“It was the loudest of times, it was a stretch of silence. It was the age of babies, it was the epoch of earbuds.”
This tale of two trips began a decade ago when our boys were 5 and 2 ½ and our baby girl was only a few months old. We were crazy to be taking all three of them to the grocery store, let alone a 10-hour car trip to see grandparents. But sleep deprivation and winter had made us just stir crazy enough to think we could survive it, so we set out on the open road toward Minnesota, with nothing but time and our sanity to kill.
Honestly the specific details of that first trip seem hazy now. What I remember most about it was the noise and the number of times I climbed from the front seat into the back seat to attend to whichever kid was loudest. Finally, I just surrendered my front-seat status and stayed in the mosh pit with the kids. For hours, I answered a string of questions from the 5-year-old and plied the toddler with treats.
I remember thinking how ironic it was that I was once so thrilled when the boys had learned to say the word “Mama” because they’d soon learned to wield that word like a weapon – peppering me with requests and complaints about their car seat purgatory.
We had to stop several times so I could nurse the baby, and then we’d stop again shortly afterward to change the dirty diapers that inevitably followed. While I was busy with the baby, Tom parked in an empty lot and played running games with the boys in a vain attempt to wear them out enough for a nap.
The soundtrack for those trips was usually a Barney the Dinosaur DVD or Dora the Explorer’s conversational shouting, which has a way of making 100 miles feel more like 1,000. In short, it was a LONG trip.
Fast forward to today. As I type this, I’m in the front seat glancing out the window as we whiz by mile markers. Three days ago, we made the 10-hour trip from home to Minnesota for a long weekend, and now we’re heading home again.
The fact that I’m actually writing on this trip tells you how different this one is from the one we made a decade ago. The kids are now 15, 12 and 10. There is no more Dora. No more diapers. There are still snacks, but no one needs me to unwrap them or stick a straw in a juice box. But the biggest difference is the sound. Other than the tapping on my portable keyboard, all I can hear is the rhythmic click-clack of the interstate beneath our wheels and the occasional sound of the blinker as Tom changes lanes.
A few minutes ago, I asked the kids if they were getting hungry for lunch and was met with deafening silence. I turned around to make sure they were still back there and that we hadn’t accidentally left them behind at the last gas station.
Those three car seats have been replaced by three big kids – all of them tethered to an iPhone or iPad via long thin cords attached to ear buds. We’ve gone from Sesame Street to Spotify in what seems like no time. They were all knee-deep in music or Netflix shows they’d downloaded for the long trip.
I waved my arms wildly to get their attention, and they plucked out their earbuds and slowly emerged from a tech-induced coma.
“Are you hungry yet? Should we stop for lunch now?”
“Yes!” They answered in unison with a unanimous vote. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed in 10 years. They are always ravenous on a car trip, and there’s not a convenience store along this route they haven’t pillaged for snacks.
So to all my fellow mamas and papas who may be road-weary with little ones, just know that the mosh pit gets easier to manage over time. Car trips may be long but childhoods whiz by nearly as fast as the mile markers. Pack extra snacks, and enjoy the ride.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.