I was calling to get reservations.
It was a nice hotel and “Michelle” was being very helpful. I didn’t really believe her name was Michelle, because like strippers and hedge fund managers, service representatives never use their real names.
“Great. How old are the children?”
I told her they were twenty-four, twenty-two, and almost twenty. There was a pause of considerable length and then…
“Sir, they may be children to you, but for the purposes of the Hyatt Regency, they are decidedly not.”
I thought about it for a long time… and decided she was wrong. They were still my kids and we were still a family. So, to prove my point, I canceled the hotel rooms, the airfare, the reservations at the fancy restaurant, piled them in the family SUV and went off in search of… well, I had no idea what I was trying to find, but that had never stopped me before. Why should this expedition be any different?
You see, I think we all have that snapshot of our families we keep in our heads. That one image, real or imagined, that somehow… forever defines us. For me, it’s the family car trip. I think it’s all based on this theory I have that most families are really raised out of the backseat of a car.
It starts when we bring them home from the hospital. I mean, for the most part the little weasels could fit in the cup holder of most plus sized vehicles, but we secure them in the back seat in a titanium pod you couldn’t dent with a tank.
From there they graduate into car seats, then booster seats, and finally when we’re too tired to give a crap, we cross our fingers and strap them into the seatbelts they will soon learn to slip out of.
Carpools, soccer practices, dance rehearsals, we spend decades ferrying them around like gypsy cab drivers, our only real interaction with them being a terse reminder that if they do, in fact, kick the back of the seat one more time… we will have a rabid wolverine gnaw their leg off at the knee.
So, with this in mind, I decided to turn back the clock and make our weekend holiday a car trip instead. The open road before us, I looked up in the rear view mirror and found my three “kids” lined shoulder to shoulder across the back seat, legs and knees folded into odd angles in vain attempts to find comfort. Hindering their efforts was the family dog lying across their laps in a valiant effort to cut off all circulation to their lower extremities.
And just like I did when they were little, I waited until we were about thirty minutes into the journey. Timed it for that moment when boredom was just starting to set in and their guard was down and their defenses weakened. I paused, turned the radio off and told them… it was time for talk.
I no longer have to tilt the mirror to see their eyes rolling. There was a sigh, a groan, I’m pretty sure an expletive was mumbled. And then a miracle happened. Talk they did.
About politics and the economy, about an art installation they had seen, a play my daughter had gotten tickets to. Yes, for almost an hour, I couldn’t shut them up. There was no texting, no heads bobbing to invisible iPod beats, just good, interesting… adult conversation.
My wife and I exchanged a glance and suddenly it was clear to the both of us… the backseat was clearly too small for them. It was too small not only for their knees and elbows, but for their ambitions and dreams, for their ideas and ideology. An adjustment has to be made, but a bigger car is not the answer.
The real problem is the snapshot of this family that I keep in my head. It is quaint, but outdated. Dog-eared and fading. I must figure out how to compose a new picture. One that allows for expansion and scope. An image of my family that evolves far beyond the confines of the American automotive industry.
Now, before you think the Rhymer kids are snooty little bohemians that sit around discussing art and culture all day, I have to be honest and add that while I was in the front seat having all these deep thoughts, one of these mature responsible geniuses in the backseat farted.
And then there was a lengthy analysis of said fart. Its strength and vintage, its tone and timbre. And then a top ten list of great moments in family farting history was quickly assembled, argued and vigorously debated. For a second, I could have sworn they were back in car seats. Then someone punched someone and a full on brawl broke out. I yelled. Their mother murmured: “Now, now.” And I quickly decided family talking time was over and turned the radio back on. But I knew things had somehow changed.
There are hard truths in life we are slow to accept because they burn a little bit when they go down. There is no Santa, true love doesn’t always last forever and as much as we’d like it to be true – fifty isn’t really the new thirty.
But fake-named Michelle and the good people of the Hyatt Regency were quick to accept what I could not… my kids are decidedly not children anymore. It may take some adjustments and I am okay with that.
And the next time I manage to corral them in one place and blackmail them into another family trip?
They don’t know it, but we’re definitely taking the car.