“What was your favorite part of the trip, guys?”

The bedtime gratitudes were about to begin. I love this part of the day.

“The cheetahs!”

Not surprising. Cheetahs were basically the reason we drove four hours to see this famous zoo. He’s obsessed with cheetahs.

“The splash park!”

I laugh. Also, not surprising. She loves getting wet.

“What about you, Mommy? What was your favorite part?

I pause. The zoo was fantastic. I especially loved the aquarium. Watching the kids race back and forth, unsure of what to take in first. That’s always fun. Holding hands with my hubby for most of the day. That also was lovely. But . . . I knew my truly favorite part was too boring to actually say aloud.

My 7-year-old daughter audibly rolls her eyes, “Don’t tell me. It was the drive, wasn’t it?”

I smile conspiratorially.

Groans erupt from my totally disgusted children. Then we laugh. Of course the drive was my favorite part.

I love driving. Breaking out of the humdrum of the everyday. Seeing new countryside, stopping in tiny towns, imagining I was first cresting this hill in a prairie schooner pulled by a team of oxen. Something different from the monotony of our regular routine. It makes me feel free.

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Mostly, though, I love our family when we drive.

We listen to audiobooks. The Boxcar Children and The Jungle Book and a home school history textbook with a great narrator. We have to pause the story every 10 minutes or so because someone has a suggestion on how the main character could have done something smarter. Or wouldn’t it have been super funny if . . . Or wait, what happened?

The kids giggle at funny jokes they make between themselves. They make lots of farting noises. I pretend to be disgusted. My husband smiles and eggs them on.

We turn on the Disney playlist and crank it up, singing at the top of our lungs. The kids take turns unbuckling to grab something from the back of the Tahoe.

Really, if you think about it, it makes sense that the drive is the best part for parents.

As the mom on board, I have just finished imagining every possible situation, what might go wrong, and packing the car with everything we would need in any of those situations.

When we get to the hotel, we will contend with fighting over which side of the bed they get. We’ll scold them for jumping between the beds even though I remember that being the best part of hotels when I was a kid. And we’ll spend the whole evening trying to scold them to be quiet without being loud ourselves.

Then we’ll have to mitigate opinions and dietary needs as we try to find a place for dinner. I wish we could just order a pizza, but my daughter has suddenly stopped eating pizza a few months ago. We end up compromising and go through two drive-thrus.

Then comes the crazy-making experience of a crowded zoo in a new city during COVID. There’s the challenge of keeping my eyes on both kids as they run in opposite directions at a crowded, big-city zoo.

“Pull up your mask!”

“Please don’t climb that.”

“Again? OK, let’s find a map.”

“Did you wash your hands?”

“No, I’m not choosing her animal first. Tigers come before cheetahs on the route we planned.”

“Yes, I’m thirsty, too.”

“Stop touching everything!”

“Please keep your hands to yourselves.”

As we pile back in the car amid the bickering, sweat, and very tired feet, I ultimately wonder if it was worth it. Every time.

And then we’re right back into my favorite part. Ice cream. Singing together. Talking about the best things we saw. Playing “would you rather?”

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I wonder if that will be my favorite part of raising them, too. We push toward the events in our livesbaseball teams winning, orchestra concerts, honor rolls, and graduations, and we take pictures of the birthday parties, family reunions, and visiting friends.

I suspect that when the kids are grown, I’ll look back on it all and think that the sweetest part was the journey between the events. The rainy Saturdays at home. The hours we spent reading on the couch. The snuggling in bed and connecting at the end of every day. Giggling and making noise together in the music room. The quiet, everyday togetherness.

Yes, kids. My favorite part is the drive.

Kathryn Liber

Kathryn Liber is a Midwestern mother to a boy who loves books and a girl who loves dirt. A lover of words, coffee, and good food, if she isn't reading, writing, or speaking words . . . it's probably because her mouth is full of something delicious!