Ahead of my small 1980 Buick, the Atlanta rush hour traffic stretched on for what seemed an endless line, miles and miles of vehicles moving perhaps an inch a minute. Behind me, enervatingly close to my ears in the cramped backseat of the tiny space we'd been crammed into together for the past six hours, sat my five-year-old grandson and my four-year-old grandaughter, both squawking in the high-pitched tones only children under eight can manage to voice. The combination of the slow traffic, the children's voices, the claustrophobic conditions, and the full cup of urine in my left hand all threatened to give me the worst migraine of my life.
All I could think as I raised my voice over my grandchildren's, trying to quiet them, was Bruce, what in tarnation did you get yourself into?
I should have known as soon as I agreed to it that it would eventually turn into the Drive from Hell. Anyone with any sense in their heads knows that you can't take two young children on a nine hour car trip from Mississippi to South Carolina and expect it to go swimmingly, with no headaches whatsoever. By the time I reached South Carolina soil, the usual "headache" or driving with small children had turned into something more like "brain tumor".
Now, my grandchildren are both very sweet, well-behaved children ordinarily. Wade, at five, is a polite, very helpful child, always eager to please, and Hanna, at four, is a simply beautiful little girl, so intelligent and charismatic, and she simply adores Wade. The two never fight with each other. Because of this, I figured it would be no problem to take them in my car and let my daughters, Jan and Kathy, ride alone with their husbands.
See, our family used to live in South Carolina when my children were still children, before we moved to Mississippi. Both of my daughters, at the time, were in the process of moving back to raise their own children there. I'd decided to come along to help lift and set up furniture and such- two moving vans were coming along as well.
I thought, as I have told you, that Jan and Kathy would appreciate some time to themselves with their husbands before the stress of moving everything into their new homes. Therefore I foolishly and naively volunteered to take my grandchildren with me in my car. A very stupid move- especially considering that as a man who had three children of his own, I should have known that car trips will turn even the most well-behaved children into little hellions you become desperate to escape from.
Of course, Jan and Kathy were more than delighted to hand over their kids- each had a much sharper memory of this truth than I did. So armed with books, snacks, and extra-tall sippy cups, I buckled Wade and Hanna into their booster seats, preparing myself for a bonding experience with my grandchildren. Let's just say it became one of those times where you might look back and laugh at later, but in that moment are only endured through prayers for someone to shoot you and put you out of your misery.
It started out nice enough at first. I kept them too busy to get bored or restless- they looked at their books, sang silly kiddy songs, recited numbers and the alphabet. I had them count how many cars they could find of specific colors, how many times they could find certain letters, etc. We played I spy, and after all this wore out, we started to tell stories. I let the kids tell some too, silly and nonsensical as they were.
And for a substantial amount of time, it worked. It wasn't until about five hours into it that they started getting fidgety and irritable. Wade needed to use the bathroom, Hanna was hungry. Both were bored and tired, but heaven forbid a person suggest a nap.
I handed out sippy cups and crackers, and for a little while they seemed content. But in less than ten minutes it started up again. Wade needed to pee, Hanna had a nasty taste in her mouth. Both were using the whiny tone that tired and bored children are such masters at, the tone equalled only by the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard.
I gave Hanna some gum, told Wade he would have to hold it a while- we were on the interstate and couldn't exactly pull over and stop at a gas station. Of course when he saw Hanna with gum, he had to have some too.
Within a half hour we'd reached Atlanta- at its traffic jam hour. Inwardly I groaned- it looked like it could take a few hours to get through.
Of course, with the impeccable timing of children, this was exactly the time Wade and Hanna decided they couldn't tolerate being in the car for another second. They began to writhe in their seats, whining liking they were on hot coals.
"I got to PEE, Papaw!" Wade insisted, his face twisting urgently.
"You just touched my leg!" Hanna shouted, and she shoved at Wade roughly- was this really Hanna, the child who chased Wade so she could kiss him on the lips?
Soon they were engaged in an all out hitting, pinching, kicking war, with Wade yelping, "Quit it, Hanna, I gotta pee!" and Hanna shrieking, " Papaw, make him stop!" as both beat on each other furiously. Meanwhile I was driving in Atlanta traffic, if you'll recall- how was I supposed to keep them from killing each other at the same time?
"Stop it, you two!" I said desperately, trying to look at them in the rearview mirror and also not swerve off the road. "Let's just calm down again. Why don't we sing 99 bottles of beer- I mean milk- on the wall?"
Which shows my sheer desperation at that point, to suggest singing that godawful song. But it was useless- I might as well have saved my breath. They just kept yelping and hitting each other, as I tried to raise my voice over them, gain control. Already the tension was giving me a pounding headache.
"Ooooooh!" Hanna screamed suddenly, and her cry was one of outraged dismay rather than delight. "I got gum in my hair! Ewwww! Papaw, papaw, I spit gum in my hair! PAPAW!"
I jerked my head around to look at her, my heart clinching in dread- and of course,she wasn't kidding. Somehow Hanna had managed to get a huge wad of bright pink bubble gum wrapped all around a long lock of her hair. I would have cursed the blithering idiot who had given gum to her if the said idiot hadn't been me- and as it was, I was sorely tempted.
Wade was no longer hitting her, just about to bust a gut laughing hysterically. Hanna was pulling at the gum in her hair frantically, trying to get it out but only embedding it further around her hair.
"Hanna, don't touch it!" I said somewhat sharply. "Just sit still until we can get to a gas station- you're only making it worse!"
But Hanna kept yanking at it anyway, her little face puckering, eyes brimming threateningly. Wade was still laughing like a loon, his little eyes squinched into half moons.
"Hanna's got gum in her hair," he gasped. "Hanna got gum all in her hair, it's all pink and sticky!" And he laughed some more.
Hanna shoved at him in frustration with her hands sticky from gum,but he didn't even seem to care. Her lower lip quivered; I barely had time to think, oh god please don't cry, before the tears started.
"Papaw, I got gum in my hair!" she wailed. "Pull over, I gotta get it out!"
"Hanna, honey, I'm trying to drive here!" I said, trying to sound like the nice, patient grandpa I no longer felt like. "There's a lot of cars, see? There isn't anywhere I can pull over to. We'll have to wait until we can get through all this."
"How LONG?" Hanna whined. "How long will this be until we're through?"
"I don't know," I said through gritted teeth. "For now just sit still and don't touch your hair."
"Make Wade quit laughing at me!" was Hanna's next comment. "He's laughing and making faces! He's making fun of me!"
Actually, Wade's laughter, racous and hysterical as it had been, had died down to an occasional giggle. And after a few minutes even that stopped. As Hanna sat sulkily, shoulders drawn up, crossing her arms over her chest, Wade straightened up suddenly, face serious, even urgent.
"Papaw, I gotta go to the bathroom. I mean, I really, really gotta go."
Oh Jesus, Joseph, and Mary... how had I ever done this before, done it with THREE children? And how could I have possibly forgotten how terrible it was?
"Wade," I said very calmly, considering that my blood pressure was rising rapidly, "there is nowhere near here with a bathroom. You'll just have to hold it."
"But I gotta GO, Papaw," he insisted, not seeming to have heard a word I'd said. "I gotta go now."
"Wade- we CANNOT GO to the potty right now!" I repeated slowly. "There is nowhere to go!"
From the backseat, Hanna perked up a little,clearly finding Wade's predicament amusing.
"Wade's gotta tee-tee, Wade's gotta tee-tee," she sang mockingly, beaming nastily him. Wade ignored her, leaning toward me urgently and repeating desperately, "Papaw, I GOTTA pee! I really, REALLY have to! I gotta pee NOW!"
Oh hell's bells... I glanced at the rearview mirror, and it seemed Wade was deadly serious. He was doubled over, holding his crotch with his legs together, and his face was tightened into a look of genuine agony. This was just exactly what I needed, a pee-stained backseat with a strong smell for god knows how long.
I would have cursed the blamed fool who had been "thoughtful" enough to bring the kids extra large sippy cups, but again, the said fool was me.
Suddenly I lit upon an idea that seemed bright and ingenious at the time, although two minutes later I was to see that it was just another foolish, stupid idiot one. I whipped out Wade's empty sippy cup and thrust it back at him. He looked at it blankly.
"Papaw, I drank it all already. I don't want to drink, I gotta pee-"
"I know," I said through gritted teeth. "Pee into the cup, Wade. And don't you dare spill it."
Wade and Hanna both looked dumbfounded. Wade hadn't had his first physical for kindergarten yet, so he hadn't been asked to do such a thing before.
"It's a cup," he said doubtfully.
"Yes, I KNOW- now pee into it!"
A long pause, then, " All right..."
I could hear him unbuckle his seat belt, but I couldn't worry about that- I was still trying to drive. Then came the tell-tale sound of Wade urinating- into the cup, hopefully.
"I see Wade's ding dong," Hanna chanted gleefully. "Ding dong, weeny, willy, weeny weeny weeny!"
Oh god save us all.
Wade took a remarkably long time to finish up, so long I worried he'd overflow the cup, but a minute later he handed me the sippy cup, now cheerful as could be since his bladder was empty.
That cup was full to the brim. I'd had no idea that when the child said he had to pee, he meant THAT BADLY!
Now I was faced with another issue. Neither Wade nor Hanna could find the lid to either of their sippy cups- and I definitely didn't want to stick it in the cup holder and have it slosh on top of me should I put on the brakes. So I was forced to hold it in my left hand as I drove with my right. Through Atlantic traffic. With a cup filled to the brim with urine in my left hand. And two little children behind me, beginning to fuss yet again about being bored.
Let me tell you, boredom was not a problem I was experiencing.Author notes:
This really happened over twenty years ago; Bruce is my grandpa, Wade is my older brother, and Hanna is my cousin. They are now 29 and 28 years old.