…How I Got Here (part 2)
After the girls got a little older and were big enough to travel, we decided to take our first family vacation. The beach of course. It was nice. Sort of. I looked into flights, but it was going to cost $4,732.83 to fly me, the wife and the two darlings. So, we drove. Estimated driving time 9 hours. Actual: 11 hrs. 17 min.
Let me begin by saying that no amount of warning can prepare you for the hellish nightmare of your first family road trip with a one-year-old and a three-year-old. In preparation for this trip, I purchased a luggage carrier to carry our stuff on the outside my SUV. It was an attempt to keep all of our junk from being packed to the ceiling of the car. No dice. I packed the equivalent of an overnight bag so I could travel light. No one else go the memo. Not only was the rear of our SUV packed to the ceiling with no view out of the back, but the luggage carrier on top of the car was packed so high I couldn’t back my truck out of the garage without hitting the garage door. During my trial run of backing the car out the night before we hit the road, I almost tore the roof off of my car and ripped down the garage door all at the same time. After almost two hours of repacking, I was able to back the loaded car out of the garage with only about 2mm of clearance between the luggage carrier and the garage door. Despite my best efforts we still looked like gypsy rednecks driving down the highway with stuff filling every available inch of the car’s inside and a fully loaded luggage carrier on the outside of the car gave my SUV a nice snail-like profile
The trip began at 3:45 am. My thinking was that if we get the girls in the car and get on the road by 4:00 am, then we could probably drive for 2-3 hours before the angels awoke. Strike two. The kids slept for about 15 minutes, and a grand total of about 1:15 minutes during our 11 hour 17 minute pilgrimage to the beach. We aren’t even out of the neighborhood when I hear, “Daddy, Where are we going? Can I watch a show?”
We barely get out of the neighborhood when my wife asks, “Did you get the baby bottle?” My response, “Are you kidding me? We have half of everything we own in this car. Is there even anything left in the house to forget. Next year I’m hiring packers and movers, or I am renting a 30-foot U-Haul.” I say this while throwing our 4-Runner into a hard U-turn and almost rolling the snail car in the middle of Kingston Pike Rd. I was praying for death at this point (not even for a quick, painless death. Really, any death will do) and we haven’t even gotten on the highway yet. It was the first of many near-death maneuvers over the course of the next seven days that made me wonder whether or not the vehicle with its interior and exterior loads would be safe to drive at highway speeds. Answer: No. My only prayer while traveling on I-75 was that no crosswind hit us whatsoever, but if it did that my death would be quick and the kids would safely be thrown clear of the rolling vehicle. After all, somebody should be able to enjoy the gazillion dollar life insurance policy on my head. (Like many dads my age, I am worth a lot more dead than I am alive. I digress.) If the girls got the insurance money, then I would officially be known as the greatest dad on earth. It’s like Paris Hilton said, “every woman needs four pets: a mink in the closet, a jaguar in the garage, a tiger in bed and a jack-ass to pay for it all.” I think I know my role.
Barely a half-hour into this ordeal with a Barney video droning in the background, the idea of cutting my throat with the house key while jumping off of the I-75 bridge only to let the Campbell County Sheriff’s Dept. drag the Hiwassee River for my remains seems much more appealing than enduring the balance of this trip. But, I come to my senses, gain my composure, and press onward. I am not entirely sure of all the techniques used by interrogators during war times. But, I am convinced that despite the mental fortitude of many enemy combatants, the Barney videos, the random ear-piercing shrieks from my one-year-old, the dirty diapers, spilled drinks, dropped food, lost pacifier, incessant crying, un-ending questions, bathroom stops, un-nerved wife….etc. would bring the most hardened enemy POW to tears and telling US Intelligence whatever they wanted to know in under two hours travel time. I’ve learned it’s easier to endure the pain than to try to control the madness.
A little south of Birmingham, we begin looking for a place to stop for breakfast – preferably with a playground, and sooner rather than later. Everyone is melting down at this point. Including me. I would rather have a bomb go off inside my car than listen to the noise coming from the backseat.
We stop. McDonald’s of course. This is the first of nine visits to this establishment on the way to Florida. We somehow order $27 worth of breakfast at McDonald’s. I got a biscuit and a coffee, and I’m not really sure who ordered the rest. I no longer ask these questions. Let me just tell you that $27 buys enough food at McDonald’s to feed a platoon of Marines Sunday brunch. Imagine spending $50 on food at Taco Bell and you get the picture. The kids eat their customary two bites, and are ready to hit the playground. I ask, “Honey, should we take these leftovers for snacks later? Won’t the kids be hungry again in an hour?” She says, “Nah, we’ll stop again. Just throw it away.” And I wonder why I never have any money.
We are only on the road for about 20 minutes when my three-year-old has to go to the bathroom. After asking her 25-30 questions to make sure she REALLY has to go, and was it #1 or #2, we decide we need to stop. There was an exit every 100 yards for the last 200 miles, but when I have a three-year-old that is about to have a blow out in the back seat of the car. Nada. We finally see a sign for gas. Let me start by saying that any gas station not affiliated with a major integrated oil company is sketchy to begin with. This was no exception. We stop and I have Carla buy our usual gum and bottled water while I ask where the bathroom is.
Somehow I drew the short straw on this one and I am RUNNING with Gable under my arm to the bathroom. I open the door to the men’s restroom, and it is something out of a bad dream. It smells like death, looks like a crime scene and there is no toilet paper. So, I begin lining the seat with some of those brown, paper hand towels. Before I can tell her not to touch ANYTHING she is holding the resident toilet brush (yes, by the bristles) in one hand and the accompanying plunger (well below the recent high-water mark) in the other. I want to barf. After I get her to put those items down, I go back to work on the toilet seat. I look over again, and she is now sucking her thumb and playing with a dirty band-aid she picked up off of the floor. I refuse to touch her at this point, but I finally get her on the seat. She farts, and says, “Daddy, I’m all done.” Typical. We go back to the car, and I say, “Carla, Gable needs you to clean her hands.”
After more vacations and a few more years with no sleep, we decide two little blessings are all we can handle. So, we decide it is time make an appointment to get my wings clipped. I viewed it as a right of passage.
Let me begin by noting that the cost of this procedure is, well, cheap. For just a few hundred bucks, you can almost assuredly prevent an unplanned expansion in your dependents. The sub-$1,000 price tag has massive return on investment implications. Before my initial consultation, I thought a cost of $20,000-$50,000 dollars would have a payback period of under a year if it prevented another baby in the house. From a market standpoint, I’m sure there are guys out there that would pay $100K for this procedure if it reduced the odds of another wedding liability. I honestly thought the cost was like a second mortgage paid monthly for 5 or 10 years, but obviously cheaper than the alternative. I guess it is priced under $1,000 for the greater good of men everywhere. Or, maybe it is a public service that protects men from non-doctors doing these procedures on desperate guys in back alleys, garages, bars, bass boats, duck blinds, deer camps and mini-vans.
The whole procedure is weird. I think it is probably the only time a guy would allow another guy not only to touch, but also to cut on his junk with sharp instruments while fully conscious. It starts with a nurse telling you to take off your clothes and get on the table so, “I can get you prepped.” Let me just say that every time I have envisioned the scenario of a nurse telling me to take off my clothes in a doctor’s office, the subsequent events were much different than what transpired. Having a conversation with a strange woman that reminded me of Flo from Mel’s Diner about the weather, kids and politics while she is giving your boys a crew cut is a tad surreal.
Prior to this procedure, people (including the doctor) compared it to getting a cavity filled – uncomfortable, but not a big deal. Everyone acted as if I would feel so good afterwards that I would have to restrain myself from horseback riding and motocross. Not even close. A week later I was still wondering if my kids would ever be the same. Bald, bruised and still yellow from all the iodine that soaked my package prior to the cutting, I looked like a 10-year-old boy after a bad bike wreck.
After it was over, the doctor gave me a tupperware cup and said, “I need you to bring a specimen back in a couple of months to make sure you are all clear.” My response, “Wait a second. After all of this, I still have to bring back a ‘specimen’ in this cup and carry it through the lobby of this hospital, up the very busy elevator bank and give it to one of your nurses so that she can ‘check it.’” His reply, “Yep.” It wasn’t like I hadn’t done this before, but I thought we were past all of this.
Prior to going under the knife, I knew everything would basically work the same post-op. The rounds just didn’t have the deadly force they did prior to the procedure. I also understood that subsequent to the procedure, there was still live ammo in the chamber, and these needed to be fired off before it was completely safe to walk down range. However, I didn’t know it would take 20-30 live fire exercises before I was completely disarmed. My response to the doctor’s more clinical explanation of this was: “20-30? I’m on child #2. At my current weekly rate, I’ll be about 100 years old before you clear me.” To which the doc replied, “see you in eight weeks.”
A lot of years have passed since then, and no more girls. Just more vacations, more stories and more laughs. As a wise woman once said, “with children, the days drag and the years fly.” So true. I don’t know what the next nine years hold, or the next 11 for that matter, but they will go even faster than the last nine. Emily and her sister, Gable, will be grown young women no longer asking to sit on my lap. In the end, I suppose my fears are no different than any other parents’. Will my kids be OK? Will my kids come visit? Will they marry, move away and I never see them? Will they be safe driving to college and then to work? Will their husbands love and care for them? Will they look back on their childhood with fond memories, or will they only remember the times I was tired, irritable and lost my patience with them? I wish I had the answers to these questions now, but that is only my attempt to control the future. I never imagined middle age would come, and I never thought these and other questions would swirl through my mind in those quiet moments in the car or waiting in line at the grocery store. Like a lot of things, I didn’t anticipate all that parenting would stir in me, but it is the journey so far and the road ahead that I will work to savor. And when we are all in heaven some day, I hope God will let me hold my little girls one more time.
© Johnny Hea – 2011 All Rights Reserved