Monday, April 24, 2017

Lessons from a Road Trip


A couple of weeks ago, my kids were on Spring Break from school. I took the week off from work. The cat and dog were set to hang out at home with the pet sitter. Our bags were packed, and my parents were waiting with open arms on the other end. All we had to do was get ourselves from Virginia to Florida and our vacation could begin.

Anyone who has looked into flying to Florida during Spring Break months knows you practically have to win the lottery be able to afford four plane tickets. So my boyfriend and I decided to skip the airport and take the more adventurous route and hit the open road. We had already driven the 14-hour trip to my parents’ house twice before, experimenting with both driving straight through in one day and breaking it up with an overnight pit stop. But that was just the two of us when the kids were with their father.

It can’t be that much harder with a 9- and 13-year-old, right?

The kids weren’t immediately convinced, so I took to Facebook and asked my wonderfully experienced and creative mom friends for tips on road tripping with kiddos. Living up to my expectations, my friends filled my feed with so much advice I had to take notes so I wouldn’t forget it all as the trip got closer.

I had every intention of writing this blog post. I just knew the trip would be epic, that I would pull into my driveway a week after we drove off with the best road trip advice to pass along to other families. I would share the tips my friends passed along, as well as others we came up with along the way. Yes, our road would be epic!

Well, our road trip was epic alright. But definitely not in the way I was going for. 

On the way to Florida, we broke the trip into two days. The first day we drove six hours and spent the night in a hotel in South Carolina, where we met up with friends heading in the same direction. We were safe and sound in Florida the following day after another eight hours of driving. We all managed that pretty well so we decided to drive straight through on the return trip. It was the return trip that might be the reason I’ll never get my kids to road trip again.

So what about those expert tips I had teed up? Yeah, those went out the window along with the stench of vomit and rules about gadget usage. All those detailed plans that were supposed to earn me Mom of the Year status disintegrated as each hour of the 16-hour trip home passed and transformed into the following three lessons that are so basic, yet so necessary in their simplicity. I should have started here:

1. Handy essentials are essential.

My 9-year-old daughter has never been carsick. However, for my 13-year-old son, carsickness is a fact of life he’s dealt with on every road trip he’s ever been on. So I always have a steady supply of plastic bags that he knows to grab the second he gets that queasy feeling, and over the years, he’s perfected his aim. While it’s not ideal to sit in an enclosed space with a puking kid, we’ve never had to deal with chain reaction vomit.

That’s why it was so shocking when one minute my daughter said her tummy hurt and the next minute she was puking in a McDonald’s parking lot. Even more shocking when, an hour later, she suddenly grabbed one of those plastic bags in the backseat for round two.

Convinced she had nothing left in her stomach, I figured we were done. My son had taken Dramamine, which worked well for him on both the boat ride we went on in Florida and the first day of the drive there (but not on the second day because, as he learned, it doesn’t work if you don’t take it.)

But an hour later, I heard the rustling of a plastic bag. Apparently, my son was experiencing a delayed chain reaction.

And an hour after that, the kids were tied at two pukes each. 

Round four was the worst round because it came on so suddenly that my poor boy’s perfect aim was off, and he missed the bag. Then, after driving at least ten minutes before an exit finally appeared on the interstate, I had to dig through luggage to find clean clothes and shoes before scrubbing floor mats with baby wipes in a gas station parking lot.

The moral of that story? Have a list of road trip essentials, and keep those essentials handy at any given moment. My list now includes at least 20 plastic bags (for both vomit and vomit-covered items that need to be double bagged so the smell doesn’t set off another chain reaction), baby wipes, ginger ale, gum, a change of clothes for each kid and the Dramamine that will knock those kids out (rather than the “non-drowsy natural” crap I bought).

2. Seating arrangements matter.

I have fond memories of my childhood summer vacations, trips that always involved a road trip. Whether my father was driving us from New Jersey to Cape Cod or to Myrtle Beach, the seating arrangements never varied. My brother sat in the backseat behind my father, I sat behind my mother on the passenger side. Sometimes we all talked. Sometimes we entertained ourselves individually with a Walkman, toys, books or crafts. There was never talk of switching assigned seats.

Maybe those childhood memories are the reason I didn’t relinquish my seat in the front of the car, even though I knew my son’s bouts with carsickness would greatly decrease if he sat in the front. Or maybe it’s because I wanted so badly for my children to bond and use the forced proximity to figure out a way to pass more than 15 minutes at a time without fighting. Or maybe it’s because I’m not crazy about the backseat. After all, my boy inherited the carsickness gene from someone.

But after the last vomit stop I gave my son the front seat. He felt better the rest of the trip, his sister was happy to be in the back with someone who allowed her to stretch out beyond the barricade they had created to keep each other on their own sides, and once I popped a couple of Dramamine myself, I discovered cuddling in the backseat with my girl and a pile of pillows wasn’t so bad.

Moral of that story? Most carsick person gets the front seat.

3. Don’t try to be Mom of the Year.

I planned to have a fancy binder for each child that contained maps, destination information, coloring pages, Bingo and other games. I envisioned the four of us coming up with elaborate, hilarious stories where each person adds a sentence for maximum interactive word play. I had podcasts lined up that I had researched and approved for age-appropriateness and attention-holding subject matter. Seriously, Mom of the Year material!

Let’s just say those binders never came to fruition because the kids said they sounded boring. And let’s also say those elaborate “add a sentence” stories lasted maybe five minutes because every sentence the kids added included the words “poop” or “fart” or a synonym of “poop” and “fart,” and five minutes was about all the patience I had for that. And those podcasts? Thankfully, the daughter of the friends we met up with in South Carolina recommended one because all the others I researched and downloaded were deemed too boring to listen to.

So after all the vomit and the declarations of boredom and the “get off my side!” fights and the “can we get back on screens yet?” whines and the countless failed attempts to interact with my children, I remembered another road trip tip shared by a Facebook friend: “We do what we must to survive.”

I was not going to win Mom of the Year, and as I gave the kids permission to get back on their devices (again), I decided that I didn’t need to. We had an awesome Spring Break, spending time with each other and my parents, staying active and having fun. This 16-hour road trip was just one day out of our lives, and I had no energy left to try and implement mandatory fun. It just wasn’t worth spending time with an inner debate with my mommy guilt. As my wise friend wrote on my Facebook thread, “They will not die over this, right?”

Moral of that story? Buy the plane tickets.


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