Guest Blogs

Travel Is Always a Trip

One dad describes he and his daughter’s battle to manage their ADHD and anxiety, and the barriers they hit while on the road.

Part one of this story left off a year ago, January 2014, the first day of the second semester of my daughter Coco’s senior year of high school. After a crack-of-dawn drama filled with false starts, in and out of the car back-tracks, U-turns with “Sorry, I forgot” and “OK, got everything?” Coco and I, both wound-tight, edgy-tempered ADHDers, are finally rolling through the rain in our older minivan toward her school.

As I come up to a stoplight, I’m thinking that my therapist will be happy to hear how, in stressful situations, I’ve been working on staying calm and listening to everything being said, instead of flash reacting. But wait, I’m not doing all this to make my therapist happy. I’ve got to stop making everything in my life about pleasing others. Why do I keep looking for his nod of approval during our sessions, like a dog doing tricks for treats, for god’s sake?

So what if I react oddly to some kinds of stress? It’s not like the FBI is hunting me down on Criminal Minds: “We’ve identified his stresser as driving his daughter to school January 7th. But we still don’t know why he always bites his nails on the way home.” Because I’m nervous and confused. I’ve always been nervous and confused. I’ll always be nervous and confused. But now I’m learning how to hide it better. I don’t bite my nails in front of my daughter. “Hide and listen,” my new motto.

“Dad, stop!” Coco yells.

“What? Oh, no. No!” I yell back, calm be damned, “We’re not going back for anything more you forgot! Period!”

She’s shaking her head. Eyes bright with terror, she grabs my arm. “Listen! The car! It’s a blowout!”

I pull over, punch the hazard lights, and breathe before I talk. It isn’t a blowout, I explain. That hollow grinding thumping is just the sound the brakes make in the rain. I need to get new brake pads. This doesn’t calm her down much, even after I get wet walking around the car checking the tires. The rest of the way to school she trots out bloody scenarios involving innocent lives destroyed due to failed brakes in the rain. I have to promise that I’ll get the brakes fixed today before she’ll get out and go to class. And I do go to the auto repair shop, biting my nails on the way.

At the repair shop, I sit in the waiting room, with foam plugs stuffed in my ears to drown out the negative TV news network they have on all the time, and stare at the floor. Coco’s not wrong; it’s good to keep your brakes fixed. But she was so frightened. She’s always been pretty easily spooked, but ever since the Christmas trip, she’s acting as if she expects the world to collapse on us any second. I pick up on her ADHD-fueled panic phases, and it feeds all my barely hidden tiny panic buttons. I start going off about how nobody in the house except me loads the dishwasher right. And who left clothes in the dryer? Not finishing and folding is not doing the laundry. On and on. If the house weren’t built on a slab, Margaret would have shot me and Coco with tranquilizer darts and tossed us in the basement.

But look at it. Maybe Coco’s freshly compounded fear is my fault. The Christmas trip did get frightening. If things had gone a little differently, we could have all been killed. Wait, no, we were just a little too ambitious and, like the guy said, pulling our shredded tire out of the back of the minivan, “Now right there, that’s just plain unlucky.”

In the repair shop, I stare at the black tile between my feet, the murmur of angry newscasters fading into the background beyond my plugged-up ears as I replay Christmas Trip 2013, and look for what I did wrong. My newer motto: “Hide, don’t listen, and blame myself.” This I can do.

Christmas presents, luggage, travel snacks, drinks, pillows and blankets, seating arrangements for me, Margaret, our 18-year-old daughter Coco, and Margaret’s 87-year-old mother, the guaranteed interpersonal friction on a road trip with three generations of a family crammed into a confined space for 851 miles-it seems too much to ask of any vehicle, even the 2006 minivan we call the “good car.” The 2001 model I normally drive around town-with the dodgy brakes, no a/c or heat or power for the passenger windows-we call “the other one.” I’m saving up for a pick-up. But that’s not until Coco’s college fund is solid. We don’t even know how Coco did on the ACT yet, and she and I are so nervous about whether she’ll get into the college she wants, we can’t even talk to each other about it. Coco talks to Margaret. I talk to myself. Mostly about how I’ll never get all of this crap into the car. Something’s got to go.

Somehow on the exact December morning we had planned to leave, we roll out of our Georgia driveway fully packed and head toward the freeway with Coco in the far back, Nana in the middle, and Margaret and me in front checking the rear-view mirror to make sure nothing has been stuck up in the back to block my view. Packing a car is like packing a dishwasher; nobody knows how to do it but me. Finally, on the freeway, an hour of actual travel accomplished, I breathe easier and feel a little calmer and more confident that we’ll make it up to my 91-year-old mother’s house in Delaware in one piece.

“Where’s my purse?” Nana calls out from the back, “I forgot my purse. We have to go back.” I slow down and head toward a freeway exit. “Don’t you dare turn this car around,” Margaret says.

Part 3: The battle of the purse, Nana and her sisters, Christmas overload, blowouts in the rain, and where’s the spare?