Long Car Trips with Littles!

Let me preface this by saying, I love driving. I grew up in Chicago, but attended college in Charleston, SC so I made the 14 hour drive back and forth a couple times a year. I love the freedom, the independence, the scenery (except for Indiana, no offense). I love being able to tune out, listening to my favorite podcast, my audible app, or book on tape-- I once drove 14 hours to Charleston, but sat in my car for an EXTRA HOUR once arriving because I was finishing up the 7th Harry Potter book on cd, I mean... who wouldn't!?

So I already don't think it's a big deal to make long treks, adding the kids has certainly changed things but seeing my family is really important to me. Driving 6 1/2 hours to Chicago (even though with Archie who loves to pretend he's hungry, but then laughs at me instead of taking his bottle-- it actually takes us 8 hours) is worth it no matter what transpires during the car trip. We make this drive every month in the Summer, and about every 6 weeks in the Fall/Winter. I am always wondering how things will change when we add another kiddo to our brood this January. I already am anticipating that we will never leave the house, Lord help me, please come visit us!

Another reason for our frequent trips is my husband works a lot, maybe I have mentioned this before? I call it my "Martyr Banner" that I love to wave around! The point is, he has crazy hours, and even though it depresses him to come home to an empty house at night, I crave community and connection that I can't always find at home during this season of our lives. We are at peace with that, and get creative with finding outlets that refresh us. The family that waits for me in Chicago offering to baby-sit might be a big incentive for these long trips! And also getting my hair highlighted is a TOP priority during this season of my life, because um, one must look dignified at CostCo and the preschool drop-off/pick-up. I leave the kids with my mother-in-law, and get to spend all morning turning blonde at the salon, saving my baby-sitter money for a REAL crisis-- like having to go to the post office.

I know, it's hard to believe I could ever leave this face for days at a time
Hopefully without being too cavalier, I am relating driving with kids to the 5 stages of Grief.
The similarities must be spotlighted:

1. Denial (pulling out of the driveway)-- 
You have loaded the car, everyone has gone to the bathroom, the sun is shining and the snacks have been portioned out. The car is organized, the children are singing, there is the promise of an unseen dvd you just checked out from the library on the horizon. You downloaded a new podcast, your phone is fully charged and your headphones are within reach (note: headphones are illegal, but essential. Do not judge, or tattle).

You falsely believe this trip is going to go smoothly, your kids look at you with hope and encouragement, they are so excited to embark on this journey! They cannot wait to do all the fun things you have promised them! They have no idea they have to wait 8 hours to go to the park with Papa and have that special dinner Nana made them. It's only 9 in the morning and you will not be there until dinner time, but use the cheery voice and don't look at that ETA on your GPS!

Smile on, Archie, it's gonna be a great day!
Someone dropped something but that's okay, you will pull off onto the exit ramp to get it for them, you are so sure this is the only time this car trip you will have to do that. Whatever they need!

2. Anger (3 hours in)--
The snacks are gone (because they got spilled all over the car) you can't find anything in that massive pile of crap in the passenger seat. You went to grab a pacifier for the baby and put your hand in mashed banana. Someone is crying because the dropped a toy they MUST have that you CANNOT reach. You just stopped, but they have to go to the bathroom again.

Most frustratingly, you are ALL OUT OF ALL THE WORDS. You cannot even believe you have 5 more hours of this.

At this point you have also done at least one stop, unless you're a driving rockstar then don't pass go, don't pull over, no drive thru, keep at it mama! Stops kill me. I would rather do anything than stop. We used to be so quick! 2 kids! What a breeze! Now by the time everyone has gone to the bathroom, we purchased snacks, and Archer drank his bottle, THEY NEED TO GO AGAIN. This happens to me all the time! Usually they only completed 1/2 of the potty options and require ANOTHER trip back inside. I die! Here is where I beg my well-potty-trained kids to wear pull-ups, the disgrace!

3. Bargaining (4 hours in)-- These are some of the lower moments of my parenting. It's called The Zone of Compromise, where you make a choice that is not sanitary or that may come up later when your kids go to therapy.

This is the stage where I may say things like:
"I am so sorry that you peed your pants, but your baby brother is napping and we are unable to stop because he spent the last hour crying himself to sleep. I will give you my shirt so that you can dry yourself off the best you can."

"Please watch this dvd I put on for you! When we stop, I will let you choose any candy you want if you do not ask me again how long this car ride is!"

"That is so sad to me that your dress fell into the toilet. No, you can't walk through the gas station naked. Please wear this hoodie of mine until we get to the car!" To to which my 4-year-old cried, "But why do I have to cover up my chest, Mama? I don't even have ta-ta's!"
Loving Life!
During this stage, you may do things that you did not know you were capable of...

I may [or may not, depending on how grossed out you are] have taught myself to pee in a cup when Emmy and Mack were both babies. Marginal spills occurred. The idea of taking a baby in a carseat carrier, AND holding the hand of 14 month old who could barely walk into a gas station to use the restroom COMPLETELY overwhelmed me. Since they were both in diapers and didn't need toilets, I learned this skill and would pull over (out of sight of the truckers, always the lady that I am!), take care of business, throw it in the trash, and we literally never go out of the car during what was back then a 5 hour car trip to my mom and mother-in-law's!

To keep a toddler baby happy, I also have handed out ridiculous, age-inappropriate snacks like leftover spaghetti squash in a tupperware. This was back when we were strictly following the paleo diet and on my way out the door, I just grabbed whatever I could find in the fridge!

4. Depression-- (5-7.5 hours inthis trip will never end. The rest of my life I will be in this car listening to the Little Mermaid play on repeat. These kids will never stop fussing. We have HOURS to go, I have used up my caffeine allotment for the day, and I am starving too!

One thing that helps me when things look really dark is my refusal to answer the "Are we there yet, how much longer question?" This falls under my "I do not negotiate with terrorists" mantra. They are starting to ask that, and I am sticking firm to my: "I'm sorry, I do not answer that question. We get there when we get there!" Which actually takes WAY longer to say then "30 minutes," ha! But I am hoping this will benefit me in the long run.

5. Acceptance-- (tbd, based on your capacity for chaos this may never come) Here is where the ear phones really come in handy.

I love this throwback photo!
At this point, you  might not want any tips from me, but here are some anyways!

1. We love this lap table. It is soft but firm enough for them to color on. It also has ridges to keep toy trucks, markers, and snacks from rolling off. You simply buckle it around the back of the carseat.

2. I think it's easier to drive with the kids in their jammies, and slip-on shoes. Because they inevitably take them off, it makes for a quicker transition to get out of the car for stops.

3. I try to do a mix of snacks with at least one sweet treat but then some extra protein. My kids love beef jerky, cheese sticks, and almonds. They know that mom chooses their "treats" when we stop. Everyone also gets a sippy cup that is half filled with water.

4. After a trip where BOTH toddlers had an accident, I keep wipes, a change of underwear, and extra pants close by so I don't have to open the trunk and have suitcases fall on me!

5. We we stop for lunch (almost always a Chick-fil-a) I let them run around and play for a while, then get our meal to-go and eat in the car. I don't want to waste valuable bathroom-going-time by sitting at a table eating. If it is a "quick" stop, I challenge whoever isn't using the potty to a round of calisthenics! "Do 10 jumping jacks, I yell! Now touch your toes 5 times. Show me how high you can jump!"

6. I always have our stops planned out, since our route is familiar to us, I can time everything based on crankiness and starvation levels! This helps as I can explain to the kids what to expect before they get out of the car.

7. If you have the extra time, it is worth it to stop at a park! Last time we stopped at a lake with a playground and had a great walk about 5 hours into our trip. Everyone got fresh air and the baby even slept the last few hours! Although that day we left Chicago at 9 am and rolled into our house at 7pm, it still felt good to have done something else besides sit in the car all day!

8. Driving alone with little ones can seem daunting, but it some ways it is easier than traveling with my husband. The kids know I'm inaccessible so I am not coerced out of my seat every like some bendable ballerina every few minutes to get a dropped toy or pass back a snack.

This of course is NOT true when you have a nursing baby! I loved having Michal with me (for his companionship #1) because he would take the big kids into get a snack and go potty while I nursed Archie in the front seat. By the time they got back, I would be done and pass him the baby to change (we like to do this on the front seat of the car with our portable changing mat, I still do this even though Archie is huge because the bathroom changers gross me out! Such varying standards from the lady who pees in a cup!) then I could run in unaccompanied to use the potty myself.

9. I have tried leaving every time of the day, and for us, mornings are best. I pack the car the night before and then grab the rest of the essentials in the morning, giving them about an hour to run around and get out some energy before we head out. If Mike is with me, we leave at night which I LOVE because we can turn off the dvd player, listen to music, and actually talk. Mack has never slept in the car so he will chat us up until 1 am or so!

10. If you hate driving, you will probably hate driving with kids. Find a buddy or just fly if you can swing it! I think it is just a preference issue so don't feel guilty if this isn't your jam!

Like all parenting things, part of the day I am thinking to myself, "I got this! We can do anything! This is so fun! My kids are awesome!" followed immediately by moments where someone announces "Mommy... I think I am going to throw up" as we drive past a NO EXIT FOR 40 MILES sign. Such is the life!

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