HOW TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS- AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE
HOW TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS- AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE
THERE ARE CERTAIN delights that I long since resolved to save for my later years. They include fishing, croquet, whist drives — and Taking The Kids On Holiday. It was, after all, the kids as much as anything that I needed a rest from — and if that thought troubled my conscience I rationalized with the argument that they wouldn’t enjoy the trip until they were 16, and bearable, anyway.
And then last year, along about this time, it was decided that John, 10, and David, eight, could come along for the summer-holiday car tour of the Maritimes. The least that can be said of the decision is that their presence lent an extra dimension to the holiday. And since a great many other incautious parents are about now facing a similar decision about this year’s holiday, a few pointers may be helpful.
On-the-road diversions: A kindly neighbor provided a half dozen Baby Ruth candy bars, horror comics about a precociously nubile children’s heroine called Catwoman, and a game of checkers. Catwoman lasted 20 minutes, and was discarded because of a Page 7 involvement with, I think, Indiarubberman. The checkers were never played, but the children threw them at each other and they demonstrated some diversion value by rolling around the floor and eventually jamming the footbrake. The candy bars introduced us to another new element in car journeys: travel sickness.
Other diversions included spotting U.S. number plates, eating, counting the number of Cadillac Eldorados we passed, eating, making faces out of the rear window at following drivers, eating, fighting with one another, eating, and asking every 22 miles, “How much farther to Prince Edward Island, Dad?” Eating is what kids do when driving. It breaks the tedium. They also eat at evening stops in restaurants — and if given the chance to order for themselves, as ours are, will always ask for the filet mignon or the lobster or perhaps just the third most expensive item on the menu.
International incidents: Kids’ devastating frankness can cause problems on the road. At one gas-station, leg-stretching stop David told a carload of Americans that his Dad thought America was sick. In Quebec, the kids were first out of the car at a modest motel and when the proprietor insisted on conducting nego-
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tiatiohs in French, John, noting my inability to ask coherently the time of day in French, hissed loudly, “Dad, he speaks English. I just heard him on the phone.”
Map-reading: If your son is more than nine, let him do it. He’ll probably lead you astray less often than your wife, and it gives him that feeling of being involved that child psychologists talk about. Besides, if he does lead you astray the consequences of your temper are less awesome than if your wife had had the map.
Car sickness: The first time, offer sympathy and hold the kid’s head. Thereafter, ban candy bars, ice cream and hot dogs.
Patience: The kids learn it early. In our case the car, an elderly Peugeot, blew up 30 miles from home. Finding a dealership while driving a car with a boiling radiator was interesting. Diagnosing a blocked radiator and trying to cure it took up the first morning of high intent. When father ranted that he wasn’t going any farther with this expletive car, John told David, “Don’t worry, David, he’s just blowing his stack.”
There were other pit stops to test their patience and knowledge of human nature. And at Quebec City (where we lost David to a spavined nag that hauls portly tourists around the Citadel) we had the troublesome radiator replaced. As I paid the service manager, I said in my best Berlitz that the car was using or losing a lot of oil. The service manager, in the worst jouai, said that I needed a new engine. I asked whether he thought I’d get to PEI and back again. His Jacques Tati moustache twitched a little, and he called across to the mechanic who had fitted the radiator. The mechanic stood up, gazed at us blankly. I repeated my question: Will the car make it if I keep the oil topped up? The service manager paused, and across the hood of my Peugeot came the final rapprochement between French and English Canada.
He said, in excellent English,, “Perhaps you will be lucky. After all, the Virgin Mary had Jesus.”
Anyway, John thought it was funny.
In fact, with the aid of a few automotive transplants along the way, we did complete the journey and at one point in Maine even had the gleeful task of helping a motorist ¡stranded in a malfunctioning 1968 Cadillac Eldorado.
There is no more brutal test of family health than the long motor trip. Locking yourselves up in a. small box for hour upon hour upon hour upon hour is a sort of mid-20th-century madness. The consequent traumas have led many an erstwhile holidaymaker to the marriage counselor, the divorce court or the psychiatrist.
Conversely, nothing can do more to mend the rifts of family relationships — if your family fabric can stand it. When our trip ended, we and the kids had shared an adventure and were friends, not parents and children. At least, we were until the glow wore off about two months later.
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