BY KERRY L. PINTO
My friends are probably thinking of the irony behind me writing this piece seeing that just a few short weeks ago, I was contemplating putting a Craigslist "curb alert" ad for my daughter while traveling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Perhaps it is the fact that I have weathered multiple car trips across dozens of states my with 2-year-old that makes me somewhat of an expert at traveling with a "lively," "energetic," "active"( or any other adjective where I don't just come out and say "horrendous") car traveler. So here are some things I have learned throughout our travels with my 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
Please Don't Stop the Music
I'll be honest, most kids music makes me want to veer off the road, particularly when it's children singing or worse, kids singing hit songs from the radio (I've actually heard a version of kids singing "Careless Whisper" What?). To be fair, kids generally don't want to listen to grown up music either, so if everyone is quiet and content, a little Raffi doesn't hurt anything except my nerves.
DVD Player: The Temporary Babysitter
I am still shocked when thinking that my parents pulled a Clark Griswold and drove our family cross-country for three weeks when I was little -- with no DVD player. Talk about the Stone Age! Kidding. Not all kids will be drawn into the allure of watching TV in the car, but for those who are, DVDs offer a nice way for kids to be occupied, particularly on longer trips.
If it were up to my husband, snacks would be banned from the car (this man clearly doesn't understand the power of the food bribe!). I managed to compromise and make it a rule that if it can get squeezed, mashed or crumbled, it is not allowed in the car and trust me from experience, a Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bar can be squeezed, mashed and crumbled into 148,000 pieces. Remember, a well-fed toddler is a happy toddler, so try to bring snacks (and novelty or never before seen snacks) that she will want to eat. My son was a big fan of the Snack-Trap, a handled bowl with a "spill-resistant" lid good for dry snacks.
Stop or Don't Stop, You Make the Call
Most "expert" sites recommend stopping every so often to allow your kids to stretch their legs and use the restroom. Since my daughter is still in diapers, my rule is if she is quiet, and hopefully passed out, keep going! Use common sense and change diapers as often as you would at home or you will have a fun mess to clean at your next stop.
Toys Will Get Thrown
If you have the luxury of sitting in the backseat with your toddler, this is highly recommended since it is my experience that toddlers have a 1.8 second attention span. Being interactive with my daughter (while my husband is driving, not when I'm solo!) seems to be key in keeping her somewhat content on trips (and providing her someone to pick up the toy after she is finished with it.)
Some of our favorites include Magna-Doodle (better than crayons since crayons drop, get thrown, roll or get lost) and any kind of Leap Frog hand-held.
Instead of Just Books, Bring...
Photo albums! My mom made my son a small, plastic (easy to hold!) photo album of his camping trip with my parents last summer. He loves going through the pictures and talking about what or who is in them and what they were doing in each picture. My daughter loves looking at the pictures and pointing out who she recognizes.
If all else fails and none of my above tricks seem to get my daughter to chill in the car, she will usually throw in the towel and relax with her favorite stuffed animal. I usually make it a rule to leave it in her room for loss prevention reasons, but if it will help her be quiet on car trips, I would be happy to bring along anything that would help in this arena. I would buy her a pony if it would fit in the car should she promise to be quiet.
Kerry Pinto is a freelance writer living in Stafford with her husband and two adventurous, albeit sometimes impatient, car-traveling children.