By Hallie Bandy
The road trip—one of the great rites of passage for every family.
I grew up riding in the back seat of a V8 Chrysler station wagon. For road trips, my parents collapsed the seats so my sister and I could spread out with games and toys and take a random nap whenever we wanted. We thought it was high tech when we could play cassette tapes and sing along.
I was a creative child with a propensity for planning even back then. When my parents said the trip would be 14 hours, I made a list of things to do. En route to Boston my plans included, count to 100 (out loud). When I completed the task before we were out of Pennsylvania, I upped the ante and went for 1000. My parents let me live anyway.
When I had kids, I was determined to give them the same sort of wonderful, family bonding time.
I never dreamt these trips would reveal the quirks, phobias (and aromas!) we would prefer be displayed only behind closed doors at home. Or never.
I started early with our oldest. She was barely two when we set out from South Florida to Northeast Ohio. The trip was abruptly halted when my beloved VW’s water pump went out, an hour from anywhere. I coasted into a small service station where we spent the better part of the day waiting for the mechanic to locate the necessary parts.
The waffle house next door was our only option for meals, and when I ordered my sweet little one milk, she wasted no time downing the entire cup over her outfit. I thought I was brilliant when I washed the clothes out in the sink and turned on the hand dryer to dry them, until I learned my darling daughter had a pathological fear of machines that blow warm air.
There was a complete emotional meltdown. And by complete, I mean I had to tell the manager there was no need to call 911.
So my adorable toddler finished the next leg of our journey in damp clothes; which still smelled like milk.
I was a little savvier a few years later when I packed up and headed to a family reunion with two children. I thought they would enjoy each other’s company, side by side. Until I heard the blood-curdling scream from the toddler I thought had been sleeping.
“I bite him,” said his big sister. Indeed, she had.
When their little brother was born, I planned our summer vacation just a few weeks after he was due. Certainly, it would be easy enough to travel with a newborn. He would sleep most of the day, especially since car seats induce napping.
Except, he didn’t sleep. Especially in a car seat.
By the time we arrived at our destination, I had rug burn on my elbow from attempting to get a pacifier into the child’s mouth.
His older siblings, confined to the rear seat of our minivan, were told we didn’t care what they did as long as they didn’t wake the baby once he cried himself out. Because really, how much trouble can you get in with paper and crayons?
When we extracted them at the end of the journey, I realized they had kept themselves quiet by making paper airplanes and other pseudo-origami, which they then dispensed onto the floor of the car. The pile was a foot high, all the way across the back of the car.
By the time we had four children, I didn’t even give a second thought to adding a puppy to a road trip. We were already on overload.
No one gave a second thought when we drove through a small town that smelled like dog food. “It’s probably the school cafeteria food,” we joked as we drove by the town’s middle school. Funny, there are so many sights along country roads one could think might be the source of a dog-food smell, one doesn’t think to check the car.
We passed through 60 miles worth of small towns that smelled like dog food before we stopped and, upon opening the back door to retrieve the baby, realized—the puppy is car sick.
One of life’s cruel ironies is, as kids become able to manage their own emotional and bodily functions at a level that makes a road trip somewhat pleasant, it also becomes almost impossible to get everyone together to take such a trip. I’m always grateful when we can make it happen. And when we can’t, I am grateful for my well-trained dog, who no longer gets car sick, and loves to ride along.