I would love to say that traveling with little children is easy. As most parents know, however, it’s a complicated process that is not for the meek or those with frail nerves. No matter what mode of transportation you’re engaged in, you must be mentally prepared for the task at hand. And that brings me to my story: the 4,000-mile car journey with our two young children, Boots and Button.
My husband, Marc, and I had taken long road trips with them before but none to this extent. We were moving from northern California to New Hampshire, and the only way to get ready for such a trip was to delve into the minds of two toddlers sitting in the back of our car. If I were two years old, how much time could I sit still? How much would I need to eat? How many bottles could I consume before I saturated my diaper? How many times could I watch the same movie? This is how we actually planned—becoming one with child.
We came up with a strategy that we were sure would work: a 12-hour day consisted of eight hours of driving, complete with the necessary provisions: plenty of milk and juice, some snacks, a fancy dual-screen DVD player for the kiddies to watch their favorite video and plenty of positive talk about the exciting journey ahead for us.
We headed out early in the morning on the first day, and the initial hour went smoothly. The kids were happily watching Dora on DVD, all the while indulging in a big bottle of milk. Although I soon got the impression that it wasn’t going to be enough to satiate the little ones, and that they wanted something to nosh on.
Any parent will tell you that it’s a fine game between what and how much your child eats. While all food and drink pass through your child in a natural way, some items cause complete confusion to their systems. This, in turn, causes utter chaos for the parents. For instance, my son loves apple juice, but his digestive tract does not.
Then, you must keep in mind the event in which you’re feeding the kids. Our extended time was going to be spent in a small capsule speeding down America’s highways and byways, and the one thing I did not take into account was what all this would do to their tummies.
All of us react differently to stress, but kids tend to let their anxiety come out in more ways than one, so that everyone can fully appreciate how they’re feeling at the moment. Considering all this, I took out some goldfish crackers and handed them to the kids. Everything seemed to be going well—for now.
By the second hour, however, we started down a rocky road—literally. The highway was under construction, and the dips and rough surfaces caused the scenes in the DVD to bounce and skip around—the kids were not amused. They love Dora, and each song of hers must play without any deviation. Every time we hit a bump, the kids screamed “daddy, fix it!” because, you know, daddy can fix anything.
Marc did his best to reassure them that the tape would correct itself, and that everything would be just fine. Though as luck would have it, we continued to hit one bump after another, sending Dora’s melodic scenes into demonic randomness. Rinse and repeat for the next hour.
The kids were quickly getting bored and antsy—as you do when you’re one and two—and Boots was quite thirsty after gobbling up all of his crackers. I pulled out the milk to fill his bottle, but the discerning two-year-old that he is screamed “Noooooooo!” over and over.
I kept my calm and asked him: “Can you please talk to mommy and not scream?” Oh, yeah, that worked. The dramatics continued with tears trickling down his puffy cheeks, and his lower lip quivered to enhance the show—presentation is everything.
Again, in a cool tone I said: “Boots, talk to mommy and tell me what you want.” In between his cries, he managed to gulp out the word “juice.” We normally calm them down during endearing moments of emotions such as these, yet the circumstances prevailed. I quickly filled his bottle with orange juice, but in spite of this struggle of who’s-got-the-upper-hand I still asked: “Say please, Boots.”
“Pahleazzze,” he responded in the most sarcastic tone a two-year-old could muster. He rubbed his tear-stung eyes, and it was at that very moment my husband and I knew we were going to lose any battle with the kids. They were not happy about being strapped in a car for a cross-country trip, and they we were going to make us pay the price
We drove on for a little over three hours before making a stop. When we turned off the highway in small-town America, my husband’s first instinct was to find an open field and let the kids run around, like you would do with a high-strung family pet. However, I insisted on continuing a little more to see if we could find a playground in the town instead. Marc’s a great dad, but like many men I know they’re always eager to keep on moving and keep on schedule. If he takes even the briefest of detours, a surge of anxiety rises in him before it culminates into a fear of derailing the entire journey. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
However, as the wife I always win these small disagreements (call it a gift), and we proceeded into town where the clocks appeared to have stopped in the 1950s. Tall, shady trees lined neighborhood roads with their quaint homes and manicured lawns behind white-picket fences. It was a quiet Saturday morning in this town-cum-film set, but I half expected to see Beaver Cleaver lead a parade of TV moms down main street with their prized pies in hand.
We soon came upon a park and, to my delight, its playground was just like the one I grew up with. Today’s playgrounds are nothing like they used to be. They’re plastic, slow moving and made to be lawsuit-proof. In my day, playgrounds tended to run on the dangerous side, and to get hurt on one was a right of passage. Everything was made of good ol’ American steel, with high and steep slides extending from a rocket or castle. When you slid down, you would go so fast that you could burn your legs on the hot metal if you weren’t careful. The bottom of the slide was also made for you to fly off and get as much air as possible before landing on your butt on hard cement—sawdust or sand if you were in a neighborhood that had the heart to splurge.
Luckily, this playground was no exception. The tubed slide snaked its way from the top of a fortress and made three full curves before reaching the bottom. There was also a merry-go-round and swings with the hard, flat seats that were made for jumping off while swaying high. Yes, the mother ship of playgrounds had landed here, and it brought back a flood of memories for me. I couldn’t wait for my two little kids to experience it.
In general, my children love a good play park as much as any other kid, but I could pick up on their slight hesitation when we arrived at this one. Boots took my hand and led me to the ladder of the slide and insisted I go up with him, which he had never done before. When we reached the top, I realized that we were high—really high. I was actually a little afraid myself, but there was no backing out now. In honor of my childhood and Boots’, I had to see this through.
Although this slide was made for rather petite derriers, I squeezed mine in and then brought Boots onto my lap. I thought long and hard about the risk of getting stuck in the narrow tube, but I cast caution to the wind and pushed off, sending us at screaming speed all the way down the twisting cylinder. When we reached the bottom, we flew right off the edge and landed with a thump on the ground.
Boots sat still for a moment and then turned his head to look up at me. He placed his little hands on my face, patted my cheeks and said: “Again, mommy.” He got up from my lap, ran over to the stairs of the slide and waited for me to follow.
I wasn’t sure if I was able stand, much less go back down the slide again. Somehow, my childhood memory of it was more fun. I looked at Marc with a plea for him to take Boots this time, but he shook his head and said: “You started it, you finish it.” Boots was dancing with excitement, and I begged Marc to go up with him. After a few moments, he finally gave in. He took Boots under an arm and stealthily climbed to the top of the slide, while I watched with Button from below. My husband amazes me sometimes. He makes things look so easy that would otherwise send me over the edge.
Trips down the slide led to twirling on the merry-go-round. I wanted to join them, but it would have been the end of me after one fast rotation. I was usually the first of my friends to fall off this ride and toss my cookies—good times, though. Marc was really having fun with the kids, but I had to stop the spinning once I realized Button was turning a hue of martian green—a sign for us to call it a day at the playground and get back on the road again.
Although the kids looked like sweet cherubs while napping in the car, they became crazed beasts once we stepped into our hotel room later that evening. Fortunately, after some dinner and a bath, they relaxed and drifted off to sleep. It didn’t take Marc long to follow suit, either.
I laid my head down on the pillow with the day’s events painfully swirling in my head. It was as if our trip had become a wild roller coaster ride, and I dreaded to face what was in store for us in the days to come. The only thing to do was to hold on tight and see it through to the very end. If only it were that easy.
* End Part I *