A Suburban Dad's Guest Blog: Road Trip

By Rick Kaempfer

I loved Kim’s piece about their spontaneous trip to London (and yes, I’m totally jealous). In that piece she mentioned that usually the best stories come about when things don’t go as planned on vacations, and this particular trip to London went so well, she didn’t have any stories like that.

I think it’s also because her kids are getting older, which cuts the tension dramatically.

My family also doesn’t come back from vacation with the great stories of woe anymore. But we did have ourselves a few doozies in the past. I specifically remember the last time we took a cross country road trip in the car. It was five summers ago.

We’re planning on making the same trip this summer, so I just recently pulled out my notes from that original trip to see how it went.

Here’s what I wrote…

When you know you’re going to be driving for twenty four hours with three children under ten years old, you take precautions. We brought along everything we could think of to keep them occupied. Among the things packed into the minivan:

*A VCR with ten movies
*Three handheld video games
*Three sets of headphones so Dad doesn’t have to hear anything
*A cooler full of drinks and food
*A backpack full of toys, books, and games for each boy
*My sister

We had three boys and three adults. We had entertainment and food. We left at 3:00 in the morning so that they could sleep for the first three hours. Everything went like clockwork, right?

Um, not exactly.

But just to give you an idea of how low my expectations were, even though we had one #2 emergency at the worst possible time, and one carsickness barfing in the middle of nowhere, I still consider this trip a complete success.

Let’s start with the success stories.

1. Headphones
I strongly recommend them. The boys watched two Pokemon movies (which normally would have made my skin crawl), but I didn’t have to hear a thing except for an occasional Johnny laugh accompanied by a euphoric “OH MEOWTH! YOU CRACK ME UP!”

2. Word Games
We played word games through most of Indiana on the way home. I was very impressed by Tommy and Johnny’s vocabulary. In fact, Tommy knocked me out of one game by giving me something like fifty consecutive words ending in “K.” A fourth grader shouldn’t be able to outwit his father.

Other things didn’t go quite as well…

1. The 3:00 in the morning departure time
This sounded like such a good idea, but two things didn’t go as planned. One: the boys were so excited about vacation they didn’t go to sleep. Sean’s eyes were wide open the whole time. Two:  By 9:00 A.M. I was the only one who wanted to sleep, and I was driving. Bridget had to drive a few hours while I took a nap.

2. All of our toys/games/activities/books can cause carsickness
Somewhere in the middle of rural Georgia, I looked in the rearview mirror at Johnny and he was unbelievably pale. “Do you feel OK?” I asked. “No,” he told me. Bridget sprinted into the backseat with a plastic baggie–but she was moments too late for the first gush. The rest of his breakfast, however, was thankfully captured. We pulled off at the next exit and added thirty minutes to our trip by cleaning off the seat and his pants, and finding something else for him to wear.

3. Even potty-trained 3 year olds won’t “go” at public bathrooms
We had to stop for gas in rural Indiana and all three boys were ordered to take care of business at the gas station. The two older boys did as they were told, but the youngster took one look at the bathroom and declared that he didn’t need to. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked. “I’m sure, Dad,” he said. I knew we only had about three hours to go before we made it home, so I decided to avoid a confrontation. I gambled.

I lost the gamble. We had just started driving on the Dan Ryan Expressway, when Sean’s stomach pains made him start crying out.

“I have to poop!” he said.  

We were still an hour away from home. His painful cries let us know there was no way he could make it all the way home, so I pulled off the highway in a very scary neighborhood looking for a safe place for him to unblock the blockage. The only appropriate place near the exit was a Walgreen’s Pharmacy.

Bridget went inside with Sean, and they were in there for quite awhile. I was starting to get worried that something had happened to them, and had just made the decision to go in to investigate, when the two of them came back out. Bridget’s annoyed expression told me the whole story. Sean had refused to go in the public bathroom again.

“He promises he can make it home,” she said through gritted teeth.

“No he can’t,” I said.

“I know,” she said. She held up a pull-up diaper. “What do you think?”

It was our only choice. For the next thirty minutes we tried to tune out the grunting, groaning, whining, moaning child determined to prove he could make it home. When his natural cheerfulness suddenly returned, we knew the problem had passed.

Twenty minutes later we were home.

And it could have been much, much worse.

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