When we were in college, one of my favorite friends and I went to an out-of-state theater conference. The real fun wasn't at the conference itself, but during the journey to get there. We blasted so-bad-it's-good 80s music, talked about our current boyfriends and whether or not they were keepers, we got pulled over by the police in Ohio for speeding (and even separated so the cop could interview us), and only stopped for bathroom or french fry breaks.
Last week this same favorite friend and I went on another road trip to Chicago. This time it was for business, and this time we brought along our four children. I probably don't have to point out that the trips were totally different. But I'm going to.
Instead of driving a red convertible, like we did when we were younger, this time we drove a minivan with a DVD player. Ten years ago, we probably swerved the car a bit to try to reach for the Twizzlers, that we may have left on the backseat next to the diet cokes. But this time we swerved trying to get a good look at one of the toddlers, or trying to throw single chicken nuggets toward the back row, to reach one of the "older kids" (and by "old" I mean 3 or 4). We didn't get pulled over by police this trip, but we did have to pull over once to climb over the mountains of bags and make the trek to the last row of seats, where one of the older kids had Houdini-ed his way out of his car seat harness. There was no 80s music, but a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Frozen and a few Fresh Beat Band episodes. There were a few fights that needed breaking up- about who should sing the 'Let it go' solo, or who was taking whose pillow. And there was still heartache and tears- although this time, the pain seemed less trivial than fights with our boyfriends.
And at the end of the 4th day of our trip, as we were halfway home, I think my friend and I probably were at the farthest point of difference from our trip in college. We felt old and were very very very tired. Tired in every possible way, more than just physically. We had stopped in a pizza place. The kids had just played in a splash fountain, one had been in time out for swatting another kid with glow sticks. One hadn't had a nap. And all kids were covered in pizza sauce and trying to stand up in their booster seats. Mine was facing the window, jumping up and down, trying to play with the restaurant blinds and singing a song in a falsetto. And hers were surrounded by coasters that they had colored, and bits of pizza and less favored toppings. The floor under the table was like Land of the Lost, littered with kicked-off shoes and other items. One of us had made a final warning to one of the kids, you know- a real teaching moment -something like 'Will you PLEASE SIT DOWN??!' When my friend and I made eye contact and without saying a word, just knew that we were feeling the same exact way. And we just started to laugh. The kind of laughing where you don't know how to stop. It just keeps spilling out, and hurting your stomach. And tears are coming out of your eyes and you know you should stop because the suburban family at the table next to you whose children are older and can sit in one spot for more than five minutes is looking at you side-eyed. But you keep laughing.
"I can't believe it's taken you this long to feel how I've felt since the beginning of the trip!" I said in between sobbing laughter. Because I had started off the trip at half the energy of my amazing friend.
"Mommy? Why are you laughing?" her three year old asked innocently, no doubt a little frightened. The children were all staring at us quizzically.
"Because being a mommy is hard sometimes" she answered, still laughing and wiping tears from the corners of her eyes.
God favored us that day, because we found all the shoes under the table, because our credit cards were accepted for the pizza, and because no child was injured in the eating of the meal.
We rolled all of our strollers and diaper bags up what seemed like a 3 mile steep cliff back to the parking lot and began changing diapers, and passing out sippy cups before starting the last leg of the ride home. Dirty diapers and wet clothes were leaking out of the car as we tried to wrestle kids in. Mine escaped and got stuck between two seats trying to reach a toy. I stood helplessly and frustrated and tried to give her verbal direction. "Move your left foot a little to the right." I offered. But she's two and is still learning right and left, and also in a dire situation like getting a toy, she can't really pay attention to directions. "James, can you help her?" I asked the three-year-old desperately. He reached out a hand, but my daughter probably thought he was trying to take the toy, and pushed him away. I tried to maneuver into the van from the back, while random objects like dirty diapers, a stroller part and a half eaten sucker fell out into the parking lot.
"This is like Absolutely Fabulous but without the drugs." I told my friend who was probably maneuvering another kid in another row in the van. We would have gone into hysterical laughter again but didn't have the energy.
On the way home we got to talk a bit- about how we think we've changed since we first started raising our babies. We couldn't tell if it was our very beings that changed so much, or even maybe more than changed- maybe even lost ourselves altogether, or if it was just our lives that have changed so much and we're just keeping up. But in between the interruptions: ("Mommy, my body hurts from being in this car seat!" the three year old said sadly. Or our two-year-olds, both crying and reaching out to us to hold them), we found ourselves again, for a couple hours, just by connecting and understanding each other. And that alone was worth the trip.