HEAD OUT ON THE HIGHWAY, LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE
A Winchester Family Road Trip (sort of)
I’m feeling a certain empathy with John Winchester these days.
Sadly, it’s not because I drive a gorgeous, vintage, black car. No. I drive a blue Honda minivan, known to my children as “Bob”. (It’s a long story.)
And I can’t say I know what it feels like to be either fighting or fleeing ghosts, vampires or werewolves. Although, I must admit I sometimes feel like the small passengers in the back seat are the spawn of the devil, or at the very least, possessed!
No. I’m empathizing with Big Daddy Winchester as a parent, one who spends prolonged periods in close proximity with his or her children. See, I was fortunate this summer to spend all of July & August travelling across North America with my husband and two daughters. It’s an adventure we had been saving for, and planning, for a long time.
However, there was some “supernatural” sleuthing along the highways and byways of Canada, and the United States. We tracked down the remains of monsters (dinosaur bones) in the Badlands of Alberta, climbed the Rockies to see if standing on a mountaintop really could bring us closer to Heaven and/or Castiel, and sailed the high seas (the Pacific Ocean) in search of mermaids (whales of all types – and we found them!). We even took a moment to stir up a spell, and check for demons, at Sulphur Cauldron in Yellowstone National Park.
Since my girls were babies (they’re 8 and 10 now), I’ve done a fair bit of hauling them from Point A to Point B. I’ve schlepped them to lots of places, via planes, trains and automobiles. But those trips were always fairly short, only two or three weeks at most. This summer was WAY longer than that. It was just the four of us, together 24/7 for 9 weeks in a minivan and a tent. (Okay. Once in a while we splurged on a hotel. Some even looked like the kind Sam and Dean find themselves in!)
Spending all day, every day, with my girls, I got to thinking about what life would have been like for John Winchester, as he dragged two growing boys back and forth across America.
These are some of my observations. If you’re a parent and you’ve taken the family on a road trip, they’ll probably sound familiar. If you’re a grown-up and went on a road-trip, they’ll probably sound familiar. And if you’re John Winchester, can I buy you a beer and share a few road stories?
“I Have To Go To The Toilet”
Who among us has not heard that statement coming from the backseat? I must confess that I am a member of the “Itty Bitty Bladder” Society. So, I’m actually grateful when one of my kids innocently asks if we need to “stop for gas” (code for going to the bathroom). That way it’s not always me who must casually suggest we pull over at the next rest stop!
However, what really strikes fear into my heart, is the phrase “I have to pooh” occurring at the same time as the realization slides over us that we’re stuck in the middle of a kilometres-long traffic jam, and that we won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. But, with a sinking sensation in my gut, I know the “going” is going to happen anyway, because Mother Nature can only be denied so long.
I wonder how John handled the whole “gotta pee” situation. I suspect he was a guy who stopped for gas when the needle was almost at empty, and that would be the boys cue to “empty” too! He expected discipline, mental and physical.
“I’m Bored. I’m Hungry”
I believe that on the last day of school, before summer vacation starts, children are secretly given a slip of paper. They covertly pass it from friend to friend, and then it’s destroyed. Listed on that piece of paper, the questions those who ride in the rear-seat must ask, or say during the road trip.
1. When are we going to get there?
2. How long until we get there? (which must be asked no more than 5 minutes after question #1)
3. Are we nearly there yet? (which, again, must be asked no more than 5 minutes after questions #1 and #2)
4. I’m bored. (which must be said repeatedly, and getting slightly louder, and whinier each time)
5. There’s nothing to do. (again with the louder and whinier)
6. I’m hungry. (“But”¦ I’m not going to want to eat anything you suggest, or that’s in the cooler or the dry food box. I want something completely unavailable, especially because we’re driving across the sparsely populated section of South Dakota.”)
It’s a norm of family life that kids get tired, hungry and cranky. But somehow, it is SO much worse when they’re tired, hungry and cranky in the car, and hurling those questions at their parents in a snarky tone. I think it’s the close confines of being cooped up in a vehicle. You’re already in each other’s faces. Questions like that just escalate the tension.
We tried to handle it in a variety of ways. Sometimes, I would privately challenge myself to come up with an inventive answer to the time & distance questions. Answer a question with a question – “When do you think we’ll get there? The city is this many kilometres away, and we’ve gone this far.” Or make it a mystic, philosophical answer – “We’re closer than we were.” Or sing the answer; deliver it in a different accent, or in Igpay Atinlay.
As for the food thing, sometimes we’d offer the car candies (Thank You Simpkins!!), or pull out the really big guns ““ Potato Chips!!!! And sometimes, I’d just turn around and yell, because I was tired, hungry and cranky too!
I bet John heard those questions a million times. Dean would be asking about food, Sam about when they’d arrive and all the specifics of the town they were going to. I wonder if after awhile, the boys learned not to ask those questions for fear of John’s tired, hungry, cranky responses. On the other hand, maybe he turned them into training exercises. “How long can you go on a rumbly tumbly?” “If you want to know the distance to the next town, learn to read the map”. And so on.
I’m sure he often tried to ignore those questions. I opted for that strategy on several occasions. Except if you don’t deal with the situation, it inevitably becomes”¦
“Thwack! Slap! Pinch! She’s Hitting Me!! She Hit Me First!!!”
Yes, fighting is almost as much a part of family road trips as the ice cream, and Kodak moments. It’s the dirty secret that none of us talk about much, but it happens to everyone.
We had one. We call it The Big Family Meltdown, and ironically it’s almost become a highlight of our trip because it was just so ridiculous. I suspect there is now a group of teenage boys in British Columbia, who have sworn off sex, after witnessing our little piece of performance art in the parking lot. We were a living, breathing advertisement for birth control. It was actually very funny, because I ended up walking off to get a little peace. I stormed into a public restroom, full of righteous indignation… Only to discover I’d walked into the men’s room… Into that same group of teenage boys, and they were all changing to go to the beach”¦ As Dean would say, “Awkward!!”
I know that John and the boys must have had fights. They would have had HUGE shouting matches, which no doubt became physical, at least between Sam and Dean. Can you imagine those two wrestling in the back seat? (I’m just going to pause here and linger on that image!) I’m sure John pulled on to the shoulder many times to yell, or to threaten to put them out on the side of the road.
But, I’m equally sure there were other moments when laughter overtook them, or when they were all singing along to one of the classic rock tunes that John would have been playing on the Impala’s radio, And when the boys were little and prone to falling asleep in the back seat, I can imagine John, glancing in the rearview mirror, and smiling to himself at the sight of the sandy-blonde and chestnut-brown heads bobbing gently. Kids sleeping in cars have a special peace, and beauty about them. It’s kind of magical. (Maybe the magic is in the fact it’s finally quiet and still in the car!)
The truth of most road trips is that, for every Family Meltdown, there are about 1,000 other incredible and inspiring moments. I cherished the chance to see the prairies, the mountains, the ocean, and even a hotel pool, through the eyes of my children. (And a special Thank You to hotel pools everywhere. You have saved the quality of life for many a harried family.)
Special memories for us include singing along to Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldiers”, just as a buffalo made his way across the road; operating a pretend restaurant with my daughters and inventing the most-delicious flavours of ice cream to serve there; getting up early to go for a walk on the beach at low tide, and seeing a rainbow of starfish, and sea anemones exposed on the rocks and in the shallow pools; and going for a tour of a mining museum, and marveling at the all-encompassing inky, blackness of life underground, and then surfacing to the main processing plant and recognizing it as a probable Supernatural filming location!!! (Unfortunately, that’s as close as I got to any actual filming, or sightings, but it was still great.).
There are quiet moments that stand out too. Watching my girls take so much joy in licking the roasted marshmallow off their fingers as we sit around the campfire. Snuggling in the sleeping bag because the rain is coming down so hard, and so heavy there’s no point in getting out of the tent anyway. Eavesdropping on the imaginary world being created in the back seat. I was constantly amazed, and fascinated by the creativity of their drawings, their storytelling and the games they played with their brand new stuffed animals.
But the end of the journey brings the best moment of all”¦ Pulling up in front of your house with everyone in good health, and safe and with a wealth of stories to laugh about, and share in the years to come.
With no fixed address I doubt John, Sam and Dean ever got much chance to savour that particular moment. But I suspect, slipping the lock into the Impala’s door, sliding onto the leather seats, and turning on the radio, sometimes felt less like the start of a road trip, and more like coming home.