Monday, November 20, 2006


The Holiday Shuffle

Since we're getting into holiday season again, I'm staring down the barrel of multiple long drives with the four of us stuffed into my little car for hours on end.

This gets old very quickly.

This weekend we did the first of many – 4 ½ hours there on Saturday, 4 ½ hours back on Sunday. Truth be told, we felt lucky to make it in only 4 ½ hours, since we usually hit at least one really nasty patch of construction that adds a good (bad) half hour. (Anybody who has driven on the East Coast can attest to the traffic.) Since the car is small and the children are young, we have to stuff it with carseats and young child paraphernalia, snacks, and whatever we can find to keep them entertained/distracted while we're moving. The Wife usually winds up with bags between her feet and a sore neck from constantly turning around to tend to whatever emergency cropped up this time.

The Boy and The Girl have developed their own very specific tastes in music, and they can get pretty demanding when they're bored and/or frustrated, so just keeping up with that is draining.

Although there aren't many of us in the extended family, each subunit of the family lives in a different state. None of the destinations are quite far enough to justify flying, but they're all too long to make driving really convenient. Even Amtrak doesn't really help, since it's only of value in going from city center to city center, and we all live in suburbs.

The holiday shuffle has changed over the years. In my teens and even into college, the big issue was seeing both parents (they're divorced) for the right amount of time. When they lived in separate and non-adjoining states, this was not a trivial challenge. (For an eerily accurate portrayal of a teen's-eye-view of 'amicable' divorce in the 1980's, see The Squid and The Whale. TW and I watched it at home a few weeks ago. When it was over, I held her for a long, long time.)

In grad school, affording to go anywhere at all was the issue. I recall a few times driving the Toyota Tercel up to Northern Town, hoping against hope that none of the failing systems would finally give out en route. The worst happened one year when the Tercel threw a rod almost exactly halfway between Northern Town and home. A week of rental car hell ensued. I still think I'm get time off purgatory for that one.

I also have an issue with the idiot who decided to put all the major holidays in blizzard season. Saturnalia, my ass. It's unsafe to put people on the highways for long distances in late December. There were treks to and from Northern Town on which I seriously wondered just what the hell I was doing on the road in the first place. Have you ever had to pull over on a major highway because the 18-wheeler in front of you kicked up so much slush on your windshield that it overpowered your wipers? I have. Have you ever driven 15 mph on a nearly-deserted highway because it was snowing sideways so intensely that you couldn't see well enough to go faster? Me, too.

Every so often, we think about buying something bigger to at least make the drive less cramped. (The Mazda5 looks sort of interesting – anybody out there have feedback on that?) But that would involve spending money we don't have right now, and it would only solve a peripheral problem.

When did entertaining the kids in the car become mandatory, anyway? I remember as a young kid spending many hours in the back seat of my Dad's Ford Maverick (Motto: “At least it's not a Pinto!”) on the way to one set of grandparents or the other, bored out of my mind. It built character, or something. Kids today...

I know I'm being churlish. In the grand scheme of things, it's wonderful that we have people worth driving to, and are soon to have even more. The visits themselves are worthwhile, and relationships require tending. As soon as my lower back stops hurting, I'll take the long view. Until then, I'll just be crabby and sore. The joys of pushing 40...

Oh, I am *so* with you: on the challenges of driving east and north during the holidays (once I was driving on a deserted highway and passed no fewer than 10 flipped, slipped, or rolled semis...); and on trying to spend equal time with all the interested parties (divorced parents, in-laws).

Hey, can you *rent* a bigger car or minivan for your trips?
Renting the big car on an as needed basis is what we do. Most of our everyday trips are with a solo driver so there would be little point in having something big and expensive for everyday use.

Ever since baby 2 has been in the offing, people have been bugging us to get a different car. Granted, our Pruis can barely fit 2 adults and 2 carseats. But I think we save money this way - even though we end up spending about $1000 a year on car rentals. We end up hauling around less stuff because we just don't have room for it in the car - not a bad thing.
Yeah, rent a mini van with DVD player and the kids can watch the idiot box the whole way!

ivory - we are considering a Prius for our next car, do you love it aside from the space issues? We only have 1 kid/car seat.
Let me second the car rental option. My folks did that on a family vacation with us three kids, and it worked quite well.

Also, it allows you to rent some nice Subaru Outback, which can handle all manner of weather but still gets decent mileage and emissions.
I know I'm being churlish. In the grand scheme of things, it's wonderful that we have people worth driving to

And that you live during the brief period during which the world misprices gasoline so very low. Don't count on your children having the same luxury.

(Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for using gas to see loved ones. For making surburbs possible, not so much.)
We live where the winter weather gets to be a real killer and after one hair-raising drive south one Christmas, I was never so pleased as when Mike and I agreed that this was it. No more, no way. With ours and the kids' holidays not starting until a day or two before Christmas, we can't make those long drives elsewhere or afford the exorbitant plane fares. My in-laws now regularly visit us for the holiday and we phone in a visit with my dad and sister to be followed up with a joint vacation in the spring or summer.

Hell is a long family car trip. I'm positive!
I hated long-distance car trips when I was a kid. I was always vaguely (but not seriously) carsick and had to look out the window all the time, so I always envied the kids who could read in a moving car. My whole family was like that, though, so we usually listened to books on tape instead. (Some of which, in retrospect, were probably pretty damn annoying from the point of view of my parents.) Of course now technology has marched on to DVDs players and such...
Seeing as how you can now get them for less than $100, I can't praise highly enough a DVD player for the car. You can rent a couple of holiday specials, (maybe even something fun to listen to, like A Christmas Story), and the hours will fly by!

I've never loved my parents more than when they moved to Ottawa, after 16 years of a 6.5 hr holiday commute through the worlds busiest highway (401 thru Toronto) at the worst possible time of year.
We have a Mazda 5, but only one child. It works *very* well for that.
grumpyABDadjunct - How do I love my Prius? Let me count the ways:

I have a older one (2002) still under warrantee and have had to fix one thing (the shocks) because my college has shock and strut destroying speedbumps in the parking structure.

It is small and has a tight turning radius - I like this because when I drive up to San Francisco I can get in and out of parking places other people would only pass with a wistful glance. Also, I can flip a U on a residential street (no 3-point turns!) Having a smaller car has made it easier with a baby - less lifting up into large behemoth. Also, I can push the stroller right up between my car and the next one in most parking lots so I don't have to drag junior as far. The new Hatchback model has more interior room than mine so the space issues are reduced. However, this is not a car for someone who's more than 6 feet and over about 200 lbs. You wouldn't have enough leg room.

The Prius uses a whisper of gas compared to just about anything else on the road (40-45 mpg and I don't try to drive any special way) which has saved me enough money to pay to replace the battery some time next year (newer models do not have the battery replacement issue that mine does.)

The new hatchback has a rear window wiper and a better sound system.

We avoided wait lists by working with the fleet manager of a local dealership and buying the car off the lot. It cost $500 over the invoice price and we got all the bells and whistles we wanted (side airbags, cruise control, 6-disk CD player).

And I get to use the carpool lane. =)
rent, or buy, a Honda Odyssey. You won't regret it.

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