"Where's the rubber snake?"
The back-of-the-van chorus demanded to know before we'd even left Chicago. They couldn't believe that I'd forgotten our lucky travel talisman, on this, of all trips. We were driving across the country to Connecticut, to take up new lives in a town the kids had only seen once and where I seemed to get lost at every turn. It was scary and exciting at the same time -- for all of us. It was tough to say goodbye.
On other trips, when times got rough, that cheap, ugly green snake had given us plenty to laugh about, in hotel beds when everyone was sick, during torrential downpours in a dark, drafty mountain cabin, and when we were tired and cranky and just sick of being together.
This time, however, the snake got left behind in a box earmarked for the movers. So did some of our favorite tapes (although I hadn't realized they were favorites until the kids complained we didn't have them).
Certainly change is good to shake up staid lives. But that doesn't make it easier to pull out of the driveway for the last time, especially when the neighbors have pasted a big "We're going to miss you!" sign on the tree in front of the house.
"How much longer?" asked 4-year-old Melanie before the Chicago skyline was out of sight. "I'm hungry." Luckily, I remembered snacks and water bottles for each child.
They settled into their seat belts and car seats with portable stereos, hand-held video games, markers, paper, games and fuzzy polar fleece blankets (available at sporting goods stores).
L Here are some memorable moments of our 1,000-plus mile trip.
* Monday: It's mid-afternoon before the car is packed and goodbyes said. We stop, at my insistence, at the City of Chicago store for a souvenir. When rusted parking meters prove too costly for us ($200), we opt for a "No parking when the snow is two inches deep" sign ($50). Reggie leaves with a Chicago key chain and Matt with, what else, a poster of Michael Jordan.
Everyone is happy for about 10 minutes -- until the Pillow Crisis erupts: It seems one favorite pillow got left at home with the snake. Luckily, we were heading into Wal-Mart territory, where a new Pocahontas-cased pillow thrilled Melanie and ended the first major back-seat squabble of the trip.
Our motto: On the road, happier is better.
Motto Two: On long trips, a little indulgence is a good thing.
* Tuesday: That's why we start the day with a huge, cholesterol-laden breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. Just the thing, I think, to eat before settling in for hours of driving.
We never manage a stop for a healthy lunch, despite a stocked cooler. Instead, the kids fill up on chips, plums, chocolate and peanut brittle from a farm stand. Occasionally, I decide, it's OK to ignore all reason. We relish every morsel.
After getting doused by Niagara Falls (our attempt to make the drive more fun included a few stops along the way), Reggie dissolved into tears. "I don't want to move," she sobbed. No amount of cajoling or sympathy can improve her mood. She picks a fight with her brother. Melanie, meanwhile, thinks we're "on vacation" and that we'll return to our old house eventually.
The day ends with an exploration of a historic fort, followed by a hunt for an Italian restaurant.
Motto three: Ethnic is always better with the kids. The food was good, the service even better. We all sleep well in a Holiday Inn, though the kids griped because they didn't have time for a swim.
* Wednesday: Having overslept, we're in such a hurry to hit the the road that we decide to wait awhile to eat (until the kids are really hungry). Unfortunately, that moment occurs on a toll road an hour later when we have few choices. Even worse, we find that although it's barely 10:30 a.m., fast-food places have stopped serving breakfast. The kids dine on burgers and fries -- happily, of course.
The miles seem to be passing more slowly. We play the Moo Game: who can moo the loudest? We play the "I'm going on vacation and I'm going to take a . . ." game (each player adds something to the list and tries to repeat all of the previous items in order).
The kids tire of that. Matt reads a comic book. Reggie is weaving string into a friendship bracelet. Melanie licks a sticker book. All is peaceful -- for a few minutes.
We get lost out in the country looking for the bed-and-breakfast I'd found for us and drive around for an extra hour. "So much for off the beaten track," my husband says. The place, when we finally find it, is really fun, though the girls are too scared to sleep in a room by themselves,
* Thursday: We finally make it to Connecticut. The kids love the
house. But I haven't stopped getting lost yet.