CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The prospect of a FUN family vacation is so remote and futuristic that it is nearly inconceivable at this time. I've tried repeatedly and I've failed. I know all the tricks too. And if you do not do the following things, if you have small children, you may just get out at a red light and keep on walking.Travel tipsBuy the EXACT same brand of sippie cups so lids don't get confused.Start a week in advance so you forget everything you packed and worry about forgetting what you've done.Never use suitcases. Use laundry baskets so you can see inside, dig and wiggle things around.Don't bother folding anything. It doesn't matter.Clean out the car with a backhoe the night before.Load the car the night before.Time it around naps, meals and diaper changes like a Navy SEAL invasion.
Get yourself ready in seven minutes and start shouting "LOAD!"Load the cooler LAST and put all baby bottles within reach at all times.Hang a bamboo whipping spoon off the rearview mirror as you pull out of the driveway, squalling the tires.
In this family, I drive the long hauls. My husband drives a lot, so I relieve him from this duty.Besides, I drive faster. When he drives, I am constantly glancing at the speedometer saying, "You can go 80 through this stretch because there are no cops."Driving makes me feel a nearly indescribable mix of calm and aggression. Although my husband has enough faith in God to take naps while I'm driving, he does occasionally mention that he is awake enough to seize the wheel if it should be required.It has been required.While I am driving is not a good time to talk about problems of any sort.Not that I MIND any of this. I just want pity and appreciation.If my husband is driving, we will get stopped by the fuzz.If I am driving, we will not get stopped. If we do, we will get a warning, if that.There is no policeman in any state who wants to see a pregnant woman (or one who looks pregnant even if she is not!) dig everything out of the back of an SUV on the side of the interstate to find her pocketbook and driver's license.THEREFORE, I put the pocketbook in the car FIRST, so the entire vehicle has to be archaeologically excavated to find the correct documentation.There are no televisions or gadgets in the car. As a mother, you have to fight for your rights. In the car, everyone has to talk to each other and be nice so they learn how to do that. These are teaching moments.Until you swerve off the side of the road and crack the bamboo whipping spoon on the dashboard and shout, "Silence!"Then everyone gets a good chewing out by their father.I sit quietly and let Fred give me pity and appreciation in front of the kids while I cultivate the look of forbearance and martyrdom on my face. I glance at myself in the rearview mirror to see if it is convincing.It's good for the marriage.Could the skills that allow me to travel with three toddlers in an orderly fashion have gotten me awards and a fat paycheck for something in another line of business? I don't know.I think about that while I'm driving.I also think about the time we were invited to appear on "Oprah" for the "Dirtiest Car in America" episode. We gave it a pass.I wanted to be on the show at least once before she stopped the program, and that was the only episode I qualified for, so I wrote to them, and they called me. But we decided we didn't want to be world famous for that particular problem.With a car as dirty as ours, even when it's been cleaned, everyone sneezes the whole way. We think about getting another car. But then we say to ourselves, "Why bother? It will be just like this one in no time, so drive it into the ground and think about that later."I think about those gigantic Ford Expeditions sometimes because they are so huge. You fill it up with $200 worth of gas and you don't have to fill it up again for another 800 miles, which takes one more errand off your list.But Ford Expeditions are so BIG. You don't want to fill up more than one Hefty Steel Sack when you clean out the car.Contact Tracy Herz at firstname.lastname@example.org.