Recently, we took a trip to see my family, a 400-mile drive to another state. The plan was to drive there all together and visit for a few days. Then, Earl would fly home to get back to work, and I would follow with the kids in the van the next day. It was an elegant plan.

Recently, we took a trip to see my family, a 400-mile drive to another state. The plan was to drive there all together and visit for a few days. Then, Earl would fly home to get back to work, and I would follow with the kids in the van the next day. It was an elegant plan.

I was feeling confident, ebullient, even, at the prospect of visiting with my family on my own with the kids. Earl and my folks get along just fine, but it’s nice to have a little nuclear family time, too.

My confidence faltered, however, when I dropped Earl at the airport. Things would be OK with my mom around to help, but what about the long hours in the van on the way home?

I woke up on travel day a good two hours later than I thought I would, and had some choice words to say when I looked at the clock. Then I looked out the window, and even more choice words spilled forth. Mother Nature had whipped up a Great Lakes special, and although I’d driven in many a snowstorm, the prospect of starting a 400-mile trip in blizzard-like conditions was less than thrilling. After consulting with the National Weather Service, several local TV stations and my mom, I decided to wait until the next day, when the forecast looked bright and sunny.

I spent the rest of the day loading the van, nervously looking out the window and praying for clear skies. When the alarm beeped me into consciousness before dawn the next day, I was relieved to see that the snow had stopped, the street had been plowed and it was a balmy 23 degrees. We were good to go.

I roused the children from their beds, poured my coffee, buckled everyone in and waved to my mom as I optimistically eased the van down the driveway. We drove for two hours and stopped for breakfast, which turned out to be a clunker. Note to fast-food restaurants: don’t cook the French toast sticks in the French-fry oil. We pitched the greasy-yet-pasty rectangles and opted for bagels from the coffee shop. A visit to the family restroom and we were on the road again.

We continued eastward, stopping after another couple of hours for another bathroom break. This is so much easier than it used to be, I thought. No diapers to change; no baby food to deal with. Piece of cake. Maybe I’ll do the whole trip by myself next time.

We were at the 335-mile mark when Timmy started to cough. I didn’t like the sound of this. I looked in the rear-view mirror just in time to witness his spectacular bout of carsickness at 70 miles per hour. The van was instantly transformed by a profusion of sights, sounds and smells.

Timmy was crying; Brian was holding his nose and yelling; Abby was closing her eyes and trying not to witness any of it.

"Hang on, kids," I muttered. "There’s a rest stop coming up."

Surprisingly, I had the mess cleaned up in just a few minutes. Timmy was in clean clothes, the worst of the smell was gone, and we were back on the highway in a flash. Other than some wolf-like howling from Abby at the 380-mile mark, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

We arrived home, safe and sound, if a little fragrant. A quick shower for Timmy and a spin for his car seat cover in the washer, and the icky French-fried toast incident was all but forgotten.

We’re now home for a while, but are looking toward the next school vacation week and thinking about another trip to see my family. We haven’t decided whether I’ll be doing a leg of the trip alone, but if I do, I think we’ll bring our own breakfast.

Julie Fay's column runs in The Patriot Ledger. Reach her at fayjulie@gmail.com, or read more by Julie at juliefaysblog.blogspot.com.