What Is Going on Back There? Tips for a Family Road Trip

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If there is a parent alive who has not suffered through a whiny chorus of “Are We There Yet?” or “He’s hitting me,” or “She took my . . .(you fill in the dots), “Do we have to listen to this station?”, my guess is that parent does not have a car. Or has a car with a DVD player in the back seat.

When I was a kid and “I’m tired of counting blue cars” boredom set in, the bickering started up, and my parents’ patience wore out. I still remember my mother reaching her arm into backseat territory, blindly flailing the air in search of any body part on which she could demonstrate how she felt about our travel behavior.

Long car trips with pre-school and school-age kids can be a rough start for a family vacation and not the most spectacular ending to a week of ultra-togetherness either. That could be one of the most obvious statements ever made. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but it is only a prelude to some of the more clever what-to-do-in-the-car activities I’ve uncovered for those getting ready to head out for a long Labor Day Weekend.

1. Lap desks. A great investment with a terrific cost-to-peace ratio. Soft pillow bottom rests easily on kids’ laps, while hard top provides a firm surface not only for drawing and writing but as a platform for princesses, miniature animals, super heroes and other imagination-inspiring toys. The provide a good snack-eating surface as well. Go basic by ordering from Target, Walmart or other discount outlets.

2. Sing together. Play “Name that Tune.”

3. On pit stops or meal stops, no one walks. Jump to the door, hop to the rest room. Do something, anything, to get the energy out.

4. Audio books. Not always easy to find a crowd-pleaser if the kids’ ages cover a wide spread, so bring along your audio players. If you only have one, beg or borrow so each child has his/her own. Today’s screen-spoiled kids might initially balk at being told to listen, but such is the power of a great book that if the kids are told “Listen for five minutes,” they’ll probably be hooked. Audio books are effective calmer-downers, so the time to whip them out is when the “He’s looking at me,” “She’s making that noise I hate” frequency and volume intensify. If the kids don’t stay focused, there’s a good chance they will be lulled into naps. That is a good thing.

5. Lots of food. No one wants a kid on a sugar high in the back seat , so leave the gummy bears home, but have a bag full of food surprises.

6. Puzzles. Mazes. Mad Libs. Word Search.

7. Have each child pack a “keep busy” bag of his or her own. It is amazing how things we as parents and grandparents would never choose provide long-time entertainment. My granddaughter played with two tiny animals for a full 45 minutes. They both could have fit in a shot glass. Would I have picked them from the baskets of things she plays with. Not on a bet.

8. At each stop, buy postcards. Kids of school age can write them to friends and relatives and mail them home along the way.

9. Tell stories about when you were their age. Better than any Caldecott or other children’s book award winner.

Do not forget the lovey or the Blankey. In my family it’s Ella, the favored of four little plush dogs; Roughy, one of four flat bunnies that became rough when its nap was worn off from too much use, and Ten, the favorite teddy of, well, you probably have that one figured out.

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