Pre-Road Trip Anxiety

“So we’ll be at my parent’s cabin for a few days, then we’ll head to Baltimore for a few days, then we’ll drive eight hours to meet Tighe’s family at the beach in North Carolina for a week…“


I was chatting with a friend while our kids maimed each other with sticks on the playground.


“So you’ll rent a car when you land in Baltimore? You’re flying, right?”




“You’re not driving all the way back East, are you?”


I nodded.


“You are? The whole thing? Again?


“Yeah, we are!” I feigned enthusiasm, but her incredulity was making me apprehensive.


I mean, are we crazy?


Three kids, one car. Two weeks. Eighteen hours to the cabin. Three hours to Baltimore. Eight hours to the beach. Then eighteen hours back to Kansas City.


Hmm… When I sum it up like that, it makes me think that yes, we might actually be crazy.


We are simplifying our lives this year by not bringing the dog with us. But we replaced him with a 4 month-old…a 4 month-old who suddenly won’t drink from a bottle. Certainly puts a lot of pressure on me, if you know what I mean.


And we’ve already done this trip so many times. In so many different ways.


Pre-kids—a more sane era—Tighe and I did it several times in one straight shot: Baltimore to Kansas City and back again, eating only Cheez-its, beef jerky and gum. (Gum is a lie your mouth tells your stomach. –Titus Andromedon)


The first time we did it in the Kid Era, Nate was one and a half. And because I was a more devoted and conscientious young mother who believed that kids shouldn’t be confined in a car seat for more than an hour at a time, we did the trip in two and a half days.


Fast forward five years, and my self-imposed parenting rules have changed. Tess recently spent eight hours in her car seat because she fell asleep on the way home from church and stayed asleep. No harm, no foul—she seems to be the smartest of the three.


We also drove through the night once—left Kansas City at dinnertime and just drove east on I-70. We thought Nate would sleep and Tighe and I could take turns driving and sleeping.


But no, Nate never slept. He stayed awake and talked all. night.


“Look, Mom, a truck!” I’ve always wondered how he can be so cheerful on no sleep.


But again, because I was a conscientious young mother focused on developing his verbal and conversation skills, I replied to every comment.


“Yes, Nate, a truck! …Again.” At 32 weeks pregnant with Sam, I ignored the Braxton-Hicks contractions I was having as I floated some questions to stimulate his little brain.


“How many axles does it have? What do you think it’s carrying? Is it a Mack or a Peterbilt? Where might it be going? What do you think the driver’s name is? Is he wearing a hat? Now, go to sleep so I don’t go into labor. And Wally, stop slobbering on my arm and GET in the BACKSEAT!”


I drove the final stretch through western Maryland as the sun rose ahead of us. Having not slept a wink, I leaned forward over the steering wheel, peeling my eyelids open with one hand and navigating the big hills and sharp turns with the other.


I was so tired and hungry and disillusioned with reality that I ordered and ate an egg McMuffin when we stopped for our final bathroom break. Like Tom Hanks falling in love with a volleyball as he stumbled onto a deserted island, I fell in love with that little breakfast sandwich as I stumbled into McDonald’s. And regretted it twenty minutes later.


All three of us—four, if you count Sam growing in my belly—cranky and haggard, fell immediately into bed when we arrived at my parent’s house outside of Baltimore, while Wally paced around the basement, dry-heaving.


More commonly, though, we’ve done the voyage in a day and a half: about twelve hours the first day and another four to five the second. Tighe does most of the driving and I do most of the crowd maintenance. It takes a lot of aggressive planning, proactive interventions, and prayers.


One year, I wrapped small toys in wrapping paper and anytime I sensed angst or boredom in the backseat, I tossed one back. And it worked! I fended off a mutiny each time… Except that it was a mess. By hour six or seven, it looked like a Christmas tree vomited in our car. And it smelled like Wally’s hot, panting dog breath.


This year, per the suggestion of a friend, I’ll utilize the ticket exchange strategy. Nate and Sam will each get tickets, one for each hour of the trip, that they can exchange for snacks and treats and dollar store prizes. Anything to keep Nate’s and Sam’s minds busy and bodies stationary. 


Well, almost anything. I avoided whistles and harmonicas and xylophones and air horns. Tess will need to sleep. And Tighe and I will need to maintain our sanity.


I also avoided Nerf guns, ping pong paddles, rocket launchers, and anything else that could cause an accident, a lost eye, or a severed arm. Not trying to teach any lessons here, just trying to survive.


So think about us this weekend. Send prayers and good vibes and hopefully—God willing—you’ll be reading some cute little tale about Nate/Sam’s adventures at the lake and the beach in a few weeks.


But first, we gotta survive this car ride.