armadillo.jpg I had some trouble getting psyched up for the road trip we’re currently on, a point which is in no small way related to my recent disclosure about my present mental status. Noise is bothersome to me, and nonsensical noise or a general loud din is quite aggravating for me to endure. Sometimes I just slowly begin to feel my grasp on clear-mindedness slipping away, leaving me feeling dazed and confused, unable to answer a question. Whether or not this is an exaggeration, it describes the feeling accurately. My kids have been great about the long hours of driving, but everyone has their limits… and when everyone in the car reaches their limits, it’s not pretty. The kids get ornery and start bickering or they get giddy and emit no end of meaningless babble and sound effects, which waft from the back seat to my increasingly overloaded circuits. Bad combination, and on the road there’s no place to hide like there is at home. Sometimes they’re just being kids, after all.

Those who have endured long road trips as the child in the back seat or the parent in the front know one thing with relative certainty. When Dad suddenly hits his threshold and cuts across three lanes of traffic in a mad dive for the shoulder of the freeway, the idle threats are at an end and the threat level has just gone into high gear. Day three of our trip was the first time our kids have experienced DEFCON-1 in the car. It was late, after dark, and we were headed from St. Augustine to Ormond Beach, FL. In a flash, I had the car maneuvered onto the shoulder and brought to an abrupt stop with the four-way flashers starting to light up. As I began to turn around to the back seat, something moved in the grass just off the paved shoulder. It caught my wife’s eye as well, and we stopped and stared at it for a full minute or more. As strange as this may sound to the Texans in the crowd, I’d actually never seen an armadillo in the “wild” before. I backed the car up a little so the kids, already craning their necks, could see it rooting around in the grass, lumbering along. After we’d finished watching, we figured we’d better get moving again. The kids got a stern warning and an explanation that we aren’t actually allowed to stop at the side of the freeway, and the gravity of the whole scenario sank in and they promised to be better behaved.

Back up to highway speed, I turned to my wife and said, “I can’t believe they just got away with that!”

“Me either,” she replied.

Further discussion followed, including the warning that there may not always be an armadillo present to save them from punishment. Just this once, they were saved by an armadillo.

Ordinarily, my wife and I try to cover for each other so that the kids get their punishments, reprimands, or whatever in a just way rather than merely out of tired frustration… in those situations, the other parent steps in — provided, of course, that they aren’t just as tired and frustrated. After wandering around Disney World for 3 days, I’ve decided that a lot of kids can tend to get the brunt of parental anger simply based on the parent’s lack of judgment. Our last morning in our Disney “Value” hotel, I sat in the food court waiting for the rest of the family, listening to the iPod, drinking coffee, and keeping tabs on the goings-on at the next table. When I sat down, the mother was singing with her three young children, keeping them occupied and happy. As they sat waiting for the father to arrive with breakfast, the kids were pretty much just being kids, while the mother slowly progressed through frustration to agitation to anger. There was the blank look in the face, the head-in-hands empty stare at the table, the whole bit. By the time they were eating, there were pointed fingers, a raised voice and threats, and the beginnings of a move directly into verbal child-berating. The father didn’t step in. This whole scene was about 20 minutes after we vacated our hotel room at the same time as our hotel neighbours… screaming kids in tow. My wife encouraged the mother a bit as she passed by, hoping it would have some positive effect. I suspect it may be muted, but it was something.

While my wife went to get some Mickey-shaped waffles in a Mickey-shaped dish for breakfast, I began to teach my kids the meaning of the word Pater familias, hoping to instill some sense of awe and reverence for their father. I don’t hold out great hopes for that, but at least it’ll improve their vocabulary a little. More than once during those three days, my wife and I made our observations and discussed how little value it was to take very young children to Disney World. The kids get tired, exasperating the parents. Years later, the kids won’t remember a thing, being far too young, and the parents will only remember Disney Hell… and the cost of the vacation. Nobody ends up having any lasting enjoyment, and there may not always be an armadillo around when you need one.

Meanwhile, “armadillo” just got added to our family book of code words. Does your family have any code words like that?

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