We had just finished rationing out our gummy strawberries to five different mouths in the car. Andrea laid the remaining three tiny packages out on her lap and said, “Okay, which one should we open next, the sharks, the caterpillars, or the alligators?”
The tired audience in the back of the car hesitated. Gideon suddenly took charge with a shout of, “Caterpillars!”
Mother nodded and set aside the sharks and alligators for tomorrow.
“Looks like we are eating our way up the food chain,” I said, smiling up the road.
Suddenly there was a small explosion in the back seat. Lydia sputtered, “Hey! A food chain! I’m a part of a food chain! Guys, I’m in a food chain too!”
Andrea seemed a bit shocked, “Okay okay, settle down.” She and I exchanged a laughing glance.
“Lydia,” I called. “What is something below you in the food chain?”
When no one answered, Andrea clarified, “Lydia, what is something you eat?”
This time Gideon sputtered to life, “Oh! Cats! Cats!”
Two little girls in the car gagged, and the boy’s mother said, “No. Gross. No, we don’t eat cats Gideon. How about meat?” she suggested.
“Yeah meat!” all three children cheered.
That was too easy, I thought. “Okay guys, but what kind of meat?”
Gideon again yelled without hesitation, “Um Paw Patrol meat!”
Four other people groaned in unison. “Gideon! The Paw Patrol are dogs. We don’t eat dogs and we don’t eat cats!”
I saw him frown in the mirror. Clara finally answered for her siblings, “Pigs. We eat pig meat sometimes.”
“Okay good,” I said, moving on to phase two of my questioning. “Now, Lydia, what is something that is higher than you on the food chain?”
“What eats you?” their mother immediately clarified again with a side long glance at me.
This time Lydia had an instant answer, “Bears!” the poor girl is very firmly aware of her place in the food chain apparently. A true Alaskan girl, constantly aware of the threat of bears, even when driving through northern Ohio in a minivan.
“How about you, Clara?”
“Okay. What eats Gideon?”
“Good luck with that,” I told him in the mirror. A paper dinosaur had been attacking the toy car in his lap for most of our long drive.
We had another thirty minutes to burn before we arrived at the hotel, so I pushed it a level further. “Okay guys, what else eats pigs and is eaten by bears?” Andrea raised an eyebrow at me from the passenger seat, and I shrugged back in reply.
For a while it seemed like no one was going to answer. I repeated the question. “What is something that is like us? Something that eats pigs, but can also be eaten by bears?”
Gideon slowly looked up from his hands and said less confidently, “ducks?” Then encouraged by his sister’s eruption of laughter he corrected himself, “Oh Elephants!”
I realized at that point that I had completely lost my family to the waves of tired ridiculous giddy nonsense. The kind that drowns weak families after too much time on the road. Thankfully our hotel soon loomed on the horizon like a great oasis from the insanity of driving. We were still firmly locked in our particular place in the food chain, but we would remain on top for at least one more night, resting peacefully in our place along side the ducks and elephants, tipping our hats at each other come breakfast as we watched out the windows for bears over plates of delicious bacon.