I’m one of ten kids, eighth in line. Yes, Irish. Yes, Catholic and no, that isn’t even all of us in the photo because my little sister wasn’t born yet. I am dumbfounded as to how my parents managed. I think the recipe called for gracious measures of coupons and casseroles, hand-me-downs, patience and faith. Let’s compare family dynamics in the late 1970’s versus those in 2013 through the microcosm of the family wagon shall we?
We’d all squeeze into a 1971 Ford LTD Country Squire with the wood paneling for family outings. It was roughly the size of a hotel room and handled like a Boston Whaler. It only had AM radio but they spun tunes like Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” so who could complain? In the summer, we’d go to the YMCA in Greenwich, CT, which was just over the line from White Plains, NY where we grew up. This was essentially our “country club” (and to my knowledge not attended by anyone who actually lived Greenwich).
My parents would typically share the front with one of the middle children. Dad would prop his left elbow out the open window and enjoy a smoke during the 15-minute drive. The center bench held four or five across, possibly a smaller child on the lap of one of the big kids. Seatbelts shmeatbelts. It was the 70s, so the shorts were short and if our exposed thighs weren’t sticking to the vinyl seats, they were sticking to each other. Why fuss though when soon enough we’d be in the pool, which was tantamount to Shangri-La and would cleanse us of any stress, sweat or wayward peanut butter.
The way-back, as we inhabitants called it, had a pair of mini-bench seats that would flip up and face each other. Four of us sat knee-to-knee with nothing better to do than hold staring contests or compete over who could spot the most Volkswagen Beetles. Rare protests for a better seat assignment were met with a terse declaration, “I’m older.” Entirely inconceivable to me now, it would just end there. It was as simple as stopping Swiper from swiping, “Ohh maaan!” (And if this reference escapes you, be happy about that.)
Fast forward to 2013 and the Chrysler Town & Country minivan I now use to cart our family of four around town. Each kid has a comfy booster seat contained within their own bucket seat. There is satellite radio, CD and DVD players and about 84 cup holders. Seatbelts galore! Each passenger can be cooled or warmed to their preferred degree. While sizable, it pretty much drives like a regular car.
On longer trips we’ll keep one of the kids’ car seats in the middle row and put the other in the third row. As chauffeur, I get the better gig by far. Kristen sits in the middle to serve as waitress, maid and movie theatre operator. They cycle through snacks and drinks and DVD’s like a pack of stoned frat boys, but it is so much better than fighting or a refrain of Are we there yet? And that’s not to say there aren’t complaints, because there are still plenty. I’ve tried using “Because I’m the Dad, and I say so,” but my kids are like pint sized attorneys who aptly pick apart seemingly airtight cases.
I am now the age my parents were when they had their tenth child, so griping about the difficulties of raising two should be accompanied by the world’s smallest violin. Times and norms have changed though and while some of it is progress, it’s hard not be nostalgic for simpler times. I would love more than anything for my kids to have a chance to sit knee-to-knee in the back of that old wagon, heading up highway 684, AM radio on, windows down, and catch a whiff of my Dad’s unfiltered Salem.