Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reviving the All-American Road Trip

Twelve-plus hours in the car. With two kids.

(Cue the sounds of all parents groaning together)

An extended family car trip. For pretty much every parent I talk to lately, this scenario ranks up there with root canals and proctology exams. It may be an occasional necessary evil, but something to be avoided whenver possible.

Honestly, I'm one of them. But for good reason, I think. There's a bad gene somewhere in my oldest son, and when he was an infant he HATED riding in the car. He was colicky, fussy and quite the screamer. "Take him for a ride in the car!" People would tell us. "He'll fall right asleep." Umm, no. The sreaming only got louder. What a set of lungs a 4 month old can have! So car trips became a torture worse than anything the Chinese military could dream up. Even seven years later, we are still haunted by those memories and feel a sence of dread whenever packing up the car.

My oldest boy as an infant caught in a rare moment
of smiling. Funny, we have no pictures of him in the
car. I must have been holding my ears instead of the
camera at those times.

Fortunately, our second child wasn't affected by the rouge non-car loving gene. He's never been one to fall alseep instantly at the slightest hint of a motor's hum, but at least he didn't make us think we were the most evil parents on the planet for strapping him into a car seat. Still, with two young children in the backseat of a car without one of those fancy DVD systems, travelling more than three to four hours away was almost out of the question for our family.

My, how things have changed.

I was recently reminicing a little with a fellow Cub Scout dad. We found we both have fond memories of the family car trips of our youth. A clunky station wagon, silly made-up car games with siblings, maybe some song singing and coloring books. There were no seat belt laws for kids that we knew of, so generally we'd ride in the "way-back" where there were no seats at all, much less belts. My parents would put a couple sleeping bags back there for cushioning and we'd laze the day away, playing and napping and watching the "upside-down movie" by laying on our backs and looking up through the rear window. Those were the days...

Old steel bridge somewhere in New York State.

I guess my rosy-colored memories don't account for the arguing over who-is-on-who's-side that I'm sure my sister and I did, or the frustration of my parents being lost and trying to figure out the map while we kids whined about being hungry or bored or needing to use the potty (or all three at once). The only unpleasant memory I have of a car trip was the extrordinarily hot summer we first went to Cape Hatteras. did I mention our station wagon did not have air conditioning and had faux leather seats? Sticky is a good word to describe that particular flashback. Ewwwwww.

Now, we have done some road trips already with the kids, but not without a certain amount of trepidation. Usually its been for a good unavoidable reason, like a wedding or important family visit. When planning our regular family vacations, I generally try to keep within a four-hour radius unless we have plans to simply fly there. That's been about as much as I can reasonably handle in keeping the whole family from decending into mayhem. This most recent trip of ours was to Massachusetts from our home in Virginia. Over 12 hours cocooned in the car, the longest we have ever yet attempted. And to make it worse, we only stayed in MA one full day, then it was back on the road for a 12 hour drive home. Oh, and I should mention my mother-in-law was in the car too. Talk about crowded. Kill. Me. NOW.

Country road in western Mass.

But to my surprise, the trip really wasn't that bad. In fact, my biggest complaints would be the senceless routes our TomTom took us and the ache in my back after all that time without good lumbar support. Those dumb (read the sarcasm here people) seatbelt laws that keep my kids forceably chained to one place finally didn't seem to affect our two boys much. At ages 7 and ALMOST 4, there is something better than license plate scavenger hunts and upside-down movies to keep the kids occupied. This may be the only time I'll say it, so mark these words: Thank you, Nintendo, for inventing the DSi.

Sorry Mom & Dad, but you were better parents than I. Yes, I resort to plugging in the electronics to enjoy the ride in peace, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Between their DS games and Leapster games and the portable DVD player we (finally) got for Christmas a couple years ago, there was not one instance of "I'm booooored" to be heard. In fact, they didn't even touch the coloring and activity books I brought as backup. Now don't get in a huff, they did not play video games for 12 hours straight, there were breaks. But my sanity was on the line and on *some* occasions, being plugged in can be a real blessing.

Pretty river view from the car window, maybe in Pennsylvania?

Of course, that 12 hours is total kid-trip time. It includes multiple stops at rest areas, a picnic lunch to let the kids have a good leg streatcher, and dinner along the way. On the way back I even dared to plan a real stop along the way. Just like the stops of old along Route 66 to see giant balls of string and other random items of interest, I decided before we embarked that we were going to try and make a real American trip out of this speedy three-day jaunt, and put a big star on the map for Steamtown National Historic Site. For the kids, this was probably the best and most memorable part of the trip, and one stop I am so happy we chose to make. (More about the awesomeness of Steamtown in another post!)

Boy heaven.

So with a successful, lengthy, whirlwind all-American road trip under our belts, I think I'm going to expand our family vacation radius by a few hours. Who knows what kind of fun adventures we'll be having next year as we venture farther away from home near Richmond, VA? Just as long as there's some electronics in the back seat, I think we could even tackle a 14 hour drive to Disney World! Well, maybe. But this time I'll bring a back pillow and a DS of my own.


  1. Great write up on this and I could feel your pain with every mile. Road trips with people that try our patience and disco…maybe some things are better left un-revived. Ha ha

    Just stumbled across your blog. Great stuff here.

  2. Hey, I kind of like Disco! And bell-bottoms too! Lol, thanks for stopping by! :)


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