Road Trip. Two words synonymous with summer. Pre-parenthood, a road trip meant freedom. If I close my eyes I can feel my hair whipping across my face as we drive with all the windows down, headed down the shore or to a concert, armed with a cooler of beer and some Cool Ranch Doritoes. Laughing, chatting, singing at the top of your lungs….freedom. Pure, unadulterated, blissful freedom.
Then I had kids.
Emma: “I’m hungry!”
Emma: “Phoebe is hungry too! Mom, we’re STARVING!”
(Unbuckle my seatbelt, reach back, fish around cooler for cheese sticks)
Emma: “Cheese has sodium. How ‘bout some juice?”
Me: “Only one cheese, Phoebe.”
Phoebe: (tearfully) “Cheeeeeeeesssseeeee!”
And all this before exiting our neighborhood.
Phoebe: “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! EEEEEEMMMA!”
Me: “Emma, don’t touch her monkey backpack.”
Emma: “But I want a monkey backpack!”
Me: “You have four backpacks.”
Emma: “Phoebe! She kicked me! I’m bleeding!”
Me: “No you’re not. Phoebe, keep your feet to yourself.”
Phoebe: “Feet! Toe-sies tosies.”
Emma: “Mommy, tickle our toe-sies!”
Phoebe: “YAY! Tickle the toe-sies!”
Me: “I can’t tickle right now.”
Me: “Because it makes me twist my arm around and if someone bumps our car my arm might snap like a tree branch.”
Emma: “For real, that’s not going to happen. Daddy is such a careful driver. Right Daddy?”
Phil: “Huh? What? I am on a business call here.”
Phoebe: “TICKLE TICKLE TICKLE THE TOESIES!!!”
Yup, not even on the highway yet.
The following complaints take on the cyclical pattern of Lionel Richie Musak playing on a continuous loop at the gynecologist’s office:
“My tummy hurts! I need to poop! I need to poop NOW!”
“It’s not yours, it’s mine!”
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes it is!”
“Seriously, I am going to poop my pants!”
“I am on a work call here, people!”
“The poop is leaking out!”
“That rest stop had a Starbucks! You passed the Starbucks!” (ok, that was me)
Seat belt on, seat belt off….I am an agile cat, pouncing up in my seat on all fours, quick to hand them something – anything – that will keep them momentarily occupied, granting me 30 seconds of precious silence. A Greyhound bus passes on the right. I fantasize about being on it. Then the guilt sets in: What the Hell is wrong with me? I should be embracing the moment, make this special family time, improve their sense of geography, increase vocabulary with a few clever word games…but instead I silently curse Phil for not buying a portable DVD player, rolling my eyes as he waxes philosophical into his headset about “finessing the client.”
“How about finessing MY clients?” I want to say. “They are in the backseat, beating each other with pool noodles.”
That’s when it dawns on me. I still associate a road trip –or just a long drive – with ESCAPING. Even as a young kid, I loved long car rides. Armed with my walkman and some mixed tapes, I would settle into the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, put on those headphones and tune out the world. I could silence the parental voices and my dad’s 4 cassettes of Elvis Sings Gospel. Staring out the window, watching the world go by, all set to the beat of my own personal soundtrack….pure contentment.
In high school, driving gave me wings…my car was my church, my therapist’s office, and my meditation pillow all rolled into one. Sometimes I would journey alone, other times with a trusty co-pilot who also sought refuge from blood sucking well-meaning parents armed with SAT vocabulary flashcards or college applications. I would pick up my best friend Helen and we would just drive to no where in particular…the driving WAS the destination. A few hours of talking, smoking cigarettes, attempting to harmonize to the Cranberries or 10,000 Maniacs…it was a release. Driving gave me a chance to think, laugh, cry…to just be.
I’ve watched enough Oprah to recognize that my teeth-grinding anxiety comes from resistance: resistance to what is and/or resistance to letting go of something that is no longer. I guess that’s what it means to fully embrace parenthood…realizing that once you bring these little people into your life, nothing will ever be the same. On a larger scale I think we do this without question – we give up sleep, time, and peace of mind without reservation. The letting go of the little things, however, is where I feel my clinging claws emerge: Eating a meal in a restaurant. Eating a meal SITTING DOWN. Taking a long shower. Reading a magazine on the beach. Browsing the racks at TJ Maxx.
So maybe my free-wheeling road tripping days are over (for now). In the mean time, I will try to focus on the small victories that come with traveling with small children…
…and buy a DVD player.