I’ve been dreaming and planning for our vacation for months now and, for some reason, I was especially looking forward to the moment we got in the car and shut the doors. Maybe because we don’t actually own a car? Maybe because we rarely go on trips? And maybe it is because we so very rarely have the opportunity to go places as a family and be allowed some privacy. I’ve wondered what it would be like to go out with our little family of four and not be so concerned with being in people’s way or having people talk about/to our children and trying to figure out how to respond when they are not even talking to me . . . they are talking to an 8 month old who clearly has nothing to say to anyone. I often feel like we are on display, especially in our neighborhood where 1. we are white 2. we are pretty young (looking) 3. our children are ridiculously good looking (from a purely objective point of view) and 4. our elder child is quite precocious, loud, and obviously at home in the subway. All of these things not only make us stick out, but can lead to free entertainment for our fellow New Yorkers. I’ll probably never get over the way people watch and listen to Manchild 1 as he reads subway ads, pores over the subway map, or calls out the names of the next 7 stations before we get to where we’re going.
And then we get to the safety issues. Our outings consist of a lot of, “Hold hands hold hands hold hands,” and, “Sit down. Hold on. Watch where you are going.” There isn’t a lot of time for deep conversations or relaxing banter, which is what I imagined for ourselves once we got into our rental car. We would relax, settle down, and just be. No fretting over the prospects of tripping on the subway platform, scurrying to find a potty, or missing the next train. Our family, held captive and isolated for 9 whole hours.
Nine hours turned into 10 hours as we hit the first traffic jam, and 11 hours as we hit another, and then there were the potty breaks, the missed turn, the backtracking. So 9 hours was actually closer to 12 hours and those 12 hours were not as relaxing as I had imagined (mostly because I hadn’t really imagined me squeezed in between two carseats, my bum going numb while I tried to spoon sweet potatoes to Manchild 2 and keep the goldfish cracker carton away from Manchild 1. But we managed to keep our sanity. This is an accomplishment, I believe considering that we went through several hours of Manchild 1 asking the stereotypical question — “Are we there yet?” — with just a slight twist — “How many miles to Ohio?” He did mix it up every now and then with, “Are we still in Pennsylvania.” No amount of time spent looking at the map gave him any sense of the hours we had a head of us before we crossed the state line. I suppose we should have prepped him with lots of talk of a long, long car ride, and not just told him, “We’re getting in the car and going to Ohio after lunch.” But that would have been too smart, too easy, although I’m not sure a kid whose point of reference for long distance is 22 stops on the C line would really have been able to wrap his mind around the concept of hundreds of miles.
Then there were the silly hours, the ones in which we sang songs and changed the words. These gave Manchild 1 no end of pleasure. “One, two, four,” he’d sing, then dissolve into giggles unable to get all the way to ten. It was fun for a while, but only for a while. I’m sure if we’d done that on the train, it would have taken about three minutes before the surrounding passengers to go from thinking, “Aww, what a cute, smart little kid,” to, “How annoying.” We, as his parents, could go for about 20 minutes before it got too old. And then we’d pop the audiobook back in and he’d get the picture.
The surprising part was the part where Manchild 1 started talking about his brother wanting to die. Or him wanting his brother to die. This led to a discussion about what death is and how we never ever ever ever want babies to die. Death is not a bad thing, it’s a sad thing, especially when the one who dies is a child. Usually older people die, and that is sad, but not as sad as when a baby dies. I have no idea how much of an impact the talk had on the boy, but I find that he picks up on things a lot more than I think he does, so it is best to be honest and straightforward. In any case, he didn’t mention anything else about death or dying after I asked him to please please please never ever ever say that he wanted his brother to die again.
We never would have had that conversation on the train. That’s for sure.