I am writing this in the heart of the summer. If you are reading it during the stomach, lung, or bowel of summer — pick an organ — you can bet your last kidney that at this moment, somewhere along America’s highways and byways, there is a kid in a car asking his parents, “Are we there yet?”
It’s as sure a sign of summer as singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a sign of Christmastime. (Wonder if Rudolph ever asks Santa, “Hey, Big Man, are we there yet?”)
“Are we there yet?” is the bastard cousin of “How much farther?” and the illegitimate stepchild of “When are we gonna be there?!” Extra points if the lines are delivered with a whine and a squirm, as if the child, sweaty and starving, were asking from the confines of a straightjacket in the back of a rusty van.
“Are we,” a high-pitched voice of 5 years of age, shaky and tortured, “THERE yet?”
Vacation with the kiddos.
This essay is nothing more than a reminder to traveling parents that the more things change in family travel, the more they stay the same. “Are we there yet?” is as American as the Grand Canyon. That childhood question echoed from the bowels of the Mayflower, from the shade of covered wagons, and from the backseat of a two-door 1967 Impala, white, black hardtop, when the road it traveled between Carolina and our grandparents in Louisiana was just a vision of the Interstate 20, we know today.
To my dad’s credit, he never looked in the rearview mirror and said to his towheaded son, “Did I raise an idiot? I’ve raised an idiot. If we were there, we would not be here. The car would be stopped. Go back to sleep or read.”
“But I need to pee.”
That’s another classic. Children have always needed to pee. But they’ve never needed to pee more than when they are toddlers and, in a restaurant, — usually right when the food comes — or when they are elementary school-aged and in a car on a long trip. Somehow, a child’s bladder instinctively knows when it is farthest from a truck stop, and this is when it sounds the “I need to go” alarm.
The only explanation is that our Maker invented this behavior to keep parents humble and help us practice patience.
(Word to children: If a child is reading this, you also have a role to play. If a giant hand resembling your fathers suddenly appears in the backseat, seemingly with eyes of its own, grasping for what could be you, slide your own self into neutral. And if a voice resembling your fathers says, “Do NOT make me pull this car over!” don’t press the action. I was a kid once and in a vehicle that actually DID pull over, as threatened: it was not pretty.)
So … no, parents. Do not panic. This summer, do not think that these things happen only in your Impala, only in your SUV. They are happening to someone right now, and there’s really nothing any of us can do about it.
Just try to enjoy the ride.
Contact Teddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at MamaLuvsManning.