On the road, family-style

Tales from the road: The Suhay family meets face-to-face with virtual friends, vistis old haunts, and reconnects with family as they resurrect the lost art of the family road trip.

Lisa Suhay
Family road trip: Quin Suhay, 10, poses behind a giant clam shell in front of Country Kettle Fudge in Beach Haven, N.J., Dec. 30.

One of the most enduring memories of my childhood is the family road trip, be it day trip or long haul trek for holiday or reunion, only the funniest stories survive to be retold to year after year.

My husband and I are on our first major family road trip in nearly 10 years from Norfolk, Va. to see family and friends in New Jersey with our four sons (ages 10, 14, 18, and 20) plus one girlfriend, Monica, 18.

I anticipated a series of increasing disasters ranging from infighting to cannibalism when the snacks ran out.

I have been amazed in many ways, so far all of them good.

That’s a six hour drive just to get from state to state, plus multiple hours of stops all over Jersey to convert friendships previously based in social media and Skype into real-life, hug ‘till your arms hurt relationships.

While the older boys plot a game plan to isolate their Uncle Tommy and extract as much damaging information about their father’s childhood as they can in the time allotted, the youngest wants only to soak-up the Jersey shore like a sponge.

As a parent I want to survive both physically and financially while returning Monica to her mom safely. There is nothing as terrifying as being responsible for another person’s child (even if she is 18) on a road trip.

Our first stop was Medford, N.J. to revisit the log cabin where three of our four sons spent five years.

We came away with a nonstop flow of chatter about the memories triggered.

“Remember when we had that big snowstorm and Pop hooked the sled to the dog and it ran away with us on it,” Ian asked.

“Oh yeah!” said the boys.

“Oh no,” I thought. “This is going to be a tour of the parenting potholes on memory lane!”

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while parents remember the parenting failures kids remember the good stuff as they rattled on about the neighbor who always had the scariest Halloween decorations and the fact that “everything looks so much smaller that I remember.”

We drove to Barnegat, N.J. hoping to see the marine biologist friend Ian Jones for whom our son Ian is named, but had no luck. Instead we took pictures of the tribe at his front door and swapped stories of crabbing, sailing, and “Crazy Ian Jones.”

Then we were right back on the road to Long Beach Island, N.J. to visit Peter and Laura Maschal and their twin daughters who are age 21.

Laura is one of the moms I have modeled my parenting after. She has been one of the greatest influences in my life. Peter and my husband are fast friends as well as surf and sail buddies.

After a long, freezing stretch of the legs down the jetty and beach at Barnegat Lighthouse we were all starving. We were also finally out of apples, PB&J, and juice pouches.

LBI being a summer haunt is fast food free in winter. We didn’t want to impose the tribe on our friends for dinner so we decided to fill up before descending on them.

Peter’s dad founded the family business Country Kettle Fudge in Beach Haven. While Quin hadn’t heard the stories of summer fudge the sign caught his eye as we drove past the shop.

“The sign says they sell amazing chowder. They call it ‘Chowda’ like the cartoon ‘Chowder’,” said Quin, 10. "Pleeease?"  Kid begging for clam chowder is a whole new spin on Happy Meal for this mom. Of course clam chowder for kids and teens was a new food risk, but each new year is packed with positive risks we want to take with our families.

We basically brought coals to New Castle as we arrived at the Maschal home laden with quarts of New England white chowder and fudge for dessert made in their family’s shop.

Quin ended up having a tuna sandwich while all the others devoured every last drop.

Peter is a chiropractor and he literally straightened-out my whole family and Monica.

No matter what else happens on this trip at least I can return to Virginia with a happy family and make the claim that this family trip resulted in all my kids finally being well adjusted, if only in the chiropractic sense.

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