My son Matthew is senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, FL. He has decided for his first half of the school year he wants to take classes online and go on a six-month road trip across the country with two friends.
When he first mentioned the idea in March, I thought he was kidding.
I was wrong.
Over the next few months, I dreaded talking about the trip and hoped he and his friends would change their minds. They didn’t. Actually, they became more determined. All three of them were in high school in Parkland when a shooter killed 17 people in February 2018. After going through what they did, they said they wanted and needed this trip for healing.
Initially I didn’t realize how much this trip meant to Matthew, until I started to see a change in him. Matthew began spending less time in his room on the computer, and more time planning the trip with his friends. He started to expand his eating habits and be forthcoming with affection. He wanted to prove to us that he was determined to do whatever it took to make this trip a reality — and to show us he was mature enough to travel without an adult.
When I expressed my concern about safety to Matthew, he quickly responded that he never thought he wouldn’t be safe going to school — and look how that turned out. I saw that Matthew needed this trip as a journey to heal from what he was going through after the shooting. I didn’t realize that returning to school for him had become torture every day. It had become a trigger for his anxiety. I knew even though this roadtrip was not the normal way of coping with anxiety, it could help a teen who survived a school shooting and needed to do something out of the ordinary for his mental state of mind.
Matthew had response for all my concerns. School. Grades. License. Money. Safety. When I asked him why he wanted to roadtrip for six months, and not just three, he explained that they needed enough time to see 48 states. We discussed the idea with his psychiatrist who reassured us Matthew could handle it. As a mom, I recognized this was not the most conventional way of dealing with anxiety, but I thought it was right for my son.
Now, if it was my daughter Olivia. Uh, NO! That would be a party bus across the U. S.,
Matthew is road tripping with a purpose. He even said he would write his college essay on the road because not many kids would have an essay like his. He is right. As a mom, it is my job to protect him and keep him safe, but at the same time, support him in the hopes he returns stronger, happier, more grown up and eager to finish his senior year without any anxiety.
Matthew and the girls used their own money and some from family, to purchase the trailer. All the parents told them if they wanted this trip, they would have to be responsible for the expenses.
Before the road trip began, all three families met to ensure the kids were well prepared and nothing had been overlooked. As parents, we divided who would get what for the new trailer. I oversaw getting all the medical and emergency supplies, in addition to some last minute items (broom, rug, shower holder etc.)
God Bless technology. We all have our What’sApp group and our LIFE 360 app.
The Life360 app allows us to see where the kids are — down to the road name and how fast they are going. I want to give a special shout-out to LIFE360 app for giving parents peace of mind. It is especially useful when you have your teen on the road driving across the US. I highly recommend it. There is no peace like a parents peace of mind, period.
One father even installed a GPS and security system with cameras in the truck attached to the trailer so the three kids won’t get lost. The night before Matthew left, he got a great gift from my brother and sister-in-law: an U.S. atlas that shows all the cities and roads in detail, just in case that GPS has no signal. Old school maps are crucial if technology fails.
As the trip neared, my family grew worried for Matthew because he didn’t have much driving experience. I told them he was getting it on this trip. Now, in Matthew’s defense, he did take driving lessons to ensure he was ready for the highways and roads. But I also know Matthew is a good and safe driver. It’s the other drivers he has to be on the lookout for while on the road. I know God will watch over him and protect him and I have faith in my son and I trust and believe in him. The kids also have with them Ashley’s comfort dog, Apollo, a 90 lb German Shepard puppy that went to training school to ensure he was ready for the trip.
The trio left on Friday, July 12th. First stop: Tallahassee. Next stops: Savannah and Atlanta, GA. As I type this post, they are in Nashville, TN. I see from Matthew’s bank activity, he and the girls are enjoying themselves at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant.
Part of me is jealous that my son is seeing our beautiful country one state at a time. I can’t wait to watch their YouTube channel about the trip to learn about the adventures and experiences they have had along the way.
I am so excited and proud of Matthew and his friends for having the courage to take this trip, even without knowing what lies ahead. I know after what they have had to deal with in the past year, there is nothing they can’t overcome.
So, keep checking our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page for updates on the trip. A press release with the details is below.