Sherry Kuehl — Giving the kids ‘what for’ is a rite of passage for parental travelers

03/25/2014 4:25 PM

03/25/2014 4:25 PM

If you ever feel like your family is in need of some special bonding time to reconnect and rejoice in togetherness, then look no further than a 12-hour car ride to your spring break destination to eradicate those emotions.

It starts out all good and then by hour 10 you’re fantasizing about escaping to sweet, sweet, freedom by hitching a ride with the driver of the Frito Lay truck you “I spied” at your last bathroom break. There’s at least a 30 percent chance he could be a serial killer but at this point those odds don’t scare you.

To be sure the long car ride of today is a massive upgrade from the road trip of yesteryear where as a child all I had to keep me busy was license plate Bingo and riveting games of I Spy with My Little Eyes.

An added bonus in the excitement department was my father threatening, about every 125 miles or so, to pull the car over and “give us what for.” Which he never did but it certainly was a vacation cliffhanger. Would this be the time he finally stopped the car? What kid would be the first to get the “what for”? Would all of us be “what for”ed and what really was the “what for”? It was so riveting one year my oldest brother started a betting pool. The winner was the kid who correctly guessed the first and last city my dad would threaten us with the “what for.”

Today, you would think there would be no need for a “what for” because when most families hit the road they’re basically driving a mobile Best Buy. With iPhone, iPads, laptops and even one of those thingamabobs so everyone can get the Internet 24/7, our car lulled me into believing that all this technology would ensure a peaceful 12-hour ride down the interstate punctuated by a few brief gas, bathroom and food breaks.

Sadly, this is not how it goes down. The first couple of hours are a breeze but by hour four I see signs of a breakdown in communication and by hour six, the half-way mark, I’m beginning to question the intelligence of my family.

It begins when not one but both kids violate the prime directive and take off their shoes. The smell is overpowering and not even a two pack of Gain Febreze can power through the stench. I roll down all the windows for a fresh influx of clean air. My mom math tells me that a car driving down the interstate at 80 miles per hour for five minutes with the windows down should equal a vehicle that no longer smells like a high school locker room that time forgot. Something must have been wrong with my addition because when I rolled the windows back up it still smelled to such an extent I felt woozy, leaving me no choice but to pull over and seal both pairs of kids shoes in gallon size Ziploc bags.

Just as my nasal passages are healing I’m greeted by a request to stop yet again for a bathroom break. This has me worried and ticked off. What is wrong with my kids’ bladders? Are they deformed and reduced to the size of cashews or is there some kind of blockage? I swear I can’t drive for more than an hour without one of them pleading for me to stop.

Reluctantly, I exit off the interstate for another potty break and while both kids are taking care of business I discover what the problem is. While reaching into the cooler in the back of my car for an icy cold beverage I come up empty handed. Nothing but ice chunks. My kids have consumed what amounts to a 12-pack of Vitamin Water. No wonder I’ve had to stop so much. I guess the good news is they’re fully hydrated.

One of the by products of hydration must be the need to freely and zealously express one thoughts because both of my children start fiercely complaining about the other one. It’s like the floodgates of “everything you ever did to annoy me” have been opened.

When my daughter starts bringing up perceived injustices her brother committed during the Christmas of 2004, I’m forced to go full “what for” on the both of them. I sound so much like my dad I’m freaking myself out a little, but I don’t stop. Oh no, I’m on a roll and then I get it. This is what the “what for” is all about. It’s a parental stress reliever. A vacation mantra. A chance to let it all out without ever taking your eyes off the road.

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