The Surprise Road Trip

We had absolutely no intention of going. In fact, the thought of attending Colin’s maternal annual family reunion in Seattle seemed quite ludicrous. Two of his cousins had asked me if we were planning to make it this year and I quickly told them no way– that would be crazy!

And then I started thinking about it.

Could we possibly drive all the way up to Washington State (flying would be too expensive on such short notice) with four small children for 19 hours each way and survive? What was holding us back, really? The thought of hours and hours of screaming and whining and a million bathroom stops along I-5? Yes, that did fill me with dread, I admit. Oh, and we would only actually be there for two days, since we had other commitments the next week. So, that would make 2 days of travel up, 2 days in Seattle, and 2 days driving home, completely breaking Christy’s travel rule. (Must spend equal to or more time at your destination than the time it takes you to get there and back. Pure wisdom.) It seemed out of the question.

But then I read the blog post my friend, Lauren, wrote about deciding that morning to head up to Minnesota to be with family, packing in an hour to catch a flight that left 1 hour later. If she could be spontaneous to see loved ones then why not us? I would just overlook the fact that she spent 2 hours on an airplane with her children as opposed to our 2-day journey. Details.

Even though it was Colin’s family I was contemplating embarking on this torture adventure to see, I figured he would laugh me right out of the room if I suggested the trip. On our car ride back from our Stake’s July 24th Pioneer Day celebrations, I mentioned the idea, quickly stating that I assumed he would shoot it down but what did he think. He looked at me and said, “why not?” From that point on, it was a plan.

Except for one tiny set-back. Because Jake and Joey are still in our care as foster children, we have no legal right to take them out of the state. We would have to get permission from the judge. Usually that kind of a request would take more than a week to process. We would have 4 business days before we’d need to leave California in time to make the Saturday reunion event.

The legal wheels were set in motion that evening and papers were submitted Monday. But there could be no guarantee that we would be given the green light to go, so we decided not to tell anyone that we were thinking of coming. It would have to be a complete surprise. If we couldn’t get legal permission to take the boys then no one there would feel disappointed, but if we were allowed to go, oh boy! What a sensation our arrival would cause among the relatives, most of which had never met Jake and Joey in person and some not even Maddie! This plan suited Colin just fine since he lives for the opportunity to surprise and/or prank people– sometimes both at the same time.

Long story short, we found out Wednesday afternoon that we could leave the state and Thursday at noon we drove away.

Most of the trip looked like this:

Maddie and Warren in the way, way back, me and Jake and Joe in the middle section, and Colin driving. We took turns but he did the longest hauls, probably because he didn’t want to run the command center of food, activities, and overall crowd control. Let me say here that feeding babies in the car is not an easy task.

Even though we were being completely spontaneous, we’re still planners at heart, so we prepared everything we would need for our trip during those few days of waiting in limbo. Menus (printed out for the car ride so we wouldn’t have to remember what to serve when) were created for each meal and snack, mostly eaten in the car to save time, and everything that could be prepared before hand was placed in ziploc baggies and snapware containers. This was critical in achieving our goal of eating well and avoiding junk food.

We also got some brand new busy books for Maddie and Warren that ended up being life savers during those long stretches. It turns out Maddie really only needs a toy cell phone and some pieces of paper and scissors to keep her happy. She cut little, tiny pieces for over an hour at a time. Sure, our car was a complete mess, but it kept her from screaming the entire way.

We broke the 19 hour drive into 2 days, staying in a hotel in Red Bluff, CA on the way up and back. The kids loved the hotel experience, a little too much for our 7AM departure, bouncing around and jumping off the luggage trolley. We benched them on the sleeper sofa until we could get out the door.

On Saturday at noon, we drove up to Colin’s Aunt Linda and Uncle John’s beautiful house on the lake. Since no one knew we were coming, we also had no idea where they would be congregated at that moment. It was lunchtime, but we had no clue if the festivities had begun or if people would be scattered. We had to make sure Grandma Tuki (Colin’s mom) was there to see us first. Somehow we had to find her without being seen.

As luck would have it, we saw Colin’s cousin, Ryan, as we peeked around the corner and motioned for him to come to us. He said that most everyone was in the kitchen preparing the rest of the food and that Colin’s mom was definitely inside, too. It was all too perfect.

We followed him inside the house and walked right into the kitchen, as if we were expected. It took about 2 seconds for the family members to notice and then scream with delight. Mouths gaped open and utensils were dropped as everyone registered that we were actually there. In those two seconds, Colin was able to rush to his mother and put his arm around her just as she was turning to see what the commotion was all about.

Her reaction made every part of the drive worth the trouble. I will never forget how touched she was to see us standing there with all four children waiting to give her a hug. I’ll admit, I got teary-eyed as I watched the effects of our crazy plan ripple over our beloved family.

The rest of the day was absolutely perfect. Warm, beautiful weather, swimming in the lake, great food, laughter and many good conversations catching up. And all the family passing Jake and Joey around. Maybe the idea to make that drive wasn’t so crazy after all.

In all honesty, the kids did amazingly well! We had two short meltdowns by Maddie, one “I want to turn around and go back home!” outbursts from Warren, and 3 diaper blow-outs from Joey. But all were manageable, though Maddie’s 1st was an intense 15 minute episode at the very end of our drive into Seattle, Warren’s occurred in the exact middle of our trip where he was forced to learn the logic that turning around at that point would be worse than pressing forward, and Joey’s biggest poop explosion leaked all over his entire outfit and his car seat. Other than those incidents, the children were fantastic! We even had moments of laughter and genuine fun together. Really, it was what I consider to be a miracle, quite literally. Just another testament that we needed to make this trip.

Overwhelming as it first seemed, I’m so grateful we went for it. I’ll never forget the reactions of our family members and the joy we experienced carrying out this great surprise. Priceless.


Seattle friends, we’re so sorry we missed seeing you! Next visit, we will make sure to allow more time to get together!

8 thoughts on “The Surprise Road Trip”

  1. Go you! Road trips with small kids can be challenging, but super rewarding. We are big fans. In fact, our kids seem to balk at the outset, but I think they like it too. And really, once they’re older and all in school, you will have a much more difficult time doing spontaneous awesome stuff like this. So I’m glad you’re proud of yourselves, because you really have taken advantage of a great opportunity. Those pictures are awesome, and the story even better. How lucky Colin’s family is that you are all such adventurers!

  2. I got the chills picturing the moment you surprised everyone. Something about the family jumping up, the hugs, the squeals, reminded me of heaven! I’m so glad you went!

  3. Thanks, friends.

    @Krissie– I actually thought of you when we headed out on our trip. If Krissie can do it all the way across the country, then so can we just up the west coast!

    @Kell– I know! We were so sad knowing we wouldn’t see you guys, especially since we drove right through your ‘hood. We waved in your direction, if that makes you feel any better. 🙂

  4. You’re brave ones, for sure! Doesn’t having a way, way back seat make for easier crowd control? I get out of so many sticky situations by pretending I can’t hear them. 🙂

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