The average American drives 12,000 miles a year. If you are married with children, you must multiply that number by 28 since each mile traversed is like an uphill climb on a sheer mountain pass littered with glass shards. And you’re without shoes. Or legs. The GPS readout on a family road trip goes a little like this:
HOUR 1: WHEELS UP aka THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF YOUR LIFE
The hours spent laundering clothes that will be soiled in seven minutes and preparing sandwiches that will be flattened against car windows in four all come down to this moment of emancipation. Husband has packed the back of the car with a wall of luggage more ominous than the Iron Curtain. You have torn it all down, citing inaccessibility to fruit snacks and the emergency crapper. He rebuilds with shockingly less order and sensibility than the first time. You notice his use of Hefty bags instead of suitcases to contain his clothing. While your bag is squarely on the bottom, crushed under the weight of a case of non-refrigerated milk boxes leaking on your one dressy outfit, he has delicately placed his suit on top of everything with a death threat by caning to all if wrinkling or staining ensues. Perhaps a garment bag, or some Ziplocs, would have been a wise choice, you mutter. Children are strapped into carseats with the hopeful expectation of arrival exactly one handful of Cheerios later. Reverse out of driveway. Gas light illuminates. Husband looks at you as though you’ve revealed a sexual affair with a lower mammal and says something patronizing and short-sighted like, “Your only job was to fill the tank before we left.” You check the glove compartment for the Chloroform you bought from an online medical supply company in Mexico. Just in case.
Window splat on Sandwich One.
HOUR 2: CRUISE CONTROL aka THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The kids have exhausted themselves from hurling their torsos against their restraints, like a couple of criminally insane patients being transported by gurney from one holding cell to another. You only had to raise the whaling harpoon four times. Allowing them to watch Whale Wars has proven to be sound behavior modification. As their eyes flutter closed and their frenzied breathing becomes rhythmic, you and Husband ease into the cockpit, smile, remark about how magical they are and bemusedly wonder why people stop traveling once they have kids. You even hold hands for a little while until his right hand becomes reflexively drawn to the radio dial, searching endlessly for a channel playing non-stop Guns N Roses. You bury your nose in neglected back-issues of Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, dogearing recipes you’ll later declare ‘a total waste of time’ and methods to get your kids to stop calling you ‘shithead’. You permit the fourth replay of Pour Some Sugar on Me since, after all, you…are…on…vacation.
HOUR 3: REVERSAL aka THE FOREHEAD SLAP FOLLOWED BY IRRELEVANT BICKERING
The miles quickly ticking by are interrupted by a sharp intake of breath, forehead slap, and choke-hold to the neck. Husband steers violently into oncoming traffic, while shouting, “What? Where? Are you in labor?” The kids are awakened by the parental outburst and the bleating of horns and grinding of steel from an 18 wheeler now overturned. You declare dramatically that something very dire has been forgotten. This something is so essential that without it the entire family, and the thinning sheath of the Ozone Layer and the tidal pulls of the oceans, will be jeopardized. Did we forget a child? Much worse than that: Underwear. And that flashlight that should blink a myriad of colors but only the green actually illuminates. The kids love it. Go back.
You are unsympathetically told to go Commando or to keep alert for a swap meet. As for the flashlight, what kind of kids are interested in a flashlight that doesn’t work properly? What does this say about their intelligence? Why are we paying so much money for Montessori if they’re dumb enough to play with broken toys? Why don’t you expect excellence? Why didn’t you pay the electric bill? Is DVR really necessary? Did you use my toothbrush last night?
Your hand reaches for the glove compartment but you realize you’ll have to drive the rest of the way if you take him out now. Pull hand back. Forge ahead without underwear or flashlight for kids with low IQs.
HOUR 4: ENGINE TROUBLE aka PARENTAL UNDERCUTS
The winds begin to gather from the backseat. The Dollar Store toys you believed would hold their fancy for years have lost their luster. One by one, they are unceremoniously thrown toward the windshield. You tell husband it’s time. Time for what? Time to put on the Children’s Music. No, he insists, I will not listen to the irritating voices of children singing ‘I’m a Little Teapot.” He said the word ‘Teapot’. Mutiny ensues. Rather than slide in the CD, quieting them faster than the Propofol injection you are preparing, he begins to draw comparisons to his youth, which sounds like a Susan B. Anthony autobiography. He didn’t have CD players and special kids music. Nor car seats or air conditioning. Even if he did, he wouldn’t have used them. Why do you submit to their demands so easily? We should be teaching them to live in a democracy in which we all must cooperate. And while we’re at it, why do you allow D to wear pink and to tell people he wants to be a ballerina?
Hour 5: GAS IN THE TANK aka FEED THE ANIMALS
Husband has eaten all the snack food reserved for the kids. including the contents of the bag marked “This is for the kids should we be stranded without cell service and AAA and are teetering dangerously close to consuming the dog.” We need to stop, you decide. The kids are hungry and it’s occurred to you that you haven’t eaten in 72 hours preparing for this trip. Husband consents only because there is an Arby’s. It is un-American to pass by an Arby’s. Repair to the bathroom where you fantasize that Jeff Bridges is lurking in the adjacent stall, ready to toss you in his trunk and bury you alive like in The Vanishing. You rejoin the family to find Husband elbow deep in three Ham N Cheddars while the kids roll upon and lick the floor. Consider which is worse: Rest stop floor-induced Staph or hormone-injected fast food beef. Rapidly ingest a bag of pretzels while dropping scraps on the floor for the kids. Return to the car. Fill with more gas. Consider dropping a match in the gas tank…just to see the boom.
Window splat on Sandwich Two.
Hour 6: TRAFFIC AND CONGESTION aka NOT THE TIME TO QUESTION THE GPS
Traffic begins to grow as do the demands from the kids. Average speed decelerates to a rate a three-legged Alpaca could outpace. You wonder if there are any Alpacas available for hire. Kids love animals and the outdoors. It’d be good for them to take in the sights of Massachusetts from the back of an Alpaca. They’d arrive months later, expert at herding and making wool ponchos. Husband mutes the GPS and ominously states you will forge your own path, like our brethren of the Oregon Trail. As the car is taken off road, you recall that everyone on The Oregon Trail died of dysentery. You glance wistfully at the GPS and pray that Husband doesn’t attempt to ford a river or fix a broken axle.
Hour 7: SCENIC OVERLOOK aka DON’T MAKE A SCENE ON THE HIGHWAY
The declaration every parent of a potty trained toddler fears: Have to go to the bathroom. You briefly contemplate slipping a Pamper under his tush but realize that is the very definition of ‘one step forward, two steps back.’ Child declares unwillingness to go outside unless Daddy goes too. Scout a shoulder location with only a 75% chance of arrest for indecent exposure. Father and son lower pants in unison. Son stops short and proclaims this grass to be of the ‘wrong’ sort. Husband looks at you in desperation. You must find different turf as your son is inspired to urinate only by certain blades of grass, you explain. Husband drags son to various patches of land along the side of the road while vehicles passing by slow to take in a scene that appears vaguely criminal. You yell to Husband to get the job done for phone calls to 911 reporting the Zodiac killer on the Merritt Parkway are being made.
Hour 8: ARRIVAL aka DID THE DIVORCE PAPERS ARRIVE FIRST?
Arrive to destination more jittery than a pile of mogwais doused by a bucket of water. Parents are exhausted. Kids are ready to run. Begin to load 14 bellhop carts with luggage while childless valet stares in horror. Relocate Chloroform to your purse. Check in at front desk. Will that be one King bed or two Doubles? Exchange a wordless look.
(Share your road trip horror stories)