Paying Tolls

As the holidays approach for 2011, my thoughts head to the inevitable car trip that our family will soon be making southward. It got me thinking back to one of my first posts when I began MB3 last year and which remains the most commented on entry that I’ve had from friends and strangers alike. Here it is again in case you missed it – perhaps this year’s journeys will inspire some additional “joys”!


6 hours and 37 minutes. That was how long my GPS was telling me our trip would take, but I knew it would more likely be 8 or 9 hours after stops and traffic and who knows what else. We were heading home last week, at the tail end of a weekend visit to my wife’s parents in Virginia – our minivan loaded down with enough stuff to undoubtedly fill at least 3 school cafeterias to the ceiling. I’ve resigned myself to the unfortunate reality that there is no easy way to manage a long northward trek with a van full of 3 kids.

Thank goodness we have a DVD player in our van to at least attempt to pacify the kids on the long car trips. Unfortunately, after a few hours, even that loses its luster. When I was a kid we obviously had no such thing; we played the license plate game, ‘I’m an Animal’ and listened to our Mom read books. (I feel like this is my generation’s version of “I used to walk to school 5 miles uphill in the snow!”) But even a postitive like movies can go wrong very quickly – “My headphones aren’t working!…Put them back on your head…I can’t hear anything!…Stop fooling with the volume…I’m not!..Put them back on your head…Why can’t I hear?…Put them back on your head…The movie’s skipping!…No it’s not…It’s skipping!…I can hear it, it is NOT skipping.” – Shoot me.

My sister and I never wore seat belts 25-30 years ago – we lounged all over the back seat, poking each other, crossing the invisible line down the center to irritate each other, climbing over to the front seat to sit in the ‘middle’ spot. When we had a station wagon (the vehicle equivalent to a black-and-white TV when compared to minivans), we’d sit in the far rear fold-down seat – you know the one – facing backwards and harrassing the cars behind us. Yeah, that was safe. Now I freak out at my son if he’s unbuckled from his car seat for 5 seconds. How did we even make it to parenthood with death staring us in the face at every turn back then?

The major downside to today’s kids always being restrained in their car seats? Their inability to pick anything up off the floor. Because they drop things. Constantly. Usually to the one place that you can’t reach, despite my Plasticman-like attempts from the driver’s seat. That dangerous maneuver alone probably negates any safety advantage to the kids being strapped down in the first place. I’m seriously considering getting rid of the car seats completely. Two of our boys are finally at the point where we can use booster seats – an amazing development that has undoubtedly added years to my life since they are 20 times easier to install and move around. Even better, the kids can buckle themselves – well, maybe 70% of the time. I think they appreciate the added freedom too, released from those 5-point harnesses that could have been designed by NASA for a moon launch.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of our trips are the stops. One supposed ‘quick stop’ often slips us into some kind of time warp. The amount of time that gets added to our ETA when we get back on the road does not equal the actual transpired events. Seriously. How does a quick bite to eat and bathroom stop turn into 45 minutes? An attempt to account for the missing time with a minute-by-minute review:

  1. (Minute 1) Pull off highway, praying that fast food restaurant is as close to exit as advertised by sign
  2. It wasn’t
  3. Park car. “Where is your other shoe? Seriously, where is it – you were buckled in, where could it have gone?”
  4. Argue about not bringing in toys and not climbing over backs of seats to reach their nearest exit door
  5. Threaten lives to stay on sidewalk while we get the baby out of the van
  6. Corral family into line to order food and not knock over toy giveaway display. Immediately regret asking kids what they wanted.
  7. Order food. Hooray, there’s a play area with a climber. Yes, you can go there for a few minutes
  8. Mommy gets a table near the play area and watches through soundproof glass. So nice to see them screaming but not hear anything.
  9. Wait for food, bring to family in 2 shifts as it doesn’t all fit on one tray anymore
  10. Quickly eat my food
  11. Tell kids time to come back to table
  12. Child #1 tells me child #2 is stuck at top of 3rd story slide tube and afraid to come down
  13. Coax him down the slide. No, you will not fall through the sides
  14. Go back to counter for endless supplies of napkins and straws
  15. Why do we only have one chocolate milk? Go back to counter. Again.
  16. Hand out food, “Don’t drink all your chocolate milk before you eat your nuggets
  17. Stop kicking the baby’s seat
  18. Turn around
  19. Eat your chicken
  20. Turn around
  21. Keep eating, we can’t stay here all day
  22. Get off the floor and out from under the table
  23. Eat your chicken
  24. Turn around
  25. Why are you yelling, I’m right here
  26. No, you can’t eat all my fries, Daddy’s hungry too
  27. No, you can’t have the toy until we get back in the car
  28. Yes, they’re both exactly the same. I promise.
  29. Yes, you can go on the climber for 2 more minutes
  30. Mommy takes baby to restroom for diaper change
  31. Daddy pulls boys out of climber area
  32. Daddy takes boys towards Men’s room, kids knock over the toy giveaway display
  33. Try to talk son out of locking the stall door.
  34. No one is watching you go potty. No, not even me. Really.
  35. Discussion about color of urinal cake
  36. Don’t stand behind the door so it doesn’t open and knock you in the head
  37. Convince youngest to wash his hands despite being scared of big man that just came in and bonked him in head with door
  38. Playing with foaming soap and water
  39. Blow hair with power hand dryer
  40. Setting the paper towels at just the right length so they’re ready for the next patron
  41. Head back to car, don’t knock over toy giveaway display
  42. Fighting over which seat to get in / problems buckling seat belt
  43. No we can’t turn on the movie until we get on the highway
  44. Pull out onto the road
  45. Headphones on – quiet – priceless

Alas, we seem to never learn our lessons and I am sure we will soon be out on the road once again. Thankfully, when we are home everything is easy and smooth…!

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