Here it comes, looming just around the corner, that biggest of holidays, holiest of days,the end all be all of the year...Christmas. I live about 300 miles from the city of my birth, all the rest of my family still lives there, so my little group is the designated traveling party for each and every major holiday. Once upon a time, in the early days of our marriage (we'll call that time B.C./before children) traveling for the holidays was simple: one suitcase, one bag for toiletries and the like, a book or a couple of magazines, a full tank of gas and a half a pack of cigarettes and we were on the way. We'd stop once for food and a potty break and made the trip in about five hours. I think in the ensuing years, the distance between here and my hometown has somehow expanded, because we're in a celebratory mood if we make the trip in under six hours these days.
The time spent in the car isn't the only thing that's changed, the pre-trip ceremony has become as elaborate as Easter mass at the Vatican or one of those "Bridezilla" weddings. Gone are the days of packing just before we leave, now it takes the preceding three days. First we have to make sure the necessary clothes are washed, that they actually fit the intended wearer and that they don't disappear between the laundry and the suitcase (it happens...Gremlins, I think). Next, you have to make sure your offspring don't have a spare moment to entertain even the passing thought of boredom. Here's what usually ends up going into the car JUST FOR THE TRIP:
10-20 Matchbox-type cars, trucks, etc
12-15 Action figures (none with projectiles, I'm crazy, not stupid)
3-4 Handheld games (and the required gross of extra batteries)
6-10 Coloring/Activity Books
3-4 Pads of Paper
1000 + crayons, markers, pens, pencils, quills and ink, hammer and chisel and the like
The entire contents of every bookcase in the house
Every pillow and blanket throw we own
Personal CD players (and an additional gross of batteries)
1 box each of graham crackers sticks, cheese Nips, raisins, anything crunchy that will embed itself into the seats
Minimum of a dozen each of juice bottles, water bottles and assorted beverage
---and a bag for odds and ends (yeah, these aren't the odds and ends)
And the final stage of pre-trip hoo-ha involves my beloved's penchant of planning for every possible disaster. We have the usual stuff, the spare tire, jack, tire iron, jumper cables and extra anti freeze. But my darling does not see this as NEARLY prepared enough. Into the back of the van goes the portable air tank, gas can, two first aid kits, dehydrated fruits sealed in foil, kerosene, toilet paper (I am not kidding), candles, waterproof matches, an extra car battery, two sleeping bags, every hat, glove, scarf and mitten in the house and a partridge in a pear tree. On top of these essentials we stack the three suitcases, the two toiletries bags, the bag of shoes and our dress coats. Perched delicately on top of those are the boxes and bags of gifts we're giving for Christmas. And finally, last but certainly not least is the cooler full of venison my husband insists we bring down every year. I don't have the heart to tell him that no one in my family eats it, they just don't want to make him feel bad.
At last, we're ready to head off into the wild blue yonder, after making one return trip to the house to retrieve the couple of things we've forgotten to load into the van, the children. I mean really, how am I supposed to remember EVERYTHING? The boys are now safely strapped into their seats with all their worldly possessions surrounding them and we're rolling.
Honestly, we could survive a nuclear winter with the supplies we lay in for a 300 mile car trip.
One may wonder why it takes us more than six hours to travel a mere three hundred miles. We have one factor that most do not, my youngest son. Every car trip turns into another leg on what we've dubbed "The Upper Midwest Bathroom Tour". Within twenty miles of home comes the first plantive call from the backseat "I have to go to the bathroom." When dealing with those under the age of ten, you have NO cushion, you cannot ask them to hold on for a few more miles. The request to stop is made well after the "hold it" window has firmly closed. At this point, you've got a ticking tinkle bomb less than three feet away from you and time is running out. Thus, the bathroom tour was born. I've long entertained the idea of sending him into these oaises with a camera, then he can post his reviews with accompanying photos on his own blog. We'll rate them by cleanliness, spaciousness, number of stalls, supplies and seat temperature. I think it could be quite a sensation.
Okay, I have to start packing now, we leave in four days...