Last week my family and I packed up our car and headed to Myrtle Beach. The 10 plus hours in the car, in between the staccato of “are we there yet” and arguments about which movie should be played in the portable DVD player, the ride was bearable. The excitement of getting to our destination and beginning our vacation tempered all of our resolves during the drive. Our bladders also hardened as we were able to skip rest stops normally we would have spent a half an hour at taking turns in the unisex lavatory that is wedged between the sodas and rack of Twinkies.
As much as we were able to endure the prison sentence of a car ride down, what weighed on my mind was the car ride back. We had spent a week getting our fill of food, sun, and chaffing from sand. The hardened resolve we had on our way down no doubt atrophied like an astronaut who spent too long in the weightlessness of zero gravity.
My wife and I used our bedroom like the War Room at the White House to plan our exit strategy and departure time. She had suggested leaving before sunset. I had suggested later so we would have the best chance to have sleeping children on our way home. My wife suggested her time, again. I explained the benefits of leaving later in such a clear, articulate, concise way that I could have settled unrest in the Middle East. She listened. She nodded. Then “we” decided on before sunset.
“Are you sure you want to leave at 7:30?”
“Yes. Home is where the heart is. Where my heart is.”
“If that’s the case, I hope someone puts it in a cooler with ice because we have 10 hours in a car together before we get home.”
“Shut up and pack the car.”
With trips this long and confined to the passenger volume of a compact SUV I needed to let my family know we were first going to have to have lay down some ground rules. As my wife was compiling wet bathing suits and dirty socks in to the last bag with any remaining space in it, I addressed my family.
“Is everything charged? iPods, DS’s, phones? I don’t want to get to Wilmington and find out you forgot to charge the only thing responsible for keeping all of you quiet.” They all nodded in unison.
I reminded them not to ask me are we there yet, why we wouldn’t be picking up hitchhikers no matter how many times they asked, how to get in and out of a rest stop bathroom in under 27 minutes, and the importance of “going” before we go. Halfway through my speech, I noticed my wife nodding off and my kids’ eyes had rolled up in to the backs of their heads. I reminded them, as their patriarch, I deserved a modicum of respect. My wife gave the kids’ her “pretend like you are listening to your father so he can wrap this up” look and all three gazed at me with glassy eyes. I accepted it as my modicum. I ended my soliloquy on a positive note, “The success of this trip will be measured by how many hours of it all of you sleep.”
Early in to our trip the entire car was awake, asking when the first bathroom break would be, if we could pick up the sad looking soul with his thumb out on the side of the road, and when we would be home (I should have asked for more than a modicum of respect). However, by about 9pm, the melodic hum of the tires and the inherent anesthetic that is the cabin of any car hit the kids like a double dose of Benadryl. My wife assured me, had I needed her to take over and drive, she would gladly help out. She then promptly put her head on her pillow and closed her eyes.
“What happened to helping me out?”
“I’m exhausted so I want you to do your very best to not need me.”
Around 2am I let out my first yawn. I tried to stop myself knowing full well the first yawn would open the door to multiple yawns and eventually I would get the feeling my eyelids were being weighed down with the luggage my wife packed. My first yawn led to my second and my third which led to me having a 10 minute discussion with myself on whether or not I could set the Cruise Control and close my eyes for 2 minutes. I bargained myself down to 30 seconds until I convinced myself I was an idiot. It took a tire blow out on an 18-wheeler next to us to snap me back in to consciousness and to feel what it would be like to it have a heart attack.
On our way up the long and winding road home, we weathered a biblical downpour in North Carolina and either passed the Ark or an ’83 Chevy station wagon with wood paneling, it was difficult to tell because of the rain. When my kids asked, I told them, “No, we are not almost home.”
We got lost trying to get through Washington D.C. You may not have thought that possible with a GPS to guide you but where there’s a will, there’s a wrong exit you just turned off of. Although I will go to my grave blaming the GPS which got more confused navigating us through all the roads around our nation’s capital than a Miss America contestant trying to answer what she would do if she won the crown. At one point, the GPS told me to make a left on to “End World Hunger Blvd”. When my kids asked, I told them, “No, but we are a little closer to home.”
I sang the entire catalog of my kids’ Big Time Rush songs and choked down my 4th cup of 20oz coffee through Maryland. I didn’t blink once going through the state and at one point got angry with a guy in front of me because he was only doing 80mph. When my kids asked, I told them, “No, but we’re getting close to home.”
I made sure to announce the moment we crossed in to Pennsylvania and made our last pit stop of our journey in York, PA for gas and Gummi Bears. At 4:30 in the morning after 5 cups of coffee and 9 hours of driving, you tend not to be on top of your game as a parent. Had they asked, I most likely would have let one of them drive. And when my kids asked, I told them, “No, we’re almost home.”
I turned off the GPS before we hit Lancaster confident, even in my exhausted state, I knew the way home (if not, there was always the cruise control, if I could convince myself). It was then I realized the long road was not so long anymore and the winding seemed to straighten out even before I turned in to our driveway. Turning off the engine woke my kids up and when they asked, I was finally able to tell them, “Yes. We’re home.”