Since 1993, our second Christmas together and our first one in Texas, Jeff and I have been taking road trips yearly. From newlyweds with no kids to married 17 years with a 5 and a 7 year old--- nothing even faintly reminds me of our trips from the decade of the 90’s be- bopping down the road listening to Steven Curtis Chapman’s CD Signs of Life, sleeping whenever we wanted and having not a clue how badly we needed a Starbucks.
We make this 12-15 hour trip (depending on our southeastern destination) twice, sometimes three times a year, so, with kids, we have driven it about twenty times. We’ve driven all night, we’ve driven all day, and on a few occasions we’ve taken two days to do it. Ideas have shifted from not having to come up with any ideas, to calculating how many diapers, changes of clothes, toys, formula and bottles we’d need on the road and presently, to deciding if I have enough tiny, gender/age appropriate, car friendly activities stuffed into their Steralite road trip totes.
Of the thousands of miles spent rolling down I-20, there are a few trips that stand out in particular—the summer I was armed with antibacterial wipes in my back pocket when Julia was newly potty trained, the one when we lost a Croc at the Chevron, the humbling trip I arrived at the beach barely able to sit because I had contorted my back in ways never meant for a human being, the pre-kids ride involving a box cutter and lots of blood, the time we sneaked out of the beach house at 3 a.m. and headed home because Jeff had a bad case of insomnia, the trip to Soperton for Christmas when Brighton wasn’t even 2 months old and my Mom and my Grandmother, Julia, welcoming him into my childhood home, the glorious year we saw the familiar round green and black sign for the first time off I-20, the Christmas we figured out the big Steralite totes were the best thing ever for packing, the year we strapped an Atlanta garage sale treadmill to the top of our car, the time we had a Blizzard before 10 am, the beach trip we had a blow out on the I-10 bridge, the trek to the family reunion when I learned that diapers don’t soak up infinite amounts of you know what, and the most useful fact finding trip was the summer I found out what a handy little thing a Coke bottle is for little boys.
There are many pieces to making a successful road trip with kids and I am still learning them. However, I have found one critical piece that you may as well not get in the car without and that would be the person who rides in the passenger seat. This position next to the driver takes quite a remarkable person, just short of genius actually, gifted in a myriad of awe inspiring ways. First of all, the front seat passenger needs to be ambidextrous, double jointed and able to stretch like Elastigirl. This person must also be a tenacious trash gatherer, a creative nutritionist (when it comes to “exit food” as Brighton call it), an activities coordinator and a great listener since the driver seems to be so focused on the road he doesn’t hear anything else that is going on. And if that is not enough, this individual must have the ability to judge how badly someone “has to go”, not be prone to car sickness, know how to position pillows just so under sleepy heads in hopes of preventing their heads from snapping off, or worse, waking up, be alert at all times making sure the driver does not get sleepy or distracted, understand how to tame the digital deluge in order to keep the backseat passenger’s brains from becoming mash potatoes, and possess the amazing skill of traveling with absolutely no foot room whatsoever. Even under these strenuous demands and circumstances, there ARE the blissful moments of a road trip when you have the “brain blender” going for the back seat dwellers, an extra hot latte in the cup holder (with whip) and a Southern Living in your lap. It is then and only then, you feel that maybe mashed potato brains aren’t so tragic after all.
We just finished the first half of Road Trip #2 for the summer of 2009 and I spent most of it in the formidable passenger seat. (Pat my back.) On our way, there were two brief spells that Jeff took the spot with high hopes of a little snoozer. After playing waiter out of a Quiznos bag and then retrieving leftovers, he was trying to put in a DVD only to find Brighton’s screen not responding. Driving peacefully down the road, I watched, out of the corner of my eye, of course, my ex-defensive tackle husband turn into a contortionist attempting to make the blue screen come to life with “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”. When his electronic skills failed him, which they RARELY do, he had to rearrange the back seat in order to make room for Brighton in the middle. No easy task, I assure you! Boosters, pillows, Quizno drinks, American Girl Samantha (our 3rd passenger who has her own suitcase), a box of books, one bag that at one time was under my feet, pretzels that ended up dumped out in the front seat where Jeff’s bottom was SUPPOSED to be! After he had B's headphones synced with Julia’s screen, he unfolded himself, sat down with a crunch and looked at me. I smiled and said, “Welcome to the passenger seat.”
(And before you begin picturing me hanging out the window taking pictures of road signs, there is a woman who takes a picture of EVERY road sign she passes. teresco.org)