With only two weeks left in the school year, it seems like so many activities are trying to cram inside so little time. End of year parties, goodbyes, birthday parties, final evaluations; you name it, it’s happening. Throw in there my own Dad’s birthday, his 76th, as he celebrates it with my Mom all the way in Arizona. Dad is six months into his recovery from total knee replacement surgery, and is still experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort. His mobility is minimal, and his spirits are low. I can hear it in his voice every time I talk with him, even though I am 411 miles away. Besides the surgery, he is also lamenting the fact that he has never met our third son Dustin, who is now 6 ½ months old with two bottom teeth and what seems like 411 very long eyelashes.
I felt really bad for my Dad, and the boys missed Grandma and Grandpa a lot, so despite my misgivings about missing kindergarten and preschool (although much less misgivings about preschool), I made plans for a surprise road trip to their house, arriving the evening of my Dad’s birthday. I booked a two-night stay at a hotel near them (they have plenty of room but three little ones showing up unannounced doesn’t seem like the surprise I was shooting for), alerted the boys’ teachers, and gassed up the minivan. Packing for 72 hours is fairly painless, but I did end up forgetting a razor (which the hotel had) and some paperwork that I wanted to work on (which I wouldn’t have had time to do anyway). When you have three boys with you, it’s pretty much all about them. No workouts in the snazzy fitness room, no TV (for fear of waking them up), and no sleeping in.
We left the beach by 8:30am with plans to arrive at their house prior to dinner preparations so that we could hopefully be a part of dinner. Eastbound traffic was sluggish until we escaped the confines of Los Angeles, at which point I kept the pedal to the metal the rest of the way. A stop for a pancake breakfast a few hours later, and then a stop for lunch a few hours after that. Sprinkle in a smattering of small potty breaks and “go run around” stops, and we arrived at the hotel. Coincidentally, Papa was leaving our house for an east coast business trip (Miami) at around that very same time, although the boys got confused and kept asking when Papa was going to arrive at our hotel.
We settled in briefly and then hit the road again for the 6-mile drive to my parents. We stopped in a store close to them and grabbed some ice cream cake with “Happy Birthday Grandpa” written on it (I had them add the Grandpa part), some candles, and a lighter. Our plan was to drive up to their neighbor’s house and park, walk quietly to their house, and call them on the phone from right outside their front door. We’d have a friendly chat, and then tell them to hang on a second because someone is knocking on our door, and then at the same time we’d actually knock on their door. We’d wait until they opened their door before yelling “Surprise!!!” I was proud of the fact that the boys came up with that plan.
In reality however, my phone battery died just before we got to their house. There was no room to park in front of their neighbors, and the ice cream birthday cake was melting rapidly due to the 106 degrees of stifling air. Instead we quietly parked, tiptoed up to their front door, and knocked. Their dog Lady greeted us first with a very loud yapping bark, which sent two boys scurrying around the corner. The remaining boy, dressed as cute as a button complete with an “I Love Grandpa” bib, began to wail at the top of his lungs from the commotion, at which point my parents open the front door and stare in disbelief. I think they wondered why only the baby and I were making a surprise visit. Pretty soon the infant caught his breath and the boys built up some courage to come near the dog and my parents.
The boys were in the pool in no time at all, where they stayed for several hours while I visited with my family and showed off Dustin. Thanks to the power of heat exhaustion, everyone slept well that night in the hotel (the boys in the king size bed, Dustin in a hotel-provided pack and play, and me on the lumpy sofa bed), and woke up refreshed for another day of visiting and swimming. Now here I am writing in my lumpy bed while my angels sleep soundly, ready to tackle the leisurely drive back tomorrow.
Checking some notes I jotted down during this journey, I learned a few things:
1) Never have a set time that you need to arrive at your destination when you’re driving with three little boys. The stress is so much reduced when you couldn’t care less how many times you have to stop for potty breaks and water and food and another potty break, and they want just 5 more minutes Daddy please running around the grassy area of the rest stop.
2) Always pack extra clothing (mainly shorts and underwear), and keep some handy in your front seat in case of accidents or spills. Having to worry about wetness here or a stain there is stressful for everyone. More stress equals more meltdowns. Less stress equals more love.
3) Bring electronic games, and happily give up your iPhone and iPad.
4) Make the ‘½ tank’ of gas mark your new ‘empty’ mark. There’s nothing worse than having to drive around with kids on an empty tank (and stomach), while your mind already visualizes running out of gas on the most deserted road of your trip, and then what do you do?
5) Bring their pillows from home on the trip. They’ll sleep better.
6) Never ever buy ice cream cake in Arizona.