Riding in Cars with Boys

by Jennifer Ryan            

            I’m getting a little tired of referring to my husband and my son as, well, my husband and my son. Too cumbersome. However, I want to protect their privacy, so I don’t want to use their actual names. From now on, my son will be known as A-bug. I will call my husband MC, not Hammer. I need to keep that clear. MC doesn’t strut around our house in gold harem pants…anymore.

            Recently, I decided to make a trip to visit my family in Tennessee. A-bug can no longer ride in my lap because he’s almost three years old. I checked airline ticket prices online and nearly swallowed my tongue. The cost for both of us to make the trip? About eight hundred dollars. No thank you. I’ll drive instead. Yes, you read that correctly. I opted to drive. I opted to drive fourteen hours with a three-year-old both ways. What’s the big deal? What could possibly go wrong?

When I told MC about my plan, he was less than thrilled. He was actually pretty concerned for my safety. I promised him that I would take my gun (yes, I have a gun) and text him every time I stopped. I loaded up the car, A-bug, and hit the road. A-bug watched half of The Land Before Time on his portable DVD player. We sang songs, sang more songs, and looked for cows grazing along the side of the road. After we were done with those activities, there were still twelve friggin’ hours left to go. Initially, my biggest fear was that I would encounter a serial killer along the way and need to use my gun in self-defense. My next biggest fear was that A-bug would drive me absolutely insane, and I’d want to turn the gun on myself somewhere around Memphis. Happily, we both survived the trip, but we did have our moments.

We spent our previous Thanksgiving in Tennessee and drove home almost entirely in a rainstorm, which was absolutely miserable. As I was driving into Texarkana, I saw lightning. I crossed the state line into Arkansas. While I do love Arkansas, I sometimes think the people who live there have a death wish. At the very least, they appear to hate good roads. The state nickname should be change from “The Natural State” to simply “Clunk, Clunk, Clunk” because that’s all you hear during your drive. Are those seams in the concrete or dead bodies? No idea. The heavens parted, and a torrential rain ensued. Next came the road construction. Normally I would give Arkansas credit for fixing the previously mentioned road issues. Unfortunately, the road construction had moved about fifty feet east of where I had driven through it last year. Not exactly progress. I started rubbing my eyes because I was getting tired, and I managed to get makeup in one of them. My eyes were watering like Niagara Falls. The roads narrowed into two lanes. The headlights from traffic heading the opposite direction woke Asher. He began kicking the back of my seat and screaming. I spent the next hour and a half driving in horrible road construction, rain, and with one eye closed. The experience was less than ideal. The rest of the drive went relatively smoothly. Asher got pretty fussy about two hours from my mother’s house. Then again, so did I. We had been on the road about twelve hours at this point.

The return trip also had a few issues. When I couldn’t understand Asher’s song request, he became angry and threw his juice in the floor. Then, he became equally angry that he no longer had his juice. “I’m in time out,” he announced from the back seat. Yes, he put himself in time out. I happily obliged his wishes and refused to speak to him for about five minutes. He started spitting, which I ignored. Then, he screamed, “Oh come on Mommy,” as he kicked the back of my seat. I thought, “Yeah, this is going to be a long drive.” I had checked the weather before I left Tennessee and noticed a rather large front moving south from Kentucky. I thought I’d get past it. Nope. Once again, I was facing rain. Unfortunately, this thunderstorm was far worse than the last one I encountered. The sky turned almost black. Rain came down in sheets, and bolts of lightning streaked across the sky all around us. Asher put his blanket over his head and cried, “Mommy, I’m scared.” Uh, me too kiddo. Driving through the madness took over an hour, but we finally got through it.

Apart from the weather and the sheer length of the drive, the overall experience was quite pleasant. A-bug slept most of the time. Whenever we stopped, he emerged, excited, from the car seat. He rarely gets out and about at night, so all of this was new to him. He waved and talked to people at the gas station. I let him eat junk food because, hey, we were on the road. Why not? We invented games in the car. He really liked the semi-trailer trucks. We would try to guess what color they might be, and I’d pull alongside the truck to get a closer look. I reached behind me to tickle his feet. He would beg me to tickle them again. This game would continue until I had a cramp in my arm. I pointed to interesting landmarks along the way. We sang songs and made up new ones. We talked about nonsense. At one point, we yelled for no reason. We were both tired, so we just made noise. We had fun. The two of us were on an adventure, and we had a great time.

MC had an entire week to himself, and he was ecstatic to have us home. He talked to me about work, his trips to the gun range, and a few “honey do’s” he had accomplished around the house. I told him about our trips to the museums and parks in Tennessee. Then, he asked, “How was the drive?” I responded, “Actually, it was a lot of fun. A-bug really kept me company. I think it was a great bonding experience for both of us.” I saw a jealous look pass across MC’s face. “Oh really,” he said, “Maybe I’ll have to take A-bug on a guy’s weekend just the two of us.”

Yes, honey. You absolutely should. And, when I kiss you and our son goodbye…when I watch your taillights fade into the distance…I will channel my inner Mel Gibson, paint my face blue, don a kilt, climb to the roof of our two-story home and shout, “FFFFRRRREEEEDDDDOOOOMMMM!!!!” 

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