Going to Maine for vacation is always the longest drive. I'm completely exhausted, ready to crash. The kids are revved up and ready to go. Bad mix. Kind of like Red Bull and vodka.
I remember once, when my sons Ben and Zachary were four and two, even in their car seats they actually had the ability to drive me right over the edge. Laughing. Screaming. Crying. Laughing. Screaming. Whining. What do you do when you are the only adult in the car and you have another 45 minutes to go? I pulled over, got out of the car and shut the door.
I have a Volvo wagon. ("Do all of you suburban lesbians drive Volvos?" A friend, Stephen, asked. "Why yes, we do," I answered. And we all wear one piece Speedos, gym shorts and Keens lest we be kicked out of the club). Very sound proof. While the cars rushed by, I took a deep breath. I couldn't hear them screaming. Or laughing. Which ever they were doing at the moment. I counted to 10.
A friend and much wiser parent, Anna, once told me, put yourself in time out. It'll drive the kids nuts and give you some room.
Before the safety police file a 51A on me, I know it's not safe to pull over on the highway. I've heard all the stories about random tractor-trailers crushing entire families as they sat in their disabled vehicle on the shoulder. But if I didn't pull over and step out? I was going to kill them.
Today was no different. Except there were three of them. Plus a howling cat. And they were all capable of physical contact. No more car seats keeping a barrier of plastic between them.
The topics of conversation ranged from the movie they had seen the night before, to poop and pee. It really doesn't matter where they start; it always ends up being about poop and pee. And then, ultimately, someone touches someone and the shoving, pushing, hysterical screaming begins.
Threats are issued from me. Don't make me stop this car...
Which means what exactly? It'll take another hour to get where we are going? Who is that punishing? But it seems to work. At least for a while, until they realize I am not going to stop the car. I step on the gas instead.
Jeanine, my lovely wife, called me while I was driving up. "Traffic is awful," I said. "It's going to take an extra hour. The kids, as you can hear, are killing each other."
"It's not funny."
"But I can hear the cat," she says. "It really is funny. I mean, the boys AND the cat? That's funny."
Not from where I'm sitting.
I wonder, how is it that I am always alone driving the boys and assorted animals up? Quietly, I plot a weekend away. To a spa. Without her.
We hit another traffic jam. There is a correlation between bumper-to-bumper driving and yelling. If we're sailing along at say, 70 miles per hour, they're all pretty quiet. But slow down to 30? Restlessness sets in.
More threats. I will put your TV in timeout.
Then, naturally, I put TV in timeout.
This absolutely punishes me.
Too late. I've said it. I have to stick to it.
The last ten minutes of the drive, I'm completely weaponless. They know I'm not going to stop the car. TV is already in timeout. Traffic on Route One slows to a crawl.
And the cat is still howling.
It's always the longest drive.