I had already pulled out my suitcase from the forsaken crawlspace, standing at my closet considering what to grab, when I realized I hadn’t been thinking. There was no need to pack anything. I didn’t need the suitcase. Not on this road trip, anyway.
When I came downstairs, I found Timothy and Lizabeth eating pancakes at the table. “You saving any of those for me?” I asked, pointing at a stack on a separate plate. The two of them looked at each other, smiling. Then they looked at me.
“Mom’s making more in the kitchen.” Timothy said.
“Is that right?” I smiled, as I snatched a syrupy pancake from his plate.
“No fair!” He hollered in surprise, adding another one to his pile.
I walked into the kitchen to find Allison waiting for the wet clumps to solidify on the pan, and I have her a side hug and a kiss on the forehead. “Thanks for making breakfast, Mom.”
“Sure thing.” She said, adding: “Sorry for the mess.” She knew pancakes were not my favorite meal—dishes jammed into the sink, measuring cups scattered in floury debris across the counter, bits of uncooked mix dried to the wall.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean up. Why don’t you go take a seat at the table? I’ll bring them out when they’re ready.”
“You sure?” She asked.
“So sure.” I smiled.
As she left the kitchen into the dining room, she stopped and turned to say, “Just promise you won’t burn them.”
“Babe,” I said, “there are some promises I just can’t make.”
She left the room just in time to settle some round of bickering going on between the two kids. It was a version of the fight they’d been having for the last week or so, the debate being who had grown the most since they’d been home from school. Every day, they’d measure themselves against the wall, making their own marks. Of course, reaching their arms behind their backs was not only imprecise but it was also subject to tampering given their desire to win. According to the wall, Lizabeth was five foot four and Timothy was six foot three. They were 5 and 7 years old, respectively.
I looked down—the pancakes were burnt. I scooped them off with the spatula, turned the stove off, and brought them over to the table. Allison laughed. “Every time! You’re always thinking about something. What was it this time?” She asked. The kids looked at me too.
“I was thinking about our family road trip today.” Timmy and Liz broke out in cheers: “Road trip! Road trip!”
“Now, remember, this one will be a little different than other road trips we’ve gone on. For this one there are strict rules we have to follow.” I said. They booed: “No rules! No rules!”
“No rules means no trip. Sorry, guys, but that’s the way it has to be.” Mom said. Liz ran over to Timmy’s chair, and whispered something in his ear. Timmy said, “Fine. We accept the rules.” Liz ran back to her chair, sat down, then said, “What rules?”
“Okay,” I said as I chewed a pancake, “rule number one: we will not under any circumstance—”
“Ew, Dad! Eat with your mouth closed!” Timmy yelled. I kept chewing with my mouth open.
“Buh you do ih all the hime” I exaggerated. Timmy and Liz shrieked, and Allison hit me on the shoulder. I swallowed, took a drink of water, then continued.
“Rule number one: we will not under any circumstance make a stop along the way. Listen carefully, all three of you. There will be no snack breaks, no detours, and absolutely, and I mean this, no bathroom breaks.”
“Umm, but what if I have to pee?” Timmy asked.
“You will go before.” Mom said.
“But what if I have to go again?”
“You won’t.” I said.
“But what if I do?”
“Then you’ll hold it.” Mom said.
“But what if—”
“Rule number two,” I interrupted, “when we arrive, no one will leave the car. You must stay in the car at all times. We will not leave the car until we are back. Understood?”
Everyone nodded their head.
“Okay, so you know the rules. Timothy, you still in? You want to go today?”
“Hmm—yep!” He yelled.
“Lizzie, you sure you want to do this?”
She responded with her classic line: “So sure.”