Heather Ijames

Saturday, Jun 16 2012 12:00 PM

HEATHER IJAMES: The summer car trip -- a rite of passage

By Heather Ijames

We're finally able to take longer car trips. For years, we've been staying in a one-and-a-half or two-hour driving radius because the kids were too young, still encompassing those bad habits of crying when bored and possessing tiny bladders.

This year, however, we figured the boys could suck up a longer journey. We tested our assumption on a quick jaunt to San Diego. One of the rationales for driving to San Diego as a test run is because there's no shortage of civilization during the length of the drive. That means more gas stations along the route that help build credibility for the threat: "If you don't settle down, I'm selling you to the Chevron mini mart for a bag of sunflower seeds and a Gatorade."

The boys surprised us, though, and gave us a pleasant ride. I think the tipping point toward success was the younger one finally being old enough to carry on conversations with his older brother. They talked about the right weapon choice when defeating aliens; who could make the most annoying sound with their mouth; and even coming to a few ill-intended blows because "sides" were at issue again.

We took my husband's smaller, less gas-guzzling vehicle for the obvious economics behind it all. It's a simple commuter car, so there are no bells and whistles in or on it, like television screens to keep the kids occupied. We ultimately had to rely on the fact we managed to survive our own childhoods without television in the car, so our kids could justifiably learn to do the same.

Besides, if they had television distracting them, they wouldn't have had a chance to both converse and annoy one another. I'll take those crazy, fun moments over the quiet surrender of their mouths hanging in stupefied suspension over some ninja and/or chipmunk DVD.

They each slept a little, but not at the same time. One dozed during a stretch of emptiness, probably bored out of his little mind at the corruption of unused space, while the other nodded off during the heavily trafficked area, likely longing again for the burst of wilderness.

The longer we drove, the more worried I became the harmony bubble would burst, making the kids fight, whine and scream. Which, in turn, would provoke me to slightly bounce in my seat, whispering, "Go to your happy place; go to your happy place." No such bubble bursting occurred, and this made me feel almost euphoric. It also made me remember asking my husband once what his favorite part was about his childhood. He had told me Sunday drives. I wondered -- now in the car with the kids -- whether we had a little piece of magic going on. Perhaps we were creating that special something you can't buy, materialize, nor altogether explain.

By the time we rolled into downtown San Diego, this traveling with minors business was turning into something extraordinarily ordinary. And that's saying something. Of course, the kids took several opportunities to remind us they were only children, after all. Take for example, when we walked into the hotel. Well, my husband and I walked while our older son dragged hopelessly behind, mumbling about the loss of sensation in his legs and rear, and the younger one ran ahead of us to make sure he had appropriate room to do what he calls "commando rolls" on any given floored surface. He prefers carpet, but I've seen him do it on asphalt, too. It's basically a tucked somersault across the back of his shoulders. He says it's done to avoid the aliens. Apparently, they are everywhere.

As for our hotel room, we crammed into that. We figured that since we packed ourselves in a tiny car, we might as well throw our party of four into one room with two double beds. I kept thinking that their revolt, maybe even mine at least, was imminent. However, come night number two, the boys asked if we could move the two double beds together to form one joint bed. They wanted to be closer still. Truly? Well, I'll be. Something was working. And to think, all I was trying to do was save a little bit of money.

It was the same deal on the way home, but I was even more impressed with their patience and bladders because we hit a lot of traffic. However, as soon as we opened the door to our house, everyone scattered into their corners. I foresee another car trip. Soon.

Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian's. You can send email to her at heatherijames@hotmail.com Next week: Inga Barks.

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