kids in utah

Road Trip Part 1

My wife and I love the California coast. We have driven highway 1 more times that I can count. We have done it in perfect weather, and in perfect storms with everything in between. It is such a fun and scenic drive with numerous points of interest that it is a recurrent road trip for us. Now that we have kids, it feels like we are experiencing it for the first time all over again.

Our most recent road trip we decided to head out on a friday evening from our home in Orange County. It all started by checking the obvious traffic conditions and trying to time the trek through LA while balancing nap time for the little one. Luckily our sprinter van is comfy enough for the kids to easily sleep as I quietly battle the droves of angry rage monsters packed on to the 405 fwy.

The drive up the coast can be a bit of a grind on the weekends. We opted to take the 101 as opposed to taking the less than scenic 5 fwy this time around. As much as I love the scent associated with driving through kettlemen city, the allure of driving by the Madonna Inn was calling us this time. Once we cleared ventura county line, it was allegedly smooth sailing.

Our typical road trip stops along the way are mostly based on gas or food. Our first stop on this particular journey was not until we hit Paso Robles. This is a sleepy little mini wine country with several things on offer. Though, traveling with small kids through wine country is not the best place to spend any length of time. Aside from kids not being allowed in most wine bars, the point of the trip was to spend time with the little ones. So we topped off the tank and grabbed some ice cream for the kids and got back on the road.

I should probably point out the parenting mistake here if you missed it. Ice Cream in the hands of three small children in a moving vehicle. Me being the efficiency nut I am was wanting to get back on the road and make up time. My wife, wanting to be the fun mom, decided the kids needed ice cream. Our compromise was “as long as they eat it in the car” which was clearly my mistake. Ice cream is clearly not the best road trip snack.

This is where I always wonder about who actually carries the blame on this one. On one hand, I could have vetoed the ice cream and looked like the stern father that never lets my kids have fun. On the other hand, I could have given in to the wifes constant effort to ruin my perfectly planned drive around local traffic conditions. Instead, I opted for the compromise and conceded my desire for order in exchange for chaos, and she conceded her desire for wasting time in exchange for efficiency. Normally I would say compromising is a good thing. However, in this case, nobody wins.

With everyone loaded up, we got back on the freeway. The onramp had a dip that seemed a bit excessive for the given area. Perhaps the civil engineers that designed it were planning for some flood of epic proportions, or perhaps they had the clairvoyance and knew that children would be eating ice cream in the back of cars at this exact location and felt that it would be fun to quite literally shake things up.

We hit the bump and the fun began. Alex’s ice cream toppled like a coastal mudslide in the infamous palisades. It took with it every ounce of patience I had left in me. She started screaming while Jen is trying to unbuckle to climb back there and triage the situation. Meanwhile, I am doing my best to keep my eyes on the road. I wanted to look back and see the carnage but somehow my brain already knew it was bad from the sound alone. Jen immediately fell victim to her instinctual mom reaction of “oh my god” followed by the increased reactivity from a child looking for validation on the next best course of action.

I want to pause here for a minute to really drive home that pivotal parenting moment. Kids, for better or worse, really look to us for some indication on how to react to the world. I remember when I was in 5th grade doing flips off the rings at school. I over rotated but was fortunate enough to break my fall with my face. In the process I also happened to break my right wrist. A crowd had gathered around because who doesn’t want to see a train wreck? I was able to hold it together and walk to the nurses office without issue. She splinted my wrist in place and called my mother while I sat quietly in the corner of the office until she arrived.

I am not sure how long it took for my mom to receive the phone call, process the info, and proceed to leave work and drive to my school. I imagine it was about 30 to 45 minutes. The timing is important because nothing happened in that span of time. I sat there perfectly content with my bloodied face, broken wrist, and bruised ego in silence. 30 seconds after my mom walked in to the room and I saw the face she made, I instantly started crying. It’s strange how subtle a reaction can be and how dramatic it’s influence is felt.

This brings me back to our toppled ice cream. Jen’s body language and her verbal cues were received instantly by Alex. This created a feedback mechanism that every parent is well acquainted with. The melodic tone of a child that lost their ice cream filled the air. It was harmonized with constant questions from me asking what happened. In the end, it was nothing. Some proverbial spilt milk. It took a few minutes to calm down Alex, while Jen cleaned up the mess that was miraculously contained within her car seat. My sanity on the other hand was dwindling.

Once Jen was safely belted back in to her seat, we were effectively underway again. A few moments passed by before Alex realized she was the only one not eating ice cream. If you have never experienced the joy of parenthood, this is a classic example of it. The older two children were sitting quietly in the back, eating their ice cream and not the least bit concerned about the spill. It wasn’t until Alex began screaming about wanting their ice cream that things really began to go south.

I feel fortunate to have such a patient and nurturing wife. Her ability to internalize the animosity of raising three children is next to sainthood. Me on the other hand… I’m more of a pragmatic problem solver. If I see a solution that will eliminate something from even becoming an issue, I will work towards that end. In this case, my brain was simply telling me to ignore the cries for more ice cream because, well, technically she had some and now its gone. My wife, very calmly asked our son Josh if he could share some with Alex. Josh is a very loving brother. Without question he was already handing his ice cream to her with a smile on his face.

I am not sure where my kids learned to be so patient and caring. I am not sure when I forgot how to be that way as well. Despite the angst and rage inside me, my children taught me a valuable lesson. Problems can easily be solved with a little patience and caring. It really made me regret not taking the extra time to sit and eat some ice cream before getting on the freeway. At the same time, it made me feel better about taking the road trip in the first place. I found myself enjoying the ride more and focusing less on the destination.

Our actual destination was still hours away. We were heading towards Santa Cruz and still making great time. I was happy because I would likely get in to town and completely miss rush hour traffic. Jen was happy because we had a solid line up of activities to do with the kids tomorrow. The kids were happy because they could play minecraft on the tv in our van. Everything was gong perfectly until… “Hey Jen, can you check the traffic up ahead? I would like to know if I need to worry about anything.”

I’m going to leave this road trip at that cliff hanger. Lets just say that using a map is not one of Jens strongest traits, but that is a story for another time.


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