Day 1: “Travel day” as my wife calls it. That means it doesn’t count towards the “hall pass” I was earning. (earning in my mind, that is) The visit is with all of her family in the outskirts of New Mexico with limited beer access, no Wi-Fi and only two local TV channels. In my mind, that would earn me six months without kids in a Las Vegas casino penthouse.
Our trip did not start auspiciously. My wife wouldn’t let us fake that our youngest, age 6, was a toddler so we could pre-board the crowded plane. Consequently, I was stuck in the very last row, a.k.a. deathrow, with two of our three restless kids.
I had to forego my Bloody Mary since I was constantly being bumped and judged by everybody that waited for the bathroom. I protected myself from the glares of passengers by reading the best book for travelling, Adrift. Author and shipwreck survivor, Steven Callahan, empowered me to battle my travel obstacles as I read how he avoided sharks, storms and dehydration in his tiny drifting raft for seventy-six days. My compact deathrow seat between whining kids and flatulating travelers waiting for the bathroom became more tolerable. Slightly. For nourishment I savored Cheese Nips I stole from my sleeping children.
Arriving did not mean our hardships were over. At Budget we found that my wife accidentally reserved the smallest and only car left, an Altima Coupe, to transport our family of five and twelve large “carry-on bags”. Fortunately, it was red, so my boys thought it was a Ferrarri. On our tight-packed trek through the icy terrain to our mountain lodge, I said nothing to my family. Fighting kids free of child car seats, bumped me repeatedly. I thought of my Adrift hero who spent so many helpless days being bumped by large fish as he dreamed of his next drop of water. I insisted on stopping for an 18-pack of beer at the last gas station. Even if it had to ride on my lap in our overstuffed Coupe, I could not survive five days at inlaws only on melted ice and doused dreams.
8:10pm – Upon arrival, my wife’s parents, sister and her children welcome us with hugs and the news that her parents have rid themselves of all but two television channels. Neither of those two are ESPN. There is brief chatting about the lack of plans for the week and all but me go off to bed at, yes, 8:30pm. I crack a beer and take a small sip calculating that perhaps rationing one or two each night will allow me to hibernate until our departure. I open my book, Adrift, and read for hours about how much worse it could be than having only CBS and PBS.
Day 2: I awake on the living room couch which I had found was the most comfortable spot in a crowded home. That is, until you are woken up pre-dawn by packs of excited children. The day is filled by the sounds of children fighting over video games, passive-aggressive dads grumbing, and wives telling the dads to “suck it up”. I try not to think about all the football bowl games I am missing while I count the minutes until I can open my first beer.
Day 3: I have befriended a fellow captive, my brother-in law, Paul. By some ironic twist of fate, both of us beer-loving, travel-loathing dads have married into a family of non-drinkers that enjoy spending time with each other many miles from our natural habitat. He invites me to “go shoot something” with him at a local paint-ball course in town. Not since my youth have I had any interest in holding a gun, but with two more days to go and dwindling beer rations, shooting pellets at the faces of unknown teenagers sounds better than watching time stand still. It turns out to be a great release of aggression.
We return home to bury our noses in our books. I read how my castaway collected rain drops and visualized food while I sip a light beer and try to imagine sports highlights in the lonely darkness of 9:15pm.
Day 4: In the real world of civilization, I have calculated this would be a Sunday. Paul and I elect to stay home while the others attend church. I am ecstatic at the idea that there will be a football game on one of the two channels and no kids in the house. My hopes of being rescued from sports starvation are dashed when it is revealed that CBS is televising the only game that has no significance on this last day of the season. The “local” Denver Broncos are whipping the Raiders 34 to 0 in the first half when I figure I won’t keep a tight count on my beer in-take. In the early evening, I try to warm myself dinner without any microwave available. Not familiar with ancient cooking practices, I accidentally melt a serving tray and nearly destroy the in-laws’ oven. I throw a tiny tantrum in front of my wife and her sister: “All I wanted to do all week was watch a football game and now that’s ruined too!” They take pity on me and my harsh conditions and help me hide the remains of the destroyed serving tray. I fall asleep to the sounds of distant coyotes and local news.
Day 5: Last day before we go home. We drive two hours to visit other cousins in, even more remote, outskirts of New Mexico. For our boys this proves to be a happier place than Disneyland as a short walk from their home, there are bones from decomposing cows, horses and sheep in a field where people dump their dead animals and furniture. Boys plus dead things equal awesome. With a bag full of skeleton souvenirs and half a beer in my belly, I am starting to see the light at the end of my tunnel. I learn all about my in-laws’ fascinating family history and am thankful to see a beautiful part of the “real America” where Breaking Bad was filmed. We drive back to our home away from home to pack and convince the children to get a few hours of sleep before our 5am departure. I finish Adrift and wish I could somehow thank the author who got himself through seventy-five days at sea and me through five days at in-laws.
Day6: Travel home. Somehow the boys make it through a 4:30am wake-up, a one hour drive, a two hour plane ride to Vegas, a plane change, and another two hour plane ride home before finally losing it in the baggage claim. The brief layover in Vegas teases me with reminders of the kid-free hall pass I was earning in my mind. Sports bars, slot machines, shopping travellers without kids are all close enough to touch but way out of reach. At least, so says all the airport authorities who keep telling my kids to keep away. I don’t bother to herd my screaming, rowdy boys as my revenge on those enjoying a “vacation”.
Land ho! While dragging heaps of luggage and delirious children to a distant shuttle, I realize it’s only 11am here. Still hours to go before kid bedtime. That’s just as harsh at home as anywhere it turns out. But at least I’m home where, just like in space, no one can hear you scream.
* I really hope my inlaws aren’t reading this. If they are then let me thank them for their always gracious hospitality and apologize for my perpetual crankiness.
I survived this trip to tell about it and I am less afraid to return to the open waters of visiting in-laws this summer. Can anyone recommend a good book?