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...