Do you remember what a good parent you were before you became a parent? You thought you had it all figured out. At least I did. I used to scoff at parents who let their kids watch endless movies on road trips, saying to myself, “When I was little, we just looked out the window and took in the scenery. We were never entertained. We entertained ourselves.” (My mom is probably spitting out her coffee reading this.) I was so wise. Yeah…then I had kids. Now, it’s survival mode. And I sincerely repent for my pre-parenthood arrogance (and faulty memory, mom, love you).
This past weekend we traveled about eight hours to Boone, NC for a family wedding. Being nearly 36 weeks pregnant, I was prepared to pull out all the stops to make the drive as peaceful as possible. Twisting around backwards constantly to entertain, encourage, threaten, and retrieve dropped items with a six pound watermelon in your belly is not exactly awesome. It’s extremely unawesome. So after some brainstorming and prayerful consideration, I came up with the following game plan.
- Surprise Bags
My super smart sister-in-law employed this little gimmick recently on their trip out west. Basically, you hit up Dollar Tree, Walmart, Amazon, or wherever, for some inexpensive goodies to pack up into mysterious brown paper sacks to give your kiddos every so often. Young kids get excited about the smallest things, so you don’t have to break the bank on this. The idea is to look for items that will keep them occupied. I found these old school Novelty Water Games on Amazon for under $4, some ever popular Melissa and Doug coloring books, mini Etch-A-Sketches, a few new board books for Half Pint, and some other miscellaneous handhelds. The bags were a big hit. In fact, my oldest suggested I put surprise bags in their room for when they wake up each day. What? A present for waking up?? Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?
- Cash Money
Our oldest has been really struggling with staying in bed at night. She loves to pop up about a dozen times with various “urgent” messages for her not-so-happy parents. For several days leading up to our trip, I placed five coins outside her door at bed time. If she got up, she lost a coin. Whatever was left in the morning went in a little coin purse for her to spend on the road. Over the course of a week, she accumulated about $3; just enough to buy some enchanted sparkling jelly beans at Cracker Barrel.
- Screen Time
While I’m still not a fan of letting kids watch TV on the way to the grocery store, I am all about some DVD action on long road trips. I try to wait until closer to the end of the trip to bring out this ace in the hole. It also helps them wind down (and hopefully fall asleep) if it’s getting late. Our Swagger Wagon is not equipped with its own entertainment system, so I just sync movies to the iPad and run the audio through the van speakers. The not free but totally worth it app Strong Rip Pro lets you rip DVDs you own so that you can sync them to your devices.
- Be Flexible
When I was growing up, we were out of car seats by the time we were walking and were pretty much allowed to sit wherever and however we wanted on road trips. (Thanks mom and dad, glad I survived my childhood.) Today, our kids are in car seats of some sort until they hit puberty. And while that five-point harness is great at keeping them alive, it can’t be that comfortable. Give them a break. Literally. We try to stop at kid-friendly places like Chick-Fil-A to let them get some energy out. Since this trip took us into the outskirts of Cherokee National Forest, a quick nature adventure was a must. This gorgeous little pocket of God’s creation was just a brief hike away, not too much for this very pregnant mama or our two girls.
- Be Prepared
Every mama knows that when kids are involved, almost anything could go wrong. A good first aid kit, some junky towels, LOTS of baby wipes, and a change of clothes are always on my packing list for long trips. My Pickle Pants gets car sick really easily, so plastic bags (preferably WITHOUT holes in the bottom) are a must. On the way home she got sick twice. I have to say that hurtling myself into the back of the van in time to assist her with hitting the bag, while 36 weeks pregnant, while traveling 75mph down I-40 did boost my confidence that I can handle this mom-of-three thing!
If you have a child prone to motion sickness, you might want to make one of these handy receptacles out of a milk jug. A mama friend shared this idea with me and now I will never leave home without it!
Start with an empty milk jug. Sketch a quick line where you intend to cut it away.
Remove top, leaving handle intact. Line with several plastic sacks and it’s ready to go!
- Remember to Laugh
So, funny story…we broke up our trip and stopped an hour and a half away from our destination and stayed at a Quality Inn (hey, we’re kinda poor). Naïve me thought that the girls would be so tired they would pass out right away. Nope. Pickle Pants thought the 85 degree musty smelling room was the greatest thing ever and wanted to call my mom right away to tell her all about it. “Gran! We’re staying at a hotel, and there’s a TV you can watch in bed, and a remote, and a phone AND a bathroom!!!” Bless! You’d think we’ve kept her locked in a shed her whole life. The hysteria continued even after the lights were out. Just when I thought Half Pint, my bedmate, had fallen asleep I felt her little spider hands on my face. I tried to play dead but then her little fingers slipped inside my mouth and began examining my gums, then she pulled them out and stuck them up my nose…then back in my mouth. It was 11:30pm, and I was so tired but it was hilarious. In that moment, I was so happy to be in a crummy too-hot motel room with my slap happy girls. While they likely won’t remember it, my husband and I will. And I wouldn’t trade anything for waking up the next morning with my sweet tiny Half Pint curled up next to me like a little rag doll.
We made it to our destination, and Pickle Pants fulfilled her flower girl duties with panache.
And all the excitement made for a sleepy ride home 🙂
Hope these tricks help put more smiles into the miles on your next road trip!