The Five Stages of Driving Home at Bedtime with Children
We've all been at this place before. We had a little too much fun at Grammy's, or the park, had a late dinner, and are now watching, in fear, as the clock winds down to Code Red, the point at which your children turn into sniveling, screaming, overtired little monsters. You must get them home, but you know it won't be pretty.
I'm here to walk you through the chaos, and provide some (questionably) helpful suggestions* to get you and your family home as safely as possible.
*This is not real advice. Duh.
Stage One: The Incitement
You've fought them into their car seats, and things appear to be moving smoothly. You begin your departure from X relative's house, when one of them begins screaming at the top of her lungs that she DIDN'T KISS PAPA!!! You can't turn back now. In fact, you distinctly remember all the children kissing Papa, but the only thing that matters is your preschooler's perception, and you scramble for a solution. You're on the highway now, and the ...DIDN'T KISS PAPAAAAAAA!!!!! is boring a hole through your skull. Hubby is kind enough to call Grammy and Papa and put them on speaker, you know, so they can at least say goodnight. The child settles into a cry-giggle and quiets down.
Stage Two: The Provocation
All's quiet in the backseat. By the clock, it's just about bedtime. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a wayward foot entering the personal space of normally-sedate brother. A crescendo rises rapidly from his seat. MAGGIE'S FOOT IS ON MY SEEEEEAAAAATTTTTT!!!! WAAAAHHHHHH!! You plead with the offender just to back off, that it's late, everyone's tired, and, frankly, it's hard to drive with someone performing a barely-audible Mariah Carey octave in an enclosed space. The offender does not relent. The foot remains. You beg, you plead, you turn around in your seat. You point. Still, the Dora-beshoed foot bobs and taunts, blinking red with every tap.
Stage Three: The Bargaining
By now, both the offender and the offended are lowing, sobbing, screaming, and they have no idea why. You try the radio. Music does soothe even the most savage beast, after all. You play one of their favorites. She wants a GIRL SOOONNGG!! You try to explain that, if she'd simply listen, she could hear a woman singing the song. The flailing continues. GIRL SONG! GEEIIIIRRRRLLLL SOOOOOOONG!! You turn the radio off and stare ahead, attempting to remain focused on the road. You offer each a piece of chocolate, because there's truly little more appropriate fuel for a tantrum of exhaustion than sugar and caffeine. That plan, surprisingly, does not work. You try the radio again, abandoning the idea completely after you realize that even the velvety harmony of You've Got a Friend just isn't doing it for anyone. Your husband's slumped forward in the passenger seat, snoring, as is one of your sons. You shake your head in disgust and drive on.
Stage Four: The Threatening
You're straight fed up. You tell the kids, in no particular order, to a) close their eyes, b) knock it off, c) shut up, please, and explain how hard it is for Mommy to pay attention to the road with all the screaming. You explain that they are merely tired, and if they simply relented and succumbed to sleep, they would feel much better. This only seems to make them scream louder. You then threaten to a) pull over the car, b) let one out, c) let them both out, and d) have them walk home, alone, in the cold, by the side of the highway, then decide you should just pull over and walk away from the vehicle altogether. You open and close a window, hoping the change in sensory input stuns them into silence. You round a few turns and then, finally, praise Sweet Baby Jesus, they fall asleep.
Stage Five: The Revenge
You've just spent an hour in no uncertain hell, trying to navigate a 4,500-pound vehicle, filled with unstable toddlers, into your garage. The door descends, and no sound remains but the trill of your rapidly beating heart and the hum of your engine. You turn off the key, open the sliding doors wide, jump out of your seat and yell, "Okay! Time to get up! Time to get up! Come on! We have to get inside and go to bed! Out of your chairs! Out of your chairs! Come on! It's late! We have to get our shoes and coats off and get into bed! Come on! Come on, Daddy! Come on, everyone! Let's go!" You think briefly about buying a cowbell, or leaving a few old pans and a wooden spoon in the garage for next time. Children are stumbling, bleary-eyed, out of their seats. One's fallen asleep standing up. "Come on! Come on!" you shout, banging on a folded-down seat, creating an entertaining, yet unnecessary, sense of urgency. The kids stumble, one by one, like seasick Navymen, out of your van. None can walk a straight line. They are shielding their eyes from the harsh light of the garage door opener. You pull off their shoes, take off their coats, and tuck them into bed.