Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'll Turn This Car Right Around!

When I was a kid, family vacations meant one thing - piling into the family car and driving to New Jersey to visit my dad's family. We loved being in NJ: seeing our grandparents, aunts, and uncles; running around a backyard big enough to have both a basketball court and a baseball diamond; climbing the big leafy trees; trips into NYC to see musicals, the Natural History Museum or the Bronx Zoo... Being in NJ was fantastic.

Getting there, well, not so much. We didn't have a four-door car with air conditioning until I was a teenager. So most of these trips involved the three of us kids, wedged into a hot sticky backseat, squawking like a bunch of wet hens.

This was back in Ye Olde Days of Parenting, when parents did not reason with children. I don't really understand the people who reason with two year olds who are strapped into prams or car seats. When I was a docent at Lincoln Park Zoo, I had ample opportunity to observe these sorts of ridiculous moments in parenting. Like the couple and their two year old, who was in one of those fancy off-road sorts of prams. The mother had either been in a recent bar fight or had had a nose job. Given their designer clothes and fancy pram, I'd bet my money on the latter.

In a voice dripping with faux patience, the mother said, "Now Jordan, Mommy's boo-boo hurts. So we're going to go home after this." Jordan responded with the sort of ear-splitting screech that makes an air raid siren sound like the pleasant chirping of song birds. As Jordan wailed and his mother wheedled, I wondered why they didn't just leave then and there. The kid was strapped into a pram and a family isn't really meant to be a democracy. It's more of a benevolent dictatorship in which votes by the subjects are more suggestion than mandate.

When I was young, kids were kids and parents were parents. A parent did not reason. A parent issued declarations and you had better believe them. The declarations usually consisted of what I consider to be the golden oldies of parenting:
  • I'll turn this car right around!
  • I'll hit you so fast, your head will spin.*
  • You're going to have fun if I ever to break every bone in your body.
  • I'll give you something to cry about.
  • Don't make me come up there.

    *Middle Brother and I are pretty sure it's 'spin' although we did on occasion think that it sounded like 'swim.' We once had a long discussion about this and decided that it was usually spin but maybe, when we were going to the pool, it made sense for it to be swim.
I was reminded of these idyllic summer trips when I was driving my family around the wilds of southwestern Ireland. When the original plans were made, Peter was scheduled to do most of the driving in his 7-seater Nissan Patrol. Only he found out that he had to work, which left me figuring out how to fit 4 adult passengers into Leo, my tiny Peugeot 306 hatchback. (Thankfully, he's a five-door.)

I'm a Scanlan, so I love a good packing puzzle. I figured out that we could indeed all fit, since my dad would have enough leg room behind me. I'm so short, I sit right up on the steering wheel like a granny. My mom would have to sit in the back, given her nervousness. That left one aunt in the middle of the back seat and one in the front.

It went pretty well except that we'd all get frayed around the edges toward the end of an outing. The last few days were especially trying. On Thursday, we drove up to Clare via Listowl in County Kerry, then up to Tarbert to catch the ferry to Killimer. This route had the dual advantages of eliminating the need to go through Limerick city and cutting 85 miles off the trip, but it still seemed like the journey took forever.

Not only was poor little Leo hauling five adults, he also had a boot loaded to the top with luggage. I reckon we were pushing Leo's kerb limit by a good 150 - 200 pounds. The car was a champ although the suspension was squeaking and groaning from time to time. (A quick call to our mechanic assured us that the noise was only the result os springs that needed oiling.)

I drove up to Listowel about as fast as an octogenarian on barbiturates. I crept along at about 60 KPH and got out of the way of faster traffic whenever I could. The ride was squeaky and my mother's "Whee!" trick wasn't working quite so well. On the plus side, the backseat passengers were very cooperative and didn't fight at all. On the minus side, a certain passenger did a fair bit of backseat driving. (Finally, I snapped and said rather snarkily 'You know, I do process the same visual data as you.')

By the time we got to Tarbert, desperation was setting in. I sent Peter the following text: "Waiting for ferry now. Feels like this trip will last forever." The ferry was a godsend. As well as its aforementioned advantages, it also offered the most crucial ingredient for road trip success: novelty. It broke up the monotony of the drive splendidly.

In Clare, we found a place to have lunch and then set out for the Cliffs of Moher. Although lunch had resolved any impending low blood sugar levels, it had been a long day and everyone was getting a bit stroppy. At one point, I found myself saying, half seriously, "I'll turn this car right around." Everyone knew it was an empty threat, just like my brothers and I knew on those long trips to New Jersey. At least County Clare is not as long as Pennsylvania.

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At 26 June 2008 at 22:50, Blogger Babaloo said...

Oh Ann, you really made me laugh. I can't believe you actually fit 4 adults into Leo plus all your luggage! You do deserve a big award for that alone.
(And guess what, I like a good packing puzzle myself. In our house I'm the packing master!)

Oh, and I know all these parenting oldies. Very well. I think they're probably international, with slight variations.

At 26 June 2008 at 22:51, Blogger Babaloo said...

Oh, and an octogenarian on barbiturates is priceless! :-))

At 26 June 2008 at 22:59, Blogger -Ann said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. Writing about it was definitely therapeutic. And that's 4 adult passengers + 1 driver = 5 adults crammed into very small hatchback. It was like driving a clown car, only with not as many jokes or big weird shoes.

At 27 June 2008 at 00:14, Blogger Kaycie said...

That's a great story.

My favorite stand by lines:

1. Don't make me stop this car.
2. I brought you into this world, and I'll take you out of it.
3. Because, my dear, I'm your mother and I said so.

I apply traditional parenting up to and including the occasional whop.

At 27 June 2008 at 07:28, Blogger Babaloo said...

Eh, yeah, I meant 4 adults plus you, the driver. Or maybe I wasn't thinking, it was late when I wrote that comment. And you had just beaten me in WordTwist, I was still in shock. ;-)

At 27 June 2008 at 13:30, Blogger Noelle said...

I don't think anyone has ever compared County Clare to New Jersey before. That's just not a fair comparison.

At 29 June 2008 at 14:38, Blogger Irene said...

No people even remotely related should be packed in a small car on any length trip. It is asking for trouble and tests anyone limits and makes us all look bad. I am all for public transport or for not going at all.

At 30 June 2008 at 13:55, Anonymous Vicki S said...

Never having had kids, I tend to use those phrases on my pets. My dogs have heard countless times "Don't make me stop this car". "Move over, you don't need to touch her" "We will go home right now if you don't stop that". I don't know if the dogs understand anything but the tone, but it makes me feel better.


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