posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken
My children will never forget our family vacations. They tended to involve recalcitrant vehicles stuffed too full with people, animals and enough accoutrements to launch a world war. Just going for a daily picnic required enough stuff (high chairs, potty chairs, playpens, etc.) that we looked like Okies rollin' down the highway.
They spent many hundreds of miles hunkered down in the back of our little (very little) Toyota Corolla, reading books or (as they got older) listening to music on a Walkman. If either complained that her sister was encroaching on her territory, I snappishly replied that I hadn't been able to move my left foot since leaving Nebraska, and deal with it.
Family road trips were like that. Games of "20 questions", "I see something....blue", and "how many state license plates can you find?" interspersed with "I gotta pee", "I'm hungry!" and of course "Are we there yet?" with occasional songs.
Their father, given the choice, always picked the driver's seat. That left me to handle everything else--route maps, radio selection (trust me, nobody was ever happy with that!), and of course refereeing squabbles. In a burst of cooperation, we once drove for three days while listening to the same Green Day cassette. Over and over.
We eventually outgrew the Toyota and took trips in a small pickup truck with a small camper on the back. We carefully had seat belts installed in the camper so our daughters could sit back there and presumably be happy with coloring or whatever. A window allowed communication between the camper and the truck--and also gave the dog a chance to poke her head through and drool on me for many miles, not to mention the time Mollie appeared, announcing she felt sick just before throwing up on me. Often they were blissfully quiet for hours on end, and it's only recently that they have admitted they spent much of that time mooning passing cars.
Ray and I love road trips, and I would spend weeks or months gathering information about routes and what we could see along the way. Then the kids would sulk in the back seat while we drove through, say, the Petrified Forest. "Look at that!" I'd say, pointing out rocks that looked like reclining elephants. Not interested.
But memorable. The other day Ray and I went off shopping with friends, taking their van for comfort. And some comfort we got! The van has ceiling controls that provide air conditioning, heating, stereo speakers, and other measures by zone, so the riders in the back seats can turn down the Frank Sinatra playing in the "old folks zone" and hear their MP3 players that much more clearly. Our friends' van also has a drop-down DVD player, still covered with the original plastic and never used. Their kids have moved on and the dogs don't seem interested in the vehicular version of in-flight movies.
Other people's kids are of course interested in the DVD player. We see kids watching whether they are waiting for the bus or stuck in traffic or en route to Grandma's or picking up Dad at the commuter rail station. These kids (are they generation Z, since their parents are generation X or Y?) have to be entertained all the time.
Where is the sibling revelry--er, rivalry--that teaches them to share? ("Gimme that book....No, it's MINE.")
To negotiate? ("Hey, I called shotgun. You got to ride up front last time.")
To cooperate? ("I'll stop humming if YOU stop chewing loud gum.")
We griped, we negotiated, we cooperated, we sucked it up and shut up. Then I would go home and write a column about it and we'd laugh. Eventually.
I told my niece I felt sorry for her when her family (three kids in elementary school) drove from New Hampshire to Disney World last winter in their fully-equipped van. Long family road trips were a rite of passage. When her mother and I were little, one of us got to sleep on the back seat and the other was relegated to the window shelf. The rest of the time we squabbled. No seat belts. It's a wonder we survived.
Not to worry. My niece reported that her kids are not deprived. They just argued about what DVD to watch.
Plus ca change....