This past weekend was a long weekend for me. "Long" in the sense that I had Friday off from work, and "long" in the sense that I spent most of it in a car with my husband, two children, and mother-in-law. So that second "long" is basically short for "you're a fool and you deserve those varicose veins."
You see, my supremely adorable nephew was being baptized in a Philly suburb on Saturday. My husband was the godfather. My children wanted to see if they could discover new dimensions of fidgeting. My mother-in-law was in town for a visit. And I wanted to see if super soakers shoot holy water just as well as they shoot regular tap water. (They do.)
The motivations for the trip, therefore, were all pure. And the time spent with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were dynamite. I wouldn't pass that up for anything, and I don't regret going to see them at all.
We just should have picked a different way to transport ourselves to those moments. Because I think I can safely say that an 8-hour road trip with the crew we had on board was not the best idea. I don't know why it took doing that road trip to understand that. The silver lining is that now, when I go on tour with my band Mothering Mullets, I know I have to look beyond my kitchen counter for roadies.
In the context of a bad decision to drive farther than next door with an under-five and over-70 set, there was one good decision: my husband suggested we rent a mini-van for the trip. I can officially report that five people have never been so gleeful to step inside a such a vehicle. It was brand, spanking new, and the doors opened automatically, and it had lots of secret compartments, AND IT HAD SATELLITE RADIO AND A DVD PLAYER. My husband and I were choking back the tears as we loaded our 57 suitcases into the spacious trunk. We just kept looking at each other with looks we both understood to mean, "wow, look at us -- we've really made it." It was special.
The first leg of the trip was easy -- after leaving work early on Thursday, we just had to make it to Boston where we were meeting up with my mother-in-law. We were happy campers as we sailed out of the rental car lot. My daughter was playing with the toys I'd hidden for the trip, my son was napping, and my husband was gleefully singing along to the 80s station he found on the satellite radio. We survived a bit of traffic in Boston and bunked down for the night at a Doubletree Suites. We were all still high enough on life that it seemed "cozy" to cuddle up in a bedroom/living room combo that is the size of most master bathrooms.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I was up at 3:30 on Friday morning. Everyone was snoring (including my 7-month-old) and my daughter was lying on me. I mean that literally. She was lying ON. ME. But again, Mrs. Brightside here just figured, well, this is great! I'll get in a work out and even have the gym to myself. So I did. I went to the gym at 4:30 that morning.
Thus began my slow but steady descent into a series of poor decisions caused by a complete lack of restorative sleep. Actually, just sleep, period.
POOR DECISION #1: Allow husband to pack the car and forget to identify for him the bag containing the snacks.
Traveling with a four-year-old requires an endless supplies of diversions. Perhaps the most important one is food. It keeps their mouths busy with all the chewing and the swallowing, and it offers the promise of a food coma that knocks them out for at least a couple hours of the trip.
That food and drink should be available at a moment's notice. In fact, it's best if it can be supplied at warp speed, something akin to however it would feel to be on the receiving end of a dog digging up a mound of earth. In this scenario, you (the parent) are the dog, the food is the dirt, and your kid is whatever is receiving the spray.
Well, of course the non-descript black bag that I had meticulously packed with pre-packaged organic goods was at the bottom of the suitcase volcano slowing erupting out of our trunk. By the time we left Boston and hit Newton, my daughter asked for her first snack. The snack bag was nowhere to be reached. We spent the next 4 hours trying to convince her that water was as delicious as a Grover granola bar.
POOR DECISION #2: Put mother-in-law in the back seat.
In some ways, this seating arrangement made good sense and paid dividends. She was able to give a running report on what our backwards-facing son was up to at any moment of the trip. She was able to feed him during traffic jams. She had a good view of the DVDs.
But the downsides were dramatic. To simply exit the car, she had to navigate an obstacle course of bags, toys, and debris that I think looked something like the first challenge producers prepare for contenders on Survivor. A pretty basic goal of any car trip should be "let's not maim the mother-in-law with a Barbie limb lying between the captain seats." We flirted with that catastrophe for three full days.
The other downside was the communication. Those status updates about my son came fast and furious, as did the instructions about when to have the EZPass ready and when to adjust the volume and/or temperature. But since she was in the back, and since there was a lot of "ambient noise," she had to SCREAM every report, instruction, or request. Accordingly, when we got word that "THE BABY IS ASLEEP!!!" we soon thereafter learned that "AH! THE BABY WOKE UP! HE'S AWAKE! BE ADVISED! HE. IS. AWAKE!!!"
POOR DECISION #3: Take a road-trip that has anything to do with New York City.
You know you're a bad-ass city when the STATES in your vicinity suffer just from being near you. I bet when New York City was in high school, he was totally the guy stuffing Providence into lockers and getting Newark and Stamford suspended just because they were friends with him. New York City was the reason Greenwich had to do a PG year before Yale.
After barreling through the wide open spaces of western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut, you arrive in New Haven. You see the signs for Yale, and you start to feel dumb and not worthy. Then you see the signs for New York City, and you immediately start to feel stalled. That's because you are. You are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, even though it's noon on a Friday and even though you're 80 miles outside of New York City. You creep forward at about 12 mph for the next 5 hours, giving the finger to the cars full of people trying to spell SoHo and fighting over whether they're going to go to the M&M Store in Times Square before or after they take the free ferry ride to Staten Island.
Your reward is the George Washington bridge. Scratch that. The GW bridge is an architectural dunce cap, given to road warriors who stupidly opt against taking the Tappan Zee bridge. No one in the history of time or Detroit has ever crossed the GW bridge in a car and in a good mood. Maybe it's all the signs warning you of HEAVY DELAYS as a mini Cooper tries to piggy-back your car. Maybe it's the lady rolling her laundry down the streets of the Bronx who haughtily informs you she's washed both her darks and her whites in the time it took you to move one block south. Maybe it's the $12 toll you pay for the privilege of slowly moving through hell. I don't know.
I just know that when my husband tried to lighten the mood by screaming "we're concrete sailing! WEEEEEE!" like that pig in the Geico commercials, I almost had to beat him to death with a coloring book.
POOR DECISION #4: Take Comfort Suites at its word.
Our second hotel for the trip was a Comfort Suites in Exton, PA. My thinking here was such a room would be (a) a suite (ie. a living room and a bedroom) that could accommodate 5 people, one of whom would be sleeping in a pack 'n play; and (b) comfortable. Apparently the guy who comes up with the names over at Comfort Suites is a real wise guy.
The room we walked into, after driving for so many hours my son sprouted two new teeth, was the size of my cubicle. I could have done one somersault in it. Maybe one round-off. Certainly not a full cartwheel.
My husband called downstairs and tried to see if he could resolve the mix-up. Our hero at the front desk said he'd call right back. 15 minutes later, I was bleeding from my brain.
I went downstairs to see if a face-to-face could speed up the science project. This is the conversation I had:
ME: Ummmm....hi? My husband called 20 minutes ago to see if we could get the suite we made a reservation for. I see you're heavily consulting a clipboard with a thin sheet of paper. Might I suggest firing up that computer in front of you?
DESK GUY: ttttttttttttt
ME: What we need, here, is a suite. Like the one in your name? Well, not YOUR name, Ramesh. But the name of the hotel?
DESK GUY: I just found a room with a jacuzzi! You want that?
ME: Thanks so much for asking, Ramesh, but no. What I really need here is a suite. Like with a living room containing a plush pull-out couch, a bathroom, and a bedroom. Maybe a swanky kitchenette with a miniature coffee maker and some of that atomized coffee "creamer." Is the picture I'm painting here of any help whatsoever? Can you stop staring at the lights and focus?
DESK GUY: Oh. But we don't have any rooms like that.
ME: You don't have any suites? Why is this place called Comfort Suites? Why did I book a room called a "suite" when I made this hotel reservation? Bonus points if you can answer why God hates me?
DESK GUY: When we say "suites" here, it means that chair that pushes into your desk. Without the chair, it'd just be your standard room, but with the chair, it's a suite. Do you I look taller when I stand up to talk to you?
The moral of the story is when you're traveling through Exton, PA and you've rented a minivan, sleep in the minivan.
POOR DECISION #5: Plan anything for the week after the road trip.
By the time we left for our third hotel in three nights, and certainly by yesterday morning when we embarked on the final leg of our drive home, my husband and I were plum out of the crazy enthusiasm we'd had in supply when we began our journey.
By the time we limped into our driveway yesterday afternoon, we felt like we'd just walked through a car wash that was on the setting for getting road salt off the underside of your car after a particularly rough winter.
I spent the next eight hours unpacking, doing dishes, doing laundry, bathing over-tired children, ridding our house of the distinct smell of baby chicks, and making a birthday cake for my daughter to take to school today.
This morning my daughter woke up complaining of an earache.
I just received a call from my son's daycare. They called to report he's cranky and running a temperature.
Needless to say, I think swimming lessons this afternoon will resemble an Olympic qualifying meet, and when I host book club on Wednesday night, those ladies are going to leave my house embarrassed that they'd spent their whole lives thinking Martha Stewart was a slightly rotund blonde living in Connecticut.