July 11th, 2014. It was a pleasant enough morning. The sun was shining just the right amount, the clouds were perfectly storybook, my wife was looking radiant and my children were smiling and happy. Fast forward 4 hours and the change was remarkable.
You see, we were going on a road trip. And while some of us are experienced road warriors armed with nutty buddies and portable DVD players, for others of us this was their maiden voyage. Sadly, no amount of movies or over-processed junk food could make up for the limited amount of wiggle room experienced (which primarily consisted of fingers and toes only) over an extended period of time.
In short, our one year old was miserable. Of the five hour car ride, she screamed for a good three-and-a-half hours. I felt bad for the kid, I really did! But, like the good patriarch, I pressed on until it was necessary that we stop for lunch or the disposing of the remains of lunch. My wife Tracy made constant trips to the back of the van to try to console or cajole or bribe quietness from the unhappy toddler. It wore my wife out, and my guilt level for being the one driving and not tending children was peaking at around 90%. We arrived at our hotel grateful to be free of the van, and to have our adorable baby back cooing and giggling. Our evening was slightly tainted by thoughts of the next leg of the journey, however, and it was a long leg.
The next time we piled into the van, Tracy said something that surprised me.
“I’m just going to sit in the back.”
Huh. Yeah. We didn’t think about that earlier, did we?
This day the ride was a full eight hours long. We stopped one time. One! Did I mention I have two girls under the age of seven? There was maybe a total of one hour’s screaming and intermittent grumblings from the baby’s car seat, but the benefits of having mom nearby were unmistakable.
I wonder how often I try to manage things from the front seat — to “handle” a problem, whether it’s my family or work issues or personal bumps in my spiritual journey, by simply shouting inane niceties or tossing plastic wrapped peanut-butter-barbiturates at it? I think, maybe it’s too often. I think problems — child related or otherwise — are like screaming toddlers. There is no possible way you can ignore them for long. They don’t go away by pretending they’re someone else’s responsibility (remember my driver’s guilt?) and they are never truly managed by “crisis intervention” as evidenced by the many trips to the back of the van the previous day. But by putting herself in full view of those big sad eyes and screaming lungs, my wife dealt with things exponentially better for everyone. The issue wasn’t managed until it was truly faced.
In the case of my very upset baby girl, all she wanted was to know that she wasn’t forgotten, that she was important, that we cared that she was distressed, and that we wanted to help her. And who of us, if we’re being honest, doesn’t feel just like her most of the time? I hope I can remember that the next time there’s a tantrum in my rear view mirror.