We’re finally all packed up, and everyone is buckled and already said their piece about how strange it is that Mama’s driving this time (because I never choose to), and Daddy has his laptop open, ready to work. We’re going to get moving, after two hours of trying.
That’s right. It takes two hours just to leave the house.
Then I turn on the car. The gas light, indicating a gas tank on fumes, is on.
Son of a—
I know what this means. A stop. A stop that will likely turn into a potty break that will turn into five potty breaks (because everyone forgot to go before we left) that will turn into thirty minutes (or more!) of wasted time.
It’s only a three-hour trip. It will take us five (not counting the two-hour departure time).
When we stop, after I’ve huffed and puffed about how someone should fill up the car once in a while and why can’t whoever was driving it last just fill it up before the gas light comes on (pretty sure it was me, that day I was running late to get dinner started and the three older boys had just effectively made me lose my mind fighting over two computers in the public library, so I didn’t want to stay in the car with them one second longer), I tell them we are NOT getting out to potty, because this is not a scheduled potty break. This is an inconvenient, necessary stop.
Scheduled potty breaks happen when the baby needs to eat.
“But I really need to go!” the 8-year-old says. It’s been a whopping three minutes since we left.
“Did you go before you left, like I told you?” I say.
“I didn’t have to go then,” he says.
Welp, you don’t have to go now, either.
There are so many kids. It’s like a field trip traveling with all these boys. When one needs to potty, they all do. When one falls asleep, the others don’t. They just get louder.
Every two minutes a different one asks, “Are we almost there?”
We’re not even out of the neighborhood yet.
At first we answered no. Then we answered yes. Then we tried to ignore it. Then we told them to stop asking. Then we told them the truth.
“Two more hours.”
“One hour and fifty-eight minutes.”
“One hour and fifty-six minutes.”
Then we turned it into math practice.
“One hour and fifty-four minutes. How many minutes have passed since you last asked?”
“One hour and fifty-two minutes. Do you notice a pattern between your questions?”
(This plan backfired, because they actually adore math.)
In the end, this is the question that will break us. It’s the one that will make Husband and me look at each other with those crazy eyes and silently mouth, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER again,” so the kids can’t hear our declaration and have a meltdown in the middle of our meltdown (the car would explode if too many meltdowns happen at the same time. It’s a law of physics.).
I took some traveling notes on things I wanted to make sure I’d remember next time I think it would be a good idea to pack six boys into the van and travel more than the five miles to the grocery store:
1. Bring some oversized cups.
It’s never too early for boys to learn the art of peeing in cups. When our 3-year-old twins are playing free at home, they will go hours without having to visit the restroom. When they’re in the car, their bladders shrink to about the size of a peanut. They need to pee every half hour. So make it a game: They have to pee in a cup without unbuckling.
On second thought, you’ll probably be the loser in the end, so let’s just forget I mentioned it.
2. Bring treats for every mile you go without hearing, “Are we almost there?”
This question (and its twin: “How much longer until we get there?”) will drive you absolutely crazy, because when you have multiple children, they each take turns asking, as if the answer you gave their brother wasn’t good enough for them. As if their asking might suddenly create a time warp we can speed through that crosses fifty miles in one minute (Every parent wishes this time warp were Real Life instead of Science Fiction.). As if something has changed in one hundred twenty seconds.
One kid might ask it two thousand times. Six kids ask it 13 billion times. So reward them for keeping their mouths shut.
3. Don’t bother putting shoes on the 3-year-olds.
They take them off as soon as they get in the car anyway, and they’ll get buried under all the jackets that get left in the car because no one needs jackets during a Texas winter. Some of them will get shuffled under seats. One will probably fall out the door and you won’t notice (true story). You’ll waste way too much time (and remember: minutes are precious when traveling with kids) looking for shoes, especially when one has gone missing because it was left in the last town. So don’t bother.
4. Bring audio books. They’re more for you than for the kids.
They’re so the next time they ask, “Are we almost there?” you can say, “I’m trying to listen to the story.” They’re so when they say they need to go to the potty again you can say, “Let’s wait until this story is over (they don’t have to know that will be another hour). They’re so when they’re rocking the back of the car because they want to move it faster, you can retreat into your own world and try to ignore the way the van is not moving any faster—probably slower, because everything is slower with children when children try to help.
5. DON’T INTRODUCE I SPY. OR KNOCK KNOCK JOKES.
Notice this one is in caps. There’s a good reason for that. Three thousand rounds of I Spy. Five hundred knock knock jokes. Do you remember? Of course you do. Your eye is still twitching.
The “Are we almost there” question is nothing compared to this. So just close your mouth and keep your eyes on the road.
6. Use a better reservation system than Husband.
“Shoot,” Husband says when we’re turning into our destination. The sky fell dark hours ago, the kids are tired and I’m feeling especially grumpy, because I had to drive.
“What?” I say.
“Never mind,” he says. But I know. There’s something. We’ve been married too long for him to hide anything from me.
“What?” I say again. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
“Well, I can’t remember which condo is ours.”
At this point nothing could really surprise me. I don’t even blow up or rant about how could you not write it down and do I have to do everything and how about we just turn around and go back home. I’m too tired for all that. So I simply put my head down on the steering wheel and let loose a long, long sigh.
“They left the key under the mat,” he says, looking at the row of fifty condos.
“Have fun looking,” I say.
He gets out, checks enough doormats to make it halfway down the line of condos, then returns to the car.
At the last minute he remembered. It was the first condo we passed through the gate.
We all pile into the 500-square-foot condo that looked bigger in the online pictures and collapse on our bed.
Nothing like traveling together to ensure a good nights’ sleep.
This is an excerpt from Parenting is the Hardest Insane Asylum Ever, the first in the Crash Test Parents humor series. It pre-releases Jan. 24. To be notified of its release, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page, where you’ll also get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides.