The average American drives 12,000 miles a year. If you are married with children, you must multiply that number by 28 since each mile traversed is like an uphill climb on a sheer mountain pass littered with glass shards. And you’re without shoes. The GPS readout on a family road trip goes a little like this:
Hour One: Wheels up
The hours spent laundering clothes that will be soiled in seven minutes and preparing sandwiches that will be flattened against car windows in four all come down to this moment of emancipation. Husband has packed the back of the car with a wall of luggage more ominous than the Iron Curtain. You have torn it all down, citing inaccessibility to fruit snacks and the emergency potty. He rebuilds with shockingly less order and sensibility than the first time.
While your bag is squarely on the bottom, crushed under the weight of a case of nonrefrigerated milk boxes that are leaking on your one dressy outfit, he has delicately placed his suit on top of everything with a threat of caning to all if wrinkling or staining ensues.
Children are strapped into car seats with the hopeful expectation of arrival exactly one handful of Cheerios later. Reverse out of driveway. Gas light illuminates. Husband looks at you as though you’ve revealed a sexual affair with a lower mammal and says something shortsighted like, “Your only job was to fill the tank before we left.” You check the glove compartment for the Chloroform you bought from an online medical supply company in Mexico. Just in case.
Window splat on Sandwich One.
Hour Two: Cruise control
The kids have exhausted themselves from hurling their torsos against their restraints, like a couple of criminally insane patients being transported by gurney from one holding cell to another.
As their eyes flutter closed and their frenzied breathing becomes rhythmic, you and Husband ease into the cockpit, smile, remark about how magical they are and bemusedly wonder why people stop traveling once they have kids. You even hold hands for a little while until his right hand becomes reflexively drawn to the radio dial, searching endlessly for a channel playing nonstop Guns N Roses.
You bury your nose in neglected back-issues of Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, dog-earing recipes and behavior modification strategies you’ll later declare a total waste of time. You permit the fourth replay of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” since, after all, you … are … on … vacation.
Hour Three: Reversal
The miles quickly ticking by are interrupted by a sharp intake of breath and a choke-hold to the neck. Husband steers violently into oncoming traffic, while shouting, “What? Where? Are you in labor?”
The kids are awakened by the parental outburst and the bleating of horns and grinding of steel from an 18-wheeler now overturned.
You declare dramatically that something very dire has been forgotten. This something is so essential that without it the entire family, and the thinning sheath of the ozone layer and the tidal pulls of the oceans, will be jeopardized. Did we forget a child? Much worse than that: Underwear. And that flashlight that should blink a myriad of colors but only the green actually illuminates. The kids love it. Go back.
You are unsympathetically told to go commando or to keep alert for a swap meet. As for the flashlight, what kind of kids are interested in a flashlight that doesn’t work properly? What does this say about their intelligence? Why are we paying so much money for Montessori if they’re dumb enough to play with broken toys? Why don’t you expect excellence? Why didn’t you pay the electric bill? Is DVR really necessary? Did you use my toothbrush last night?
Your hand reaches for the glove compartment but you realize you’ll have to drive the rest of the way if you take him out now. Forge ahead without underwear or flashlight for kids.
Hour Four: Engine trouble
The winds begin to gather from the backseat. The Dollar Store toys you believed would hold their fancy for years have lost their luster. One by one, they are unceremoniously thrown toward the windshield. You tell husband it’s time. Time for what? Time to put on the children’s music.
No, he insists, I will not listen to the irritating voices of singing children. He begins to draw comparisons to his youth, which sounds like a Susan B. Anthony autobiography. He didn’t have CD players and special kids’ music.
Nor car seats or air conditioning. Even if he did, he wouldn’t have used them. We should be teaching them to live in a democracy in which we all must cooperate.
Window splat on Sandwich Two.
Hour Five: Gas in the tank
Husband has eaten all the snack food reserved for the kids, including the contents of the bag marked “This is for the kids should we be stranded without cell service and are teetering dangerously close to consuming the dog.” We need to stop, you decide. The kids are hungry and it’s occurred to you that you haven’t eaten in 72 hours preparing for this trip.
Husband consents only because there is an Arby’s. It is un-American to pass by an Arby’s. Repair to the bathroom where you fantasize that Jeff Bridges is lurking in the adjacent stall, ready to toss you in his trunk like in “The Vanishing.”
You rejoin the family to find Husband elbow deep in three Ham N Cheddars while the kids roll upon the floor. Return to the car. Fill with more gas.
Hour Six: Traffic and congestion
Traffic begins to grow, as do the demands from the kids. Average speed decelerates to a rate that a three-legged alpaca could outpace. You wonder if there are any alpacas available for hire. Kids love animals and the outdoors. It’d be good for them to take in the sights of Massachusetts from the back of an alpaca. They would arrive months later, expert at herding and making wool ponchos.
Husband mutes the GPS and ominously states you will forge your own path, like our brethren of the Oregon Trail. As the car is taken off road, you recall that everyone on the Oregon Trail died of dysentery. You glance wistfully at the GPS and pray that Husband doesn’t attempt to ford a river or fix a broken axle.
Hour Seven: Scenic overlook
The declaration every parent of a potty-trained toddler fears: “Have to go to the bathroom.”
Child expresses unwillingness to go outside unless Daddy goes, too. Scout a shoulder location with only a 75 percent chance of arrest for indecent exposure. Father and son lower pants in unison. Son stops short and proclaims this grass to be of the “wrong” sort. Husband looks at you in desperation. You must find different turf as your son is inspired to urinate only by certain blades of grass, you explain. Husband drags son to various patches of land along the side of the road while passing vehicles slow to take in a scene that appears vaguely criminal.
Hour Eight: Arrival
Arrive at destination. Parents are exhausted. Kids are ready to run. Begin to load 14 bellhop carts with luggage while childless valet stares in horror.
Check in at front desk. Will that be one king bed or two doubles? Exchange a wordless look.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.