Each summer we pack up the minivan and drive 400+ miles to Lakewood, New Jersey, where my parents and siblings live, for our annual visit. As the years roll by, I notice the tenor of the visits changing. 

When our kids were young the trips were mostly about entertaining them, filling the empty weeks after camp ended and before school started. We’d plan outings and activities with their cousins and grandparents to keep them busy and happy morning till night. Pizza, indoor jumping arenas, parks, and the beach filled our days. 

The kids loved the road trips, which came along with candy at rest stops and movies on the way. They’d get spoiled by their grandparents and were allowed to order whatever they wanted at the plethora of kosher pizzerias. 

As our kids got a little older, and less dependent on us for minute-to-minute entertainment, the trips, for me, became more about filling my own tank. I’d look up old friends and plan sushi dates to catch up, and schedule long walks around the lake alone with my sisters. 

The new independence was breathtaking. I began to look at these trips as a getaway for me, not just for my kids, and as a way for me to reconnect to the adult I used to be before they took up all my time.

But as the years have continued to roll by, I’ve actually scaled back on looking up old friends, and instead I’m connecting with my own older children. I want sushi dates with them. I want long walks around the lake with them. 

I want these trips to afford them the opportunity to connect to their grandparents on an adult level, and to their aunts and uncles as fellow adults. I know that no matter how old they are and no matter how old we are, we are creating memories that last a lifetime. 

In a way, I am using these annual road trips to log my growth as a human being as my needs evolve and change and as these trips mean different things to me. 

In the book of Psalms, King David asks God: “Teach us to count our days, so that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.” It’s so important for us to look at the passage of time in retrospect and garner whatever wisdom we can. Wisdom is scattered throughout our days like pearls, and we must search for them, collect them, and curiously learn whatever we can. 

I see how my connections to my brothers and sisters, my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, my own grandparents, my parents, and my nieces and nephews change and morph as I do. What can I learn from this? Whom do I become when I am out of my own home environment and back in my childhood milieu? In what ways am I connecting with my relatives, with my immediate family and with my extended family?

If I am the same person summer after summer, road trip after road trip, pizza store after pizza store, then how have I grown? But if each summer I can look back and say wow, this trip is different from last year’s, that means I am a new person with new needs and new insights. And that means I’ve grown.

 And that makes every last mile totally worth it.