The Daily Star
---- — My kids are lucky enough to have half of their grandparents within a three-hour drive.
This didn’t happen by accident, of course. When the Diva was a newborn, Scott and I knew we needed to get closer to our families. We drew a big circle around Pittsburgh, my hometown, and Rochester, my husband’s. Any town inside that perimeter would do. So here we are - and we’re happy to be here.
Now that the kids are older, which means that they are less physically demanding, we have the luxury of shipping them up to their grandparents whenever the kids have the week off and we do not.
Or, frankly, when we all have the week off but need to get away from each other for a few days so that the adults in the family can get something done without being interrupted every 12 minutes by demands for a snack.
We’ve done this enough now that we have a system in place. Rather than have one adult drive all the way up to Rochester and back in one day, one parent drives to a McDonald’s near Syracuse where he or she is met by a grandparent. Lunch is eaten; kids and luggage are handed off; everyone drives home.
The kids get to have a fabulous time doing all of the stuff a big city has to offer, like riding escalators and going to the Museum of Play. My husband and I get to live like childless savages who eat on the couch in front of the TV.
A few days later, after various batteries have been recharged, we do the handoff in reverse.
For this last break, I was the adult who made the drive. We went in my car, where the kids are close enough to touch each other, rather than the minivan, where there is too much distance between the back seats for a kid arm to travel.
This choice was a tactical error. I can see that now.
They were bickering before we even left the driveway, mostly over who got to listen to what first. I decided that only those who were civil got to pick the station and flipped to NPR.
There was arguing over the armrest. There was a shoving match over a book. I did my best to ignore the escalation in the backseat, pretending that there was a plexiglass divider between the front and the back, but reached my breaking point just past Bainbridge.
“New rule,” I shouted at the backseat. “No more talking or touching!”
Just south of Afton, the blessed silence was broken.
“Mooooo-oooom,” the Boy whined. “Maddy just wrote a note saying I’m stupid.”
“Not OK, Maddy.”
“Mooooo-oooom,” the Diva then whined. “Cory is going to hit me with a hammer.”
“Not OK ... wait, what?”
I feverishly searched my memory for the moment when I’d been foolish enough to put a hammer where either kid could reach it and coming up empty.
“Well,” Maddy added. “He drew a picture of a hammer and hit me with it.”
“New rule,” I shouted at the backseat. “No more writing or drawing. Also: no rebuses or secret codes. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” I heard two voices sigh from the backseat. For the next 30 minutes there was silence again. The eldest wrote an entry in her diary about how exhausting her life is and the youngest stared out of the window.
We might have made it the whole way to the handoff had I not made the mistake of deciding to play the “Hunger Games” Soundtrack, which is full of musicians like Taylor Swift and the Punch Brothers who I know the kids like. Plus, it’s something we hadn’t listened to four dozen times during the past month.
The Boy asked to see the CD case so I handed it to him. He finished reading it and put it down on the seat next to him. The Diva picked it up so that she could look at it but didn’t ask to see it, which ticked him off so he snatched it back. She retaliated by hitting him. And so the fracas reignited.
It was like our own personal Hunger Games in the backseat of a Kia Sportage.
By the time we made it to Mickey D’s, I was beyond ready to hand them off to their grandmother, who was delighted to see them.
Halfway home, I missed the bickering, just a little bit, then queued up a CD that I like and drove the rest of the way home.
Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.