Yesterday I took my kids up to Portland for a day trip to meet friends at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), enjoy some local eateries and squeeze in some fun before winter vacation ends. The drive is 2 hours. Or it's supposed to be.
We left the house at 11:00 am and returned at 10:00 pm. That's an 11 hour day. Only 4 of it (and thus a minority) should have been spent on the road. SIX-AND-A-HALF hours of it were spent on the road. This is making me reconsider trying to drive to California with my kiddos. That's a 14 hour drive... what exactly will that stretch into?
Some of you parents who are well-traveled or skip it altogether (or who have younger children than mine) are now shaking your heads. "She did something wrong!" You're saying. She forgot the tricks and tools that make a car ride go smoothly. No, no, kids. I did not. Truly, I didn't. So what happened, you ask? How did we turn this particular mole-hill into a mountain? Well, we're Plavins. We make everything a little...um, extra special.
THE DRIVE UP TO PORTLAND
Each kid is belted into their age-appropriate seat. Elizabeth in that annoying, ridiculously large, 5-point seat belt monstrosity that any child under 40 lbs is supposed to ride in. She's 38 pounds. Ugh. As slowly as she gains weight, she'll be in it FOREVER. William, my brick of a child, is in his easy to move, light-weight, equipped with cup holders (THANK YOU GOD!) booster. They each have this lovely lap-table contraption strapped to them so that they have somewhere to eat and game. They are properly equipped with technology designed for 2 hour drives - William's has video games, Elizabeth's has movies and pre-school games. They have lovely, new over-the-head headphones on (Star Wars and Hello Kitty) so that mom does not go bat-shit crazy hearing William play FIFA Soccer and Elizabeth watch "Nightmare Before Christmas" while she tries to hear her latest music-mix CD or talk to her own mother on the (hands-free!) cellphone on the way up.
"I'll just make a quick stop to top-off my gas tank and grab some cash and then we can hit it" I toss over my shoulder to the kids as we back out of the driveway. Keep in mind the gas station is literally 2 miles down the street. My top-off SHOULD HAVE been quick...
"I have to go potty," William says juuuuuust as the gas guy takes the pump out because I only needed about 6 gallons.
"Are you SERIOUS? You just went. At the house."
"I'm serious mom."
So I park by the convenience store, unbuckle Elizabeth, get them both inside so William can use the bathroom. Strap them both back in, strap tables on, untangle headphone wires, hand off headphones and technology and zip across to the ATM. Sigh of relief. We can go now. But I need caffeine. Thank god Starbucks is only 6 minutes away and has a drive thru. We've purchased the necessary coffee and cocoa since it is FREEZING outside and I'm starting to leave the drive thru when...
"Mom, I don't know what's wrong with me, I need to pee again."
"Mom," interjects Elizabeth, "Don't say shit"
"OH my God! Let's go inside. QUICKLY please," I'm trying to keep a level voice. Unbuckling tables, unbuckling children, rinse repeat. Ugh. While William goes to the bathroom, Elizabeth drinks HER ENTIRE COCOA. Now I'm worried. But we get back in the car, more buckles, wires, tables and situating and we hit the road.
We hit the I-5 and I hit the cruise control, call my mom and drink my coffee. The kids are head-phoned and talking now and then to each other and myself as though they did not have headphones on and we all know exactly what part of what game and movie everyone else is on. It's kinda funny really. We've been driving nearly 20 minutes when I see a rest-stop sign.
"Anyone gotta go to the bathroom?" I joke. Only, no one's laughing.
"Oh thank God," sighs William. "Yes!" Can a child have an enlarged prostate? Just wondering.
"NO, NOOOOOOOO, I don't have to. I don't want to try! I don't want to hear the flush!" Elizabeth is wailing and we haven't even stopped the car. She has some aural sensitivity issues. No tests yet, but really, I think I know.
We get out and I'm assuring her that despite her chugging her ENTIRE cocoa in the 5 minutes we stood in Starbucks, she does not have to try. The girl can hold it FOREVER. I decide I'll take advantage of this one stop though, hoping it's the last. My GOD I can laugh hard at that idea in hindsight. We're quick, and re-buckling, attaching tables, yada-yada and on the road. We're now a good 30 minutes behind schedule.
"Oooookay," I say in my best I'm-totally-patient-and-cheerful mom tone, "I'd like to keep going now until it's time to grab a quick DRIVE-THRU lunch so we can just get there."
This is not to be. We make one more gas-station bathroom stop before finally hitting Taco Bell. We drive through to "make it quick", but I end up having to park the car briefly to get rid of the Starbucks stuff and help the kids arrange their lunches on their tables and their drinks in a fashion that won't turn the back of my car into sugar-goo from spills. We're now an hour behind where I wanted to be. But they eat, drink, start playing again and we're FINALLY getting there. We're 5 exits away when...
"Dude! William, can you make it 5 exits?"
"I think so Mom"
"Okay, otherwise, you're a dude. Pee in a cup." I'm not unsympathetic. Really, I'm not. It's just that we've reached the part of the freeway in Portland where it suddenly shoots off vein-like in a million different forks and over/underpasses, that I cannot FATHOM getting off to find a suitable potty stop and ever finding my way back to the correct on-ramp, bridge, highway, you name it.
We make it to OMSI and William has to go so badly that, thankful that we are in far-away "overflow" parking, he just pees by a tree and we head in. HOLY CRAP. By the way, Elizabeth finally goes to the bathroom once we're in OMSI. She hasn't gone since we left home over 3 hours, 1 cocoa, 1 soda and a lunch ago. Don't tell me it's the chicks who have small bladders.
OMSI is awesome. The kids are awesome. I'm having a great day. We eat dinner at this kick-ass roadside place called Grilled Cheese Grill where you order at the stand but then eat in a school bus. The kids LOVE it. We eat very unique, VERY Portland, hand-packed ice cream at another place called Salt and Straw before we hit the road. It's only 6:30 when I tell my hubby we're on our way home. Knowing I'm travelling with kids, my hubby says, "See you at 9:00" Again, I can laugh now.
THE DRIVE BACK DOWN TO EUGENE
I make William use the bathroom TWICE at Salt and Straw before we leave. I have Elizabeth go once (after convincing her this is a small quiet toilet and there's no need to fear it). I get them strapped in, no tables this time. William's Play Station Vita is out of juice so I inform them it's movie time, they have to share my iPad now. Surprisingly, they agree instantly on a movie. I take it as a good sign. My mistake.
"BUB-BAAAAAA," Dizzy is saying his name in her special I'm-pissed-at-William inflection, "I wanna hold the iPad!"
"No, Diz, then I can't see it. If i put it here, we can both see it." But it's between their seats and they're both having to crane their necks downward to see it. I'm navigating the ridiculous criss-crossing arteries of Portland freeway again after nearly missing my on ramp, so I can't help until I hit a straight patch. When I finally do I have William hand me up the iPad and I prop it up using a sweatshirt on my center console so it's facing them like a movie screen.
"There," I sigh, "now it's up and you can both see it."
"But Mom," William whines, "what if it falls."
"William, I swear to God..."
We make it about 20 minutes south to the suburb where my in-laws live because it's familiar to me and I know I can find the Starbucks to dose myself with more caffeine and because Elizabeth is dying for water. I navigate the streets to the strip mall with the Starbucks. I pull into the parking lot and look at the sign next to the door and it says it closes at 7:00. I look at my car clock in time to see it click from 6:59 to 7:00.
"You've gotta be f#@!ing kidding me," I mutter to myself.
"Mom, you said f#@!..." Elizabeth begins.
"E-LIZ-A-BETH," I warn, "I'm SORRY. I need coffee and I wanted to get you your water."
"Let's go to that McDonald's over there," William chimes in, "We can get juice and I gotta pee..."
"NO WAY! Are you kidding me? You have to go again? Are you shi..." I cut myself off from swearing again, but it's too late.
"Mom, you almost said..."
"Elizabeth! I KNOW!"
We drive over to the McDonald's and go in. William pees AGAIN while I get coffee and water. Strap them in, set up movie, give them waters, situate them as I think sleep will follow soon. I'm getting tired. Not so tired though that I'm not being overly cautious when the man parked next to me says, "I'll help you, I left my own kids in the car." I get the kids in quick and get moving.
The MINUTE I hit the I-5 it's like someone dropped a blanket. Pea soup. Fog so thick I can barely see more than the few feet in front of me lit by my headlights.
"Crap," I breath
"Elizabeth, I said crap. Give it a rest. Poop. There is that better?"
"What's wro-" William begins and sees the fog, "Oooooh, man! Mom, can you see the fog?" he asks like I've somehow missed that we can barely see another car until it's right next to us.
"Yes, William. It's ALL I can see. Please let me focus. I'll be slowing the car down so I can keep us safe. The drive is going to take longer now okay?"
"Okay!" They're both cheerful. It means more movie time.
We've been driving an hour when I hear snoring. Elizabeth is passed out. I should be closer to home, but the fog has made it a horrible drive. And then it comes.
"Mom, I have to go again."
"Okay William," I'm too tired to be impatient. Now I just feel for the kid. "Let me find a stop. I need somewhere where I can see you go in and watch the car at the same time. i don't want to wake your sister." (Who hasn't peed since Salt & Straw, mind you).
We pull into a truck stop/convenience whatever-the-hell-it-is in the middle of rural Nowheresville, Oregon. The store is perfect though as I can see the entrance to the bathroom from the front doors AND keep watch on the car. Plus, I need some strong bitter coffee to add to my McDonald's "mocha" (I'm gonna put that in quotes as the sugar content makes me doubt there's any coffee in my mocha). We ask the clerk for the key as instructed and he informs us someone is in there. William looks panicked.
"Sorry bud," I say as I stand RIGHT in front of the automatic doors so I can watch the car. "You gotta wait until they are finished." But we wait and wait and wait. He's dancing now and I've forgotten my internal promise to stop swearing.
"What the hell?" I mutter, "Is someone SHOWERING in there? What on earth is taking so long?" We've been there 10 minutes. No joke. Standing there with a pee-pee dancing 6 year old for 10 minutes. I'm tired, freezing and watching the car. I take a sip of the coffee and promptly burn the crap out of my tongue. Super.
"They have a shower?" I can't tell if he's excited or surprised by this prospect.
"No... William," I sigh. Sarcasm is wasted on the young.
After 15 minutes of standing there, the clerk knocks on the door muttering something about perhaps the previous person locked the keys in there, but a voice emerges,
I think William is going to pee on the floor when this woman and her daughters pile out of the rest room in pajamas. She sees his little dance and sees what must look like murderous disgust on my face and says,
"Oh... sorry. Had the whole posse in there." I can't even respond. I think they WERE washing up and changing in there.
"William, meet me in the car. I can see you from there." I walk out and get in the car to crank up the heat and be ready for William. But now I have to pee. I walk back in and take a turn after he's done asking him to watch the car from inside.
We FINALLY leave the damn truck stop and get back on the freeway. With Elizabeth asleep it's a bit easier as William can get himself buckled and manage the iPad and headphones by himself. I add the truck stop black bitterness to the McDonald's sugary crap and it becomes a decent coffee drink. Back on the freeway, I feel lucky. The fog gives way to an incredibly clear night and I can speed up again. Elizabeth is sleeping and William has become engrossed in the movie 'Tron Legacy." I'm happy when I see signs for Albany, knowing I'm getting closer at last. But Fate is a fickle bitch.
Fog DROPS in again and I slow WAY down. I can't see and despite the coffee, it's now 8:30 and I'm tiring from the long day and the effort it takes to focus in the fog. I'm really tired. I want to be home. We pass the Corvallis exits, Millersburg, we're getting closer. I see signs for Brownsville (fun note, some of "Stand By Me" was filmed there) when it happens again.
"Mom, I hate to say this but..."
"I know, William. I know. I have no earthly idea where we are, but I'll find something."
I find another truck stop, but as I stop the car, Elizabeth wakes up. She's weepy and confused, so I get her all unbuckled and take her in with us. It's FREEZING and foggy outside, so we rush in. She starts to freak about the bathroom again when I assure her she doesn't have to try. William goes and I want to leave when...
"Mom. I'm really hungry," he says quietly. I know he's afraid I'll be mad. I'm too tired to be mad. I'd say no way, but I have no idea how long it will take to drive home in the pea soup. I tell them to stay inside while I grab the wallet I left in the car thinking there's no way I need it just for a pee stop. I walk outside and -
BOOOOOM!!! I actually duck and crouch to the ground. I don't know what that sound is. It's too loud to be a backfire from a car. It's pretty rural out here. Kids shooting at cans. I don't know. I grab my wallet and run back inside.
"Can I have these chips?" William asks.
"Chips? Really? Shit, I don't care." And I don't. I. WANT. TO. BE. HOME. I buy the chips and we head out to the car. I'm carrying Elizabeth because it's freezing and she's muttering sleepily more to herself than to me,
"Shouldn't say shit..." Man. I suck as a mom sometimes.
We're buckling, situating, opening chips and I'm re-arranging the movie player and switching the movie because now Elizabeth is WIDE awake and William has to give up on his Tron movie. He's way good spirited about it though. He's even sharing his chips with his sister.
I'm back in the soup. Craning forward and I see the signs I want to see. Harrisburg. Junction City. Coming up is exit 195B. Our exit. I'm trying to be careful because they changed the freeway a little while ago when they built a new overpass. I miss the exit in the fog. SHIT.
I take the next one and take a longer route home. I finally get on our highway, get off on our exit and head down our main cross street, Barger. The fog is SO thick, I can't make out our intersection (we don't have a light) and I overshoot it. I back up and turn onto our street and then overhsoot the house too. I'm going to chalk that up to too tired.
I pull in the garage and Mike opens the door between the garage and house.
"Wow," is his greeting.
Wow indeed. Oh, and Elizabeth did not pee before bed. She did not pee until she got up again at 8:00 the next morning. William peed twice more before going to sleep.
Seriously. Can you have an enlarged prostate at six?