June 11, 2017

To all adult sufferers of Childhood Anxiety Road Travel Response Involuntary Panic (C.A.R.T.R.I.P.)— there’s hope!



Or known more famously as “Are We There Yet Syndrome?”

I admit to having this affliction, and to not looking forward to extended family car trips. It’s a condition passed down from generation to generation. I grew up in the age before deregulated air travel, and the term “road trip” had yet developed its current cultural cachet. The novel “On The Road” was long lost to the beatnik-era. Plus my parents were more of the “Grapes of Wrath” mentality. “Road Trip” just meant a really, really long car ride.

Being of solid Midwestern stock, vacations where not occasions to expand one’s horizons, but the solemn familial obligation to have one particular branch of the Shaw family tree presented to distant relatives (Aunt Trudy and Uncle Bud) in a distant town (Paragould, Arkansas) so they could see how much we (my brother, sister, and I) had grown. Of course, Aunt Trudy and Uncle Bud only saw us after being rustled out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, stacked like cord wood in the back of a Ford Gran Turino station wagon, and hurtled down the U.S. Interstate system— rolling out of the car some ten hours later.

(We’re known for our gentle guidance through the travails of family life gentle reader, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Speaking of the family unit, we were not at our best after a long drive. I was usually the worse for wear, having endured at least half the trip locked in an intimate embrace with a large Maxwell House coffee can, aptly named “Mr. Pukey.” My stomach was The Old Faithful of carsickness. Not that my parents did not believe in modern medicine, or not caring about my affliction, but when it came to car-trips, only the Joads were more old-school. Dramamine was for the faint of stomach, so I was offered the officially endorsed cure for over-the-road nausea— one of my dad’s lemon drops. “Always worked for me.” He assured everyone. But of course, as I came to learn years later, carsickness is rarely an issue when you’re the driver. I think he just really liked lemon drops.

There had been, of course, a couple of stops, for the basics— gas in, urine out. All provisions were packed ahead of time: baloney sandwiches, Oreo cookies, and lukewarm bottles of Yoo-hoo… a bottled concoction of chocolate-ish milk. It was always the chocolate milk that got me; about 25 minutes later, especially if I made the mistake of reading a comic book. A curving road, the windows rolled up, a stomach full of yoo-hoo were sure to produce those words only more terrifying than “Are we there yet?”… “ I don’t feel so good.”

And true to my dad’s steely determination; even then we didn’t stop, but Mr. Pukey made his appearance. Truth is, it was often a false alarm. And (by way of full confession) if we did stop every time I felt carsick, we really would not have made it. Plus when I actually did go Code Technicolor-Yawn; we would pull over at the first rest stop, by which time I felt better. And the trip would continue with me prone in the back seat, a wet washcloth resting on my fixed and dilated pupils.

Please enjoy the rest of your journey!

So when it came time to pack up my two kids (Hannah and Liam) and transport them to far-away relatives with strange-sounding names (OK, Uncle Pat and Aunt Tracy doesn’t sound that strange. I resolved that the real vacation begins at embarkation, and not to use the time saved by not stopping in the retelling of how much time we saved once we arrived.

Toward a kinder, gentler car-trip…

Years later, I vowed to make our children’s road trips less traumatic. And despite my own personal issues with “old-school” traveling, I’ve come to realize that technology isn’t the great cure-all for logging highway miles. For instance, we’ve always resisted the fad of built-in CD players. There was just something about driving behind a mini-van, heading for the mall, filled with kids that were watching the same stuff they were watching at home. And there was no way I was going to bring Barney into the car.

For the multi-state road trips we did set up an entertainment center of a mini-television/VCR player in the middle row of our Toyota Sienna that did provide hours of diversion. It was also interesting to listen to an entire film like “The Princess Bride” or “Star Wars” without watching the screen.

Which led me to the discovery of old-time radio. Just go to your local library and you can watch the miles roll by while you scare the daylights out of the kids with a classic episode of Lights Out! Who needs a movie?

We’ll also play the classic games. Of course, it took a while to explain to Liam that if we’re playing “I spy with my little eye” it’s got to be something inside the car, not the brown cow now fourteen miles down the road. Twenty Questions is great especially if, on your turn, you make your answer “Twenty Questions”. I guarantee a lively discussion of whether that’s an allowable answer. You probably won’t come to a conclusion, but you will be twenty minutes further down the road.

Eventually, as our kid’s van-full of travel encroutements became smaller, we switched to a Honda Element. It’s funky, it’s fun, and it washes out with a hose. The sunroof is above the back seats that will fold back as far as your packing allows. And since I drive at night whenever possible, the kid’s can watch the best show of all— the night sky. The Big Dipper is far superior to Mr. Pukey.


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