No country for young boys

My wife and I just finished driving to California and back with our three boys. We live in the Eastern Time Zone, so this was a substantial road trip.

Why would anyone drive cross country with three little boys? Are we crazy?


We went to California for my sister-in-law’s wedding. The cost of flying the family there and then renting a minivan for several days was a big factor in the decision to drive.

Plus, we’re crazy.

Sane people would have gone into debt to fly. Probably. Honestly, I have no idea how sane people think.

Driving 5,000 miles (8,000 km) with a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a seven-year-old was a fun adventure – the kind of fun that takes years off your life.

I’m older now, and wiser. It’s the kind of wisdom that’s only useful for those driving consecutive days with children, which is something, God willing, I will never have to do again. So, it may turn out to be useless wisdom; that would be the best case scenario.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

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In case any friends out there find themselves with such a daunting journey ahead of them, here are some nuggets of wisdom I learned on our trip:

  • Nothing makes a preschooler have to pee more urgently than traveling a mile past a rest stop.
  • Driving is often touted as a great way to see the country, but America all looks pretty much the same at night. The dashboard lights are the same everywhere.
  • One-year-olds can be amazingly peaceful car passengers, for a little while.
  • Speed limits are unnecessary if there are enough trucks on the road.
  • A three-year-old and a seven-year old can fight over which movie to watch for longer than any movie lasts.
  • Everyone knows “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is an idle threat.
  • To Daddy, “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is a beautiful, forlorn daydream.
  • The western states are too big. They should be divided up so kids don’t have to ask, “Are we still in Colorado?” 300 times.
  • A seven-year-old + a third row seat + the Rocky Mountains = puke. It’s simple arithmetic.
  • The rift between the McDonald’s and Wendy’s factions can tear a weary family apart for the duration of the highway break.
  • Regardless of who won the restaurant debate, you’ll have an upset stomach for the next 200 miles.
  • Sprint does not operate a single cell tower within the state of Nebraska.
  • When the Garmin tells you your next turn is in 524 miles, you are someplace you don’t belong.
  • Despite what seems like constant tumult, kids do actually sleep in the car. You realize this when, after arriving home at 7 a.m. and going straight to bed, the kids wake you up two hours later.

Driving across the US and back with small children is not for everyone. Rational, mature, reflective adults have no business attempting it. It’s a fool’s errand, and only we fools know how to do it right.


Let’s all go for a ride in the clown car

I bought my car 14 years ago — five years before I began dating my wife and 10 years before we had our first child. I was a single guy who lived in a one-bedroom apartment and watched TV on a 19” box.

My little car has two doors, crank windows, and no A/C. Also, it has a manual transmission, which occupies my kid-swatting hand much of the time I am driving. I chose my car because it promised reliable, low-cost transportation for myself, and possibly a date. Those were the only souls I could imagine transporting.

In recent years, it would have been reasonable to trade in my car for something more family friendly.  As sensible as this act would have been, there are a few reasons why I have not done it.

  • Cars cost more now than they did in 1998. I now have a wife and children. By definition, this means that I have less money than I had in 1998. The gap between myself and a new vehicle only seems to be widening.
  • I love my car. It still gets great gas mileage and has been cheap to keep in good running order. Besides, she’s never whispered a peep about where I went, and with whom, during those five years before my wife came along.
  • My wife’s car, though not perfect, has been adequate as a vehicle for transporting the children. It transports them far more often than my car does.

Sleek, inexpensive, and good at keeping secrets. What more could a man want?

Still, there are times when I need to transport the kids in my car. The first time I tried this, it was quite an eye-opener. We were in a hurry, and since my older son’s car seat was already in the middle of the back seat, I put the baby’s car seat in the most easily accessible spot: behind the driver’s seat.

I couldn’t put the driver’s seat back upright without sliding it all the way forward. I’m not short enough to drive comfortably with the seat all the way forward. It made it kind of difficult to let the clutch all the way out without rolling my ankle to the point of a sprain. My elbows extended perpendicularly from my body whenever I put my hands on the wheel. I had to roll down my window to make enough room to get my left hand on the wheel.

It was a short trip, so I decided to bite the bullet and drive all folded up this one time. I didn’t reckon with a difficult parking situation at my destination. Searching out a parking spot in a crowded area is a very active, albeit slow, piece of driving. As I was resting my chin on my knee, contemplating where best to park, this became painfully clear to me.

In 1922, bachelor Rocco thought only of cutting a dashing figure in his zippy sports car.

An indeterminate number of children later, Rocco reluctantly traded in his sports car for this early minivan. This transaction began the period commonly known as the Great Depression. (Image: Russell Lee – U.S. Farm Security Administration)

Fortunately, the throbbing of my clutch ankle was superseded by a cramp, closer to the spine, in the calf of that same leg. The three-year-old asked from the back seat why the ride was so jerky today. I told him to save his questions until he had identified a viable parking spot.

As I was losing feeling in my lower body, I broke down and decided to pay to park in a ramp. It was a bitter decision, taken for the sake of the children. It meant that I would have to carry the baby a bit farther to our destination, but as I limped away from the vehicle, I decided it was a small price to pay to allow the imprint of the steering wheel to start to fade from my chest.