The Wheels on the Car go Round and Round (book excerpt)

Traveling with kids is wonderful, because no matter where you’re going, the place will seem like a calm relief to the time you spend in the car.  Actually traveling with kids is a lot more bearable than when I was a kid.  When I was a kid my dad had to actually build a television stand and remove the middle row of our van so we could be entertained by the light of the television like moths to a flame.  Now our kids have an iPad and we only worry about charging the battery.  Well, almost.

Traveling with kids is a much longer course that traveling with adults.  If you’re picking up a friend to go somewhere, you just pick them up.  With kids though, you do everything, and that starts with packing.

To begin, kids will need at least twice the clothes as you, the length of the trip does not matter.  They need pants for when they are cold and shorts for when they are hot.  Long, short, and no sleeved shirts and two pair of shoes.  They need their toothbrushes and sunscreen and favorite stuffed animal.  All this must be packed two days before so you can spend the day before looking for the things you couldn’t find.  As you’re looking for the things you can’t find, you must not let them know where the suitcase is because they will play vacation with it.  This means they will play with it briefly, and when they finish it will look like the suitcase exploded.

After packing their clothes you need to account for snacks.  Snacks need to be balanced between good enough to eat, but not so good they would binge on them.  My kids would love eat chocolate candy the entire car ride and it would be a quiet ride until someone began vomiting, changing the theme from sugar fueled bliss to puke scented hell.  At our house this means buying or making trail mix.  When I make it they get a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and some candy.  They will hopefully sample it equally but often they just pick out the candy like hens pecking in a farmyard.  I also fill their water bottles, but not too full because they can’t be drinking too much on our trip, then we’ll stop to pee five times an hour.

Once bags and snacks are packed we throw the kids and their movies in the car.  When we bought our current people hauler we chose not to get an entertainment package because it seemed too expensive.  Instead we have the very sophisticated system of an iPad suspended between the front seats with a bungee cord and binder clip.  This system work great for the video but is terrible for the audio.  We tried getting headphones for each child to use but it’s impossible for any children under the age of ten to keep headphones on their ears.  The trip then becomes an audio balancing act where the adults in the front then turn down our radio so they can hear theirs but as their movie’s volume waxes and wanes so does our and we continually adjust the levels.

Eventually we get into a driving rhythm, children quiet in the back, adults talking in the front, when somebody gets hungry.  My philosophy is to drive and drive hard until we get there, but I’m the only one in our car who can pee in the Gatorade bottle they just finished.  So we stop for lunch and get out to pee and a quick trip into McDonalds takes as long as a Sunday lunch at the Olive Garden.

If instead we get food to go there are challenges with that as well.  No drink lid is as secure as I’d like it to be, somewhere between car gas cap and space shuttle port.  Food will always be flying in the car as our kids – with their eating amnesia coupled with a movie trance – forget how to move food from lap to mouth.

Eventually I hope the fried potatoes in their lunch turns them into vegetables for the rest of the drive and we return to the road.  No matter how long we’re in the car, it’s just enough time for my wife and I to have an adult conversation – while keeping our radio turned down – and we arrive at our destination, all happy to be getting out of the car.

This is an essay from a book I’m writing and may not be fully polished.  If you’d like to read more about the process for writing this book, here’s my diary or see more excerpts.

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