thanks to my little afternoon excursions, I now know a lot more of the little towns where my students at CCC have come from over the years, and I have officially been in Cather Country – something I’ve been meaning to do ever since I came here after working on the Cather Project in grad school.

Typically, when we hit the road, it doesn’t take Little Miss long to drift off. Today was the exception, though, with Harrison falling asleep before we left the city limits of Hastings and Raegan waiting until we were rolling on the highway to fade off. In addition to sipping my coffee, I listen to NPR and just check out the scenery as I drive. I follow the speed limits (shocking, perhaps, to some of you who may have traveled with me at other times) because when sleeping kiddos is the only objective, there is no need to rush.

I am quickly growing to enjoy these little trips, not only for the new places I am seeing, but also for the quiet it brings to my day. From the moment I awake each morning, life around here is pretty noisy. Someone is either crying or asking for something, or the TV or radio might be on, or the dogs are barking. Maybe a toy is making noise or there are little footsteps pounding around on the wood floors. Whatever it is, it is loud. Getting in the car and having both children fall asleep allows me to have time when no one is hanging on me and no one is demanding anything of me. Now, please don’t take that the wrong way. I love having my kids close and getting them the things they need day in and day out. But sometimes I just get “touched” out, so getting us all strapped into our seats in the van means I get to have my personal space respected, at least until we return back to the house.

The only bummer about these driving naps is that I cannot actually join the wee ones in sleep. I’ve thought about stopping the van somewhere to read or cat nap, but I don’t know that they’d stay asleep if I did that, plus I wouldn’t want people stopping to see if we needed help or something. Instead I take in the gorgeous skies and prairie views and I let my mind wander as I think about the land, and the clouds, and this crazy life I now lead as a mom (some of that crazy good, some not so much).

Did you know how beautiful Nebraska can be? The big open flat places are amazing in their own right, but I also love the little rolling hills and creek beds with random strips of trees that I’ve been discovering. They come out of nowhere and I always find myself thinking back to what it would have been like to come upon a creek bed like that in a covered wagon instead of a minivan. I’m guessing it was both breathtaking and intimidating. How does one keep going over such terrain? I guess they probably would have stopped to survey the area, looking for the easiest and quickest path and then they simply would have continued on. When I think about it, that’s a pretty good metaphor for parenthood. When you come across these sudden dips and valleys, you don’t really much choice but to keep moving forward. The reward for pushing through, I can only hope, is a few more miles under the belt and a little more confidence that the next valley might not be as scary.

As you might imagine, I was pretty excited that my trip today had me headed toward a tiny town by the name of Guide Rock. Doesn’t that sound just like a stop along the Oregon Trail? As it turns out, there is no rock there. At least, not one that I could find as I drove through the semi-paved streets (all five or six of them). That’s OK, though; I still consider the trip a success seeing as both kiddos slept.

I realize that at some point, with gas prices in the $3.60’s per gallon, I’m going to have to stop this. For now, though, I’m going to continue to enjoy the quiet beauty (and the beautiful quiet) I am finding along these Nebraska highways.

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