Holiday travel lunacy

Over the river and through the woods, to the loony bin we go.

The holiday travel season is in full stride, which means millions of Americans suffer temporary insanity. Why? Because they're trapped in planes, trains and automobiles with their families.

Many of us will travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles so we can be "home for the holidays." We're soon reminded why we live hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. We escaped our relatives: Uncle Floyd with his soup-can spittoon. Grandma Esther, who isn't happy until every forehead bears the imprint of her startling pink lipstick. Drunken cousin Rufus, who thinks a thawed turkey makes one hilarious hand puppet. That one crazy aunt (every family has one) who wears the aluminum-foil hat so the alien rays won't affect her, bless her heart.

Before you ever get to these eccentrics, though, you must travel with your immediate family, the people with whom you choose to spend your everyday life.

Travel is an exercise in too much togetherness. Pecadilloes that, in small doses, seem endearing or amusing -- ice crunching, tuneless whistling, mindless sniffing -- can become the most annoying habits ever when experienced over the course of a three-day car trip.

Add kids to the mix, and travel becomes unbearable. Children get bored and cranky. They're no good at sitting still. The answer to the question, "Are we there yet?" is never the right one.

Irritation and fatigue prompt parents to say things we'd never say if it weren't for the lunacy of traveling together. For example, in the course of everyday life, you'd probably never threaten to abandon your child on the side of the road. But let him misbehave enough during a long trip, and you'll soon hear yourself saying, "Don't make me pull this car over. It's a long walk home."

It's worse when kids act up aboard airplanes. Parents feel the disapproval of fellow passengers crowding them, but they can't threaten the child with "don't make me pull this plane over."

If a child starts shrieking, the mortified parent will do anything short of homicide to shut him up. When the kid does clam up, no one on the plane believes the quiet will last. Passengers faint from holding their breaths, waiting for the next scream.

Once, when our older son was a toddler, he would only stop shrieking if I let him stand on my lap and look out the airplane window. We'd made the mistake of dressing him in cute hiking boots with "waffle-stomper" soles. By the end of the trip, my thighs looked as if they'd been beaten with a waffle iron.

It's easier once the kids get older. Our two sons are now teens, so they're happy as long as they can ignore their parents and/or pretend they don't know us. This is true whether we're in an airport or at home.

My wife made a recent family trip much easier by supplying the four of us with separate headphones and music players so no one had to talk to anybody else. We spent the whole journey bobbing our heads to the sounds of different drummers, which pretty much sums up family relationships.

Aside from headphone isolation, the best survival tactic is to remember that holiday travel is temporary. Once you reach your destination, you'll be in the bosom of your family, gathered around the Christmas tree, laughing and opening gifts and wearing foil hats.

At that happy moment, with gift wrap scattered on the floor and shouts of "Merry Christmas" still echoing off the walls, you can start dreading the trip home.

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