An Everything Quest!

Son? Eric? Please stop kicking daddy's seat. He's trying to drive.

That wasn't our exit, Nancy. No. We want 19. Bakersfield. That didn't say 19. I'm - I'm aware of that.

I know what I'm doing.

 

Ground Rules

Nancy, please. That was not exit 19 back there. Which one of us is wearing glasses again? Oh, that's right. Really? I didn't know they taught road signs at Vassar. Enlighten me further.

I told you not to call me G.E.D. in front of the kids. I told you. I told you plainly. Cut the shit, I know you heard me, because -

A G.E.D. is a special kind of diploma, Eric. 

No... no, it's not quite like mommy's diploma. Yes, I know she keeps hers framed in the office. Yes, mine would probably look very nice next to hers, but... listen, son, it's complicated. How's your game going? What are you playing? Pokémon? Is that fun? Did you get the Balbazak yet?  Bulb- wait- bulb- he's your favorite?

Daddy's sorry, Eric.  He should have known.

Daddy shouldn't have cursed either.

Yes. Yes, I will put money in the swear jar when I get home. I will put one dollar in there, because - yes.  Because we were in the car. Robert?  Are you awake back there? ...Give me a little credit, it's been five whole days, ha ha ha.

 

Times, Dates, and REWARDS

We'll finish this discussion at the hotel, Nancy.

Really? We're dragging this up again? Eric, son, you weren't crazy about the turtleneck aunt Stacy got you, huh? Back in Frazier Park? You told me yourself -

My boy is talking, Nancy.

Okay. Our boy. Yes. I know we've been married since he - okay, is that necessary?  I told you not to call me that -

You know what? My boy is talking. Doesn't feel good, does it.

I'm watching the road. Yes, I am. Look. Eyes on the road. All fifteen-hundred straight-assed miles of it.

Daddy's sorry. Another dollar.

Did you see that damn sweater? Look, I like your sister, but she forgets the entire world doesn't live in some crunchy goddamn suburb - and - what? What? Nancy, my boy's running around the tasting and his neck's looking like a goddamned foreskin, just what in the exact fuck do you suggest I should have said -

Daddy's sorry. No. Your neck doesn't look like a - it's - I'll tell you when you're older, son.

 

Things Left Out

I'm sorry.

Yes. Two more dollars. Three.

You're a very handsome boy. Very handsome. A very handsome neck.

(84 minutes of silence)

Nancy, he sees me. Why would someone pass on a two-laner if they couldn't see? Okay, I'm braking. Are you happy?

Okay, dude, you have room. Get over.

Get over.

Get oooOOOO JESUS FUCK OH FUCK FUCK OH Christ. Oh my god.

Oh my fucking god.

We can't - we can't stop, Nancy. Do you know CPR? Did you charge your goddamn phone? You fucking learn that at Vassar? I -

I'M NOT -

I'm sorry.

People are pulling over. Can we keep going now? We can't do anything.

Eric, please just drop it. Just don't think right now. Don't think. We'll forget about all this. I promise we will. Robert, please just be quiet. 

We are driving to California.

The extroverted feeler is nine and the introverted thinker is four.

We the parents are sniping at each other. I have just finished Love and Logic Parenting Classes. Would you like to know how it works? Logical consequences, as follows:

At a rest stop, I am playing catch with the EF.

He sighs dramatically.

"What's wrong?" I say, alert mom.

"Oh," he says, "if you and dad keep fighting, I will just be too tired to play catch with you at the rest stops."

I am holding the bag, errrr, ummm, ball. I am fabulously amazed, annoyed and heartened that my nine year old has Love and Logiced ME.

"Ok." I say. "You win. I apologize and will try not to fight with dad in the car on the trip."

He grins and we return to playing catch.

Good behavior in the back seat of the family car was implied and enforced, five kids with no seat belts going God knows where but someone always threw up or HAD TO GO to the bathroom ten minutes out of the driveway and into the journey. My Dad would not stop nor turn back.


As the eldest daughter, it was expected I would keep the peace or some semblance of it, given a half eaten bag of red licorice or a handful of my father's second favorite candy, Tootsie Rolls, which in hindsight probably contributed to his diabetes and bad teeth.


My father would sit fuming, the back of his thick neck red, steam coming out of his ears as we waited in all types of weather for my mother to emerge from the house, thirty to sixty minutes late, looking stunning, which was the only saving grace as my father was still smitten with her.


We could only see the back of her auburn hair as she settled into the front passenger seat, but her perfume and hair spray wafted back and we all knew for a few moments at least, all would be well. Perhaps this car trip would be different, I'd find myself wishing.


Alas, the poking and kicking would start slowly, reaching a crescendo right about the time I had doled out the last of the red licorice and at the same second the sugar had kicked in, causing the younger ones to start complaining.


He touched my new shoes with his dirty sneakers.

She stole my last licorice.

I NEED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM.

Me too.

How soon til we get to Grandma's?

Dad...there's a spider on your collar.


My father, taking one hand from 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel would whack at the imaginary spider. My mother would turn and wordlessly hand each one of us a tissue, as if that would soothe not just our squabbles but traffic would not jam, children in China would not starve and JFK would come back to life.


A momentary calm would descend as if angels were sitting among us, filling the car with so much beauty and holiness that no bad things could ever happen again as we collectively processed the giving of the tissues, like some strange communion. Then just as fleeting, little ripples of discontent arose.


I'm going to throw up.

Me too.

I want more licorice. I'm hungry.

Me too.

Me three.

Me four.

The baby just ate his tissue.

The baby just threw my tissue out the window.


At this, my father said one word, my name, the message being, "Get things under control." My 12 year old solution was to break out my secret stash of Lifesavers and bribe my brothers and sisters with storytelling games. Reluctant and still rambunctious at first, in short order everyone played and the baby fell asleep.


Peace reigned so that my easily irritated father never had to say, "You kids stop your fighting or I will turn this car around so help me God." Years later, with my own children there were seat belts and car seats but I also packed books, toys, food and drinks plus stopped for throwing up or bathroom breaks. I never threatened to turn the car around, just pulled over and was quiet because kids are kids.

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