Hell on Wheels

The thick, crimson blood poured slowly over his upper lip, and it eagerly tried to find its way into his now parted mouth. He breathed nervously, panting quickly and harshly as the panic started to take root in his tiny little gut; in doing so, tiny flecks of blood flew towards me. Even though I tried, I couldn’t escape their trajectory. For a moment, I felt like a field medic coaching a fallen soldier as the blood started to stain both his hands and mine. Cars whizzed by us like fighter jets from above unaware of the firsthand carnage we were being dealt on the ground below. The sun, also oblivious to our cause, faintly lit the sky across a horizon littered with cornfields. Impatiently, it threatened to resign for the night taking with it the only light I had left to address my patient’s needs. 

His eyes met mine. 

The terror in them was real. 

He had been here before. 

He knew the drill. 

He was a seasoned soldier. 

“Will it stop?” he questioned. But, he knew the answer. He didn’t need me to tell him.

“Yes, Teddy. It always does. You’re going to pull through this, son. I have faith in you.” Sometimes, I can’t help but act just as dramatic as he does. 

He waited a minute or two before asking again, knowing he needed to show courage and strength in the face of such adversity. “Is the clot coming?” His voice was nasally as I pinched his nose shut and leaned him over the dirt on the side of the road. The wind blew slowly and the tall, summer grass tickled our calves. We both shifted in unison. 

“It’s starting to stop. Let’s give it a few more minutes.” I assured him.

The window to the minivan rolled down. My wife, our chauffeur for the road trip, asked, “You guys okay? Has it stopped yet?”

Still holding Teddy’s nose with a handful of paper towels we keep stocked in the van for situations like this, I gave a super emphatic thumbs up with the other hand. I smiled wide and sarcastically as if to say, This is so much fun. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing with my Friday night than being on the side of an Indiana country road stopping one of Teddy’s nosebleeds. 

“Okay then…” she awkwardly replied and then proceeded to roll up with window. The rubber on the door squealed against the glass sending my nerves further towards the precipice of full on meltdown mode. We stood out there for what felt like an eternity, and finally, the deep red became a faint pink. We settled back into the car. I grabbed my seat belt and tried to pull it over my body. It was locked in place like they sometimes do after coming to a sudden stop. I brought it back to its starting place to release it. Tried again. Locked. Back again. Still locked.

“Son of…! Ahhhhhhh!! This stupid friggin’ thing!” I flipped and tossed and flailed and had the mother of all meltdowns until I let it all out. Then, when I was finally out of gas, my chest heaving in and out, I stopped. My heart, inundated with the recent adrenaline dump, knocked furiously against my sternum. Michelle reached over. Grabbed the belt and buckled me in. 

“You done?”

“Yes, just go…” 

There are only but a few small things I strongly dislike about being a parent. Anybody who says it’s all sunshine and daisies is lying. Sure, most of it is hard work, but nearly all of it I view in a positive light. Regardless, try as I might, there’s just one thing I will never enjoy doing with my kids. 

Road trips.

That nosebleed trip to my parents’ lake house, about two years ago, was likely our worst experience road tripping. While they’re not always that eventful, they’re never easy. Too many bad experiences have plagued my joy for long trips with the kids. In my defense, both Tommy and Joey were car screamers as infants. It has forever scarred me. Seriously, you have to understand the magnitude of just how violent their shrills were. When I say screamers, I mean scream for like an hour straight on the highway and not stop unless we pulled over, took a break, calmed them down, and then got back on the highway only for it to start again fifteen minutes down the road. We’d end up wherever we were going, and I’d just sit alone for what seemed like hours in the driver’s seat twitching and shaking from the chaos. 

Then, Teddy became a nose-bleeder, and when does it seem to happen most you ask? Oh, of course when it’s the least ideal time for it to happen like in a car barreling down a country road that is forever miles long. In the beginning, I would always want to drive. I really used to love driving, and when I was a teenager, I would randomly get on highways and just go. Nowhere in mind. Just go. There’s nothing like rolling down the windows and jamming out to your favorite songs down a highway. Now, when I get on the highway, my nerves turn to concrete and all settle at the bottom of my stomach. Anticipation consumes me. I am almost certain some sort of screaming will ensue, and usually it does. It’s my own screams from reliving the flashbacks. 

Michelle drives now on long trips, and this certainly alleviates some of my road trip anxiety; however, there’s still the stress of keeping three kids happy in the back of the van. Take our drive today for example. 

“Mom, I’m hungry.” Joey whines.

“Joe, ask me. Mom’s driving. Here you go. Have a granola bar.” I think to myself. Bam! Crisis averted. Dad’s got this. In my head, I high five myself. I don’t in real life because Michelle would make fun of me. 

Serenity briefly fills the car. Fleeting moments, but I’ll take them.

Now Tommy. “I’m bored.” Oh no. It’s all falling apart. 

“Count the cars in your head. Get to one-hundred. I have a surprise for you when you’re done.” Nice rebound. Good for me. Smart dad. He’s practicing his numbers. The surprise? I have no idea yet. I’ll make one up when the time comes. For now, I want to look out to the beautiful farms to the right of me and….

Now Teddy. “Mom, why can’t I have my iPad?” Grrrrrrrr. It’s all downhill from here. I know it.

“Boys, for the love of God,” I plead, “Mom is driving. Ask me for things. And you know why. You’re grounded again.” 


“Excuse me?” 

Quickly correcting himself, he says, “Nothing. Sorry.”  

We’re still working on that newfound attitude with Teddy. 

Peace again desperately aims to envelop the van, and it succeeds for nearly a whole twenty minutes. This is oh so glorious! Another internal high five! 

And then…

“Ummmm, Mom…”

“Geez!” I yell now. “Does anybody recognize me as their legitimate father?” I spin around in my seat to see Tommy. His face is in despair and wincing in pain. “What’s wrong?” 

“I have to pee.” It’s hard to describe his tone. It’s a rare one with kids, but every now and then it happens. It’s that I know you said this would happen, but I didn’t listen and, well, I’m admitting I screwed up now. Help me regardless of the consequences! 

Dude! You said you went before we left!” Goodbye peaceful car ride. This will now consume us.

“I didn’t. I lied.” He shifts awkwardly in his chair not realizing what’s worse- admitting to Dad he lied or that his bladder is a balloon ignorantly milling around inside a needle factory. 

“Obviously, Tom. Ugh. Michelle, pull over.” 

“No, Dad!” He blurts out. 

“What? What’s wrong?” I ask, but I already know. Joey has no problem peeing outside. Front of the house while we’re in the middle of playing? No problem. Just go on the front landscaping. When you gotta go, you gotta go is Joe’s philosophy. We’re working on this so he doesn’t get ticketed someday for public urination. Tommy is not as free with such things. He’s a classy gentlemen, I guess. 

“I wanna go in a toilet!” In the middle of nowhere, I search for a gas station as my wife drives on, and to my horror, I see that the closest one is thirty minutes away. I frantically search google maps on my phone for anything. I thumb left, right, up, and down. Cornfields and nothing in between. 


Panic sets in. He’s going to lose it. 

And he did. 

The next thirty minutes were painful for all of us. There were tears and there were laughs as I became life coach dad in a fruitless attempt to get his mind off of it. Then he got mad because “laughing makes it worse. Some came out, Dad!” 

“Ahhh! Okay, okay. No laughing. Stay strong, Tommy.” 

We made it but just barely. I can add yet another reason why I hate long car trips- tiny kid bladders. 

Does it make me a bad father for feeling a sense of dread anytime I know I’m going to be locked inside hell on wheels with my kids for more than two hours? I don’t think so. Am I trying to work on it? Yes. We’ve made it here safely to the lake house, and that’s all that really matters. However, it sure would be nice if I didn’t feel anxious the whole way here. We’ve tried games, and they do work sometimes. I have to say though, if they’re not good ones, they give up quickly and the complaining resumes. Heck, even if they are good, they lose interest in them in a matter  of moments. I want to give in to the devices so bad, but we’re really trying to avoid them like the plague these days. I try to think about what it was like when I was a kid traveling to this same lake house. How did my parents handle it? How did we make it through the ride? I vaguely remember rolling around in the back of a station wagon with my older brother arm wrestling or doing whatever other stupid things we did. I’m sure all of them would be deemed highly unsafe today. Maybe I should try to understand what the kids are going through a bit more? Today, they’re locked in a five point harness until about five, and if that were me at thirty-four, I’d likely complain every inch of the way too. 

What are long car rides like for you and your family? Are they as brutal as I’m making ours out to be? Michelle tells me I have a flare for the dramatic when it comes to car rides, so please share. What are your funny car stories? What horror stories do you have? Any tips about how to keep the kids occupied without technology? Share your comments below!

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