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Going Places with Kids

The annual Pennoyer drive from Connecticut to Disney World in 1982 was not delayed by a stomach flu that swept through our family with a vengeance. My parents piled us into the fleshy-tan, fourteen-foot Ford cargo van my father had outfitted with a few bench seats so our family of seven could travel comfortably and "move about the cabin" as we pleased during the two-and-a-half-day road trip. We brought a cooler, toys, books, suitcases, and a slew of dark Hefty bags in which to vomit along the way.

All of those road trips from New England to Florida blend together as no seat belts kept us from playing and leaping from one side of the van to the other. Our bench seats were roomy for us five kids to have the barfing flu while remaining a safe distance from the comfy leather captain’s chairs my father had taken from a Datsun Z-car for himself and my mother up front. I guess my parents figured that when you have five kids, and a few of them have the 24-hour flu, the flu would be gone by the time we reached the Magic Kingdom two days later. Maybe I am a big chicken, or maybe I just cringe thinking about those Hefty bags sloshing about in the van before we could reach a gas station to dispose of them, but my 2014-parent-Spidey-Sense tells me that I would have postponed the trip.

If you’ve ever heard your own siblings throw up, just imagine huddling far away from them on the quarantined bench seat and hearing that retching noise within a confined space and only those little prop-open latch cargo van windows to open. My parents both had roll-down windows, so when the stench was worse in the van than it was having the windows down while driving through the manure-y farmlands of Georgia, all windows were as open as possible. That’s when my youngest sister, Maggie, was about two, and her favorite blanket, Softie (a burp cloth from her infancy that had been washed so many times it became the softest thing in our house), sat upon my mother’s lap in the front passenger’s seat with the window down. Remember, no car seats then. Maggie’s grip on Softie wasn’t enough to keep Softie from blowing out the window, and we all watched it flutter to the side of the highway in the dusty air as my father kept driving. “What? I’m not stopping to get that thing. Don’t we have more?”

They were right. Although dehydrated, we arrived flu-free in Disney World only to have the spinning teacup ride make me queasy, and I now get motion sickness if I sit in the back for any car ride longer than fifteen minutes.

It takes a lot of effort to bring kids on a road trip over an hour. I don’t care if the kids are two, ten, or fifteen years old. It is a fine art of parenting to coordinate the time when your kids eat with the filling of the gas tank and when the kids will need to use the bathroom. Traveling with kids isn’t what it used to be. I am all for the safety of seat belts and car seats, but there was something to be said for being able to move around on that trip. If I had been strapped in next to a vomiting sibling for two days, I think I would have curled into a fetal position anytime my cat had a hairball.

When I asked my father about the van recently, he remembered every detail of it and how he had painted a wide red stripe down the side to make it look sporty.

“Ford made three lengths of that van,” he shared proudly. He had no recollection of the flu until I mentioned it.

“Didn’t your blanket fly out the window?” he asked.

“No, Dad, that was Maggie.”

“That was some van, wasn’t it?”

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