The wildest ride of all
Before you could say “charge it,” our Disneyland vacation (not to mention our credit limit) was exhausted. It was time to pack up the car and head home. However, the festive mood that we had
started out with was noticeably absent. There was a different sort of energy in the air now, like the hush right before a lightening strike.
We passed through downtown Los Angeles and over the Grapevine without so much as a peep. I kept waiting for the first round of “He’s looking at me,” but my kids only played quietly with their souvenirs. They were toying with me. My uneasiness festered.
Somewhere near Kettleman City, at exactly the point where it is too far to go back and hours until home, my kids detoxed from four days of candy corn and root beer. Armageddon erupted in my back seat. And just like in the Bible, they were taking no prisoners.
He’s got my Minnie Mouse, she took my Pluto, he’s pinching me, she put her foot on my side of the seat, he’s eating all the pretzels, she spilled her juice all over me, he took his seat belt off, she’s putting crayon on the window, you’re such a poophead, shut up stupid, mom he called me stupid, why did we have to have a sister, we’re gonna sell you to the gypsies, mom, mom, MOM…
There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
Nothing to look at but miles and miles of miles and miles. Nothing on the radio but Spanish evangelists and Conway Twitty. Nothing to read but an occasional odometer testing sign. Nothing to do but dodge the squishy bits of peaches whizzing through the air and wonder if there was an exorcist at the next rest stop.
I turned to my husband for support. He was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, his teeth grinding and his eyes bulging out like a Chihuahua. He had that type of rabid energy he saves for the moment when he sees the credit card bill. Experience has taught me that this is not the time for sparkling conversation.
I tried to amuse myself by rolling the electric window up and down. I discovered that the roar of the wind drowned out the roar in the back seat. This little pastime helped me cling to my sanity only until we reached that huge slaughterhouse on the highway on Interstate 5 with the endless sea of cattle. The stench was enough to gag a maggot. I searched wildly for another distraction.
I tried to tune out the commotion by imagining all the ways that I could eject myself from a moving vehicle. I fantasized about catapults, springs, and rocket launchers for about 30y miles. I even considered being beamed aboard by aliens. Sure, they’d be slimier than my kids, but probably a lot quieter. It seemed like a fair trade.
Somewhere near Stockton, I remembered that one thing from childbirth that had helped me endure the only thing on earth more painful than trying to vomit a live porcupine. I searched wildly through my purse for an IV and a vial of Morphine, but to no avail.
I settled for the next best thing. I did Lamaze breathing for the next 50 miles. It had the exact same effect that it did when I was in labor. Nothing. But it gave me something to do besides chew my fingertips off. And the splattered dragonfly on the windshield made a handy focal point.
Just as I was about to pass out from hyperventilation, we rounded the loop to Highway 80. Nothing in all of Disneyland was as magical and joyous as the brown sludge in the Yolo Causeway. Nothing as wondrous and dear as the sight of my own grease-stained driveway. No view as spectacular as the one of my television from the sofa.
I’m sure that someday we’ll take another family vacation, just as soon as enough time has elapsed to for us to repress all of the trauma. Funny thing about childbirth and family vacations — time always seems to mask the agony. We repress the pain and romanticize the memory and only when we are either stranded on our backs in the labor room or cruising down I-5 being pelted with Legos does reality set back in. Which is probably a good thing, or the words “Let’s do it again” would drop out of the English language.
(First published in the Valley Tribune, Winters, CA, July 1992. This column appeared prior to becoming editor of the Winters Express.)