We just got back home from a road trip with our 3 sons, 2 of whom are now young adults. It was a rare and beautiful week for just the 5 of us. Even the drive brought back a rush of memories–in particular, the coping mechanisms we developed while driving our wiggly toddlers and over-active children down interminable stretches of highway.

I recall many trips, sitting in traffic jams with my little boys in their carseats behind us, while their wails of “I want ba-ba-ba” or “I can’t hold it!” drummed in our ears, with nowhere to pull off for a diaper change or even a whiz on the embankment. I spent about 10 years climbing from the front to the back seat to wedge myself between carseats and cuddle babies, wipe tears, hold bottles, and read Curious George to little children who couldn’t stay in the car another minute. With Goldfish everywhere, French fries around the belt buckles, sippy cups upside-down, and an annoying Barney song blaring from the tape deck.

That is, until someone in the automotive world, who likely had young children, thought of putting TV/DVD players in minivans! Then his kids played the same movie five times in a row, from Michigan to Florida, and he invented headphones. And then he had 3 kids, and the oldest child moved to the back seat of his minivan, causing him to invent wireless headphones for the car so he could drive in peace. At least, that’s how I picture it. All great inventions were created out of frustration.IMG_0708

When we traveled during that blessed stage, my husband and I would smile happily at one another, movie after movie, while we watched tiny, rapt faces circled by giant headphones in the rearview mirror, and we would bless that man from Detroit. So you don’t think me inept as a mother, let me inform you that I did keep mandatory no-technology periods for long rides. Even movies get old after awhile, and of course, there’s arguments about what to watch.

Road trips are some of my happiest mothering memories. I’m being serious. Kids are so doggone cute in their seatbelts surrounded by new and creative things to do. So here are some ideas to insure a successful road trip with your children, bearing in mind, of course, that you must stop every 2 hours once they’re all in underwear. Now for the ideas–

For preschoolers:

1. a plastic shoe box for each child with age-appropriate activities, games, books, and toys, never before seen

2. wireless headphones for movie-watching

3. snacks that won’t spill (is there such a thing?)

4. sippy cups in a cooler, ready to go

5. portable potty for emergencies

6. sun visors on the windows

7. headrest for napping

8. comfort object (blanket, stuffed animal, etc.)

9. CD to sing with

10. favorite movies

For school-age children:

1. charged electronics

2. a new book to read

3. movies, new and favorites

4. magnetic car games (checkers, dominoes, etc.)

5. pillow

6. books on CD that the whole family will enjoy

7. snacks and drinks in spill-proof containers

8. sun visors on windows

9. tunes to sing with

10. trivia questions and flash cards

11. coloring books and puzzle books

For teenagers:

1. headphones and charged electronics

2. a new book to read

3. a book on CD that the whole family will enjoy

4. a motivational speech or message to listen to on CD or radio

5. playing cards

6. pillow & sunglasses

7. snacks and drinks

8. movies

9. something to study or learn (drivers’ manual, SAT review, foreign language, flash cards, trivia cards, summer assignments)

10. soduku and problem-solving books

Things to do with your kids at rest stops (besides use the bathroom):

1. eat a picnic lunch or snack (food tastes better outside than in the car)

2. run laps or relays; time them with your stopwatch

3. read the big road map and show kids where you are and where you’re headed

4. pick up visitor information pamphlets for them to read

5. do stretching exercises

6. count birds, squirrels, or dogs

7. take inventory of license plates–how many states can you count?

I know you have many more ideas and some great memories, too, of games played and contests created. Would you share them with us? The open road is calling you. How will you survive?


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