“Going on a long car journey with kids is a bit like childbirth; you know that one day you might look back on it and think it was a beautiful thing, but at the time you just gotta knuckle down and get through it.”
– Autocratrix, after an unforgettable trip between here and nowhere (and back), Summer 2013
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In short, it was a family holiday.
Yes, that’s right – I missed a few days of posting because we were away on holiday, not because of death, dismemberment or illness (although I may have wished for all of the above at one time or another during our journey). Last Friday, we bundled four kids into their various carseats, crowded the boot with assorted baggages, stashed a few towels into handy corners of the vehicle for mop-ups, and headed out on the road (only an hour behind schedule).
The first hitch came about fifteen minutes into the journey, when we realized that we’d forgotten the camera.
We set off from home again after retrieving the camera almost two hours after when we’d originally planned on leaving, and by now it was getting dangerously close to lunchtime. Just before the border we decided it would be foolhardy to attempt a crossing with a vanload of hungry kids, so we stopped for the first lot of french fries (and other rubbish food) of the holiday. This was the last time West’s credit card would work for the duration of our trip.
If I could distill the driving portion of our journey down south into a single phrase, it would be, “Surplus to requirements.”
The length of the drive? Definitely surplus to requirements. We went from saying, “Isn’t it cool how you get to go right through the middle of downtown Seattle on the highway?” to complaining, “WHY does this highway go right through downtown Seattle??!”
The amount of noise coming from the kids in the back? Surplus (to the power of ten).
The number of stops? Surplus to requirements, but partly my fault because I felt my mood could be improved through the ingestion of caffeine. It was – kind of.
The length of time on those stops? Surplus, again – most notably for the stop to fill up the tank, because it was at this point that West realized that his credit card wasn’t working – so after an interminable wait at the pump (so.slow.) there was yet another interminable wait at the till; and then I had to line up and pay for the gas after West’s card had failed several times…
I’d venture to say that the car ride itself was ‘surplus to requirements’. Our kids are generally pretty good travellers, although B. has a tendency to arrive at conclusions about his physical discomfort rather abruptly (and with great drama), so it’s fine fine fine fine fine and then STOP THE CAR I FEEL SICK! or I’M TIRED BUT I CAN’T SLEEP! AAAAAARGH! or I REALLY HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM. NOW!
The middle two, seated at the far back, are also going through a phase of having endless, inane arguments. The constant bickering and fighting takes place even with a full seat’s space between them – heaven knows what they’ve have been like in a 60’s style station wagon, with all four of them squished into a back bench seat… We are thankful for the greater capacity of minivans, and modern child restraints. Amen.
We finally got to the hotel shortly before dinner time. Seeing as our waking hours in a hotel mainly consist of fraught reminders to our boys about not jumping or thumping or yelling or running or making phone calls to the front desk or pressing all the elevator buttons or opening the windows so the baby can fall out, we prefer to minimize our hotel time, anyway.
It was when all the kids started to pile out of the car that we realized that one of the sliding doors of our minivan was not. Sliding, that is. West tried all sorts of manly fixes on it (banging, shoving, knocking, locking-and-unlocking vigorously), but to no avail. I even clambered into the back seat to give it my best shot, and of course A. and B. wanted a go at it, but no luck for any of us. I recall a similar malfunction on a minivan we had in New Zealand – and it also happened when we were on holiday – but that time it was an easier fix.
Up in the hotel room, the boys sat on a bed and I supervised them watching the Cartoon Network (generally verboten to them) while Westley worked on the other problem. He made a call to the bank about his credit card and discovered that the issue was simple but irreparable: the magnetic strip had been demagnetised.
Dinner out (I paid) – more fries for some of us – and a visit to a nearby ‘Family Fun Centre’ to wear the kids out properly, and we managed a late enough bedtime that everyone crashed shortly after being put to bed.
B. crashed again in the middle of the night. Ever the acrobat sleeper, he managed to vault himself over the side of the pull-out couch and he banged his face on the sharp edge as he went. The next day, spent at the Museum of Flight (alongside every other all-boy family in the state, I think), he was all full of swagger with his face-bruise – like he’d won it by way of courage and daring – and he wore it around the museum like a badge of honour.
More meals out. More crayons and colouring books and juice for the kids. More of the same menus. What is it with kids’ meal choices, anyway? Hamburgers, chicken strips, mac & cheese – is this the best we can come up with? Even in these American chain restaurants with about a hundred options for grown-ups, they still toss out the same old standards for the kids. And yet, when they don’t offer those options, we feel oddly resentful about having to make decisions on menu items we’re not sure the kids will eat. Can’t win.
The second night in the hotel we thought we’d ride the wave of exhaustion from the trip down and the previous late night and get the kids down at a more normal time. Oh, the folly! An hour and a half later the last die-hard finally drifted into slumber. At least we got a chance to air some thoroughly idle threats when trying to get them to stay in bed. That’s always good for the soul.
After getting the despots down, West and I could only just summon the energy to brush our teeth and hop into bed. We were determined to have some proper time to ourselves, so we started a movie on Netflix – but when we found ourselves drifting and drooling through a scene and had no recollection of what had hitherto taken place in the film, we abandoned the attempt to be grown-ups and just gave in to our craving for sleep.
We spent the next day at the zoo, and a good time was had by all. This was mostly owing to the fact that we’d brought the jogging stroller with kiddy-board attachment AND the baby sling – so for most of our time roaming around the three younger ones were having a ride. And A. was uncommonly good about using his own two feet – almost no complaints at all. We finished the day with a meal at the Rainforest Café. Our kids haven’t been to Disneyland, so this was a pretty big deal. The highlight of the day, according to the kids? A swim in the hotel pool just before bed. Go figure – the one free thing we did.
The next day, it was time to head back to Canada. As with most journeys, by the time we departed for home, our minivan resembled a newlyweds’ going-away car – except that instead of good wishes scrawled across the windows we had greasy finger-smears; and instead of tin cans jangling in our wake there were (probably) assorted toys and linens trailing behind us as we drove.
Trips like this don’t come cheap, even when you work harder at being frugal than we did. But the real value of travelling together is in the concentrated family time, and in sharing special experiences outside our everyday lives. That, and the moments of learning – like the benefits of keeping our kids up WAY past their bedtime to guarantee a painless end to each day. And the opportunity to perfect our responses to the kids’ endless nagging, honing them into simple but memorable phrases that we hope we will one day hear them using on their own kids. Responses like this one:
“Did you hear my answer?”
“Did you understand it?”
“Well then don’t ask again.”
Family vacation Gold.