4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
There’s a radio station on the web called Pandora. And like it’s namesake, you type in your favorite artist and WHOOSH, that artist plus hundreds of similar artists fly out into your airwaves. Type in Van Morrison and you’ll eventually get some James Taylor, maybe some Bob Dylan, perhaps even Jack Johnson. (Seriously, put it on. This would be so much better with music.)
Around the holidays I discovered that you can dial up Bing Crosby Christmas. From there we found Solo Piano Radio (so Zennnnnnn), Safety Dance Radio (S-s-s-s-A-a-a-a-…) but my new family favorite is Family Road Trip.
Because it turns out that Family Road Trip isn’t just a station, it’s a genre, dare I say, a mental scrapbook. Pandora believes it can define “the family road trip” with a certain kind of music. And they are so right.
Harry Belafonte, Van Morrison, Beach Boys, it’s a station that my kids just love. It’s bright summer days and watching their little pre-bath naked bodies squirm and writhe as they run through the living room combining break dance, Beyonce and ballet to great affect. It’s gorgeous, this life Pandora has painted for us.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s our one and only road trip was to Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a stay in a rental cottage for one week each summer. This place, this seasonal cottage with a vinyl fold-out couch that I made my younger brother sleep on once I deemed him too old to share a twin bed, this was heaven.
Early on we brought my older brother Butchie, who was severely retarded. He hated the sun, hated the sand, hated change, loved only a television, which our tiny cottage lacked. His habitual screams, really a sing-song sort of hooting that our New Jersey neighbors had mostly acclimated to, was an annoyance for the vacationers and journeymen around us in their own uninsulated cottages with their own out-of-state license plates.
Eventually, Butchie stayed home with a local family who poured their very Christian love down on us through this one act, watching my brother for a week each summer. They had kids my age at my high school, but we weren’t especially close. Even then, I was pushing against the boundaries of my own narrow Lutheran faith, and their rigid beliefs seemed suffocating, to say the least. But their generosity in watching my brother, this could make a believer out of anyone.
And so my mother would anxiously make lists, and those lists would have lists. Things to pack, things to buy, things to do before we could leave, Butchie’s medicine, my Dad’s medicine, and so on. We’d map out the route, plan the one bathroom stop and my sister, who always had to pee, would be cut off liquids at lunch the day before our departure.
When I was five I got carsick on I-95, somewhere in New York or Connecticut, so for the next fourteen years my mother would give me Dramamine beginning at dinner the night before. She would actually tuck me into bed, sometimes on the back bench seat of the VW bus, and I would hardly wake until we’d reached the Bourne Bridge.
Oh, the excitement of this trip. I remember, even through my drug-dazed stupor, I would peer out the windows and sniff the salt air. It was a magical place, the Cape.
And there was no music on the radio as we travelled, just KYW, Traffic on the Tens, jabbering through the day. In my haze, I would lie across the back seat. I’d listen to the murmur of my parents talking in the front, some years accompanied by the hum of my father’s feeding machine hung from the coat hook just behind his window. The smoke from his Marlboro reds would drift across us like a blanket. My sisters would read or talk or fight. One sharing the long bench reserved for me, the other sharing the short middle row with my younger brother.
We’d pull up to the lighthouse in Chatham and look out over the beach below waiting for the clock to tick to 11am. (Yes, my mother would make us leave that early.) And then we would wind our way down the hill, past the tennis club and the fine homes to the tiny enclave of rental cottages and our treasured D9. If the family before us was still packing up my family would park the bus just behind their car and my mother would glare swords until they vacated our new home.
I thought this was going to be a story about how much better my kids’ summer trips are, but somewhere in my remembrance, it shifted.
There was such joy and love in my dysfunctional family for these stressful trips to a rickety cottage two blocks walk from the beach. There was such reverence felt for the ten inch square view of the ocean you could only see out the tiny window over the sink in the dark little shotgun kitchen. To this day when I smell something amazing like honeysuckle or beach roses accompanied by saltwater breezes, I say, “This smells like Cape Cod.”
Even if I’m in Maine or Nova Scotia or Ipswich, MA. Still, “This smells like Cape Cod.”
My kids get bigger views of the beach, that’s for sure, and less stress when I ninja the Yogibo and every other toy, snuggle and art supply into the car. They get educational and artistic videos that we pick from the library for the car ride and they each are snuggly strapped into their safety harnesses, with juice in their sippy cups and a bowl of food, like brussels sprouts, carrot sticks, and pigs in the blankets, to eat during the ride. It’s no vinyl-seated VW bus back there, I tell you.
I’m sure someday they will tell the stories about how Mom always made them use the portable car toilet at the truck stops because it’s cleaner. (You judge?) They’ll remember how we yelled at them to put on their seatbelts or how they never got to watch the movie they really wanted. Perhaps they’ll even say we took them away when they really wanted to stay at home and play with their school friends, sleep in their own beds, ride their bikes.
But deep in their remembrances, I hope they will put that Family Road Trip station on and they will feel it in their bellies like I feel it today. They will feel the excitement in heading to the ocean, the comfort of humming along a highway with their siblings at their sides, ensconced in this indefinable love.
Here’s what the Family Road Trip station played for me while I wrote this. It’s no wonder I got nostalgic for that VW bus.
Rocking Robin, Bobby Day
Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World, Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole
Best Day of My Life, American Authors
Day-O, Harry Belafonte
Stand By Me, Otis Redding
Do You Love Me, The Contours
My Girl, Temptations
Lollipop, the Chordettes
Runaround Sue, Dion
Say Hey (I Love You), Michael Franti & Spearhead
Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the Proclaimers