The prospect of a little vacation is always exciting. Let’s get away. It’ll be so fun to take a break from our everyday routine – just think of all the relaxing we can do!
C’mon! We’ll load up the four kids, all their clothes, toiletries, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, electronic devices, and that complicated lego spider trap that CoCo constructed yesterday in between bouts of anguished and enraged howls over trying to get it to look exactly how he imaginated it (which he fully expects to stay intact during the 6 hour minivan trip). Anything else you can stuff into your respective princess or camouflage backpacks, kids? Light sabers, a batman costume, your diary, action figures, a plastic tool set? Sure! Bring it!
And let’s toss in the laptop, the various commentaries that the Husband needs in order to work on his sermon while we’re away, all the extra tennis shoes and jackets we might use if we went on a hike or something, a cooler for food, water bottles, sleeping bags, and our road-trip bingo game. I’m sure I’ll have time to read these six novels while I’m lounging around on vacation, so I’d better cram them into the glove box. This will be a breeze!
Locked and loaded, we head down the driveway. If you were watching from the house, you would hear a muted shriek from inside the car, see us stop, back up to the house, and let one kid out to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, I run in and frantically look for my cell phone and travel mug that I know I set somewhere while helping the Daughter strap on her sandals, but forgot to grab on the way out the door the first time.
Locked and loaded again, we take off again, and the gravel that spews up from the tires demonstrates the Husband’s nearness to the end of his rope. “Can we stop at Starbucks?” I ask hopefully.
“Sure, Sweetie,” he answers through gritted teeth. And so it goes – through town, the Starbucks drive-thru, traffic lights and morning rush, and onto the freeway.
We inch down the road. I say inch, because we all know that is the perceived progress of your vehicle when people lob are-we-almost-there-yets from the back seat with the alarming speed and frequency of a little league pitching machine. “NO,” the Husband and I shout in unison over the Spongebob movie on the DVD player.
After an age of driving and stopping for various coffees, bathrooms, and what I will vaguely term ‘disciplinary situations’, we arrive at the outskirts of Portland. It’s been at least 45 minutes since the most recent heckling from the back seat. Sun rays gleam into the car, reflecting off the Daughter’s sparkling blue eyes, and we feel the need to provide the magical experience of the zoo for these super cute kids. Veer off onto the proper exit, and promptly cue standstill traffic conditions.
Breathe. We’ll be fine. We’re not on a schedule, right? The loved ones we’re visiting won’t be expecting us for a few more hours.
But traffic jams make children ravenously hungry. It goes like this. The visual stimulus of all those red brake lights triggers a chemical reaction in their hypothalamus, which in turn sends an internal lightening bolt from the brain downwards, and that bolt transforms their tummies into a pride of lions who haven’t eaten in days. Lions’ roars rise up in their throats and out into the enclosed and cramped space of a suddenly blazing hot car. This is the scientific process described in our homeschool biology book, anyway.
In the zoo parking lot, we realize that every other parent in the state of Oregon also saw the sunlight reflected in their adorable child’s eyes that morning, and were thus inspired to show them elephants and penguins. We discuss the state of affairs at hand, a line of would-be parkers forming behind us.
“We can’t go back on the zoo.”
“No, of course not. They’d flip out.”
“Would they though? Maybe we should test the waters.” And then, “Kids? The zoo is just soooo crowded. It’ll be hard to even see the animals. And I know everyone is hungry, so we are thinking we’ll skip it and just go to an early lunch.”
They all nod, completely undisturbed, with one exception: our naturalist. CoCo’s mouth turns down, eyebrows drawing together in an expression I know all too well. “You can have a milkshake at Chick-fil-A,” I placate, hoping the ferociousness of the stomach-lions outweighs the lure of the zoo-lions. The sad face disappears instantly. Stomach-lions for the win.
In Chick-fil-A, the Daughter hugs herself and looks forlorn as our food arrives at the table. “I feel sick,” she declares.
“What?! Are you going to THROW UP?” I realize too late how loudly I have said it, as a family two tables down stares in alarm. She nods. I give her a bag, and she lowers her entire face into it, groaning. Oh. No. No, no, no, no, no. The nearby family shifts down another table. I agonize. Is this real? Is she faking? Maybe she’s just too hungry and she has that sick feeling you get when your stomach is empty; the lions have turned on each other. She looks up at me, face pale, strands of hair clinging to her mouth, which hangs open. She looks awful. This is happening. I load up her nuggets and my sandwich, grab my purse, and herd her out to the van.
We sit in air-conditioned silence, watching the boys eat through the restaurant window. I briefly ponder all the times I’ve had to sit in the car with a child during a meal out in the last 12 years of parenting. I make a mental note to put it in The Job Description. (The Job Description is a rather long manifesto I am constantly tweaking, which I plan to present to our kids when they themselves become parents.)
“Mommy? Can I have my food now?” I hand a nugget back to her. She chomps. Color returns to her cheeks, and with it, impishness. “And where’s my barbecue sauce?”
“We had to leave that behind, because I thought you were going to barf,” I say with a sigh.
“I’m feeling better. Just go in and get it for me.”
“If you were feeling barfy, it’s better to eat your food plain anyway.”
The boys come bouncing out, wiping ketchup with their sleeves and slurping leftover lemonade. They cheer good-naturedly as their sister announces, “I didn’t have to throw up after all!”
The Husband eases into the car with an exhausted, “OOOOOkay,” at the exact same time I say a weary, “Woooooow, what a trip so far.”
I smile over at him. We are in perfect sync. A thought occurs to me, spoken in a particular inner voice that I like to pretend is Ms. Sensible, but actually might be Ms. Lazy. “Maybe we just shouldn’t be traveling much with the kids in this stage of life,” I say, at the exact same time the Husband utters, “We need to be getting these kids out more.” Not so much in sync. But he’s right, of course. I guess.