Tales from the Trenches

Post-trip explosion

by brenda maas

There has been an explosion. The contents of my Sienna, which we have almost-literally lived out of for the past three weeks, has exploded into my house. Suitcases, bags of dirty clothes, swim bags, an ipod, uneaten snacks, DVDs, books, Happy Meal toys, dog leashes, water bottles—it all somehow walked in from the garage and collapsed in the mudroom. It must be seen to be believed. I call it the “Post-Trip-Explosion” and any parent who has traveled with children knows exactly what I am talking about.

“Oh, you took a three-week vacation? You are so lucky!” friends say. I don’t always correct this fantasy. In reality, I drove over 1,600 miles across five states with three energetic boys and two half-trained, large dogs to visit my family and in-laws. While there I cut grass, supervised and disciplined the energetic boys (who would rather follow their grandparents’ rules), weeded the garden, cut and hauled firewood and basically did all the same duties—cook, clean and wash clothes—that I do at home. But, it was all done outside my normal environmental parameters.

Because of this, I refuse to use the word “vacation.” That word implies relaxation and leisure. I may have had a few moments of those, but they were mostly buried by the miles and miles of “Mom! It’s my turn to pick the movie!” across the prairies of South Dakota. I tuned out the disagreement and considered that Laura Ingalls often walked along side her family’s wagon.

As I’m dealing with these minor scraps, the back of my mind wanders. How did my parents survive a trip “Out West” (circa 1978) with five kids in a Ford LTD sedan—and no DVD player?!

I vaguely recall disagreements and tension as my parents tried to pack the sedan with everything that seven people would need for two weeks of camping. I do know that sitting four-across the backseat (read: leg-touching-leg without seatbelts!) for what seemed like millions of miles was a trying experience. But I do not recall every single sibling engagement. Nor did I feel like I wanted to pull my hair out and bash my head against the window because there were three fights in 20 minutes.

I was one thread away from that type of insanity on this recent trip. So why do we parents go through all this chaotic commotion? What is our reward and where is the fun?

Early in my parenting career, I mentally decided that parents fall into one of two camps: those that want their children to experience an idyllic childhood similar to their own and those who do not. But, as I burned away miles across South Dakota and pondered my own nine-year-old experience over the same highways, I realized that selective memory dominates parental desires.

As is often the case, enlightenment came with my birth into parenthood. Kids are kids. As they go through their paces of development, they are simply looking for attention and trying to be top dog—or at least find their place. If we accept that, embrace that and love them for who they are—whining and car-fighting included—we can find fulfillment in helping them learn who they will become. And, hopefully, they too will have the selective memory that holds all the good times while letting go of the bad—including the post-trip explosion.

In fact, I’ve already forgotten about it. There’s a new mess to deal with. SFM

Brenda Maas lives in Billings with her husband and three boys.