Over the River and Through the Woods…

We pulled out of the driveway at 9:04 on Thanksgiving morning and at 9:05 Noah declared, “I’m bored.” I knew then it was going to be a long drive. Beth had agreed to a pit stop at Starbucks if we made it out of the door by 9:00 and apparently she forgave us the four minutes because she drove straight to the nearest one, where I picked up a hazelnut latte for myself, marble pound cake for Noah and vanilla mini-scones for June. We probably would have been on time if Noah hadn’t wanted to dash back into the house for his copy of Car and Driver. (He’s going through a car phase.)

The trip started off quietly enough. Noah read his magazine and June was engrossed in an episode of Busytown Mysteries (http://www.busytownmysteries.com/), which she was watching on Beth’s phone. She was listening to the audio with headphones, which kept slipping down off her ears. Noah helped her re-position them several times until we decided it was too much hassle and decided to disconnect them. This was when the trouble really started. Noah had initially objected to June using the headphones because he wanted to watch, too, but he wasn’t too insistent about it. Once he could hear, however, he wanted to see and June was holding the phone at an angle that made this difficult. Soon Noah was crying and trying to grab the phone and June was yelling at him and twisting in her seat to keep it away from him. I tried to referee from the front seat but I was entirely without success.

Beth pulled off the highway into a long wooded driveway with a sign that read Saint Mark. It was a strangely peaceful spot, so close to the Beltway. The church was set back from the road, tucked into the woods. There was a cluster of buildings, but the one in front of us was round with a tall, conical roof reaching up into the treetops. It looked like something from a fairy tale (http://www.saintmarkpresby.org/).

The inside of the car was not so peaceful, however. The kids were both still screaming. Beth parked the car, got out and opened Noah’s door. I was curious to see what she would do. She asked Noah to stop crying so he could listen to her. It took a few moments, but he did. She suggested he move from the right hand seat to the middle one so he could see. June would still hold the phone because it was her turn and he might not be able to see perfectly, but he could see the screen better. Would that be okay? Noah sniffled and said yes. Feeling any gain on Noah’s part must by necessity be a loss on hers, June howled more loudly. “But I don’t want him to see!” she wailed. Beth unbuckled her and suggested they go for a walk to see the funny-shaped building up close and off they went.

While they were gone I got out of the car and stood by the open door. I started to talk to Noah about The Responsibilities of the Older Child, which include, but are not limited to, acting more reasonably than a three year old. I made note of the small space of the car’s interior, the long duration of the drive ahead (we were only as far as Rockville by this point) and the fact that Beth had a terrible headache. (She had been struck on the head by a falling branch while walking through the yard to pack the car that very morning. It was a small branch, a stick really, but it had fallen from a great height and her head hurt her all day.) Noah barely responded. I got a few grunts that might have been interpreted as assent, if one were in an optimistic frame of mind.

Beth and June returned. June had been promised cookies and was on board with the plan to let Noah watch her show. We drove out of the church parking lot at 9:45. The kids watched another half hour of Busytown Mysteries in relative peace. When it was Noah’s turn to pick the entertainment he started searching the phone for the audio books they’d downloaded for him, but something had gone wrong and they weren’t there. Then he checked for leftover television episodes from other trips—deleted. Surprisingly, Noah took this turn of events with equanimity and just asked us to put in a CD (a new mix he’d made using Genius on iTunes). I wondered—had he actually taken my lecture to heart? Maybe, but who knows? He’s like that—easily riled at times, gracious and easy-going at others. Maybe he’d gotten all the upset out his system earlier.

While the CD played, around 10:35, Noah said, “This isn’t what I think of when I think of Thanksgiving.”

“What do you think of?” I asked. I had to repeat myself a few times to get a response.

“Eating a lot of food, not driving,” he said.

Then about a half hour later, he proposed a game. Could we pretend we were poor and we’d spent all our money on a car and now we needed to find someone to take us in? We agreed.

“It’s too bad we spent all our money on a car,” Noah said.

“That was foolish,” Beth commented.

“Maybe we’ll find someone to take us in,” Noah said.

“I hear they’re hospitable in West Virginia,” I added. “Let’s drive there. Maybe we’ll find a nice widow woman.”

Throughout the rest of the day, every now and then Noah speculated about whether this would be a good town to stop and look for hosts, but we always decided to drive on.

Around 11:30, June started crying and complaining of a stomachache. Ever since her first bout of carsickness last summer, June’s been worried about throwing up in the car. It was her first long car trip since then, so I was worried, too. I’d packed two spare outfits in the diaper bag, just in case. Beth pulled off the highway onto a country road. She parked in front of what seemed to be an empty farmhouse and I took June outside for some fresh air. She slumped against me at first, whimpering. We sat on some stone steps and she snuggled into me. I could feel her stomach gurgling ominously under her dress as I rubbed it. Within just a few minutes, though, she perked up and was running around, using a low, stone wall as a balance beam while I held her hand. I was wearing a turtleneck and a heavy sweater and I was getting cold and she was wearing only a cotton dress and leggings so I asked her if she wanted her coat. She did not. Noah came out of the car and wanted to peek into the windows of the house, but Beth called him back. It looked run-down but it wasn’t entirely clear it was vacant. We all piled back into the car and began to look for somewhere to get gas, use the restrooms and eat our lunch.

After we gassed up, we stopped at a scenic overlook. The idea was to take in the view of the valley below and eat in the car, but the kids wanted back outside. We were at a higher elevation now and the air was chilly and damp, not inviting picnic weather. Beth announced her intention to stay in the car. I said I’d take the kids up to the picnic area. After a brief debate with June on the topic “Does June need a coat?” (Steph: pro; June: con), we walked over the tables with our arms laden with yogurt, oranges, baba ganoush, hummus, pita chips and juice. June ate almost nothing, but found some wooden beams sunk into the ground to balance on. Noah and I ate and looked at the view. Everyone was happy.

We got back to the car around 1:00. It was naptime, so I gave June the pacifier she’d been wanting since 10:30 or so. (She only has them at nap and nighttime now but she’s not happy about it.) We drove off. Noah kept singing and humming loudly. We kept shushing him, reminding him that June was trying to sleep. June paid him no mind. She sucked contentedly on the pacifier, curled up with “Baby Bush” (that’s Bush Baby to you and me) and fell asleep. June’s still a devoted napper, unlike many of her classmates who have stopped napping, but car naps have gotten dicey for her. I was thinking she might sleep only a half hour or forty-five minutes, but she slept an hour and ten minutes and during a rare spell of quiet from Noah, I dozed for fifteen or twenty minutes myself.

She woke at 2:25 and we drove for another hour. As we approached Wheeling, speculation about where we might find some kind soul to feed us and put us up for the night intensified. We pulled into the parking lot of YaYa’s condominium around 3:30. Beth said she thought it looked like a good place. She parked the car and we got out. I heard a tapping sound and looked up. There was a kindly woman looking out the guest bedroom window and knocking on the pane.

She took us in; she laid a feast before us; she sheltered us for three days. During this time we visited with her sisters, took a walk in a snow squall and watched the swirling flakes melt in the creek, and beheld the elaborate Christmas decorations at the mansion and the lodge in Oglebay Park and drove through the Festival of Lights display there (http://www.oglebay-resort.com/). We also visited with Beth’s father at his house.

And then we drove back home. There was less fighting on this trip, worse traffic and more stops because June realized she had it in her power to stop the car by announcing she felt sick or needed to use the potty. Because she probably was sick some of these times, we usually did stop. The potty trips were more suspect, as she has used the potty exactly once since last spring, but we went through the motions there, too. We left Wheeling at eleven and were home by 6:30. We dove into dinner preparation, unpacking, baths for the kids and then we all sank into bed, happy to have gone and happy to be back home.