A few months ago, I read that experiencing a solar eclipse in totality is a completely different thing than a partial eclipse. I remembered taking time out of school one day in elementary school to go look at a piece of paper and stare through some boxes, and seeing a little crescent shape where the sun was supposed to be, and it was pretty cool, but not really a big deal. But totality was supposed to be this whole huge other thing. So I looked at the path, and I saw it went through Tennesee, where my cousin had just recently bought a house. And, although her house wasn’t within the path of totality, there, right smack dab on the center of the line, was the teeny little town our grandparents grew up in.
Clearly, this had to happen.
So we spent some time planning, and pulling things together, and figuring it all out. Saturday, we would drive from Silver Spring, MD to Johnson City, TN. Then, Monday, we would schlep out to Sparta, TN, and then back home. Tuesday, we’d drive down to Asheville, NC to visit with Ben’s folks, and then Wednesday back home. All told, 1369.6 miles, or 20 hours 33 min without traffic or stops, according to Bing.
We spent about 30 hours on the road. The girls are almost-5 and 2½.
The drive went very well, all things considered. We brought lots of distractions, and all our usual rules about toys went RIGHT out the window before we even left. We hit an extra three hours of traffic on our way home from Sparta, which of course was the leg with eight people in the van, but even then, we didn’t end up with hours of screaming until the final leg, on our way back to Maryland.
We chose to watch from the highest point in Sparta, the Highland Cemetery, where my grandfather (as well as about half my ancestors) is buried. It was kind of weird and disorienting to have a picnic lunch in a cemetery (Southerners are very strange about death, and it conflicts a lot with the Jewish half of my upbringing), and I had to relocate our picnic blanket from directly on top of a grave site (“We do not eat pulled pork on top of our ancestors!”). But in a way, it was kind of nice to know that we were witnessing an unusual natural phenomenon surrounded by family history.
The eclipse was amazing. It’s really true that totality is completely different from a partial. We were really struck by just how fricken bright the sun is, that even just the tiniest sliver of a crescent can make it look like practically full daylight. In addition to about a zillion pairs of the cheap cardboard eclipse glasses, my cousin had a pair of the fancy plastic sunglasses style ones, plus I had a sheet of film for our binoculars, and we made three pinhole boxes.
The plastic glasses made a definite difference. You didn’t have to hold them on with both hands, and they needed less adult supervision with the kids to make sure they glasses were on properly. The boxes were the best (especially the long worklight box!) for the girls, although the littlest two really didn’t care until totality.
P actually slept through the first nearly two hours of the partial phase, and I had to wake her up for totality. Poor thing, she did not want to wake up at all. Fortunately, we had brought picnic blankets out, so I could let her wake up a bit more gently. I hope she agrees with me that it was worth it — she certainly seemed to enjoy totality as much as the rest of us.
And then the sun went dark, and the horizon glowed, and I took zero photos because I was too busy enjoying the moment with my family. And then, we went home, and slogged through six hours to travel what had taken us less than three that morning, because everyone and her cousin was on the road in Tennessee.
Tuesday, we drove to Asheville to visit Ben’s dad and stepmom, and had a lovely trip to the Asheville Nature Center (which is really more zoo than nature center), and a nice (if slightly complicated) visit at their home, and then Wednesday we drove back to Maryland. It was a long trip, and a lot of time in the car, but very, very worth it.
Or so I keep telling myself. We came home to a bit more drama than I was prepared for, and the girls still shriek in horror whenever we get into the car (even just to the grocery store or the playground!), but I’m fairly sure in a couple weeks, when all the immediacy of reentry from real life to vacation is a little less present, all the good we got from the trip will outweigh our current momentary discomfort