Monday, April 27, 2009
Where Cheerios and Goldfish Go to Die!
I have a mini-van. That's not surprising given that I have three small kids. The fact of the matter is, once you have a third child, you have to drive a mini-van. Parents with one or two kids can possibly get away with an SUV or a sedan. But once number three rolls around, it's mini-van or bust. Don't even think about trying to have a cool ride. Cool is no longer an option in your life. Practicality has beaten it into submission. That's why you see dads wearing some of the most ungodly combinations of clothing imaginable. It's not that we woke up one day and suddenly thought black dress socks look awesome with a pair of striped bermuda shorts and a T-shirt that reads, "Back Hair Makes Better Luv'n". No, we just don't care anymore. If its kinda clean, doesn't smell too bad, and is within arms length, then screw it! That's the day's ensemble. It's practical. It gets the job done. And that, my friend, is all we have the time or energy for. In the same way, when you have small kids, you don't enjoy the luxury of worrying about how you look driving a car. You're only concern is survival. Just get there! Thus, mini-vans are an essential part of multi-kid world. They keep travel manageable. They get the fam from A to B.
My mini-van is the Bermuda Triangle of baby stuff. Baby stuff goes in, but it doesn't come out! It's the place where Cheerios and Goldfish go to die. Some are eaten. Most are lost forever in the abyss of my kids car seats or the darkness of a world that exists below the mats of my floorboard. The UN could feed a small Vietnamese village with the Cheerios hibernating within the crevices of my van. In fact, there are probably several breakfast cereals that consider my vehicle a sacred burial ground. I think a few of them even require an annual pilgrimage. Not to mention the toys that haven't been seen since the early days of the Bush administration; the aroma of souring milk trapped in sippy-cups yet unfound; partially consumed juice boxes; discarded lollipops stuck to the back of the driver's seat; dried snot rags that actually crack when touched; and things so disgusting that you would have offered the gross kid in elementary school a dollar to lick them.
While the mini-van is certainly key to parental survival on a day-to-day basis, it takes on a whole new meaning during the course of a long trip. It's a blessing and curse. Vans make the trip possible. You just can't expect to make long drives in a cramped car with small kids. Oh, you could try it. But most insurance plans don't cover the drugs and therapy needed afterwards. On the other hand, long trips in a mini-van also mean being trapped in a tube with squirming, impatient little people for hours on end. As a father, nothing screams "VASECTOMY" quite like seven hours of screaming, crying, and whining over who ate the last graham cracker or who is touching who when the first who doesn't want to be touched by the second who. Throw in a flailing one-year-old who's pooped in his diaper and is mad as hell because he's dropped his cookie in the one spot neither parent can reach, and you've got a real funfest on your hands.
I write this post one day after returning from just such a trip. My wife, Meredith, and I loaded the kids into the "Bermuda Triangle" last Friday and drove over six hours to Charleston, SC. It was a worthwhile cause; my cousin, Benjamin, was getting married. Still, worthwhile or not, fourteen hours in a van for a visit that lasted less than forty-eight hours was, to say the least, challenging. I won't say that six plus hours in a van with anxious children is the equivalent of hell, but it's close enough to scare you into wanting to be a better Christian. We were only an hour or so into the drive when cries of, "Daddy, William called me a butt crack!" and "Daddy, Emerson called me a poopy head!" began ringing from the back seat. That's when, as a father, you find yourself yelling some of the dumbest stuff you've ever said in your life. Phrases like "William, your sister is not a butt crack!" actually passed my lips. In addition, I think I issued a decree that no one in the family is allowed to ever talk again, ever touch anyone else in the family again, or ever compare another family member to a part of the human anatomy again. At one point, out of utter frustration, I yelled something that, quite honestly, was unintelligible even to me. Finally, with nerves fried, drool running down my chin, and the words, "Go to your happy place, Kindred; Go to your happy place...." running over and over again in my mind, we reached our destination.
The weekend then proceeded to be packed with all the normal wedding stuff. Friday night we got the kids dressed and headed off to the rehearsal dinner. While most attending adults conversated and enjoyed the social atmosphere of the evening, those of us with small kids looked like a local police force concerned with riot control. We chose a spot in one corner of the room, then formed a perimeter. As far as anything that happened inside the perimeter, as long as there was no blood and no cracking sounds, we let it go. But the minute one of the midgets tried to break our line of defense, boom! We tossed their little butt right back into the mix. Occassionally, one of the munchkins made a successful break for it. It's always a touching moment when the father of the groom is trying to deliver a toast to the happy couple while you run by in front of him chasing a three-year-old who's yelling "I have to pee, I have to pee!" Even more challenging is trying to corral said three-year-old with one hand while holding your very much wanted (and arguably needed) beer in the other.
The next day was the wedding. Meredith took our crying one-year-old outside. I remained with William and Emerson. Emerson was interested in the wedding. William chose the Lord's prayer to announce that he was bored and to ask if my cousin and his bride were ever going to be done getting married. Then it was off to the reception. Once again, we parents formed our perimeter. Again, there was the occassional prison break. On one occassion I had to pull my youngest, Carson, out of the wishing fountain. Somewhere in the midst of the craziness, I managed to drink three Scotch and waters: one for each child.
On Sunday, it was back in the car and back on the road. More whining, more flailing, more nerve-rattled babbling from dad. The trip did have a lot of nice moments though. After all, I dearly love my family and my kids, despite the challenges they often throw at me, are great. We had fun at the beach. I dug holes with my sons (no real objective, just dig). I jumped over breaking waves holding hands with Emerson (seeing her have fun and laugh made the trip all wothwhile in and of itself). I got to see Mom and Dad dance together two days before their forty-sixth wedding anniversary. And on the drive home, we took an hour to play giant checkers at Cracker Barrell and have a nice meal.
Are trips challenging? Oh yeah! Do I sometimes feel embarassed by the state of my mini-van, dreading to see what long-lost object or missing body might fall out when some poor, unfortunate teacher opens the door in car-line at my daughter's school? You bet. But I'm grateful for the little people in my life who make the mini-van necessary. I try to remember that for every petrified Cheerio and funky odor that calls my vehicle home, there's a multitude of special moments I've already experienced with my kids, and I pray there will be countless more. So we'll keep driving the "Bermuda Triangle," struggling to keep perspective and remain grateful. After all, there's a lot of people out there who would gladly trade their Lexus for the love and memories found in one, messy mini-van.