Finally, my rebuttal forum! A chance for me to put on check Erin’s destruction of my manly reputation. I can finally set the record straight about how I fearlessly (sleeplessly) searched under beds, behind refrigerators and deep inside cabinets for that intrusive chipmunk armed with nothing but a Mag-lite. I can submit a weekly fact checker to confirm or deny Erin’s claims of Nate’s, Sam’s and my own actions (antics). Or, as I’ll do this week, use my Guest Blog appearance to tell a story related to Erin’s main post.
I’m the oldest of 7 kids – almost twelve years older than my youngest sibling. And growing up in America’s Heartland as part of a family haunted by our ancestors’ spirit of exploration, we made about 2 long road trips a year. We just removed some seats from the 12-passenger van, lay down a mattress in the newly created void, and hoped the gauges are true and the gas cheap. As a kid, you fall asleep peacefully in your own bed on night, complain about being jostled from your dream of Kathy Ireland (play, blood, up), wake up somewhere east of St. Louis, eat a Pop-Tart™, and fall back asleep as your Sony Discman (cheaper Sanyo knockoff) skips through Live’s Throwing Copper album.
But now, we begin planning our next road trip on the return trip of our current one (follow that language maze?). And not just light, whimsical planning like, “Where should we go? Yellowstone? Oh, I don’t know, I heard the Omaha Zoo is a fun destination.” But in-the-trenches, detailed planning. Usually the destination is already set. We need to figure out route (Google Maps), stopping points and hotels (“Yeah, I have a free stay from my Marriott rewards, but I’m travelling with my family and if I have to sleep in close quarters with my sons after riding in a car with them for 10 straight hours you might max out my credit card with room damages. Can I get an upgrade to a suite and just pay the difference? 2-bedroom? Do you have any 8-bedrooms that would provide more distance between me and them as we sleep? Maybe a whole floor of rooms? No? Okay, 2-bedrooms will work.”) , caffeine intake, Wally’s situation (boarding? Back of the Suburban? In which case he needs a groomer’s appointment the day before we leave), movies for the boys, snacks for the boys, distractions (drugs?) for the boys. You get the idea. Things are harder now.
No matter how difficult these trips are, I know I can always turn to my own parents for NO SYMPATHY AT ALL. And when I take the time to think (which is never anymore) I get it. Seven kids! One car (bus)! No cell phones! Spotty air conditioning! AAA calls! But there was one road trip in particular that topped them all. The one that even James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen thought went too far.
I remember when I got the chickenpox. I remember the oatmeal baths. I remember the slight sense of satisfaction from picking a whole scab. I remember kicking it with my brother, Johnny, in our bedroom as we calmly waited for our new bunk beds to arrive. At the time, I thought the bunk beds were a Get Well Soon gift from my parents to my brother and me. Kind of a “Sucks for you that you got chicken pox. I’ll stay home and take care of all of you sick, feverish, miserable kids – oh, and I’ll have some bunk beds delivered to cheer you up.” Obviously, no parent in a healthy state of mind would schedule a bunk bed delivery and assembly with five kids under 10 home with the chicken pox. Yeah, that’s right – 5 kids. My youngest two sisters weren’t born yet. So they saved their duel dual (see what I did there?) with the pox for a family road trip.
The day before we piled in the van for our annual pilgrimage to the beach, my youngest sister, Ellie, started to break out with spots. Other than that, it was a typical set up – cooler full of Dr. Pepper, Capri Sun and water, mattress, lots of pillows, portable 12-inch TV / VCR combo, and two carseats. Aside from my spotted 7-month old sister in misery, and my almost-2-year old sister telling the same knock-knock joke over and over during all her waking moments (literally, she would fall asleep mid-joke), we arrived to the beach without incident. You know those folks who say “It’s about the journey, not the destination”? They lie. Upon arriving, my brother Patrick (3 years old at the time) celebrated by jumping off the back bench of the van onto the mattress (see, there really was a mattress in our car). However, that mattress, Godloveit, still had a little bounce to it, and it sent Patrick nose-first into the portable 12-inch TV / VCR combo. Tears and streams (and streams and streams) of blood followed as Patrick and his nose treated the interior of the van the way Jackson Pollock treats a canvas. Since we had arrived at our final destination, we all ran to Patrick’s aid by each screaming our own version of events to fill my parents in on the medical emergency, then pushing Patrick out of the way to climb out of the car and save our dank road trip shirts from blood stains. Luckily my mom had a roll of paper towels to contain the bleeding and a pillow case to wrap around a can of Dr. Pepper that had been floating in melted ice for the last seven hours to quell the inevitable swelling.
But we had arrived, and we could now get out of the car and get situated in our condo for the week… in just 3 short hours. As it turned out, we were in such a hurry to make good time that we arrived before the rental agency was ready for us. So we found (invaded) the condo my cousins were staying in and hung out for a few hours. Well, almost everyone hung out in my cousins’ condo. I, however, wanted to be left alone. So, counterintuitively, I decided to go back to the blood-riddled van and decompress (stuff my face).
My dad has a bit of a sweet tooth, a trait he seems to have passed on to each one of his kids. I’m not a huge fan of sugary candies. I need my sweets delivered with more fat. Give me ice cream, chocolate (extra chocolate!) chip cookies, snack cakes, and (most especially) donuts. And it just so happened the very place my 12-year old athlete’s (bench warmer’s) metabolism was headed (the quarantined van) was sheltering about a half dozen leftover Krispy Kremes. So I swiped the keys from my dad’s bag and headed down to enjoy some donuts and Weezer’s blue album.
The album ended, the donut box was empty, and the countdown to the condo was about up. I disposed of the trash (evidence) and took my fragile nirvana (not to be confused with Nirvana, which I left in the van) back to join the crowd. My timing was impeccable, as my dad was just headed out to go pick up the keys to our condo.
“Hey Tighe, do you know where the keys are?”
“Yeah, they’re right… (where I left them in the car! Oh shit! Uhhh… do what teenagers do!) where you left them probably.” (That’s it – lie and act condescending.)
“They weren’t there. Where were you?”
“Nowhere.” (Teenagers are always “nowhere”.)
“Did you take the keys to the car?” Starting to get a little heated here.
“Do you have them?”
“Did you lock the keys in the car???”
My dad began to run to the car to see if I had locked the keys in there. I thought he was running for me, so I turned and used my athlete’s (benchwarmer’s) speed to get away. He passed me (Old man strength + 12 Dr. Pepper’s + blind rage = Super Freak Athlete). By the time I got to the van and checked every door and window to see if I geniusly (accidently) left something open, he was already on his way back up to the condo to call AAA.
Now, one of the few benefits of having a large family when the kids are still young is you really don’t have to do much to make one of your kids feel guilty. Just kind of shake your head, sigh heavily, and let the siblings take care of the rest. You don’t even have to instruct the other kids to do it. It just happens naturally. After the 3rd or 4th time having to answer the question, “What happened? What’d you do?” the offending child just kind of breaks down. Flips out. Seeks asylum in self-punishment. All that pain and regret for what? Just because I wanted to listen to Buddy Holly and eat six glazed donuts? Get off my case!
Well the keys were retrieved, and the beach was enjoyed. The rest of the trip went relatively without incident. Patrick got run over by a beach cruiser being pedaled (drunkenly) by a teenager. My almost-two-year old sister, Kate, contracted chicken pox as the youngest one was scabbing. And we each got some severity of sunburn.
As I now sit in the driver’s seat and try to keep the car between the lines and on the right route, and as Erin deals with every pang of hunger, moment of boredom, and tingly, sleeping leg (pins and needles!), we’re adding to our road trip memories. And Nate and Sam are establishing theirs. And Wally is just happy to have a haircut and not be left behind. And I have a little bit of time to reflect on the fact that maybe it really is about the journey and not the destination. Maybe fun is mostly accidental and life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. But I also know none of us want to be in this car right now. In this moment. So, I’m going to just focus on making good time.
 An incredible amount of these are true. Almost an alarming amount. And true verbatim. Like Father’s Day morning when Nate walked into our room and, after complaining (bragging) about his morning wood, proceeded to give a very scientific explanation of the origin of boners. “You see, Dad, when you play with it, blood rushes to it, and then it stays up. So, play, blood, up. Play, blood, up, Dad.”
 As a kid, this was a necessity. Worth fighting (throwing a tantrum) for. “How can I be expected to keep it together for 18 hours In the car without a Posturepedic on which to rest my aching 15-year old back?” Now, as a parent, this seems an impossibility. Seriously, how did they fit a full (queen? King???) sized mattress in an automobile? Granted the vehicle in question was large enough to escort a church choir (congregation), or, more relevant to us, me, my parents and siblings, and MAYBE one friend… if that friend didn’t exhale for the entire time in the van.
 It is.
 This actually worked. Marriott allowed me to upgrade our free room to a suite for a $30 upcharge. $30! For (hopefully) a sound night’s sleep for everyone? Sign me up every time.
 It’s usually just an amused, under-the-breath chuckle, full of admiration for their grandsons and tinged with a bit of Karmic joy at my long-awaited comeuppance.
 Side note rant: This was before the Carseat Lobbyists in Washington bought enough dinners and white papers to get the federal government to mandate kids be strapped into an anchored down harness until the age of 14, or whatever the hell it is. We had two carseats, so if another kid needed it, you could wear a seatbelt like federal government mandates for everyone else. Sorry 3-year old Patrick. Buckle up and try not to break your nose…
 Nate has actually already entered this teenager dickhead phase. I have trouble being mad about it. More just impressed… and worried. Just an example of what we’re up against:
Me: Nate, how was school today?
Me: Why? What’d you do?
Me: Nothing, huh? Who was there?
Nate: No one.
Me: No one? You were the only one at school today?
Me: Where was everyone else?
Nate: Poo pee paw paw.
 Ironically, “geniusly” is not a word. Why is that ironic? One would assume a real genius would know that “geniusly” is not a word and would therefore not use it. But what is a genius to do when describing the genius way in which he (or she) acts? I don’t know. I’m no genius. I just google most everything.
 I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until they had been married almost 20 years that my parents completed a road trip without a AAA call.
 This actually turned out to be a blessing, as Kate was now too sick to stay awake and tell her signature (unfunny, uncreative, uncivil) knock-knock joke (singular).