Our family had been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, our favorite summer haven, for over two weeks with extended family. Scott and I chose to sneak in a couple of extra days at the end of our stay since our two older children, Max and Chloe, had departed the island with the grand folks for their own separate vacation in New Hampshire. Scott and I had two-year-old Charlie with us and we enjoyed our alone time with him immensely. The three of us dug in the sand on the beach, strolled in town for our daily ice cream at Mad Martha’s, lounged and snuggled late into the morning in the king-sized bed of our fancy bungalow by the sea. We showered our one child with the kind of attention he (the youngest of three at the time; now there are four Bollinger kids) so craved. Finally, the vacation came to an end and we found ourselves in the car line to board the “Sad Boat,” our name for the car ferry that takes Martha’s Vineyard visitors back to the mainland so that they can make their dismal treks homeward….back to work, school, the endless grind of real life. Oh how sad to say goodbye to the Martha’s Vineyard Fantasy.
Charlie seemed subdued as he sat in the back seat directly behind me on the passenger side of our vehicle. He was buckled up tight in his car seat, blankie in hand and all his favorite stuffed animals tucked around him. We had chosen the very last ferry off the island in the hopes that our little one would fall into a deep sleep for the duration of the trip. It was growing darker by the minute as we waited in line and I noticed with delight that a full moon was beginning to rise. Gazing at the moon glow, over the water, would make for a quiet close to our vacation. How nice! We realized, with a chuckle, when Charlie began to grow a bit fidgety in the back seat, that this was the first time we had ever traveled in the car on an extensive trip without the older children. We chuckled again, nervously though, for the idea that we would be alone in the car for more than five hours with our two-year-old was just beginning to sink in…heavily…as we inched our car forward to the ferry ramp. A fear, a dread, a horror began to mount slowly within my brain. Scott drove the car over the ramp and we were directed to a parking spot in the bowels of the vessel.
Scott: We should probably just stay down here in the car. Okay? It’s late. He’ll fall asleep eventually.
(Charlie was throwing his stuffed animals all about the back seat. One hit Scott in the side of the head. Scott turned and glared at Charlie for a moment. Glares, stare downs and harsh reprimands never deterred Charlie, not even at the young age of two.)
Cassie: No, no, no! He’s not going to fall asleep until we’re actually cruising along…driving. Let’s go up on deck and see the moon.
(We made our way up to the deck, sat ourselves down on a couple of the many chairs bolted into the deck floor and tried to convince Charlie to watch the moon. The ferry left the harbor and began to move with some speed as we made our way toward open ocean. Yet, it wasn’t feeling peaceful. Nope. Not at all.)
Cassie: Come on, Charlie. Settle down. Look at the moon.
Charlie: I did saw it.
Scott: I’m telling you. We should have stayed in the car below. He’s getting all riled up.
(He was, indeed, fidgety and busy and totally worked up on the deck of the ferry with the full moon shining from on high. Every few moments, Charlie would try to squiggle out of my lap, or he’d drop one of his stuffed animals and Scott or I would have to bend down to retrieve it and then attempt to get him settled back in. Charlie spoke loudly, disturbing the peace of the moonlit ride for all the other passengers on deck.)
Charlie: When are we getting off this boat?
Cassie: Soon. Look at the moon. Goodnight Moon…..
Charlie: (Too loudly) Where’s Max? Where’s Chloe?
Cassie: They went to stay with Grandma BJ and Pop Dick for a few days at their house.
Charlie: (voice rising another decibel) That’s where we going?
Cassie: (slowly, quietly) No. We’re going home to New Jersey.
Charlie: (yelling with conviction) I don’t want to go home to New Jersey!
Cassie (quietly) Me either.
Scott (irritated, probably by the volume of our conversation but also, perhaps, by the crack about New Jersey): Why are you talking to him? Don’t even talk to him. Charlie, settle down right now!
Charlie: (undeterred) I NOT going to settle down!
Cassie: Shhhh! Let’s be quiet now. Look at the moon.
Scott: He doesn’t want to look at the moon!
Charlie: I don’t want to look at the moon!
Scott: I’m warning you, Charlie. If you don’t pipe down this instant, I am bringing you down to the car for the rest of the boat ride! Mommy will stay here and you and I are going down…to the bottom of the boat.
(Charlie took his blankie and brought it up over his head. He fidgeted under his tent, in my lap, for the remainder of the ferry ride, talking to himself and his stuffed animals in a quieter, but still very animated, voice. Later, once we were back in the car, waiting to disembark from the ferry parking cave, Scott spoke. There was a nervous edge to his voice.)
Scott: Why is the trip smoother with the older kids along? Why doesn’t he just go to sleep….from, like, the boredom? Why is he still talking?
Cassie: He feels trapped. Come to think of it, so do I. What if he never goes to sleep, Scott?! I’m having a lot of anxiety right now! Oh. My. God. We’re not going to make it on this trip….driving through the wee hours of the night with a kid who won’t stop talking….who won’t sleep! I can feel that my stomach is cramping. I might be having a little trouble breathing.
Scott: (to me) Get a grip. (to Charlie) Stop talking!
Scott: Yes! Right now, mister!
Charlie: No! I never go to sleep! (devilishly) Ha ha ha ha!
Cassie: Oh. My. God. Can’t breathe! Seriously, can’t breathe!
Scott: Jesus! Charlie, you listen to me right now! You stop talking and you go to sleep! I mean it! (And, as if to punctuate his last declaration, Scott reached to the back seat and poked Charlie in the leg.) Right now!
Charlie: (blinking rapidly but not crying, then shaking his head from side to side and tsk-tsk-tsking) Such a bad Daddy! That is SUCH A BAD DADDY!
(Silence. Then, we couldn’t help ourselves and we cracked up with laughter. This little two year old, who was running the show, holding his parents hostage at the start of a car trip sure told us, shooting off his mouth with sparks of humor at such an early age, a pre-cursor — though we didn’t know it — to all that was going to come from this brainy, funny communicator with the rapid wit and the sharp tongue. We could NOT stop laughing. Charlie looked out his window, slightly amused, but also, it appeared, slightly drowsy.
We got a grip on ourselves right then and there, the parents of the Smart Comeback Toddler. Charlie fell sound asleep. Scott drove along I-495, the late night hours ticking on. We’ll get to Connecticut and then New York State… eventually, I thought. I continued to stare out the front window, sometimes falling into a light doze. Charlie’s soft snores from the back seat soothed me as did the humid air that blew across my face through the opened car window.
Occasionally, the two adults in the car started to giggle, uncontrollably. They would repeat the two-year-old’s line, “Such a bad Daddy!” and then giggle again while the car pushed ahead toward New Jersey.