Road Trip with Kids: The Real Hell on Wheels
I have written this post in response to a writing prompt from mamakatslosinit.com. The writing prompt was to share a memorable road trip story. Oh, do I have road trip stories. I have chosen one in particular that sticks out as one of my worst of all time.
If I’m being completely honest, for many years, road trips with our children were awful. It felt like the worst mistake we had ever made in our lives to leave the house and drive to the grocery store, let alone another state.
We once took a trip at Thanksgiving where we found ourselves going 25 mph on a snowy blustery road in the middle of nowhere with my husband carefully driving from one side of the road to the other because the mile markers were the only way he could tell where the road was. On another unexpected emergency road trip, my husband and I were both recovering from a very nasty bout of the stomach flu. We finally had to call my husband’s father and brother to meet us three hours from home and drive us the rest of the way because we couldn’t make it on our own.
There have been some bad ones but a short weekend trip to my brother’s graduation is in my top three worst road trips ever.
The Journey Begins
It was only a five-hour drive to the university where my brother was graduating from veterinary school. My husband and I had prepped more than usual for this trip. We had already taken a much longer road trip three months before (it was 24 hours of driving round trip) so we were well prepared for what might befall us on the road.
In an attempt to make the trip more pleasant, we rented a car, a PT Cruiser. Our ’95 Toyota Tercel was barely big enough for our family without all the luggage we needed for a weekend trip. On our last trip, we had to completely unpack the backseat to get our girls out at each rest stop. It was uncomfortable, to say the least.
On the same trip, our, then, three-month-old daughter had cried nearly the entire drive. We learned right after that trip that she had persistent ear infections. She’d been on antibiotics for the last three months in an attempt to clear her ears for her upcoming ear tube surgery.
We prepped for the possibility that her ears might bother her by bringing a pacifier, which it turned out she refused. We also brought ear plugs and headphones for our three-year-old daughter that had to ride in the backseat with her.
We set off with hope in our hearts and a movie in the DVD player.
The Cruiser was noisy and rattled like a tin can but other than that, all seemed well. In fact, our now six-month-old daughter slept most of the way there. Hallelujah! We were sure this was a good sign.
Oh, how we were wrong.
A Long Dark Night
It started as we were settling into our hotel room and prepared to put our girls to sleep. I couldn’t get the baby to nurse. Every time I tried, she pushed me away and cried.
Now you have to understand that both our girls cried a lot as babies. Far more than most, so her crying wasn’t that unusual but she hardly ever refused a meal. Sometimes she would have a hard time latching on but this was different.
I tried for an hour, two hours, three hours, she wouldn’t eat but she would cry. My husband tried calming her but nothing worked. Finally, I took her out into the hotel lobby at 10:30 so that my husband and older daughter could get some sleep. There the two of us sat in the hotel lobby for almost three hours. I was in my pajamas looking like a mess holding a baby that wouldn’t stop crying. I’m not sure what the hotel employees thought but, at that point, I didn’t care.
Around one in the morning, I returned to our room and asked if my husband would mind taking her so I could sleep for a bit. He headed into the hallway to go make friends with the night staff.
I slept for an hour before he came back with her screaming even more than before. I tried to nurse her again. Nope. So off we went, back to the lobby. And so the rest of our night went…all night long. My husband and I barely slept, even when we were lying in the bed because we were trying to figure out what to do.
Now, not only had we not had any sleep, but our baby hadn’t eaten for over twelve hours, which wasn’t normal for her. I had a breast pump at home, but I almost exclusively nursed her so I would never have thought to bring it with me.
We debated whether or not we should go to the store and get some formula and bottles but we had no idea if she would even take it. We had only fed her with a bottle a handful of times.
Then we considered buying another breast pump. Uh, to put it delicately, when you are nursing a baby and she suddenly goes cold turkey, the results are not pleasant. Just pretend for a moment that your hand is swelling fast and building up so much pressure that you’re sure your skin is going to split and your hand is going to explode. Yeah, that was my reality.
At that point in our lives, we didn’t have much money. We didn’t have the money to pay for formula and bottles and certainly not a second breast pump.
If I could go back in time, I would have yelled at myself, “Buy the pump you fool!”
We were very stupid practical back then and didn’t want to waste money on something we already owned. Things were getting so desperate that we would have driven home that morning and skipped the graduation EXCEPT that I was providing the piano music for the graduation ceremony.
What would a graduation be without the Pomp and Circumstance? My brother had asked me to play months ago and I couldn’t back out the morning of the graduation.
So we put our game faces and went early to the graduation so I could play prelude.
By that point in time, I was in so much pain I was near tears. My husband and I were both so tired that our minds were foggy and I think my speech may have been slurred. Members of my family had traveled a long way to support my brother. Many of whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. I know they were talking to me, but I was hurting so much and so worried about our baby, who still hadn’t eaten, that I could barely think straight. I have no idea if my responses made any sense.
My husband walked her in the halls during the ceremony and I got through the piano playing without any major mistakes. My brother and his sweet wife had arranged a family meal afterward but we didn’t go. We gave our congratulations and ran to that PT Cruiser as fast as we could.
Well, as fast as I could without moving my upper body.
There we were, my husband driving faster than the speed of light, the baby crying, the three-year-old blissfully humming with her ear plugs in, and me bracing myself for every twist, turn, and bump in the road. I can tell you, that was one of the longest drives I have ever experienced.
Finally, we pulled into the parking lot of our apartment. I ran to get the pump as fast as I could. I’m glad there weren’t any old ladies between our car and the front door because, in my haste, I would not have hesitated to knock them to the ground.
Our daughter drank from a bottle with no trouble but I still couldn’t get her to nurse. Two weeks later, she had her ear tubes put in and I hoped she would start nursing once the tubes released the pressure in her ears.
Nope. She never nursed again.
The End…but Not Really.
That wasn’t our absolute worst road trip, but it was hellacious.
I don’t want to end with such a negative tone. In general, I like to leave encouragement for other mothers because we are all in this crazy mother thing together, right?
Our family now has four children and our road trips are getting better. Trips with children under the age of three are hard. There is no getting around that, especially if you have to travel a long way. But for all of you out there traveling with the littlest of the littles, it gets better. They get bigger. They eat real food and don’t need diapers. They learn to love watching movies on the DVD player and enjoy the adventure a road trip brings.
And just think, that awful road trip you barely survived will make a good story…or blog post someday. You’ll laugh about it and when you tell it to other moms, someone will have a story that’s even worse. I guarantee it.
Road trips are a rite of passage. So carry on, drive away, and be prepared make some memories.