Family, 500 miles, car, 'vacation' there's a clue here


March 26, 1994|By ROB KASPER

A good part about leaving town is that for a few days the tribe is not stomping through the house breaking things. The only house part that broke, for example, during the recent week our clan was up in Massachusetts and Vermont, was the water faucet in our Baltimore backyard. The faucet simply fell off the water pipe it was connected to. I suspect fatigue, a condition I identify with.

A bad part about going away with your family is the car trip. After an extended period of family togetherness, such as the 500-mile drive we recently completed, I am now ready for an extended period of family apart-ness.

Like many such trips, ours had its memorable moments. There was the lost-in-New-Jersey segment, when, taking the proverbial shortcut, the Garden State Parkway disappeared, and we ended up in the mall-to-mall traffic known as Paramus. There was the parked-in-Connecticut part, when, after hours of zooming along Interstate 84, traffic ground to a halt as a repair crew fixed a bridge. I am all for repairing bridges, I just wish the repairs were not being attempted as I was driving over the span.

Trying as these moments of travel were, my vote for the worst part of a family trip went to the unpleasantness at the beginning of the journey, the packing.

I never thought I would yearn for a return to the days when the kids were toddlers. But after dealing with kids in that transitional age -- too young to pack their own suitcases but old enough to criticize the mistakes of their frantically packing parents -- I yearned for the days when passengers were too small to have opinions. On the morning of our scheduled departure from Baltimore, the 13-year-old and his 9-year-old brother ate breakfast and announced they were ready to leave. They wanted to know when the rest of the family would be ready. We told them we had to pack. My wife gathered provisions and I ferried the clock-watching kids to several stores to buy gloves, long underwear, and music tapes.

The gloves and long underwear were for the skiing portion of our trip. After a stop in Boston we were headed to Vermont. I regard downhill skiing as an activity thought up to keep bone doctors very busy. But my kids enjoy it. So after suffering through a winter of unending ice here, we decided to spend our spring vacation by driving to Bolton Valley, Vt. We've done this spring skiing routine before. The children speed down slopes on downhill skis and snowboards, while my wife and I trudge through the woods on cross-country skis. For us, cross-country skiing is a good way to see the woods, as well as a good way to work up a thirst for Vermont ales. It is amazing how after a few days slogging through the snow, the snow-covered pines at the top of a hill begin to resemble bottles of Otter Creek Ale.

As for the music tapes, I regard them as tranquilizers for children. Essential stuff, in other words, for any long trip. I believe the key to parental survival on car trips is to make sure your kids have functioning portable tape players which allow them to listen, via headphones, to totally tasteless music. When I buy a car-travel tape for my kids, I'm not looking for art, I am looking for something that will keep the back seat in a stupor.

There is some good that comes from being trapped in a car with your family. You can learn from each other. My wife and I, for instance, learned the varied uses of the word "clueless," as in "Dad, you're clueless," or "Mom, you're totally clueless." I, in turn, taught my kids how to fill out the form used in my office NCAA basketball pools, guessing at which team will be the national champion.

The day after we got back to Baltimore, I fixed the backyard faucet. I covered the pipe joint with flux, fired up my portable butane torch, heated the joint, and sealed it with solder. With the faucet back in working order, I washed the car, removing the road salt, the vestige of the long trip and a long winter.

Soon I was cajoled into pitching a hardball to one of my bat-toting kids. The sun was out. The air was warm. The wind, gentle. I thought winter, the season of pain, was gone. Then the kid slammed a low line drive into the old man's kneecap.

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