On Making A Long Car Journey with My Family

What is it about otherwise perfectly lovely children that turns them into horrid, infuriating little monsters as soon as they climb into the backseat of a car for a few hours? Me, my wife and three kids drove a lot through France this summer. We would have had an uninterruptedly great time were it not for the fact that, inevitably, an hour or two into whatever leg of the journey we were making that particular day, the kids in the back would erupt into the most unimaginably annoying bouts of bickering, giggling, and moaning.

My son’s elbow was sticking into my daughter’s ribcage; my daughter’s leg—magically, without her own volition, she insisted—kept landing on her brother’s knee; my other son just would not stop making explosive farting noises. They argued and fought over just about everything. It was too hot. It was too cold. They were hungry. They felt sick. (This last one I thought was just a clever ploy—until my daughter spewed all over the backseat.) It drove us absolutely crazy.

At one point, my wife was in tears. I wasn’t quite sure if the stress was simply getting to her, or if she was realizing for the first time the full horrific nature of the ungrateful, ill-disciplined, behaviorally stunted little bastards she had brought into the world. For my part, I was a raging, screaming lunatic, driven to insane bouts of fury by the incessant squeals, whining, and eructations emanating from behind me. I didn’t recognize myself as I half-turned in the driver’s seat, spittle flying from my mouth, as I shouted at my offspring and swung my left arm wildly in a desperate attempt to smack one of them—any one of them; I didn’t care which. (I kept my eyes firmly on the road the whole time, of course.) Normally, I’m not given to fits of apoplexy, but something about this unruliness—and the open, impudent defiance when we kindly asked the little brats to keep it down a bit—really got to me. I have to say these were the darkest days of my parenthood… so far, at least.

Johann Lavater, the Swiss physiognomist and aphorist, was on to something when he wrote, long before the invention of the automobile:

Three days of uninterrupted company in a vehicle will make you better acquainted with another than one hour’s conversation with him every day for three years.

I guess there are just some aspects of my kids that I’m better off not being acquainted with…