Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rides of passage

So, this past weekend, we took a family roadtrip up to Connecticut. The major motivator for such an undertaking was to get our two kids in the same location as their sole surviving great-grandparent, my paternal grandmother. Technically this had been in the works since late last year, when I convinced myself that instead of buying my grandma a Christmas present I should put that same money toward flying the family down to visit her in Florida later in the winter. That iteration of the plan quickly went to pieces when I started actually researching the trip and determined that my $100 Christmas budget for grandma didn’t make much of a dent in the $1200 airfare from D.C. to the Sunshine State, plus once we got there we’d have to rent a car in which to install two carseats, and rent a hotel room, and so on. Get-together Mark II initially took shape as a plan to see the kids’ great-gram in the summer, when she comes north; driving down to Florida in the winter would be prohibitively time-consuming, but driving to Cape Cod in July? Much more manageable. More manageable on paper (or Google Maps electrons), at least, 15 to 17 hours on the road to get to Florida versus 9 hours and change on the road to Massachusetts. But 9 hours with a three year old and a one year old cooped up in the back seat still seemed like a few hours too many.

Enter Get-together Mark III! We’d roadtrip to Connecticut, to meet up with great-gram in the town where my father and stepmother and brother and sister (plus an aunt and uncle and respective families) reside, around the Fourth of July, which growing up was practically a high holy day in my extended family. As it turned out, though, my grandma was not planning on venturing from the Cape down to Connecticut for the Fourth (or at any other point other than coming from and going back to Florida) because she’s getting older and not fully comfortable with long solo drives, but the plan was salvaged by my father arranging for round-trip transport. One of my cousins, his wife and their son (one of the aforementioned local families) were heading up to the Cape to see great-gram the week of Independence Day anyway, so when they came back to Connecticut on Saturday they brought great-gram along, and my dad agreed to chauffeur his mother back to the Cape on Sunday. So Saturday turned into a bit of an event attended by me, my wife and our kids, my cousin and his wife and son, grandma, my dad, stepmom, brother and sister, plus my step-sister and her fiancĂ©. It was an all-day cookout pool party, very fun and laid back, and not only did my grandma get to meet her great-granddaughter for the very first time, but they got to swim and play in the pool together (assisted by a very cool float my wife found) and that seems to me like something pretty rare. I know my daughter won’t really remember anything from when she was fifteen months old, but it’ll be a nice story to go with the digital photos (or whatever we convert them to in the next couple decades).

In order to spend Saturday with the fam, we drove up Friday night and drove home Sunday morning, and those legs were pretty much as successful as one could hope them to be. We expected Friday to be easier, because we were leaving in the mid-afternoon and would be on the road well past the kids’ bedtimes, which meant we were counting on at least a couple hours of them being asleep in their carseats, and that much less time we’d have to keep them occupied. And that part actually worked out pretty much as we planned it. For the waking hours we had expected the little guy would watch a couple of Disney movies on the old portable DVD, and the little girl would … just be mellow, like usual? We brought toys for her, of course, but she has the requisite short attention span of a toddler. And poor little thing, she woke up from her nap Friday afternoon and pretty much went straight into her carseat for quite the extended drive, which she was not thrilled about. On the bright side, she never gets angry for very long, but there was a sizable stretch where she would fuss and cry for two minutes, then coo or be silent for two minutes, back and forth, over and over and over. Her brother, on the other hand, followed the plan to a T, and it wasn’t really his fault that the DVD player battery died after about three hours. Luckily, we were about due to stop for dinner then, and we were able to stock up on other non-electronic car activities at the rest area, but for a few minutes between the power-down and actually pulling into the Delaware House parking lot, there was a massive hue and cry from the backseat.

We tried to do better on the return trip in terms of pacing the deployment of the DVD player and so on, but got tripped up in a different way. We fueled up only a little in Connecticut because it’s a little bit ridiculous how much more expensive gasoline is there, and we hoped we could make it until late lunchtime and the Delaware House before needing to refuel, but we hit E in southern NJ and stopped on the Turnpike rather than push our luck. We were only planning to gas-n-go, and my wife jumped out of the car to take the little guy to the restroom while the little girl and I waited in line at the pumps; after filling the tank I pulled into a parking space and took the baby to catch up, by which time the little guy was pitching one of his more impossible fits, where it was hard to tell if he wanted to stay at that rest stop and eat lunch, or not, and nothing we offered him seemed to make him happy, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth only increased. We kept trying to tell him we were there for gas and there was better food at the Delaware House, and we’d get there very soon if he would just calm down and get back in the car, but he was having none of it. At one point he expressed his ineluctable rage at the whole situation by yelling “I DON’T LIKE THINGS THAT START WITH ‘D’!” Which I’m sure in his mind was about as strong a way to protest the idea of lunch at the Delaware House as he could summon. I am not completely proud to admit this, but I turned that assertion around on him immediately by asking “Not even ‘Daddy’?” And, to the little guy’s credit, that actually gave him pause, and he lowered his voice to a more moderate volume and said, “I like Daddy. But I don’t like places that start with ‘D’.” Perhaps it was due to my own highway-hypnosis and associated exhaustion, but I found that refinement of his viewpoint incredibly sweet.

We ended up just buying some snacks at the NJTP rest area (praise all benevolent deities that we live in a modern era where the humblest highway newsstands and sundry shops sell to-go containers of fresh fruit alongside the candy bars and chips) and barreling homeward on our full tank of gas, with no stop in Delaware, letting the kids eat in the backseat, and making it home in decent time to let the kids run around the house a while before dinner and bedtime. All in all, not a bad trip, considering the relatively small hardships of the journey and the worthiness of the destination. And it gave us plenty of insight into things to prepare for when we take a roadtrip to the Outer Banks next month, too.

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