The Middle Seat
By Janey Womeldorf
When we were young, families were larger, cars were smaller, and when it came to vacations, everyone drove. We sat on the floor, we sat on laps, and if we were good, we got to sit on the armrest or lie across the back window. People didn’t worry about seatbelts; besides, where would they have attached them all? Our family car would have required eight – an impossible feat. Maybe the car people knew that; they probably had big families too.
In our family, the kids always rode in the back, unless you were the smallest then you got to ride up front with Mum, either between her feet or on her lap. If you were one of the unlucky sardines squashed in the back, all you cared about was not getting stuck with the middle seat – even the window was more comfortable than that. Once on the road, we played, we argued, we bonded and fought, and we held it. And of course, no family vacation is complete without the one child who always got sick. I can still hear it now:
“Mom, I‘m going to be sick,” groans my brother.
“Try to hold it sweetheart, we’re almost there.”
“I can’t,” he cries. “It’s coming.”
“Well I can’t stop now,” Dad barks, leaving Mom scrambling for something for her sick child to throw up in.
“Quick, wind down the window and stick your head out,” Mom cries while frantically scouring the depths of her purse for the two scraps of tissue that live in the bottom.
“Are we there yet, are we there yet?” my sister whines for the 60th time. For the 59th time, we ignore her. Suddenly, the ocean comes into view, and a chorus of kids in the back starts arguing furiously about who saw it first. Mum thrusts two tattered shreds of what once resembled a tissue back to her heaving child but it is too late; vomit spews down the passenger door. All the while, Dad keeps driving.
“I might as well keep going now,” he chimes. “We’re almost there anyway,” at which point, nasally cheers of “Hoorah” erupt from the young but enthusiastic pinched nostrils in the back.
Ah, the precious memories of our road trips. I am ten years old again, and this Kodak gem lives on in my memory as if it was yesterday. If it were today, we’d be wearing seatbelts, our car would be a minivan, we’d all have our faces and fingers absorbed in some type of screen (apart from Dad of course, as Dads always drive) and stained, fast-food wrappers would be spilling from the family trash bag.
Just the last difference alone would have been unimaginable. I don’t even remember fast-food outlets growing up, let alone stopping at them – that’s what store-bought white bread is for. Mum would hard-boil eggs the night before, line up the slices, and then fill up an old bread bag with egg-salad sandwiches. Once on the road, however, we did always make at least one stop, more depending on how long the drive was, so Mum could have a cup of tea. I now consider myself lucky Mum was such a caffeine addict because at least it meant we got to stop; for many families, stopping is simply not an option. They are on a mission to get there as soon as possible, which begs the question: Does the vacation start when you leave home or when you get there?
I grew up believing it starts when you leave home. Admittedly, my Dad kept going that one time my brother got sick, but a vomiting child was par for the course in our family, so this was nothing new. The only downside was needing to wash the car as soon as we got there.
My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the latter – avoid stopping at all costs. You can always recognize non-stoppers by the fumes trailing from their car as they begrudgingly pull in for gas. Everybody has to get out whether they want to or not and loving parents command their little ones: “Go pee anyway, we might not be stopping again.”
My mother-in-law once peed in a paper cup while driving so she wouldn’t have to stop. In truth, she didn’t want to wake the children but I was impressed either way. They have a motor home now, probably because you can eat and pee without ever pulling over. No wonder so many people yearn to own a motor home; it’s a non-stopper’s dream drive.
At the beginning of our marriage, my husband detested stopping and always wanted to set out at the crack of dawn to miss the traffic. We arrived at our destination too shattered to do anything, but somehow that was okay because at least we had arrived sooner.
It’s different now. We take the other type of vacation, the one that starts when you leave home. Our mind shift has less to do with becoming older and wiser, and more to do with bladder size. A small cappuccino is more travel friendly, but jumbo size is such a better deal. Unfortunately, 32-ounces is too much fluid for any mature bladder; it must be the only body part that does not expand with age. On the plus side, frequent potty breaks mean that when I get out of the car at our destination, I’m not shuffling to the closest restroom with my legs twisted like a pretzel and my button undone.
How different our vacations would be now. Families are smaller, cars are larger, safety is king, and more people fly. Of course, the plus side is that everybody has their own seatbelt, their own space and somewhere to sit. One thing never changes though. Whether you travel by plane or car, there is one thing no one wants to hear when they start their vacation.
“You’re in the middle seat.”
About this writer
- Janey Womeldorf is a freelance writer who thrives on writing about the humorous, the poignant, and the continually-surprising sides of everyday life. She drinks too much coffee and scribbles away in Memphis, Tennessee.