I have often wondered why family vacation giveaways only offer four seats to the winning family. Is four people a better vacationing number? Why is five viewed as so many more?
Well, my family has five members with four cars that we use every day, but when vacation time rolls around we all shove our suitcases, shoes and tennis racquets into the trunk of the black car. Then, one by one, we manage to get ourselves, purses, candy and pop, CD players, books and maps and other entertainment items into our seats and buckle up. The first drive lasts only 10 minutes since it is to the gas station to fill up on more pop, candy, gas and car fuel (notice how they are two different things: fuel for the car and “gas” for the burping contests).
After that is taken care of, we all wedge back into the car and get ready for the long drive. Let me introduce my wonderful family and the seats they occupy on this epic drama of a vacation. First, in the driver’s seat, is none other than “Head-o-de-Household” Dad. He likes to drive because whenever someone else does, his knuckles don’t stay a healthy pink for long. Dad is also the tallest in the family and drives with his legs outstretched, so we in the backseat don’t get much room. As driver, Dad is also “The Law” - he yells without warning and reaches back to whack us before we even know he has moved. Dad is the quickest driver and “lawman” ever to sit behind a wheel.
Next to Dad in the suicide seat is “Navigator Mom.” She’s also coordinator, tour guide, and the one you must keep happy. Mom is a short person who is funny, spirited and great to be around when she is in a good mood. When she is stressed or upset, however, stay clear. Even worse, when Mom is in the black car on vacation and not happy, Dad sticks up for her by enforcing his law and blaming us for breathing too loud and disturbing her. Yup, Mom is the one this vacation is really for.
As for the backseat, we kids “race” to be the last ones in the car because there are only two window seats and three of us. Most of the time it ends up with Terry, the oldest and tallest, sitting behind Mom so he can have room for his legs. I don’t know why, because no matter how far we are driving, Terry will curl up and sleep the entire trip. Sometimes he doesn’t curl up but stretches out as far as he can and sleeps with his head back at a 90-degree angle. I call him the Sleeping Bean.
On the other side of the car is Maggie, who hauls an enormous Hello Kitty purse. Because of this and her brash attitude I think she’s like a bag lady, but I never tell her that. Inside that large purse is her CD player, its carrier, lotions, perfumes, hairbrush, make-up, books, pencils, wallet and I don’t know what else! This purse is all Maggie will pay attention to. She is constantly opening it and digging around for a special pen or something, and since the purse is so large, I have no choice but to get hit with the handle or hold 10 items while she searches. The drive isn’t as bad as I make it sound. Actually it could be a lot worse if Maggie didn’t have her headphones and were allowed to control the car radio.
But what I do know is that with Maggie at one window and Terry at the other I, the middle child (coincidentally), am stuck in the middle. This is the very location where I feel closest to hell: it is the hottest, most uncomfortable and miserable place you can imagine.
I am not one to sleep in any sort of moving vehicle, nor do I own a CD player, so I cannot pass the time like my siblings. I bring a book to read or eavesdrop on Mom and Dad, which is pretty boring. I have no windows to look out or fresh air to cool my face, just muggy, recycled air. The car becomes pretty cramped after everyone gets in and falls into their positions. Elbows and knees are always knocking and there is no such thing as a “personal bubble” in the black car, especially for the middle child. The only thought that consoles me in this tight ride is the knowledge that I get to hit people!
At home we play board games and card games as a family, but car games have a violent twist. For every car with fake wood panels or every out-of-state license plate, the first person who sees that car can hit his or her neighbor without repercussion. Woodies, PT “Bruisers” and Slug Bugs are the names of cars I yell as I strike. Fortunately this game can be played wherever one goes. Unfortunately, Dad is with us most of the time and he knows where all these cars are parked, so he is quick with the punch. The only rules to this game are one hit per car, and no one hits Mom.
If we all start the vacation on the right foot and get quietly involved within our own characters, the ride goes quite smoothly. But after the vacation and the tiny hotel room (built for four) and restaurants (booths for four), the ride home is almost intolerable. The only thing we have to look forward to is getting back to our jobs and busy lives, which is what we tried to get away from on vacation. So now Mom is tired and short-tempered and Dad is extra quick on enforcing punishments in the name of “The Law.” This swift justice is a real problem for me because it seems Terry and Maggie cannot keep their knees together and are purposely crowding me.
I hate the ride home; it always seems twice as long and the black car seems to have shrunk in size. Though the ride is agonizing and the company less than desirable, the best thing about the entire vacation, if you ask me, is arriving home. After the luggage is inside, I can finally be alone in my spacious room and relax. Getting back to a five-bedroom house is a better feeling than taking off for vacation in the first place.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.