Behind the Wheel: A mother's journal of a year on the road Kindle Edition
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We all have a Wendy in our lives. She's the smart funny gal who never stays put; who speaks her mind but is never mean-spirited; who takes a few years off to climb the Himalayas to discover herself; who's not afraid to flout the conventional wisdom. She has a Woody-Allen-like ability to tease out profound thoughts from absurd situations. Take her to the deserts of Mali or to the Wal-Mart in Des Moines, and she'll observe human behavior like a sociologist, and then top it off with a dollop of Garrison Keillor-style folksy humor that speaks to normal values.
Her Odysseus-styled trek back home might make her seem erratic, but Wendy is also one of the most rooted, family-oriented people you will ever meet. She reminds the reader that she's lucky she married a guy like Evan, who shares her sense of adventure, her tolerance for chaos, and her insatiable desire for unusual experiences. She thinks constantly about how this trip will give enriching learning experiences for her two boys, as well as a group activity that will bond her family for years to come. Together with Evan, she focuses on what she considers her most important job: raising two precocious boys who, for the most part, embrace the challenge of this year of self-imposed homelessness, and who understand that education is more than mere books and classrooms can provide.
This book is a fast read, the collected journal entries of a year - okay, seven months - on the road. It's a journey that I think many of us imagine that we would like to take, like Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson would take, but with kids brought along instead of hallucinogenic drugs. Wendy assures us that such a trip is not for the faint of heart, however. A 29-foot camper is a mighty tight space for a family that includes a young hormonal teenager, an imaginative 2-grader, a self-described menopausal woman, and a quiet husband with a penchant for organization and efficiency. Brave souls are the Swart-Grossmans, and we can view this book as a kind of journey into the American Heart of Darkness, if we define darkness as triple-A baseball games, homeschooling, road-trips to the world's largest ball of string, train-rides up to the Arctic Circle, and yes, a weekend in Vegas. Look on this family and learn, dear reader.
The results are not always pretty, but they are usually quite funny.
As someone who has just returned from a decade of expatriate life, living in India and in Africa, I sympathized with Wendy's challenges in adapting to this foreign culture that is 21st century America. I laughed at her self-deprecating chapter titles like "Does this RV make my butt look big?" But I also treated her observations on the people she met and the places she visited with the same curious respect as a political scientist would treat the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville. For someone like me, returning from a long tour abroad, "On the Road" is a must-read, a survival guide for reintegration to America, a quick tour of the cultural Mother Ship.
But this book isn't just for returning expats. For those who have lived in the US all their lives, but who need a good chuckle about how America looks to an outsider, this book is a welcome reality check. And for everyone else, buckle up for a great ride. And remember, most of life's pleasures are affordable, if you know which coupons to clip.
That being said, there are about a million things I appreciated about the book. Her writing style is easy-to-read, easy to put down and pick back up, and personable. You get the feeling she's talking directly to you, over a cup of tea, and half the time, you're roaring with laughter together (warning: you may get glares from fellow public transportation-takers when you disturb their commute). What I loved the most was how freely she exaggerates, yet keeps true, her observations: American road rage; English allergic reactions to random conversations; RV culture; etc.
Final takeways: I am now equipped to take an RV adventure across the US. I also have some great tips for parenting. Pajamas adventures are cool.
In the process, they blogged about it and that blog became a book. It is a light read and to tell you the truth leaves you wanting some more. But if you ever had a yearning to throw it all in for a year, spend a considerable amount of time with your kids and go on an adventure, this book is a good place to start to see what it is like. For me, if we ever go driving across the US it will be without kids.
I recommend this book to anyone who has ever wanted to discover more with their family than that which is within the walls of their house.
I found this book to be inspiring, thought provoking and funny. I'm still not going to attempt any long trips with my family any time soon but it reminded me to drop convention and try adventure once in awhile.