As any parent can tell you, traveling with young children is an exercise in packing. Everything my truck driver dad ever taught me about packing a car came to mind as I loaded the car to take the family to visit my mom for the weekend. Joshua’s potty, Jack’s high chair, play mat, and pack-and-play, luggage for the boys, luggage for the boys’ parents (er, us), my diaper bag, Jen’s purse, a stroller, Jen’s breast pump and bottles, medicines, and an extra pair of shoes for me (because I’m ridiculous like that) filled the back of my car quite nicely. All we we needed was a rocking chair strapped to the roof and we’d have been ready for our sitcom.
As I watched Joshua with my mom, I realized exactly what his family totem pole looks like. I had supposed that I was at least somewhere near the top, given that I spend every day with him and basically bend to his will on anything not especially life-threatening. But no. Grandma sits atop that totem pole, flanked by Thunderbird wings of Jen’s mom and dad. Jen and I are somewhere near the bottom, above only Jack and our cat.
Saturday morning at my mom’s house, I asked what he wanted for breakfast. He replied, “Dad, I just want Grandma to talk to me.” Tactful, my boy is.
I get it. He doesn’t see Grandma often, and when he does, it’s like Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one. There are gifts, junk food, TV, and Grandma’s mostly undivided attention. I can’t compete with that. So, for a weekend, I just let go and let Grandma. Reining her in has been futile. On at least three occasions, Jen or I came into the room to find the TV on. Joshua’s certainly allowed to watch some TV, but we’re fairly (read: overly) cautious about what he watches. We screen everything before it flits in front of his eyes. So, when I asked Grandma, “What is this?” and she didn’t know, I wasn’t the happiest camper in the room. Fortunately, my boy didn’t have much interest in it and quickly shifted his attention elsewhere.
I know this is not a new phenomenon in the annals of parenting. Grandparents, by their very nature, get to be the fun ones. All the fun, none of the responsibility. Mom and Dad are the rule-setters, the enforcers, the heavies. All the responsibility, fun optional. Some day, we’ll pay it forward or backward or sideways or something. Joshua and Jack will have children, Jen and I will have the opportunity to ignore their rules and do whatever the hell we want to do, because that is the Way of the Grandparent. Must be fun. Thing is, the cycle has to break at some point. Yeah, ok, your mom and dad ignored your rules when you had children. Be mad at your mom and dad. Why take it out on your own children? That’s watering a garden full of resentful weeds.
Anyway, half the fun of traveling with children is packing. The other half is trying to re-pack the car to go home after Grandma showers the kids with goodies. To her credit, Grandma’s goodies were small this go-round. The groceries, on the other hand… Grandma always thoughtfully buys a pantry full of edibles when we come to town, even though we almost always eat out or get take-out for every meal. It’s not unappreciated, but it usually adds another bag to the car on the way back because, presumably, Grandma doesn’t eat. That said, there’s a loaf of cinnamon bread in my kitchen right now, so I can’t complain much.
I almost forgot unpacking — bringing in the bags, potty, pack-and-play, and the three weeks of laundry that somehow got worn in 44 hours. I’m not sure why, but this part seems to go faster than anything else. Despite the exhaustion and car fatigue, two boys very much done being in car seats, I can still get the entire contents of my car unloaded in a fraction of the time it took to put it all in there. I attribute this to my eagerness to resume a normal life, and my genuine excitement to no longer be in the car with two young children. Traveling with young children isn’t just an exercise in packing. It’s an exercise in refraining from murdering your family members.