Sardines will stink up a minivan instantly, I discovered when the boys and I loaded up to haul Drew and Finn to camp. We had driven four or five inches down the driveway before I noticed the fishy smell and stopped. A hurried investigation revealed that Porter had eaten sardines for lunch, and we all went back inside in the air conditioning while he washed his hands and arms, changed his shirt and brushed his teeth. Then we tried again.
After the trouble we had getting to camp last year, I wasn’t looking forward to this year’s drive to North Carolina. I treated the minivan to an oil change and new wiper blades before the trip. The van has a few more miles on it and a new jagged crack across the front windshield, but I hoped the car would view these shortcomings as signs of character, not something to get pissy about in the middle of Atlanta.
We hadn’t even gotten on the interstate before the Great iPod Battle of 2007 began. Drew and Finn were each equipped with an iPod and earbuds, while Porter and I set my iPod on shuffle and waited to see if we’d hit a good shuffle or a bad one requiring numerous fast forwards, which generally bodes ill for the entire trip.
“Can you turn down your music so I can hear mine?” Finn asked irritably. “Irritably” describes his general demeanor the entire week before his departure, so I was ecstatic about shipping him off for almost a month.
“As the driver, I have the right to choose my music and listen to it at any volume I desire,” I said.
“I want Weird Al! I want Weird Al!” Porter shouted, jumping up and down and kicking the back of my seat with such force I thought my kidneys might fly out my belly button and knock the windshield out for good.
“I don’t listen to Weird Al, Porter. I’ve told you that a million times.”
“Not a million, because that would take you like three years to say a million times and it’s only been like three seconds,” Porter said.
“It just seems to me that if you lowered your volume a little, everyone would benefit by being able to listen to their choice of song,” Finn persisted.
I reached over and turned up “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and kept driving.
Soon Finn and Drew were lost in their music, but Porter chattered on, although no one else was conversing with him. It was then that I truly realized that his mouth is always open, either so words can come out or food can go in. Both listening to him and keeping him full are exhausting.
“Look at that sign for pottery. We did pottery in school and I made a bowl shaped like a leaf. I did. Is this song by Shania Twain? I love Shania Twain. And I love Carrie Underwood but I like to call her Carrie Underwear. Whoa! That motorcycle was going, like, so fast. Look how many lanes there are. Why are there so many lanes? Where did all these cars come from? I’m hungry for bacon. Can we stop and get some bacon? Or Pop-Tarts? Will there be a pool at the hotel? Will there?”
“Skateaway” came on so I turned up the music and drowned out Porter’s voice, but I could tell he wasn’t deterred and was still talking away.
We made it through Atlanta, and Drew dozed. Porter continued his running commentary. Finn began encouraging every eighteen wheeler we passed to honk. Many obliged, scaring the hell out of me.
The honking roused Drew, and he and Porter began whispering excitedly. I discretely lowered the volume of the radio so I could eavesdrop.
“Let’s pretend your name is Richard,” Drew said.
“Okay,” Porter said, laughing. “But I want you to call me by my nickname.”
“Hey Dick, can I have half of your Slim-Jim?” Drew asked, snickering.
“Yes. Now let’s pretend my first name is Harry and my middle name is Richard but people use my nickname.”
“Hey, Harry Dick, can I have a drink of your Coke?” Drew asked, and he laughed so hard he had trouble breathing.
I glanced at Finn. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be asleep, so I didn’t have any parental duty to stop the show.
“But now you’re also a fat guy. So your name is Fat Harry Dick,” Drew said. Although I’ve heard this joke a thousand times since I was in second grade listening to the Voice of Reason’s husband tell it, the thought of a man named Fat Harry Dick was suddenly highly amusing, perhaps because I knew that my joke-tellers really have skinny, smooth genitals. I began snorting in an unladylike manner.
“Mom’s laughing about Fat Harry Dick!” Porter yelled.
“I’m not,” I said, “I just had something in my throat. And I don’t want to hear any more talk about Richard or nicknames for your penis.”
We drove in silence for five miles or so, and then Porter asked, “Mom, does ‘Moby’ mean ‘really big’?”
I turned up “The Ghost In You” and pretended not to hear him.
Eventually we got to the hotel, and the boys swam in lieu of taking a bath. We ate, and then we tackled the challenge of changing into pajamas in one room. None of the boys wanted me to see their privates, so I stood in the hall while they changed, then I went into the bathroom to put on my scruffy T-shirt.
I had chosen to sleep with Drew, because he and Osbert will cuddle up into a ball and stay still all night, he’s pretty clean, and he doesn’t hog the covers. I tucked everyone in bed and got in beside Drew and patted him a little, thinking about how much I’d miss him while he was gone.
He was getting sleepy, and I whispered, “Good night, I love you,” in his ear.
“I love you, too,” he said.
I lay back, luxuriating in the accomplishment of having gotten all the boys in bed and quiet. I was even starting to think I’d miss Finn while he was gone.
Just then, Finn turned over in the bed beside me, and half-awake, half-asleep, mumbled, “Safety.”
Maybe not so much.