In the 5 Minute Van Ride to the Grocery

Owen: “Why do we have to get butter at the store?”
Andy: “Because we don’t have butter.”
Owen: “But we do have butter!”
Andy: “No. We don’t. We have margarine.”
Me: “Daddy doesn’t like margarine.”
Owen: “What’s margarine?”
Me: “Fake butter.”
Owen: “But I like margarine!”
Andy (jokingly, I think): “You are not my son!”
James (singing): “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me haaapppy, when skies are graaayyy.”
Owen: “I want to play I Spy!”
Andy: “OK, you can go first.”
Sophie: “I want to go first!”
Andy: “It was Owen’s idea, so he gets to go first.”
(Complaints from Sophie. Stern words from me.)
Owen: “I spy with my little eye something pink.”
Me: “My nails?”
Owen: “No! That cup!”
(He’s still learning the rules of the game.)
Everyone: “Yay!”
Sophie: “My turn! I spy with my little eye something red and white.”
Andy: “That’s pink.”
Sophie: “No. A lot white and just a little red.”
(We guess a million things.)
Sophie (beyond frustrated): “It’s a lollipop stick with just a little bit of cherry lollipop still stuck on it!”
Me: “Where did you find that?”
Sophie: “In the holder!”
(The holder is a little compartment next to her seat in the van.)
Me: “Um, what else is your holder?”
Sophie: “Old Oreo cookies, old pita chips, a pinecone and a rock. Oh! And a barrette!”
James: “It’s my turn!”
Me, to Andy: “We have to clean out the van.”
James: “I spy with my little eye something green.”
Andy: “The trees.”
James: “No.”
Andy: “The grass.”
James: “Yes!”

And so on.

“A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.” —Peter De Vries

My New Backseat Driver

Me: “Uh oh.”

Sophie: “What?”

Me: “I’m going the wrong way.”

Sophie: “What do you mean you’re going the wrong way?”

Me: “I’m lost.”

Sophie: “You’re lost?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sophie: “Why didn’t you go back the way we came?”

Me: “I missed my turn.”

Sophie: “What does ‘turn’ mean?”

Me: “You know. Right or left. I went straight when I should have turned.”

Sophie: “So why didn’t you just turn around and go back?”

Me: “Because now I’m downtown and dealing with one-way streets.”

Sophie: “Are we still lost?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sophie: “Boys, Mommy is lost.”

Me: “It’s OK, Sophie. You don’t need to tell them that.”

Sophie: “This does not look like our house [referring to a skyscraper].”

Me: “No. I’m still trying to find the road back to our house.”

Sophie: “She [referring to my Garmin, which I’ve since turned on] said to turn left, Mommy. You should have turned there.”

Me: “DANG IT!”

Sophie: “Are we still lost?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sophie: “How will we get home?”

Me: “We’ll figure it out.”

Sophie: “This is taking a long time.”

[blessed silence for a few minutes]

Sophie: “This doesn’t look like our house, either.”

Me: “I know where I am now. We’re on 471.”

Sophie: “What’s 471?”

Me: “The way home.”

Sophie: “Are you sure?”

“Back seat drivers don’t know the feel of the wheel
but they sho’ know how to make a fuss.” —Bob Dylan

Ocean Isle Beach—The Trip There


James has no idea he has a 12-hour car ride ahead of him. (Andy is tying the gate to the top of the van, after we ran out of room inside of the van.)


I’m pretty sure I packed most everything baby-related in the house.


We listened to Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” and the boys laugh and cry, and Sophie laugh and ask how much longer (over and over and over) throughout the drive. We also managed to drive through tar, which Andy had to scrape off with a tire iron (he didn’t want to use the tire iron, but resorted to it after stepping in a mound of fire ants and through poison ivy while trying to find a suitable stick, instead). Somehow, stuff like this always happens to us on car trips.


Sometimes, the beach seemed very far away. To all of us. But all in all, Sophie did as well as can be expected considering she’s 3. Especially because she refused to play with any of her toys (including a new one, gifted to her from us specifically for the trip) or watch any of her DVDs on the portable DVD player because, as she said, she wanted to “save them all for the beach.” So, for the most part, she sat in her seat and looked out the window the entire drive, despite our repeated attempts to convince her that it was OK to play with her toys and watch her shows during the drive and at the beach. Andy claims this personality trait, unreasonable stubbornness, is my fault. Stubbornness, maybe. Unreasonable, no. I’m sure, in her mind, her patience was entirely reasonable. But oh did it make for a long trip for her. I still don’t know how she did it.

We ended up spending the night at Katy and Tom’s house, in Winston-Salem, NC. We arrived around 2am. Katy and Tom graciously moved Colleen to their room, and I put James in Colleen’s crib, Owen in Colleen’s pack-and-play, and then spent two hours trying to convince them that it was 2am, not morning. I ended up sleeping, in my clothes, in the nursery’s glider. We were up at 7am (why is it children never sleep in?) and on the road again.

More Dickens. More laughing. More crying. More not playing or watching anything (other than the passing scenery outside the van windows, growing more and more ocean-like the longer we drove) from Sophie.


I think car trips are most difficult for crawlers. An infant’s idea of stretching is simply being held. A toddler or child’s idea of stretching is running around (easy to do at a rest stop). But a crawler needs to crawl and clean crawling space is often difficult to come by. So stops for food often turned into outdoor picnics—here we’re eating at a school, closed up for the summer. (And here, although still many miles away, we could finally smell the ocean. I loved that.)

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We made it—our beach house in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.


Owen meeting his cousin Colleen for the first time.


Owen shoving his finger in Colleen’s eye for the first time.

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All four children seeing the ocean for the first time.


James eating sand for the first time.

And I cried, for the first of many times, during this trip. I spent many summer vacations as a child at the beach. And even as a little girl I knew, someday, I would take my family to the ocean. And I crave the ocean. And it had been a long time. And something about the heavy ocean-scented air; and watching Sophie, wide-eyed as she took in the enormity of it all; and seeing the small marks my sons made as they crawled through shell-littered sand for the first time; and putting the tip of my finger in my mouth so as to taste the salt (as I always do)—I was overcome. And grateful. And suddenly, the long drive and lack of sleep seemed totally, totally worth it.

“Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.” —E.B. White