I had this fantasy of turning our cross-country move into the All-American road trip. Perhaps in hopes of disguising the fact that we were leaving our home and not going back. It would be the ultimate distraction, the ultimate form of denial, filling our heads with happy memories instead of sitting in sadness for 1500 miles. A roadtrip is a parenting milestone and before I start the cynical diatribe, I’ll forewarn you that this story does have a happy ending. Because I don’t want to be one of those writers who specializes in cynical diatribes (although I do count as my personal mission to bring a voice to the unseemly side of parenthood so that other women don’t think they’re crazy and end up eating peanut M&M’s in the closet).

The cross-country roadtrip is a rite of passage. We all have fond memories of our family roadtrips but I bet you also have memories of your dad threatening to pull over and (insert exaggerated form of punishment here. Maybe it’s “pick a switch”  or  “throttle the life out of you”  or  “leave you for the wolves.”  I could go on and on). You can’t have one without the other. And in each of these moments we have something to learn about our children and our parenting. In Niagara Falls I learned that if I walk several paces ahead of my family, in silence, I could keep from telling my child to SHUT….THE F#@*&UP!  Very important lesson. For a while, I was wondering how I would keep that inside and even did a quick cost/benefit analysis of letting the sentiment fly out of my mouth. Benefit: Mama would feel soooooo much better. Cost: I would not be allowed to join the PTA. And my child would find out that parents use the #1 swear word. And he might cry…and then I wouldn’t feel better anymore.

We arrived in Niagara Falls after a short 2 hour drive. Liam is big into superlatives; biggest, tallest, fastest, grossest, deepest, strongest, etc. (I know—it doesn’t sound like a legitimate area of interest but it is). So he knows all about Niagara Falls and was excited to see it. As we’re waiting to check in to our hotel, he says he doesn’t want to go to Niagara Falls. He wants to stay in the room. Get room service. Swim in the pool. No falls.

Well, I simply don’t believe him; he’s been talking about this for days. But he doesn’t let up. No falls. Go swimming. I’m getting irritated and start to launch into the “why do you think we’re here?” speech.

Luckily, our room isn’t ready and we have to kill some time – during which he catches a glimpse of the falls and buys into it again.  Let’s do it! All of it! Now! We oooh and aaah, we take pictures, we make our way to the classic Niagara Falls experience: The Maid of the Mist. The boat ride that takes you up close and personal to the roaring falls and drenches the crowd in the process (hence the famous rain ponchos).

Suddenly, he’s indifferent again.  Doesn’t care about this super dramatic boat ride of a lifetime. I try to ignore and keep on taking baby steps forward in line. Then he’s excited again! Let’s go! Let’s get our rain ponchos! Wait, I don’t wanna put on my rain poncho. When will we leave? When can we go swimming? When can we leave? (won’t pose for iconic rain poncho photo) This is fun!!!! (laughing and screaming) Can we go back now?  (no longer laughing and screaming) I wanna go inside. I’m gonna go inside. When will we be done?

As we hike back to our hotel, he tells us his feet hurt 5,946,765 times. We walk by the Rainforest Cafe, the Spongebob 4D Thrill Ride, Galaxy Golf and someplace called Sugar Mountain (What is it? Who cares? It’s called Sugar Mountain!!!). The entire experience is an introvert’s worst nightmare. We say no and keep walking but he drags his feet and whines about how we never get to do anything fun (as we’re walking away from Niagara Falls??????!!!!!). This is the part where my husband says “Mom’s going to walk in front of us for awhile.”

There were moments of incredible fun in there. And perhaps that is what he’ll remember. But I will remember walking several paces in front of my family trying not to scream the #1 swear word at my child in front of thousands of tourists.

Back at the hotel, we re-assess our evening plans. No more Niagara Falls. Instead, we go to the pool. We watch a movie in our room. And we get room service.

And it’s great. Really, really great.

If you ask your mom why she threatened to leave you by the side of the road, she’ll probably say it had something to do with the pool. You wouldn’t get out of the car to see Mount Rushmore because you wanted to go to the pool. It’s all about the pool. We adults have to get out of our heads and make some decisions based on our child’s values instead of our more evolved, more experienced values (you can swim at home, the hot tub is gross, that’s a waste of money, room service is a rip off). Because your kids don’t care about any of that NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY………..and they WILL remember the hotel pool and the time they got room service. Well, maybe not as much as the time their mom said the F word.

It’s up to you.

Note from the editors: Kristin Nilsen started out as a Momfilter fan, and now she’s a contributor (and still a fan). Check out her blog Clam Chowder For Lunch. And if you have something on your mind (say, a rant, a mantra to get through the day, or some other pearl of parenting wisdom that takes into account our un-saint-like humanity) that you think would work for us, let us know!


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Comments (7)


  1. Posted by: Christine

    Oh, I love this. When I was four and my sister was seven, our father was transferred from California to Virginia (he was in the Air Force). Our parents drove us across country to go there. I remember lots of fun and interesting stuff, but I’m sure from my mom’s perspective it was a lot like this — trying to not lose it while also trying to create a great experience for us.

    I’ve had those moments with my son too. What I want out of a vacation, or even a trip to a museum, is completely different from what he wants to do and how he sees these experiences. The hotel pool and crazy huge tub are sometimes even more fun than the ocean, which is right down the street.

  2. Posted by: sharon Owen

    I have to agree, all my boys (age 3 and 4) want to do on vacation is swim in the pool or sit on the beach, we live in South Florida so can do this at home all the time. we take them to Disney and they still want to pool, I guess it’s the freedom of swimming floating, jumping and playing…

  3. Posted by: Genny

    It’s “rite of passage”, not right!! Here’s an example of why we still need to teach spelling in school (an curriculum which I hear is on the decline) – spellcheck doesn’t rescue you from every mistake…

  4. A technique worth trying!

    Also, I had to laugh because when I think back on family road trips, it’s the restaurants we stopped at along the way I remember–not the ultimate destinations (whatever they were). When people ask me if I’ve ever been to Yellowstone, I still have to say, “I’m not sure.” I better check with my mom about that one.

  5. Posted by: Kristin Nilsen

    Thanks, Genny. Yes, that is what we call a brainfart rather than a spelling error (as you’ll find the correct usage in the original post). Thanks for the shout out and I will very humbly and diplomatically refrain from pointing out the errors in your post. Like so many of us, I bet you caught them the minute you pressed “post comment.”

    • Posted by: Yolanda Edwards

      I’m sorry but I am a little bit confused on this–since when did a comments section get used to tell a writer that she made a spelling mistake? No spell check would have caught right vs.rite–it’s a homophone issue. I am grateful to Kristin for writing this piece that clearly resonated for many of us, and frankly, if there was a mistake, we the editors should have cot it.

  6. Posted by: Deborah Pletsch-Smith

    Oh Kristin, you made my day… You’ve captured exactly my last trip to Niagara Falls with my wee son (then five), with all its ups and downs. And you’ve highlighted the one rule of parenting that I’m unshakeably sure of — it really is all about the pool. So now when we plan a trip, I make sure there will be regular pool time interspersed with whatever else we actually went to see. Of course, on our most recent vacation, shortcake broke his hand on our second day out, ended up in a cast, and could not swim at all. Pity — it was a really nice pool too…

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