For some reason, my husband let me convince him to drive to my parents’ house in Nebraska for Christmas. We live in Virginia. Did you hear me? We live in Virginia and we drove with 4-year-old twins and a 12-month-old baby to … Nebraska … Western Nebraska … 1600 miles one way minus the many mile detours just to find a Starbucks or a gas station with a bathroom clean enough for my OCD daughter to go #2.
We’ve done it two other times—when the twins were 10 months and again when they were 3 (and I was pregnant). Both times were in the summer, where stopping for diaper changes and potty breaks didn’t mean freezing your tushy off (quite literally, poor baby Grafton). It also didn’t mean rerouting to avoid snow storms and/or being caught in snow storms where a 3-day trip turned into a 5-day trip. In the winter, there is no stopping at a city park in West Virginia to run around, or hitting Churchill Downs in Kentucky to see the horses, or touring the free zoo in St. Louis, or catching a game at the College World Series in Omaha. There are only the walls of the minivan as they close in on you with coats, blankets, flying pacifiers, repeating movies, crushed Goldfish, mounds of artwork, beeps from dueling kid tablets, and bickering of two patience-drained adults.
I turned on auto-pilot, which included these programmed phrases:
“If you throw your paci one more time, I’m gonna …”
“I know, sweetie, you just want to get out of that chair. Just hang in there another few hours.”
“We were just in the bathroom 10 minutes ago. You seriously have to go AGAIN?”
“Stop touching your brother.”
“Stop touching your sister.”
“No, we are not even close to Grandma Pat’s. The next person who asks me that is giving their LeapPad to me for the rest of the day.”
“Sure, I’d be happy to relieve you of driving conveniently during the kids’ nap time.”
“Oh, the baby is awake? Oh, you are ready to drive again? Sure thing.”
You would think all would be better by the time we arrived at our destination. But, the next day, the rest of the family arrived. Now, with 20 people living under the roof of one modest farm house, the fun would begin … and so would the stomach bug. We shared our Virigina germs, as well as those obtained from bathrooms and hotels from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest. One brother and his family threw in California germs, and those picked up from their airline trip. Add in Colorado and Kansas, and we concocted an unstoppable virus that swept through every family in the house. Suddenly, mom’s home cooking and fresh-baked goodies didn’t sound so good … nor did they look as good the second time around all over the parents of the sick kids who couldn’t quite make it to the bathroom. My baby had it come out the other end, leading to the worst diaper rash I have ever seen. Even sitting on my lap was excruciating for him. Poor little guy.
At one point, my only reaction was to laugh hysterically. I don’t know why. But, I couldn’t stop. A few others joined me until all of our stomachs hurt from laughing so hard, while one of my sisters-in-law started crying and planning her immediate escape. About 5 minutes later we were in a full-on discussion regarding our future plans to celebrate Christmas in July.
You’d think we would have learned from two years ago, when everyone ended up with strep throat, but no one knew it until we were all back home with our airways nearly blocked from the swelling. We flew that year, which was a catalyst for driving this time. My daughter got sick while were at my parents’ house and was already about 2-3 days into it when we boarded our flight. My husband and I started feeling it that day. My son didn’t complain of any symptoms, but when we landed in Chicago O’Hare, we were just steps off the tarmac when he threw up all over the floor and himself. I swept him up and off to the bathroom, when—lucky me—he threw up again on me. There I was in the airport bathroom throwing a perfectly good size 2T outfit in the trash, leaning my hair under the faucet to wash out the vomit, and doing my best to wipe my clothes down as I only packed extras for the kids.
Then, because of bad weather, our flight was cancelled back to Newark, where we left our car after seeing my in-laws in New Jersey. We had them route us to Richmond (home), but when we got there at almost midnight, we had to rent a car and car seats, which took just long enough to then miss the after-hours clinic. Can you see now why we thought driving would be less hassle?
We tried to take precautions at the house, changing out bathroom towels on the hour, intermittently spraying Lysol, and sending everyone outside to run around (though when it’s 12 degrees for a high, those excursions were brief).
Though, as bad as all this sounds, we still look back on it and say it was a great time. The child-like male adults got in their game of snow football. A couple of the cousins enjoyed some sledding. All of the kids and adults participated in a roughhousing session at some point during the trip (most certainly contributing to the spread of germs, as well as being the culprit for a black eye and a couple goose eggs). The adults discovered new holiday cocktails and sat down to many competitive card games. The oldest nieces played Christmas carols on the piano for my 100-year-old Grandfather and the residents of his assisted living home, while the little ones sang under their breath, tucked under the arms of their moms. And, the kids played with their cousins as if they have played as best friends every day of their lives. And, that’s really what I want to remember about these trips. That’s why we continue to do it, knowing the consequences, too, will be memorable. I love my family and ALL that we share (almost all)!