Road trips with children
Less than six months ago I relinquished my rights to my soccer mom rig. An 8-seat black Suburban that made me feel safe, both because I was really high off the ground and I thought maybe the gangsters (in Montana) would think I was FBI and leave me alone. Sometimes, I would wear sunglasses and look at teenagers suspiciously when I drove by them to add to this effect.
What I suppose I didn’t consider when giving up this gas-guzzling mechanic’s support system was that those extra seats provided extra room for the infrequent road trips we take as a family. I replaced the Suburban with a Dodge Neon. It’s cheap to drive, but on eight-hour road trips, the car can definitely be comparatively described as a closet. I knew before we were heading out on the road that I was likely to encounter some challenges with three children, ages 16, 9 and 7 crammed into the backseat.
I drive on almost all road trips we take, unless the route includes any part of a Southern California freeway because can’t see through tears and my depth perception is altered by Xanax, which happens to be required because I tend to freak out in more ways you can imagine by the appalling driving skills (which I can only compare to the reprehensible writing abilities) of (most) Southern Californians. I once stormed into a boss’s office crying to tell him that “I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I enraged!” Now I try to bake when I’m mad, something I call rage baking. Well I can’t bake and drive at the same time, so that’s when the husband takes the wheel because I don’t want to know what I do when I can’t cry or bake.
Fortunately, we weren’t traveling on a freeway in Southern California for our most recent road trip. The destination was Wyoming, and it’s safe to say that traffic is a non-issue 100 percent of the time in Montana and Wyoming. So I was driving. I procrastinated preparing for the weekend trip, and the day before, while I packed for everyone I was cleaning my son’s room. I found a fly swatter (which was never used to swat flies because he used his money to buy it at the dollar store (another blog topic) to use as a weapon against his sister and the neighbor children.
Naturally, I said, “This would be a perfect disciplinary tool for the car!”
I hid it in the attic access and told myself to remind myself later to get it and put it in the car. Well, I don’t ever, ever, ever remember to remind myself of anything. For more on my memory, you may read my post titled Memories.
My last defense for squabbling, kicking the back of my seat and “are we almost there” was half asleep in the passenger seat. To add to it, the road were a mess and my husband’s music preferences vastly differ from my own. Call me crazy, but I think the music choice should fall to whoever is driving because it greatly decreases the chance of the driver falling asleep if she is properly entertained. If my favorite Christian rock stations aren’t available, I’d prefer to listen to music I can sing along with. For me to sing along, song composition will have had to take place in the 1980s or later.
I can’t listen to country music, and fortunately my husband concurs. We’re both pretty sure no one cares what they sing as long as it rhymes, and that poses issues with grammar, morality and comprehension all at once at times. However, my husband stops scanning for stations when he hears Bobby Darin, Paul Anka and Chuck Berry. It takes him exactly two beats to begin singing aloud, and for some reason this always amazes me.
I believe my comment this road trip was “If you want me to stay awake while I’m driving, you need to find some evolved music, or at the very least a preacher who is condemning all of his listeners to hell. At least that will get my blood pumping.”
I suspect the move to not play music from the 1980s is calculated by my entire family. I can’t sing, but that doesn’t stop me. My 9-year-old has compared my crooning to an ailing bovine, and every now and then I catch a glare of appalled disbelief while I’m singing in church. The eyes are clearly saying, “Mom! You know that EVERYONE can hear you, right?”
The biggest offenses on the trip, both there and back, were abundant fingerprints on all of the windows of the vehicle, rapidly increasing volumes resulting from excited, imaginative play, and one 7-year-old’s accusation toward the 9-year-old’s “girl smell” stinking up the entire trip. The teenager didn’t speak for three days (normal), and behavior was remarkably tolerable. I can only believe that this unusual shift toward civility was a result of previous road trips where I exhibited my stunning multitasking abilities. These abilities may or may not have included me eating a taco while driving at highway speeds, meanwhile swinging my right arm wildly behind me hoping to contact a thigh, or at the very least a foot.
One incident on this trip did, however, slightly confuse me. About 20 or 30 miles from home on the return trip, my sleeping husband jolted awake.
“Not another word! Give me all of the toys. You are to sit there quietly for the rest of the trip.” A few minutes later, he followed up with, “When we get home, the two of you (younger two) are emptying everything from the car.” Now, I’m not in the habit of contradicting my husband’s discipline in front of the kids, and since there was no chance for private conversation in the Neon, I just drove silently toward home wondering what that was all about. But the kids were quiet. I keep forgetting to ask him about it, but I think I’ve worked out two possibilities. Only one is really feasible, though.
1. He just wanted the kids to unload the car. This is extremely unbelievable for many reasons, including that anyone who knows my husband knows he’s not the type to shove a responsibility off to anyone else. Also, my husband is extremely logical and there is a purpose for everything he says and does, including punishments.
2. The more likely and somewhat hysterical scenario is this: My husband either was dreaming or didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep and had a sort of narcoleptic fit. Because I haven’t yet asked him, this whole theory is merely based on speculation. However, he was sleeping. Just prior to his slumber, the children had been getting rather loud in the back seat and were throwing a ball from a kid’s meal package. He warned them rather sternly to settle down, a warning I know was mostly for my benefit. Then he fell asleep. They did a great job and obeyed his order. About an hour later he woke up, and I’m of a mind to believe that he either dreamed they weren’t good or fell asleep so suddenly while scolding them that he was just continuing.
I don’t know if I want to know the answer to this. The whole situation is funnier in my head than it probably is if he were to explain it to me. But I was there, and I know what was going on in the car, so I’m pretty sure my reconstruction of the events was accurate. We got home, and if it were me dreaming, then that would be a bona fide miracle. Either way, the kids emptied the car and we went about our lives, which I’m sure will be largely unchanged by the only mishap on our trip that I can think of.
I counted my blessings then and I count them now. Eighteen hours in a car with three kids could have had horror stories much more profound than the one here, and I’ve experienced the bad ones first hand. We have sensed from when this trip was begun that God’s guiding hand was with us, and while we recognize that our humanity is inevitable, we are grateful for the gift of direction the Lord has given us. The result of the road trip is a move for our family, which will be of no consequence to my reader because no matter where I am, it’s Jesus who took me there and my own humanity is impossible to outrun. So stay tuned.