Dad hanging on, enjoying the ride with family tornado

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

July 4, 2013

Hanging on, enjoying the ride with family

We returned recently from a vacation in North Carolina where we rolled into Sapphire Valley pointing and shouting and laughing. My four kids gave the natural power of the waterfalls there a run for their money, roaring along with white water and swimming alongside the trout.

This family leaves the house in the HOV lane. On the road, we are a Bedouin caravan of one, the kids piled high with blankets and pillows for comfort despite the sub-Saharan temperatures outside. It is a force to contend with, this single-car parade rolling around town or through the state; our minivan appearing to have sprouted arms and legs and a voice box that knows no cruise control. We are a Tasmanian Devil in movement, whirling through our own Looney Tunes cartoon to wreak havoc upon the landscape.

On the beaches of Florida earlier last month we took up valuable gulf front real estate, spreading our blankets, chairs and towels as wide as necessary and building a walled castle to declare that spit of sand our own. Closer to home, we’ll unpack nylon chairs and eat up three parking spots at the Summer Twin Drive-In. We’re in your way at the Levitt Shell and, on the off chance we all end up at Kroger, it’s probably best if you just skip the aisle we’re on.

The drive-thru won’t work with so many orders being screamed at me, yet dining in means we wait for a table large enough to become vacant, though at a Waffle House in Ooltewah, Tenn., recently, we rearranged the furniture to meet our needs. We’ll use most of a waitress’ resources, her largest tray and all of her patience, but the gratuity from our ticket should keep her fed for a week.

It might take longer than necessary for us to leave the house — there are last-minute bathroom breaks, the brushing of hair, a lost shoe and uneaten snack — but once we do, it’s as though we’ve exited the driveway from a slingshot and are screaming into your neighborhood. From the back of the van there are arguments, impromptu concerts, shouted demands, strange smells and questions. Oh, the questions. They are as endless as the hours spent on I-40.

When we arrive at our destination, this clown car will empty into your lives for a period of sightseeing or dinner or a show, and for this I apologize in advance.

We move as a tornado moves: unpredictably and with force, itineraries altered at the slightest suggestion. A momentum is built up over time and its energy propels us forward, on to the next adventure, the next experience, the next question. Those of you with large families know the sensation; it’s one of falling, of running down a hill as your feet move ever quicker to keep up with your building speed.

These kids are growing and in need of constant nourishment and stimuli. They want to see what’s around the next corner and to know what’s after that, and sometimes it’s all I can do to hang on for life and try to enjoy the ride.