There are very few joys in life quite like that of restraining three small boys into seatbelts and car seats then motoring off for a nearly three-hour excursion through thousands of acres of corn and beans.
This sort of endeavor is, if nothing else, an excellent way to test the limits of one's tolerance to noise and also one's shoulder range of motion. Our primary packing rule is to bring toys with high amusement value and a low annoyance factor. Think: books, figurines, anything that squishes....if it requires batteries and creates any additional noise, it's not invited. It is also helpful if we happen to have three identical versions of each toy.
On the occasion when both parental units will be on board, it pays off big-time to be the driver. That way, when the 4-year-old has decided to forcibly confiscate the 3-year-old minion and the 2-year-old has simultaneously flung his cup into the abyss-wedge between the door and his car seat (resulting in a stereo chorus of ear-splitting shrieks), I can calmly smile and point out the vital need for me to focus my attention on the responsibility of keeping the vehicle on the road and the family out of the ICU.
If I'm traveling solo, which happens from time to time because I am a fool, I am forced to chose between refereeing the escalating sibling-war brewing just inches away and maintaining control of a one and a half ton box of metal traveling at 70 mph. Keep in mind, 2/3rds of the combatants are rear-facing. This poses an interesting challenge to my rotator cuff. Mostly during these solo trips, I just toss my mom-card out the window towards grazing cattle and plug into a pair of earbuds so I can more easily tune out the shrieks and screams of whatever chaos is unfolding behind me. This may seem harsh, but parenting means having to make some difficult decisions. Safety first, cultivating civilized behavior...distant second.
When tablets came into existence I wasn't yet a mom but the idea of children seemed realistic. I distinctly remember thinking, HOT DAMN, these bad boys will make car travel with kids a dream come true for everyone! Well done Apple!!
But here's the problem with screens: internet access. We do not have a hotspot. Nor is our 2012 Explorer (Dora, purchased as a pathetic last ditch effort to remain 'cool,' as if we spend our days off-roading through canyons rather than chauffeuring preschoolers to the zoo) futuristic enough to offer wifi. Some day, for fun, try explaining to a 3-year-old that streaming Netflix requires internet access but other apps do not. Turns out, they're completely unable (or possibly just unwilling) to comprehend this phenomenon and thus, the limited access to non-internet apps like puzzles, books and games often just causes furious outbursts of frustration. So thanks a lot Apple. Thanks for nothing.
I distinctly remember being drugged as a child in order to travel. Granted, it was in response to a pretty substantial case of motion sickness and the fact that a side-effect of Dramamine happens to be drowsiness/kid-coma was just that, a side effect, and likely not the actual desired end-game. Unintended consequence or not, the fact that 1/3 of my parents' spawn was typically unconscious during regular road-trips to visit grandparents up and down Interstate 55, was probably not unwelcome. Granted, I was the best-behaved child...in my vey reliable recollection.
Do I drug my kids? Not yet. Am I above that? Nope. Do we try to schedule travel around nap time? We do. Does it work? It does not.
In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times all three boys have slept during road trips and it takes only two hands to demonstrate how long those naps lasted.
And so, traveling with our family is nothing short of an adventure. We take roadside potty breaks because it's easier to pack a kid potty than to un-belt everyone and cart them all into a smelly gas station restroom. We sing Christmas carols at any season and at the top of our lungs. We play 'I spy' and spot the sky or trees or clouds with unending surprise. We listen to the two-year-old squeal with delight each time a plane flys overhead ('Plane!' 'Plane!' 'Plaaaaaaayne!!!!' ... until he is acknowledged, 'Plane?' '...Yeah.') We pass out granola bars and apple sauce pouches ('packets') like they're going out of style. We take deep breaths through shouting matches and relish even 3 minutes of silence. We roll windows down and then up again and negotiate whether the sunroof and moonroof shades will be open or closed when inevitably there will be different, and very strong, opinions about what is desirable.
It's an adventure and a chore and an exercise in patience, but it is always worth it to see the delight in the faces of both grandparents and grandkids at the end of the journey; or just to be home again.