My husband and I recently took our three kids on a family “vacation” to Washington, D.C., where our son was born a decade ago. I use sarcastic quote marks on “vacation” because if you’ve ever taken your kids on a road trip, you know the only vacating that happens is your sanity vacating the building.
These trips start out filled with good intentions, as we focus on the importance of togetherness and seeing the world. It’ll be great, we think. We have a DVD player in the car, we think. Our kids are older and can entertain themselves, we think. Sure.
Unfortunately, before we even loaded up the car, I accosted my husband in the kitchen and dragged him into a corner where I immediately gave him the full force of my crazy eyes and panicked voice.
Me: I can’t do this. I just need you to know that I’ve been with these people nonstop for six weeks already since school ended and I have serious reservations about this trip. I’m not gonna make it. I am hanging on by a thread here.
Him: Don’t worry. I’ll be in charge of the seven-year-old.
Me: The second we take the kids on the Metro she’s going to try to fling herself on the third rail. It’s gonna be a bloodbath.
Him: I won’t let go of her hand. It’ll be fine.
(Kids run into the kitchen spanking each other with plastic swords screaming, “YOU STOLE MY CANDY GIVE IT BACK!”)
A few minutes later while locked in the bathroom having my last few minutes of alone time, I checked Instagram. Three different bloggers shared photos of their romantic trips to Europe with their spouses. I hate everyone.
WANTED: “Road Trip Conversationalist” to spend 12 hours talking with seven-year-old, who has not developed an inner monologue.
We roll on down the road, four of the five of us content to stare at a screen. But my seven-year-old thinks she’s the lead anchor on a 24-hour news channel and dead air space is the devil. The thoughts form in her brain and stream out her mouth for hours unbroken. Now that she’s learned to read, she’ll read signs, and if she doesn’t have signs to read, she’s content marveling at the different noises her mouth can make. Someday her creativity and engagement with the world will help her achieve any goal she sets. She’ll be unstoppable. But right now in the car, she’s the worst and I find myself yet again wondering why minivans can’t have soundproof panes of Plexiglass between the parents and kids, like limos.
A few hours into the trip, she discovered cupping her hands around her mouth increases the volume of her voice. After shout-singing half the songs in Moana, she switched to performing ventriloquism with her stuffed bear. Dear God of angel armies, this is more than any reasonable parent should have to endure. I’m not strong enough.
The next day, we started touring the Smithsonian. In each museum, my oldest seemed less and less enthused. Parenting a tween girl is like trying to diffuse a bomb for three years, so I tread as lightly as possible and if I could send in a remote-controlled robot I would.
Me: Why do you look like someone slaughtered a puppy?
Her: I already know everything and have seen everything and this is boring.
I was exactly the same when I was 12. I text my mom, “How did you guys not kill me?”
I ventured over to my ten-year-old son to see if he was enjoying his time looking at the gems and minerals.
Me: Ooh look at this topaz!
Him: Meh, it's only eight.
Me: Are you talking about the Mohs hardness scale?
Okay, his brain is a little badass. He had out-nerded the natural history museum. I tried to impress him with some geology humor.
Me: That rock is the Schist!
No one gets me.
Our youngest spent the day suffering from rapid onset Boneless Syndrome, where the affected suddenly collapses, unable to walk, until bedtime, when symptoms clear up. It’s an epidemic in our nation’s youth. Maybe your child has been afflicted by this syndrome as well. It tends to occur in those old enough to walk on their own and too big to carry or shove in a stroller, leaving the parents with feelings of hopelessness, public humiliation, and in some cases, rage hives. There is no treatment plan and the parents must wait it out, their only recourse to mutter threats of lost dessert and early bedtime under their breath until the child snaps out of it.
As I predicted, when not suffering from Boneless Syndrome, the seven-year-old was all over the place, but it wasn’t the third rail on the Metro that I needed to worry about her grabbing. On the ride back to our Airbnb apartment, she grabbed a pole and started dancing, yelling “LOOK MOM I'M A POLE DANCER!,” in the crowded subway car filled with commuters. Hey, D.C., we'll be here all week.
When we got back to our temporary home, my husband and I locked ourselves in the back and drank wine straight from the box while the kids watched Teen Titans Go! in the family room. Cheers.
The next day in the Archives, where I envisioned us rapping songs from Hamilton, the tween moaned, “Uggghhh, I came here to have vacation, not social studies class.” I checked Instagram and 529 more couples beamed at me from their European vacays. Dammit, Instagram, isn’t there a filter to crop out everyone else’s happiness?
As we were leaving the city, the kids settled into the drive by having a fart noise contest at 6 a.m. Be near, Lord. On the road home, we asked the kids about their highlights from the trip. Hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and super sized Slurpees from 7-Eleven. So. Next time we decide to take a road trip, we will drive to the nearest gas station and call it done.
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