When our first child was six months old, we moved from our hometown to Louisville, a little over 2 hours away. Going back and forth regularly, our little Abigail became quite the traveler. Then, the week before our second child’s first birthday, we moved north to our current home, which is about 5 1/2 hours from our hometown. Our trips back and forth became a little less frequent. However, we still pile in the van for a six hour trip one way more often than most families might. As a result, all three of our girls are really quite good at traveling. However, buckling kids into carseats for hours on end will tend to cause some chaos, no matter how well-seasoned they are.
In the spirit of honesty, as I try to be as honest as possible on this blog, the scenarios that follow are a culmination of several years of long car rides, and did not happen all on one trip. However, they did all happen to us at one time or another.
The Way I Wish Things Were:
In a dream world, we would leave for Somerset about ten in the morning, all pottied up and buckled in and happy to be going. Our girls would have their little stashes of books, Color Wonder markers (they don’t write on anything but the special paper), and baby dolls, that would be sufficient to entertain them for the whole trip. If they wanted something that the other had, they would work out a trade or sharing arrangement amicably and peacefully. They would have a little baggie of Goldfish or something and a little drink that would hold them over until lunch, and they would be completely satisfied with that. We would pop in a movie in our handy dandy DVD player, or a CD in the stereo, and that would result in their undivided attention being placed somewhere other than trying to talk to Mommy and Daddy. We wouldn’t hear a peep out of them until the first movie was over, at which point we would stop for lunch. The babies’ nursing schedules and nap schedules would of course coincide perfectly with our driving times and stop times. After lunch, we would repeat the previous patterns for part two of the ride, after which we would arrive safe and sound in Somerset, in time to rest or play awhile before supper, and then go to bed on time and get a full night’s rest. The whole thing would then happen in reverse on the way home a few days later.
The Way Things Really Are:
In reality, however, the above rarely happens. Most often, it is 4:00 or later before we get to head out on the road due to Daddy’s work schedule, so we’ve already put in a full day before even beginning the adventure called a road trip. We’re ready for supper before we’ve even gotten to Indy. We’ll get drive-through and head out, just in time to drive through downtown Indy during rush hour. We’re behind before we’ve really gotten started. We give the girls their stashes of entertainment, and they have their food and drink. But within ten minutes, they’ve dropped their “bugger” (as Abigail calls a burger) in the floor, or spilled their drink because they disobeyed and took the lid off anyway, or just hollered that they’re done after one bite, and now can they have a treat because they weren’t really hungry for chicken, they’re actually hungry for Cheeto’s.
Once the food issues are resolved, usually by us just saying, “Well, you know you should be more careful not to drop things; we’ll stop in a little while and you can pick it up or we’ll get you a snack,” then come the struggles with the “stuff.” When we drove a Ford Focus and the girls dropped their book or baby or blankie, I could reach it to give it back to them. In a mini-van, this is impossible. Yet after more than a year of riding in a van and being told, “Mommy can’t reach it, you’ll have to wait until we stop”, they still have a major crisis when they inevitably drop their things. Within minutes, the “stuff” is either in the floor or they “just don’t want to play with that right now, it’s kind of boring, you know.” So, then they start asking the age-old questions: “How much longer?” “Are we in Kentucky or still in Indiana?” “Can we have a few minutes to play when we get to Nanny’s?” “Are we there yet?” “Will Aunt Gertie be there?” “Can I have a snack?” “When will we stop?” After a few minutes of trying to holler back over the road noise and music, the DVD goes in–the one that is supposed to mesmerize them into silence for at least 70 minutes. This doesn’t work either. They suddenly need to narrate the journey to us: “Mom, did you see that blue truck?” “Daddy, that truck says UPS, that’s where you used to work!” “Elisabeth’s crying! (My personal favorite, as if we didn’t hear her ourselves.) Their little voices barely carry over the noise, so after several rounds of “What? What? WHAT?” we finally give up and say, “Mommy and Daddy can’t hear you. Don’t talk to Mommy and Daddy. Watch your movie. You can talk to us when we stop.” Hardly the loving attention a good parent would give their child.
What would help make the trips easier:
Clay and I have fantasized off and on about how to get from reality to dreamland. One thing that would really help is to have a sound-proof screen that can go up between the front and back of the van. When you’re on the road, there are so many times that you just can’t do anything about what is going on in the backseat unless you want to stop every fifteen minutes. When the requests and complaints, or just the noise, gets to be too much, just put the screen up. This would also be helpful when driving at night or naptime so Mommy and Daddy can talk without waking anyone up, or when the front and back sectors disagree on what music should be played. Our other miracle invention would be a long stick with another hand attached to it, to pick up all the stuff that gets dropped. Then our kids would get more than two bites of their supper, toys would get played with instead of ending up under seats for the next three months, pacifiers or sippy cups could be returned to baby, or we could even use it to take away that which has been fought over for the past twenty minutes, thereby restoring some order of peace. If anyone invents these things, please let me know. I’ll be glad to be your tester.
This is all just minor stuff, I realize, par for the course when driving with children. And yes, we do have stretches of relative peace. (If we didn’t, if it was constantly chaotic, I’m not sure we would make it home as often as we do.) But we have had some “bigger” moments over the years. Moments like the heart-stopping one driving down the Watterson Expressway in Louisville when Catherine was 9 months old and Abigail, suddenly but calmly, said, “Catherine’s standing up.” Turning around, I saw that she had managed to finagle her way out of her carseat buckle and was standing up in it looking out the back window. I am just thankful that Clay had the presence of mind to brake carefully and slowly, pulling over to the shoulder instead of slamming his brakes on in a knee-jerk reaction and sending her flying through the car. We’re old pros at that now; Catherine did it twice more before we finally switched her into a big girl carseat (early), and Elisabeth has already done it once. Then there are the fun times when Elliot the dog gets carsick. The first time we had absolutely nothing to clean it up with; Clay was not with us, it was just me and my mom and the girls. We had to stop at the nearest Target to buy towels, where I then got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to work his fancy dog-halter-seatbelt thing all by myself. Lovely. Of course there will be times when diapers just don’t hold stuff in, which sometimes also requires a trip to Target for an unplanned new outfit! I won’t go into to details on that one. When the babies are young, they will absolutely refuse to nurse when we stop at the anticipated time, only to start screaming 20 minutes later, requiring yet another stop. There are even times, thankfully just one to date, when Mommy is driving to Somerset by herself, it’s pushing midnight, and yes, that thump was someone’s dog, cracking my front fender. Then there are the fun times when all the sudden Mommy or Daddy get sick, requiring an urgent and immediate pull-over. Again, no details here. Yes, pretty much anything can happen when you’re riding in cars with babies.
But as I said, it’s not always horrific. It is always chaotic. We have just learned to train our minds to expect nothing in the way of tranquility and smoothness, and just take everything in stride. When we accept that there probably will be moments when all three kids are crying at the same time (have you ever heard that in a van? It’s deafening.), and when we let go of the assumption that they will sleep, no matter what time of day we’re traveling, then the moments of good behavior take us by surprise and we count it a successful journey. So, for all of you who ask us every time we’re in town how soon we’ll be back, please remember this post. (That shouldn’t be hard; it’s ended up being almost as long as our trips.) It is no simple matter to come home for a weekend. We love you and we’d love to see more of you, but….riding in cars with babies is not for the faint of heart.