Passengers

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Passengers

“He picked his nose and touched me!” Our six-year-old daughter Rachel’s shriek pierced the air, accompanied by maniacal laughter from Ben, our 11-year-old son. “Get your Barbies off my side,” boomed Ben, while Rachel opened the car window to toss out his Nintendo.

Jerking my head up from a deep sleep, I growled “Pull over.”

Afraid the back seat drama would cause my husband to drive off the road on the way to our idyllic vacation; I got out of the car and divided the combatants. Giving my front seat to Ben, I joined Rachel in the back.

I’d read the parenting books. The siblings cooperated so I would do what they wanted. Ben smiled, riding shotgun beside Dad, and Rachel handed me a Barbie, beaming over my captive, undivided attention.

I wanted to sleep for the hour between my turns to drive. My teaching job was strenuous, raising a family plus teaching was taxing. Adding vacation preparation put me in the “Land of the Exhausted.”

Our children, separated by five years and different sexes, got along at home. Ben, an imaginative kid who held on to his Superman cape for years, leapt from high places and sped down steep ramps. Rachel flew right along, surprising Ben’s friends with her ability to hit the cement, bounce and come back for more.

However, vacations severed the spirit of family harmony. Paul chose inspiring outdoor sites: Yosemite, Colorado’s Estes Park, and California’s Trinity Lakes. We planned, packed and piled into purgatory, the family car.

Once inside an automobile, Ben and Rachel despised each other. I bought Rachel plastic fingernails, hoping for quiet concentration as she placed the bright pink “stick-ons” over each nail. Instead, she squealed frantically. “He took ‘em!”

Ben smirked, a corner of the small package revealed between the car seat and his behind.

When Ben’s video games needed a partner, Rachel ignited his nerve center, with her triumphant “I beat you.” “You NEVER beat me!” Ben yelled in gut-wrenching frustration. “I beat you,” Rachel repeated confidently. Next they’d trade blows and deepen the understanding of our complete failure as disciplinarians.

Then I got my first new car. I picked a minivan, a three-seater with room for each child to occupy an entire seat. I looked forward to our first van trip with space for people and packing.

Paul decided we’d visit the Grand Canyon, a seven-hour drive from our home in Newport Beach. Rachel took the shorter middle seat and Ben, the entire three-passenger rear. We sped along peacefully. The lullaby of road rhythm and silence from the nether regions of the car allowed me to nap for the hour between my turns driving.

I awoke, stretched and turned to look at our lovely children, busy in their private territories.

But the third seat was empty. 

Snuggled together on the shorter middle seat were Ben and Rachel, chummy, cooperative, playing Barbies. Ben’s army men waited beside him to share when Barbies got old.

Confronted with the option of severing relations, our warring passengers chose peaceful engagement. They didn’t even look up as I turned back to poke their father.

Twenty years later our children still project conflict into our lives. On the way home from work, Rachel calls to describe toxic people at her workplace, while Ben suffers from an irresponsible master’s thesis advisor.

We give advice, hoping to separate them from life’s torments.

We persist in offering help, when we should remember the lesson of the van and say, “Give yourselves time and space, and you’ll figure it out.”

About this writer

  • Carrie Luger Slayback Carrie Luger Slayback is an award winning teacher and marathon runner. She writes on fitness and family matters. Her articles appear in the Los Angeles Times, and her series on preparing for the L.A. Marathon, 2014 was published in The Daily Pilot. Carrie lives in Newport Beach, California, with her husband and Chihuahuas.

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2 Responses to “Passengers”

  1. Carrie, your wonderful story took me back to the many vacations we experienced. Nothing like hearing, “He;s on my side!” or “She won’t stop looking at me!” all the way to California from the midwest.

  2. Loved your description of the family car — purgatory. Sounds familiar :)

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