Trial & Error: Tips & Advice for New Dads
There are no greater childhood memories than the summer vacation, the trip to the grandparents' house and any other long road trip that resulted in a great family vacation. I remember playing the Slug-Bug game, the license plate game and plenty of other time-wasting activities to keep us from hearing the dreaded, "I'll turn this car around, so help me God!" statement from dad in the driver's seat.
The times are a changin' for sure. Early on as a father I discovered that those wonderful memories I had were either slightly rose-tinted, or flat-out wrong. How my parents survived those road trips without killing us I'll never know. I've heard stories from my in-laws about loading up a station wagon and making an Air Force move to Fairbanks, AK. When it came time for my wife and I to drive to Texas from Alaska, we shipped off our then 2-year old son to his grandparents so we wouldn't have to worry about a terrible road trip caused by a child in the midst of his terrible twos. Had I been forced to take him along on that 4,500 mile trip, we may have never made it out of Canada.
I must admit, despite not particularly enjoying road trips with the kids, as a parent in 2013 I certainly have it a lot easier than my parents had it. Among the three kids growing up in my family, we had only one electronic device in the early years. That was a dogfight through and through (or at least until we each got our own walkman). It even got worse when we each got our own walkmen because then we were "borrowing" cassettes from each other, as well as tattling on each other because the other sibling's music was too loud and bugging us.
There are times on my family road trips nowadays that I can almost forget there's anybody in the car with me. Sure, there have been times when electronics don't do enough to entertain the kids, but they help (when they're charged). It hasn't always been this easy. I remember one rain-filled trip from my mom's house in Oklahoma back to Central Texas (7 hours) in which my (then) 4-year old son sang "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring" the entire trip. Loudly. Another trip coincided with potty training, and we left his little "helper" seat at the house (along with his diapers). Upon him first telling us he had to potty, we stopped at no less than a dozen different stores and rest stops trying to avoid an accident inside the car. He was training in the "sit-down" method, and without his seat, he refused to go. We finally gave in and stopped at a Wal-Mart to purchase another seat. From there, we only had to stop four more times for him to "practice".
My advice to surviving a long trip:
1. Empty 'em out- Don't waste your time asking if anyone has to use the restroom, because they'll tell you no, and they'll need to stop within 30 minutes anyway. It's just a waste of time, because there's something about riding in a bumpy car that will force all fluids to their closest exit point.
2. Spread 'em out- If you have more than two children, a third-row of seating is a must-have. I was raised as the middle of three children, and while there were always enough seat belts to go around in the back of the car, being within elbowing distance of a sibling for hours at a time could be devastating for everyone's mood. Take out the element of proximity and put as much distance between every living being in that vehicle.
3. Dope 'em up- Some may be horrified by that statement. While I've never done it myself, I've heard from many a satisfied Benadryl user. The kids can't complain if they can't keep their eyes open. I'm not even sure if this will work. There's nothing that could have knocked me out on the way to the grandparents' houses during the summer. My wife is a good sleeper in the car, and that's a big help. If I had to endure non-stop criticism of my driving, one of us may not make it out alive.
4. Load 'em up- Make sure there are plenty of distractions for the little ones. Let's take a tally of what I have to offer my kids in exchange for their silence. Two IPhones, one non-smart phone, one Kindle Fire, one IPad, one portable DVD player, 4 IPods/MP3 players & one Meep (IPad for young kids, I think). Even that's not always enough. Batteries drain, brains bore and bad things follow. Always make sure to have plenty of portable car chargers for batteries.
5. Fly- Yes. Fly. With gas prices where they are, why would anyone drive anywhere? Airports are a nightmare, but so is traffic with a car load of kids. If it costs no more than $1,000 more to fly than it would to gas up the car and go, why would you NOT fly? It's quicker, you get a free meal (snack) and you can always lock yourself in the bathroom for peace & quiet if the kids start to wear on your last nerve.