We are going to have dinner in the home of friends who live in a town six interstate exits away. I herd the kids into the relatively more gas-efficient of our two vehicles. Before I can sit in the passenger’s seat of our Saturn Ion, I must transfer Liam’s belongings from the front seat to the trunk. Although I am gratified that he put his sleeping bag, backpack, etc., in the car as asked, I am still annoyed at being inconvenienced.
I am carrying multiple items (bottles of home-brewed beer, a bottle of wine in case the home-brew doesn’t go over well, Nora’s sweater, and our contribution towards dinner – a tomato, rice and basil salad). I am obliged to balance on one foot and push the button that opens the trunk with my big toe. In the backseat, Liam rubs his siblings’ earlobes and they swat at him. Everyone yells. I tell myself that we are dropping Liam at a friend’s house just a mile away.
As I sink into my seat, I recall what happened the last time Liam went to this friend’s house. I turn around to catch his eye and sternly remind him to behave himself and to respect other people’s property (The last time he went to this friend’s house—and I wish this wasn’t true—he broke the latch on his friend’s bedroom door when he KICKED IT IN during a mock clone trooper assault). That he was invited back to this friend’s house at all is a small miracle. We deposit Liam on his friend’s front stoop and arrange to pick him up after breakfast.
I check the time. We are late. I check the numbers stored in my cell phone; our friends’ phone number is not programmed. I call 411 and hope their number is listed. Nora and Henry are now arguing so loudly that I can’t hear the telephone operator. Just as loudly, my husband tells the kids, “Quiet down.” My call is automatically connected. Thirty seconds into my conversation with our prospective host Henry screams “NO” so emphatically that myself, my husband, Nora, and my friend on the telephone are stunned into silence. I weakly end the call with, “We’ll see you soon!” then lurch around to deal with my overwrought children who are fighting over a punch ball that made it into the car somehow (Nora pinged it off Henry’s face and he is understandably irritated).
I scold Nora and take a good look at Henry. He is so tired that I anticipate his sleeping for the remainder of the 45 minute car ride. Except, I realize: 1) I don’t know when Henry last went to the bathroom; and 2) I hadn’t brought any in-case-of-an-accident clothes. Urgently, I ask Henry if he has to pee and receive a sleepy, but clearly affirmative, response.
My husband and I debate whether Henry can pee on the side of the road. We finally agree to use the sure-to-be-filthy gas station bathroom rather than have Henry make his first-ever attempt at urinating standing up, whilst in a ditch beside Route 117. It is now suspiciously quiet in the car. I check on Henry and discover him on the brink of a sleep coma. I cannot let him succumb to the sandman before he relieves himself or we will all be sorry. For an eternal four minutes, I alternately tickle and pinch Henry’s legs to keep him awake. Henry whines and kicks any part of me that he can reach, along with the backside of the driver’s seat. My husband grits his teeth. Nora sucks her thumb and watches me act like the lunatic I am. I am nauseous from facing the wrong way in the car. I encourage my husband to risk a speeding ticket just to end the madness. We crest the hill in our silver bullet; the oasis-like gas station gleams in the distance. Henry is still awake and his bladder is full. Hallelujah!