Vacation journal: The ride into oblivion

Editor’s note: This is from the Van De Walle Collection, originally published Oct. 23, 2016.

Dear Journal, It’s the calm before the storm that is strapping an annoyed, tired, hungry, squirming whine machine into a car for the first eight of a 12-hour journey. And that’s just me. The wife and three-year-old are coming too.

Wife rejected idea of placing daughter in roof transport carrier without even hearing details of sound argument: “It’s like an eight-hour roller coaster! Why would you want to deprive our child of that much excitement?” Considering putting wife in carrier instead.

Growing steadily more nervous about this whole thing as daughter runs down stairs for the 40th time in as many seconds. She’s never content unless she’s as energetic and destructive as the Kool-Aid man, so it makes complete sense to strap her into a car seat like a miniature Hannibal Lecter for half the day. But it’s nice to have a third driver to help shoulder the load.

Went to Target after wife went to Target after I went to Target and now have purchased one of everything in order to provide daughter with a new thing every five miles. Can’t wait to see how she reacts to the moon thermometer and new deck lamps. I can see no reason why this will backfire in the future and have her expecting a new toy whenever we go anywhere.

I hear veterinarians sometimes give cats a sedative to help them relax and make transporting them less stressful. Considering self-administering a dose. Or figuring out a way to induce a diabetic coma. Presumably I’ll have to contract diabetes first, which sounds preferable to the car ride. I already consumed entire grocery store end cap of Little Debbie snack cakes like anaconda swallowing a kangaroo. Clerks watched in astonishment. They became a tad unsettled when I began growling. Asked me to put shirt back on. Rude.

Even though I haven’t done a lot of extended traveling with a toddler, I feel as though I need to be more cautious on the road even if daughter would totally appreciate some killer Tokyo driftin’ and other car chase moves I’ve seen in movies. If I can evade one policeman I’ll feel as though I’ve done my duty as a father.

The Long Road to Somewhere: Finally explained to daughter we’re going to Colorado, but that we won’t get there for a few days. She gave a blank stare, which is the appropriate response after hearing the phrase “But don’t worry, you’ll get to see lots of Nebraska!”

I’m worried my truck doesn’t have enough novelty testicles on the hitch for a drive through Nebraska. I’m also worried Nebraskans will see my truck is actually a car and the only hitch I own is a Will Smith romantic comedy.

To keep daughter from Houdiniing out of her car seat, we employ tactics to keep her busy and forgetful of her current immobile state. She responded by playing with each object for an estimated 41 seconds before eyeballing us and “dropping” it as if to say, “I tire of this. Peasant, I require something new to amuse me.”

Crayons turn into colorful missiles and their intended target is the back of my head. People spend hundreds of dollars to color their hair. For $20 I’ll let you drive my daughter around with a fist full of Crayolas.

Nebraska is predictably awful, made more so by the interstate speed limit dropping to 65 just out of spite. “Hey, man, why don’t you slow down and enjoy our nothing? We have a lot of it” it screams. It’s like getting into a line at Disney World and finding out when you finally get to the front after four hours that you’re actually now at the back of another line. And the ride you’re waiting for is called “The Giant Line to Nowhere.”

Thankfully we hit Nebraska during Road Cone Day, a joyous occasion where every Nebraskan under the age of 90 takes out their assigned orange road cone and places it next to the interstate to let travelers know how sorry they are about everything.

My Rule of the Road is “Always drive as though you’re being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex” while my wife’s motto apparently is “Don’t pass anyone. Ever. Especially not semis, because they are big and scary.” My foot is jammed so hard to the imaginary accelerator on the passenger side I’m fearful I’ll punch through to the engine block.

After five hours I’m starting to grow weary of driving and jealous of daughter’s happiness, so I begin to randomly scream until my wife finds some way to placate ME. I’d start with a juice box.

It’s now time to sing every children’s song my daughter knows. I feel like a prisoner forced to perform for the warden. Considering teaching her anything by Flo Rida or risk aneurism.

To add to the joy, wife turns radio to an all-country station and sings happily along, forcing me to institute a Hillbilly Timeout where she’s forbidden to speak until she utters four words with greater than three syllables. I quickly remind her words ending with “hole” and “bag” don’t count. She responds by singing even louder and with more “twang.” You’d think I’d feel bad about leaving her at that rest stop, but I don’t.

We arrive at our hotel. After eight hours in the car I take my first look at the back seat. I might as well have placed a hungry ferret in a poorly-sealed boxy of Ki. It looks like the day after Woodstock, only those people had far more respect for their environment. Searching for Native American hitchhiker to pick up and cry in front of daughter to make her feel guilty about the mess she made is proving disappointing. Nebraska, of course. What did I expect.

Mistakenly think daughter’s butt cream is toothpaste. That seems about right.

Fall over unconscious. The best part? I get to do it all again tomorrow.

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Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at vandkel@hotmail.com