Tractor. Horsey. Birdie. Big lorry. Cow. Moo. Digger. BUS!!!! I begin with a bizarre selection of words that can only mean one thing. You guessed it, fellow parents. Family car journey! Yup, I did indeed spend a significant percentage of last weekend attempting to distract my son from the fact that we’d strapped him in a car seat, locked the doors and set off on a 270+ mile journey to my sister’s place near Newcastle.
So how did it go? If you’re asking about the attempted distraction, then it went very well, thank you very much. And if you’re asking about the family car journey as a whole, then it was the usual parental roller coaster of highs, lows, more lows and even greater lows. On the plus side, we made it there and back alive, didn’t forget anything major and are still speaking to each other. On the minus side, I feel like I’ve read every erectile dysfunction advert on the planet (what on earth do they advertise in the female toilets at service stations?), and we may have a couple of speeding fines in the post. Still, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? And it gave me plenty of ammunition for this week’s Midweek List. Which is… the 10 emotions every parent feels during every family car journey.
This way or that way? 173 spare nappies or 174? Summer hat, winter hat or both? Try and keep the milk warm or heat it up somewhere on the way? Leave early in the morning or late at night? A1 or M1? Hourly shifts or swap when we’re tired? So many questions, so little chance of choosing the right answers to any of them.
The road’s clear, the baby’s asleep, the crisps are open, you’re both smiling and the radio’s tuned in to a station you both like. You are, without a doubt, the best parents ever.
Occasionally this ire is directed at yourself (for messing up something important), or a horn-tooting van driver (for waking the baby up), but mostly it’s aimed at your other half for driving too fast/taking the wrong route/not joining in with a nursery rhyme/forgetting a crucial gadget or toy/eating too loudly/falling asleep/having family who live so far away/not researching somewhere decent for baby’s lunch/not putting their phone on silent/doing that thing that has come up in each and every one of your arguments for the last eight years (delete as applicable).
The National Trust charges how much to get into these grounds? And we have to pay extra to get into the house? Still, at least the food will be cheap… d’oh.
The intensity and duration of this feeling will vary depending on how bad the family car journey has been. If it’s gone relatively well, you’ll only experience a fleeting ‘should have packed more snacks’ moment of regret. If it’s been slow and a little fractious, you’ll live through an extended period of ‘Why didn’t we download Waze, change him into his pyjamas and pack more toys and books before the off?’ regret-filled reflection. And if it’s been a toy chucking, hard shoulder burping, nappy changing, traffic jam-packed living hell, you’ll spend several hours ruing the moment you managed to convince yourself that having kids wouldn’t change your life.
It may have taken the best part of two hours, featured seven tantrums and wiped several years off our life expectancy, but we made it through all of the M1’s delays, roadworks and sensationally tedious average speed cameras. And, better still, we did it without irreparably damaging our car or marriage. If that doesn’t say we’re made for each other, I’m not sure what does.
Are you upset with one another? Have you run out of conversation? Are you both scared of waking the baby up? Or have you simply entered some kind of weird parallel universe only experienced by people who chow down a whole tub of M&S’ miniature brownies in under 10 minutes? You’re not sure. All you know is that you can hear a millipede whisper inside your car. It’s a sound-free section of the journey that will either a) make you feel very relaxed or b) make you feel extremely anxious.
If, like my wife, you reside in Team Frankie Says Relax, then you’ll probably smile, exhale contentedly and drift off to the land of nod. And if, like me, you reside in Team Don’t Panic I’m Not Panicking Oh Wait Yes I Am, then you’ll probably look concerned, tense up and attempt to come up with some way of breaking the silence that doesn’t look like you’ve deliberately attempted to break the silence. Pro tip: burping and then laughing isn’t a good idea, but sneezing and then apologising is.
“You know all that stuff I said when I got a little hot under the collar 138 miles ago? Well, I’ve had a chance to mull it over and I’m sorry. I now realise that you would never deliberately drop his cheese sandwich on the floor, get yoghurt in his left eye or forget my wallet.”
Are we nearly there yet? For the 405th time, no. Wait, yes. YES! Yes, we are. 12 miles to our destination. I’ve never seen a road sign look more beautiful.
Yes, that does say love. Sure, the majority of the above entries (and indeed your family car journey) may be negative, but it’s never all bad. When the screams die down, the tears cease and your blood pressure returns to normal, there will be a moment when you look at your baby and your partner and think, ‘Wow, this is incredible. There isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.’ And then what? Then you look into each other’s eyes, hold hands and begin singing “Islands in the Stream”. Not really. Then the moment passes and it all kicks off again.