04/12/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Roadtrip With Toddlers: Why Not To Leave Home

I don't ski. I dislike exercise. I don't like carrying anything except the bare minimum: twin toddlers, a flowery diaper bag, a Chai latte. My husband Stephen's idea of exercise is getting off the couch to change the channel (when the battery in the remote needs changing). Therefore, you might ask why we plunked down hundreds of dollars to drag our two year old twin toddlers to a ski house in Squaw Valley this past holiday season, without the help of a babysitter, family, or the proverbial village. Just the four of us, trapped in a snow cabin: twin two year olds and two forty-something year olds who had forgotten how to hold a conversation that did not include the questions: Whose-turn-is-it-to-take-the-kids? What's for dinner? Does someone have to go poopie?

Since our last disastrous airplane flight, (one year ago) we had vowed not to fly until the boys turned eighteen. In theory, Squaw Valley is only a four hour drive from San Francisco. We sought to escape from the laundry, the unpaid bills, the cluttered garage, the post-Christmas detritus. Wouldn't a short drive to someone else' house be just the solution? We hoped it would give us some adult time in which to rediscover why we had fallen in love and why we had chosen to embark upon this thing called parenthood.

What we failed to factor in was what it means to leave the safety of home with twin toddlers of the male gender. Our own house is equipped with a plethora of childproof locks and gates worthy of San Quentin. I'm sure that we could leave the alarm system off and still a burglar wouldn't make it past the front hall where he'd be tripped by the three Olympic hurdles that block off the stairs, my office, and our den. Each gate has a different locking system, which tends to confound adult visitors who can usually figure out one, only to be dumbfounded by the next. We keep our boys from escaping their cribs with a brilliant alternative to handcuffs: "crib tents" created to keep toddlers from cracking their heads open and parents sane. These modern day miracles allow me to shower, toast my three-day-old bagel, and put on my shirt inside out.

Of course, the rental house was not childproofed. Where we had envisioned relaxation and recuperation, we spent the first day duct-taping and bungee cording the cabinets shut to keep the boys from licking ashes out of the fireplace and swallowing canisters of bleach. What could not be taped down or tied down ended up becoming a new toy: place-mats became sleds! Books became architectural wonders! Ski poles became weapons of mass destruction!

Getting outside was almost as hard as getting twins into preschool. On good days it takes us an hour to head out the door in San Francisco. There is so much to remember: back-up clothes, underpants, diapers, milk bottles, snacks, the portable pink potty (selected by the boys themselves). In the snow, you have to make sure everyone is dressed warmly enough so they won't lose any limbs. With toddlers it's all about persuasion. You must persuade the children to use the potty. You must persuade them to put on undershirts, underwear, long johns, snow suits, gloves, hats, sun lotion, snow coats! You must persuade them to let you zip, button, pull and yank. You must persuade them to say goodbye to stuffed animals. Once you have persuaded them to get into their car seats someone will surely announce that they have to eat, pee or whine.

Fifty years later we arrived on the only legal sledding hill Granlibakken. It took two days to locate since new laws ban sledding within the confines of Squaw Valley. (Apparently, sledding toddlers are considered more dangerous than snow-boarding teenagers and middle-aged people on skis.)

I shouted, "Look! Sledding! Doesn't it look fun!"

Quinn, who is usually wary of new things, dug his little snow boots firmly into the snow and said, "No!"

"Don't you want to sit on our new sled?" I pointed to the purple plastic monstrosity we had just purchased.

"No," he repeated. "I walk." Quinn kept losing his borrowed pink gloves (we are not color biased). "My glove! My glove!" he'd shriek while I got down on hands and knees repeatedly reattaching the runaway glove.

Aidan, usually the risk taker, was equally put off by the steepness of the hill, the screaming teenagers, the way freezing cold snow flies in your face as sleds hurdled past us. Moving to a smaller hill we cajoled with stupid statements like, "Doesn't this look fun?" Other two, three and four year olds dressed like marshmallows sailed down the baby hill on multi-colored saucers as their happy parents proudly cheered.

How swiftly days, hours, weeks of planning and anticipation can be destroyed by the ever-shifting moods of two toddlers.

The boys seemed to feel about sledding the way I feel about skiing. Why walk around dressed like a sausage, carrying heavy crap to the top of a hill and only to risk breaking your neck on the way down, when you could be sitting by the fire drinking hot cocoa and toasting your toes?

And so, for the next hour, Stephen and I took turns sledding while the boys watched.

When it was time to go Quinn began to shriek "Up! Up! Up!"

Trying to protect my cranky back I offered two choices, as my parenting books have taught me, "You can get on the sled or you can walk."

"No!" He hurled himself face down into a pile of snow, pink mitten flying asunder.
Exasperated, I threw Quinn under one arm, like a possessed loaf of French bread.

"Damn it! Where is your father?" I muttered as I ducked hurtling sleds and adolescents. When I finally located Stephen and Aidan I let loose a stream of fury which left everyone stunned, including the twelve families who looked on. There it was: I had become that crazy mother. You know, the woman you see on the street (before you have kids) and you think: She probably beats her kid, her poor husband.

I was furious at myself for giving in to Quinn, furious at Stephen for abandoning me on the slopes, and furious at myself for losing my cool.

Nap-time did not go much better. Stephen and I had looked forward to catching up on sleep, reading, playing board games, watching movies, reconnecting in an adult fashion. Now we were barely speaking and the boys had discovered that they could escape the cribs.

"Look Mama! Aidan got out!"

"Look Papa! Quinn got out!"

Like hockey players, Stephen manned one crib and I manned the other. For approximately two and a half hours we played pick up, put down, pick up, put down. The boys laughed uproariously. Ha ha ha ha ha.

I watched my sanity slip away from me. There goes the book I was going to read. There goes the sleep I was going to catch up on. There goes that herniated disk in my back.

By our fourth night, and our last, the rental looked as if it had been hit by a tsunami.

We adults looked not much better, although (during one reprieve granted by Stephen) I had managed to purchase a great pair of rhinestone studded ski pants, to replace what I had been wearing: Stephen's high school snow suit (which made me look like I was a thirteen year old boy with a strange movement disorder). Although I was thrilled at my mountain make-over, I murmured guiltily over the price of my shopathon. The salesgirl soothed me, "Oh, they're worth it. They'll look great on the slopes."

"I don't ski" I smiled. "I sled." It felt good to finally be old enough to not give a damn what anyone thinks.

By nine thirty p.m. on New Year's Eve we has finally achieved a vacation miracle: the boys were snoring. I lay prone on the floor (flashing my rhinestones) in between a pile of place-mats and a pile of graham crackers. Stephen lay on the sofa, watching the snow fall.

"Do you think you can stay awake for the fireworks?" he asked.

"I'm sorry," I said. "The snoring is fireworks enough for me."

The next day we caved to popular wisdom, tossed our Waldorfy anti-TV morality out the window and stuck the boys in front of the TV to watch Mary Poppins. For the first time in days they were immobilized. We vacuumed, washed sheets, and attempted to erased all traces of destruction. There was Mary Poppins at last, snapping all the toys and back into their proper places and snapping our children into order. It almost felt like a vacation, except for the fact that we were scouring someone else's floor.

"Next time," I vowed to Stephen, "We go to a hotel. Room service. Laundry service. You know, a real vacation."

Finally on the road again, heading home, we hit bumper to bumper New Year's day traffic.

A voice peeped from the backseat. "I got to go poopie!"

Although we had tried to wrestle Aidan onto the potty before leaving, he had developed a inseparable attachment to his new snow coat which zipped all the way up to his nose. After Stephen had torn the snow coat from Aidan's body, Aidan was left weeping on the toilet, unable to complete the necessary act. (Quinn thankfully had agreed to regress to diapers for the entire trip.)

We swerved over to the side of the freeway, positioned the pink potty in the front passenger seat, deposited Aidan on top (hat, mittens and all). After locating Aidan's favorite CD, Octopretzel, we waited while Aidan delivered updates on his progress.

Thirty minutes later, with Aidan safely strapped back in, I had an awful realization. "Honey, don't kill me, but I have to go too."

Stephen moaned.

Still in the doghouse, I was more accommodating than usual. "Forget it," I said, "I'll just go here." Then I removed my rhinestone sledding pants and balanced precariously over the pink potty. (Desperation is the mother of creativity.)

Stephen raised his coat over the window to block out the audience of bored SUV drivers and truckers. "They're going to think we're... you know." I thought back on the days when this might have been possible. Then I thought, this is what I spent fifteen years pining for: a patient husband, a car full of children. Why is it that I want so badly to get out?

Thirty minutes and five miles later, Aidan's voice peeped again. "I got more!"

Six hours and five pit stops later the whining reached a new plateau. I plied the boys with organic snacks. I felt smug and superior for feeding them such healthy car food: organic carrots, seaweed strips, goji berries, dried snap peas! Aside from the sound of crunching, the food orgy rendered the car blessedly silent.

Then I spotted a McDonald's, and (even though I am a vegetarian and morally opposed to fast food) I've taken enough road trips to know that their restrooms are cleaner than most.

By the time Stephen smuggled a small package of fries into the car I was starving. Visions of Supersize Me flashed through my brain as the boys had their first experience of Genetically Modified Organisms. They loved it.

High on artery clogging foods we all launched into song: I've Been Working on the Railroad, You Are My Sunshine, Down By the Riverside. For a few extraordinary moments I stopped wishing I could leap from the car. I twisted my neck and my arm around so that I could hold Quinn's tiny hand. Then I twisted my other arm up so I could hold Aidan's hand. Stephen rested his hand on my thigh. I remembered how lucky I am, how everything I cherished was right there.

The boys passed out. I passed out. Stephen drove.

Seven and a half hours later I awoke to find Aidan vomiting all over the backseat.

I thought of a friend who had said, "Vacationing with twins is just moving the chaos from one place to another." Next year, I thought, we'll stay home and not do the laundry. It'll be just like going to the Ritz.