My mother is a traveler. 

For as long as I can remember, my mom has encouraged my siblings and I to go and explore the world around us in person. Not that my dad doesn’t do this, too — he’s traveled the world extensively for work, and been known to take all-day biking and walking trips around the countryside where I grew up, gone from dawn to dusk while my mom frets about his access to cell phone service — but my dad more often explores in other ways, through National Geographic magazines and online articles about the next SpaceX mission. Mom was the one that pushed us out the door and said, “Don’t come back until dinner.” 

One of the first pictures I ever saw of my parents together, before they had three kids, was a shot from the time they biked the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. I don’t have a copy of it, so I could be mis-remembering, but in my mind’s eye they’re posed with their bicycles, grinning, in front of one of the trail’s famous railroad tunnels that carves through the rocks of southwest Wisconsin. My mom’s got her signature look going: Shorts, sunglasses, and a handkerchief tied up over her hair. They look happy. 

My parents used to do trips like that a lot, when they were young and had the free time. My dad is full of stories about the times they drove west, to Yellowstone National Park, or north to the Canadian border, to camp and hike and take in the wilderness. My mom didn’t miss much with her old camera, and there are boxes and albums of the photos she took along the way to prove it. In fact, one of my dad’s favorite stories is about the time my mom missed seeing her first moose because she took a bathroom break at the wrong moment. 

Starting up a dairy farm and having three children tends to tether you in place a bit more, and while the expanse of the farm afforded us a great range of freedom, outings beyond the immediate Buffalo and Trempealeau counties in Wisconsin and Winona County in Minnesota were rare. There were cows to milk, chickens to feed, hay fields to bale... the list of chores was long. Still, whenever she could, my mom found the time to pile us into our old station wagon and take us on outings that pushed the boundaries of the little world I knew. 

While the big pay-off was usually at the end of these trips, like the mad scramble to go hug Grandma in Wisconsin Rapids or to see dinosaur bones in the Science Museum of Minnesota, my mom made sure we enjoyed the journeys as much as the arrivals. She wasn’t opposed to pulling over for the slightest piece of roadside interest. I can’t tell you how many times we stopped at the Lake Dexter Drive-In for root beer floats, or slowed the car to a crawl while we were passing the nearby cranberry bogs of Wood County on the way to Grandma’s. More often, though, mom had an idea of somewhere new she go to find even before she got behind the wheel, and she had a knack for finding the little gems that were squirreled away in the Driftless Area. We marveled at the bluffs that marched north and south along the Mississippi River for as far as I could see, wound our way through the hills and dugways that hid old logging trails and small businesses like Stockholm Pie & General Store and Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. 

I confess, I didn’t used to appreciate this about my mom. Like dad, I was more the type to explore using a book, and would then have to suffer a bout of carsickness if I tried to read too much while zig-zagging around the river valleys. When I came home from college one year, I groaned when my mom took me on an hours-long trip around the county to look at the flooding damage to roads from a particularly snowy winter. She was in awe of the power of spring, while I just wanted to go home and sleep. 

Now that I’m a little more settled myself — if you can call a long-term boyfriend, an apartment lease and two cats “settled” — I appreciate my mom’s exploratory nature a lot more. I work two jobs with wildly varied schedules, and there are often times when I feel like I can’t get out and away and go find the hidden places in my world. But when those feelings emerge, I remember my mom: The woman who piled three kids in her car and made the time to get away. She didn’t let chores or jobs stop her, she simply worked around them. Easier said than done, at times, but that go-get-’em attitude is something I need to remind myself to have. 

My mom is retired, now, and my dad semi-retired. Last summer, they rekindled their love of travel and took a spontaneous road trip up to Canada and back, passing through both ways to visit me and my little family. I’ve never seen my mom happier. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, and especially to Cheryl Kuhn, Janice Thomas and Tina Ward.