Sometimes in life, you’ve just gotta take the road less traveled

Let me be the first to admit that I love the status quo. No one’s happier than me when all my duckies are in a nice, neat, little row.

You want the truth? Predictability excites me. Kind of like how a wrecking ball excites Miley Cyrus. I can’t help it. I like my keels even. I’m usually happiest when my life is like a nice, long, flat stretch of Autobahn, where I can open it up and get all Mario Andretti if I feel that need for speed, or I can just flip on cruise control, sit back, and enjoy the ride. I guess I’m just a simple farm girl at heart, what can I say?

All that being said, there’s also a part of me that likes to mix things up and go off road. Farm girls have to be rugged too, you know. A girl’s gotta be tough to handle all those cows and chickens, after all. Because as much as I’m a lover of habit and routine, there’s a side of me that loves to double clutch and jump the guardrail. And that’s because I also believe that sometimes the best trips happen when you throw your life into four-wheel drive and go off your own grid.

I’m saying all this because my family just busted out of our wheelhouse and threw most of our predictable little family routine right out with the trash. We put ourselves out there and what we got back in return blew every single one of us completely away.
You’re dying to know how, I can feel it. And I’m dying to tell you. So enough with the metaphors. In straight-up English, here’s how we took the road less traveled and where it took us.

Our journey, for lack of a better word, started the night one of my daughter’s friends needed a place to stay. Riley’s friend—a senior and fellow cross country and track runner—has spent the better part of the last 11 years commuting from Boston to Marblehead every day to get her education. So when the late commuter bus leaves and she’s not on it, she’d better have a back-up plan.

Now I’m sure you don’t need me to describe what her typical day to day looks like. You get the concept of commuting, so you can deduce. Although, just in case you’re at all vague on what it means to live eight towns away from your high school, her typical day goes something like this: Up at 4:30AM. Jam everything you could possibly need for that day into your backpack and pray you don’t forget anything. An hour on a bus. A full school day. A two-hour cross country practice. Back on the bus for another hour. Dinner. Homework. Shower. Bed. Repeat. For 11 years. Almost a mirror image of what life is like for our kids, no?

So the night the team dinner ran late and she needed a place to crash, we said sure. Little did we know that that one night would evolve into many nights. And those many nights would grow into weeks at a time. And eventually, it would turn into a virtual adoption into our family. Complete with toothbrush, lunchbox, and a pink pair of feety pajamas if I can find them in her size.

Now keep in mind, until this point my daughter’s friend was only someone we knew through school sports. She was a friend we rang the cow bell for during a race, gave rides to in a pinch, and high-fived when she ran her personal best. But as being a part of a team can often do, it unites people in very unexpected ways. And it was because of the bond they’d formed that we were happy to have her stay.

So I guess at this point, you could say that we were still driving on a pretty freshly paved stretch of highway. What none of us realized was that the highway was about to end and we were all about to go screaming off the cliff Thelma & Louise style.

At first when she stayed with us, we all treaded lightly, observing each other, sizing each other up and crunching over a few egg shells along the way. But before long, and without even realizing it, we wove ourselves into each other’s patterns.

She started making my coffee just the way I like it. I learned that she likes Craisins in her salad, but not too many as to overwhelm the rest of the veggies. Because life and salads are about balance. She learned where things were in the house even better than Dave. (Sorry, babe, but the Q-tips have been on the same shelf in the same closet for 10 years.)

She floated her way into our little morning breakfast ballet, knowing exactly what everyone’s choreography was, when to dodge, and when to weave. When to duck and when to cover. The girls began all do their homework together, carpooling together, gossiping together, counseling each other and, most importantly, having each other’s backs.

And the irony of all this is that while we’ve been acting as a support system for her, she became a support system for us. She brought out the best in all of us. And I’d like to think we’re bringing out some of the best in her, too.

Janaya is graduating in June and moving on to the next phase of her life. And I’m already getting choked up while I’m typing this. Damn. I have such a week emotional constitution. But because we all put ourselves out there so many months ago and barreled, head-first into the complete unknown, we’ll always stay connected.

So I guess this just proves my point that you never know what you’ll get out of something until you put yourself out there and step outside your sweet spot. Even, and especially if that means busting through the sawhorse in the middle of the road and ignoring all the flashing lights.


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