Leslie Bloom is a recent graduate from CWU. Her work has appeared in the Manastash Literary Journal. She is a busy wife and mother working towards he Master's degree.
THE THINGS THE FAMILY NEEDS TO PACK
My children must always bring something with them when we leave the house. Seriously why can’t leaving home ever be easy? No, instead it is like a freak show with my five-year-olds. It never goes smoothly. Someone always seems to be crying. I inevitably have a billion sweaty hot flashes and need another shower, all before even getting in the car. Oh. I’m gonna lose my shit. Oh, but wait, we still have to pack….
First comes the slew of items, of which I swear are not all needed. Among these items are usually: Hot Wheels cars, a few Legos, Crayons, a Barbie doll, Zip-Fizz water, Annie's bunny crackers, fruit snacks, yogurt, string cheese, Luna bars, Blankie, and sometimes, the tablet. Together, these items can make a mess depending on what kind of a mood the kids are in. Evie, my daughter, a sweet girl, tall for being five, always makes sure we have wipes, which is for sure a necessary item. She hates being sticky.
Cue scary horror music.
One day when my daughter and I were headed out to do errands the following incident happened. For real, it did.
“Mom, I need a wipe.” Evie said with an annoyed yet irritated tone.
“I got some of the chocolate all over me.”
“Well, you are gonna have to wait a minute. I’m kinda trying to drive right now.” My patience level was beginning to reach its minimum level.
“Wait. Where did you get chocolate?”
“The snack bag.” She sang sweetly. Literally sang.
Oh no, this is not going to be good at all. I could feel the blood rushing up into my face. My kids are the masters of messes.
“Mommy, I need a wipe.
“Just a second.”
“No. I need one now! It’s everywhere!”
“What do you mean it is everywhere?” I turn my head slowly letting my eyes stumble upon the mess I knew I was about to witness.
Oh! My! Gosh! How did you manage that? Did you miss your mouth completely?”
“Uh. No. It just got all melty and stuff. Now I am all sticky.”
“SOME? You’ve got be freakin kidding me right now!”
The back seat looked like a volcano of chocolate erupted. There were smears of brown covering her and her car seat. She had somehow managed to not only paint her face, but to decorate her hair with a coco-chocolatey paste. Chocolate = 1, Evie = 0.
When I called my mom later that night to tell her about our car adventure with the chocolate she burst out laughing. I was still didn’t find any of it funny, until she reminded me of “the mustard experience” she had with my sister and I when we were little.
“Don’t you remember when your sister got ahold of the full thing of mustard and sprayed it all over you both, the ceiling, the seats, and the windows. We were driving cross-country. You remember, right?” (My sister had grabbed mustard from the back of the car out of the lunch bag).
“Oh man. I totally forgot about that!”
“Yeah. Just all of a sudden I told your dad I had a craving for a turkey sandwich with mustard. When I turned around, there you two sat. Yellow from head to toe.”
“You guys had to pull over and take us out of the car, right?” I asked now laughing.
“Yes. And boy did you get upset. You thought we were going to leave you! You started screaming and crying. You were shaking like a leaf. I came running back to you and gave you a huge hug and explained that your dad and I just needed you guys out to try to and clean up the mess. It was a brand new bottle of mustard. So it took a bit.”
Like one of those good belly laughs that makes tears come rolling down your face in streams. “Well, then I guess I shouldn’t be so mad.” By now I was laughing so hard I snorted and choked at the same time.
“Nope. Shit happens.”
I had forgotten that incident but I was glad my mom reminded me of it. I calmed down and tired to find the humor in Evie’s chocolate situation, but damn that shit just wasn’t funny at the time. I mean, Evie got that chocolate EVERYWHERE!. How does someone so small make such a huge mess?
I ask this question a lot. I also ask the question as to why we must always make sure to bring the Lego guys. Thus my son, Evan, now comes into play.
He is the boy, who listens very little, always gets upset when he thinks we have forgotten an item, and he brings a little too many items in his pockets; just to be safe he explains.
One day we headed out of the house for a quick trip to the store, or so I thought. Instead my little man started having a meltdown about his Lego dude.
“Where is my Lego Batman?” he shouted.
“Wherever you left it.” I responded.
“I don’t know where I left it.” His arms flapped in the air with frustration.
“Well, it’s not my job to remember all your stuff. I told you to keep track of your toys.”
“I’m just a little kid. I need help and you won’t help me!” By now his face was wrinkled up, his mouth gaping open, and his eyes wide like saucers. “Mom. Why won’t you help me find him?”
“Why? Are you kidding me? Because Evan, I had like a billion things I was trying to do. I had to pack and carry all this stuff out to the car, feed and water the cats, lock up the house, make sure everything is unplugged, make sure the doors are shut in the back of the house, the TV is off, and get you and your sister loaded in the car. That’s why!”
This is an ongoing fight that I truly hope will one day end as they get older, but according to my mom, it only gets worse. My dad says I have selective memory. He is probably right, because I don’t remember being such a pain to my parents when I was little.
Me, who is usually flustered, tends to forget my water and meds in the house. As usual, I have to go back into the house and grab my crap. For the love of all that is holy! I seriously have to go back in the house? Well shit. There goes another two minutes of my life.
In addition to the kids’ items, there are jackets and changes of clothes. Not often do the kids stay clean. Remember the sticky mess incident? So wipes are a must at all times. I also have to keep extra shoes in the car. I’m lucky if they remember to put shoes on their feet – extras are kept in the car.
Until recently, I kept my calm. Now I carry a stress ball! I will make it through this trip. I will make it through this trip.
When we all travel together a whole new can of worms opens up. Each person has their things that must come with us and I am usually the one responsible for making sure they all end up in the car.
Daddy, by necessity, must bring Mountain Dew and potato chips. Grandpa comes simple, with his cell phone, keys, and coffee. Grandma carries a lunch box cooler, extra water, and a hairbrush, as she is always prepared for the wind when it decides to mess up everyone’s hair. It was a “necessity”. Of course the brush is necessary. God forbid we don’t have the damn hairbrush. Can’t we ever just leave without having to re-enter someone’s house a billion times? The irritation is piling up on me and I may just burst.
When I was a kid my parents kept things simple. They never really worried about bringing many things with us when we traveled. My mother would pack for us, making sure that we had one toy, a book, and our blankets. We did not have tablets or any other technological type things in the 80’s. Instead, we kept ourselves entertained by playing games in the car including, eye spy, the license plate game and slug bug. We took long naps to pass the time.
When we would go on trips to say the beach, we would play with the things that nature provided. We would hunt on for shells, sticks, driftwood, and anything else cool that we could find to play with and use to build sand castles. (While my kids do some of those things there is still always one of them demanding a tablet or our cell phones. Attention spans are much less these days).
When we would go camping, pack only the necessary items: tent, sleeping bags, pillows, a couple extra blankets, and again one toy and one book. There would be plenty to play with at the campground and water to go swimming in, my mom would tell us. There was no need to bring the “whole house” with us; we only had so much room. We never had to plan days ahead because we would only take what we absolutely had to. My dad always said that if we needed or forgot something there would be stores on the way.
It was an easy fix when we forgot something. No one had a panic attack and threw a hissy fit. He would also tell us that the more we packed; the more we would have to unpack. We hated the idea of having to unpack and clean up when we would get home. (My kids this doesn’t faze them).
We used to go camping at Lake Cushman in the summers. There was a playground that all us kids would go running to and spend hours spinning in circles on this old, wood, rickety spinney thing (the name escapes me but it sure was fun). We would swim out to the logs that separated the docks from the open lake, and try and walk across them. Whoever could make it from one end to the other without falling in would get candy from the little store. I mean come on, who doesn’t like candy? At night we would sit around the campfire and roast marshmallows, I mean real ones. The ones packed full of sugary goodness. When it got really dark out we would go flash light fishing off the docks and try and catch the little suckers with our hands. The goal was to not get pushed off the dock and into the water by one of the parents. It’s what I know refer to as “real” fun. The simple life of camping. Where the only electronics were an old black and white TV in the cabin my aunt and uncle rented, where M.A.S.H would be playing; nothing that interested a bunch of kids.
Life was simple. Did you get that last part? Life was simple. Or should I say it a third time to make sure it sticks? SIMPLE. LIFE. WAS SIMPLE!
The packing these days is long and intense. Do I really have to get up this early? Yes, yes you do because you are mom and no one else is going to pack.
Packing now means a few long days, as the process requires much planning, organizing, and stress ball squeezing. The kids and are chock-full of allergies creates packing insanity.
You can do this. You can do this. The chant started. The list gets longer when the trip gets longer. The idea of what must be done before we can leave for our trip is enough to bring anyone to drink. And I mean drink a lot. I bet if I could drink I would be way more relaxed. My husband might even like me more. Yes, there are those occasions that I drive my husband crazy. My diet alone is enough for him to roll his eyes, let alone everything else.
Almost all the work falls on me, the mom. Why am I the only one capable of doing all this work? I mean, heaven forbid someone else packs a damn sandwich, or a blanket, or anything for that matter. More internal thoughts shout around in my head.
I have to pack at least two full coolers of multiple items to cover the varying needs of each person attending this “fun” time. The first one contains all things cold, with ice packs. This one gets packed last. The second cooler is a mixture, it has cold things but they don’t have to be refrigerated. At night, sometimes, I dream about what has to be in the coolers, why they are needed, where the things must go, and because of these dreams my sleep sucks. Don’t forget all the other stuff that must come in addition to the food. There are socks, shirts, underwear, pants, shorts, sweatshirts (let’s face it, this is Washington with ever changing weather), shoes, toothbrush, brush, hair bands, swimsuits, blankets, various toys, tablets, and oh hell, I am sure I am forgetting something.
I better call grandma and tell her that we will be there soon, though I am sure she is running late like usual. Dad is probably outside pacing with irritation waiting for her to get ready. I mean seriously, what takes so long?
Food packing back in the days of my childhood was easy. There was little to worry about and no one making a huge deal about what was in the bread, cheese, or crackers we ate. We could eat a potato chip without mom freaking out. No one had “allergies” and gluten, what the HELL was GLUTEN?? It was nothing we ever talked about. Oh, and ORGANIC? Food was food. Fruit was fruit and veggies were veggies. Processed was not a word I knew until my twenties. It was just not a thing back in the…80’s and 90’s. Wow that was a long time ago.
For my dad, he would make sure we had bread, lunchmeat, chips, pickles, and lots of fruits and veggies. He would even pack Snickers bars for treats on the way down. Yep, we would eat good ole’ Snickers bars. Life was easier when food was easier. Packing time was only a couple hours and it was no big deal to get lunch on the road somewhere.
Now food is something that we have to worry about. Because the diets are so restricted and eating out is like dodging a minefield for those with allergies, a cooler gets packed with, hard-boiled eggs, celery, apple slices, almond butter, protein bars, which were easy fixes for the low blood sugar. We also have to worry now about if the fruits and veggies are organic and non-GMO. Everything seems to have something in it that causes concern. There is no longer any stopping somewhere to grab a “quick bite,” which sucks because when everyone in the family gets moody from low blood sugar, we have to make sure we have extra snacks. So, yes now food packing sucks. Yep, I said it. It sucks…Well unless you are my dad and husband. They can still eat “normal,” whatever that is.
With the packed cooler, the kid's toys, coats, shoes, water, wipes, there is little room left in the car for us. For one trip it takes over two hours to pack, when the whole family got together, only to head to the park, for an afternoon of fun.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for all the toys, electronics, special foods, and allergies to worry about. In a perfect world, I would get to take simple vacations with my family that does not require days of planning and preparing. In a perfect world my kids would be NEAT and CLEAN all the time. In a perfect world, my mother would be on time for family functions, my sister in a good mood, and all the kids would get along. In a perfect world, we would have “normal” healthy food. There would be no need for things to be labeled “gluten-free,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” or “all-natural.” It would just be real food. In a perfect world, you would be able to send your kids to school with this “real” food and not have to be concerned that you will “poison” another child and send them into anaphylactic shock. You could send cupcakes to school for birthdays and everyone would smile. In a perfect world, kids would not ask for the most expensive toys ever made. They would be content with coloring books and crayons or maybe even just…gee I don’t know…regular Legos. Not all these fancy ones that cost an arm and a leg. In a perfect world, there would be much less talk of “I want. I want.” Life would be calm, quiet, slower paced, with normal food, normal affordable toys, simple, CLEAN, fun vacations, and I could eat whatever I wanted! Not what my doctor has instructed. This would be my perfect reality. This is what I dream of. This is NOT what will ever happen! Life will not be simple.