So, this past spring, I decided to take my three kids on a vacation. After all, I am an adult, we are a family and this is just what you do. Apparently it is not what I do. I was listening to A Prarie Home Companion the other day and they did a skit about Lutherans and how their vacations are always rittled with sickness and uncomfortablilty. Had I known that before I had my brilliant Let’s Take A Vacation idea I may have been more prepared with less expectation.
It was spring break and I “surprised” the kids with the idea just two days before we were leaving. I had booked a hotel in Virginia Beach! My oldest, who was 14 at the time, was not amused. My younger two (10 and 6) were really caught off guard but quickly warmed to the idea. Good, we were all on board with the family vacation! Well, not the 14 year old, she was soooo 14, I almost dropped her on the side of the road to fend for herself. But I didn’t. Cause I am the mom.
We packed up the car with everything we needed on the 10 hour drive. We have snacks and DVD’s and headphones and games. This was gonna be great! A family vacation! And to be totally honest, I was kind of proud of myself to be doing this all on my own. No husband, no friend…just me and the kids. I am SuperMom. Well, according to me anyway. The 14 year old may have a different take on things.
And we’re off! Along about Philadelphia, I hear the first “how much longer?” Are you kidding me??? Kids actually ASK that? We stop for a potty break and I buy a map. Yeah, I buy a map. I had my directions from mapquest, but I wanted a map.Let me explain. I like to feel spontaneous. Like taking a road trip to a place I have never been before with just my kids and no other driver spontaneous, so I didn’t bring a map. Around about Philly, I decided that part of being spontaneous and fun would be to see where we are going. I bought a map.
I unfold the map and I see a line that goes right through the water. The Chesapeake Bay. My hands start to sweat, and I am not sure why. I would soon find out why. So, the directions have us going straight through Delaware from the top to the bottom. Ok, I have never been to Delaware. Yea Delaware! Oh how naive. Ever been to Delaware? I am sure it has some redeeming qualities, I mean, I didn’t see one, but maybe you know of some. It was 3 hours of strip malls and road construction. Stop and go. Nothing to see here ma’am. I hate Delaware. Now I know. But I tried to keep the kids happy “Hey look girls! Another Walmart!!! That makes 5 and we have only traveled 15 miles!! 10 year old, tell me how many Walmarts is that in a square mile radius?” Kept them on their toes. The 14 year old just stayed asleep, waking up only to complain that she was hot and refusing to take off any of her three sweatshirts finding it more pleasurable to whine at us about her body temperature. Good times.
All the way through Delaware I am checking the map, knowing that we are getting closer and closer to the line through the water. My anxiety starts building. I don’t like bridges. But most people don’t. It is just a means to an end. It won’t be pleasurable for me but I have driven half way across the country, I’m not a wimp.
At the end of Delaware I see “Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel” labeling the line through the water on the map. And I start to feel really sick to my stomach. I am trying to convince myself that it could mean that there is a choice. Take the bridge or the tunnel. I would choose the tunnel. That’s easy. Ok, I reason things out with my 3 kids…it has to be an either or option. They agree with me because they are starting to get wary of my behavior, not because they have any idea what I am talking about.They have never seen me in full blown panic attack mode.
They are oblivious to the sheer terror that has overcome me. They don’t drive. They just trust me to get them from point A to point B. I always have, why would this be any different? Because I have to drive 17 miles across water. I seriously didn’t know that I had Gephyrophobia, a severe phobia of bridges. Who knew? I didn’t. The closer we got the more anxious I became. But I was still counting on it being an either/or type thing. As we pull up to the toll booth (because not only will I have the pleasure of this Bridge Tunnel catastrophe, I get to pay for it too) I ask the lady “So, um, how long is this thing?” And she hands us a packet containing the history and blue prints of the damn thing. As if I would want to see ariel views of what I was doing. Or see the horror half constructed. I say “thank you” and she looks me in the eye and asks “Are you going to be ok?” And I look her right back in her eye and say “Let’s hope so!” And I peel out leaving smoke and tire tracks…
Ok, not really. I did proceed at a normal speed towards my greatest fear. Remember, at the time, I had no idea that this was my greatest fear. I was thinking it was just a bit of anxiety. Ha! So, as my anxiety mounts I tell the kids to shut off the dvd player and not move or speak. Not quite sure what them not moving or speaking was going to help, but that is just what I needed in the moment. I threw the information pamphlet at my 14 year old and told her to find out how long this insanity was and how long it was going to take. So, she sweetly starts reading me miselanious facts. I say through clenched teeth “Just tell me how much longer this damn thing is”. As I have the steering wheel clenched, I try hard to focus on the car ahead of me. I zone into the licence plate and pray. And I try to quickly analyze myself and why I am feeling so petrified? I have faith that the bridge is solid, I have faith that my driving abilities are such to get us safely across, so why then do I feel this intense, inescapable fear? Meanwhile, the little one in the back has found a tape recorder and is playing with that. I manage to squeeze out “STOP! NO NOISE!!” Yeah, this has officially turned into the trip from hell. And just when I think I can’t take it anymore, we hit the tunnel. Ok, I can breathe. The tunnel is so comforting. I love the tunnel. I want to live in the tunnel and never ever leave. But all too soon, we are headed up and out of the tunnel and onto the next bridge. Panic. My 14 year old is slightly amused by my obvious discomfort. She starts filming the scenery. And the funny thing is, no one is talking, or moving. I can’t even speak in complete sentences at this point and I say to her “Soda” and she hands me my soda which is literally inches from my hand. I take a sip and throw it back at her. She kind of laughs. It’s like I am in the fields of Vietnam or in surgery. That is how intense I was. I asked her every few seconds how many more bridges, how much longer. It was sheer hell. The next tunnel was again a bit of heaven. Being that it is a two lane bridge tunnel, I stayed behind the same car the entire way. That was also a blessing. I had zoned in on his licence plate and if I had had to look away or been distracted by a new licence plate I may have lost it completely and driven right off the bridge.
As if this isn’t bad enough, there were signs all along the way saying “DO NOT PULL OVER” and “KEEP DRIVING” so I felt like no matter what happened I had to just keep going. There was no way out. As we come out of tunnel number two and on to the last bridge, I try to use distraction as a means to get a grip on this fear. I tell the 14 year old to talk to me. Now, on a good day, the 14 year old isn’t that into making conversation with me. So, she, true to form, says “about what?” AGH!!! I don’t care!!! Whatever!!Distract me!!! So she says “Well, I can’t see the land yet, it’s really like we are in the middle of the ocean and there is nothing around…” AGH!!!! STOP!!! Different topic!!!! So, she tried. And as we exited the last bridge, I really thought I may just have a heart attack. That was way too much stress for one person. I wanted to cry and throw up and call someone to come get me. I am not strong, I am not brave, I’m a wimp. I didn’t want to be the mom anymore. I can’t hack it.
Now who though up something as horrible as The Bridge Tunnel? And why had no one thought to mention it to me? This was a hugely traumatic experience.I was scarred. I couldn’t stop talking about what a nightmare that was. And it was. All of my nightmares have to do with water, bridges and driving into water. Imagine having one of your nightmares come to life. And in that nightmare you realize that you are the sole responsibility for three kids. No one coming to the rescue, no way to wake up. On top of that the extra added pressure of being a good example for these kids and making sure they are having a good time on their vacation. Pretty sure sitting still and not talking while your mother is freaking out is not the traditional “good time vacation”. Although, my 14 year old did derive some sick pleasure out of it I am sure. The peanut gallery in the backseat finally say “can we talk now mom?” Sure.