We're visiting Grandpa. Right this minute, all but the littlest and the crabbiest children are fishing at Wolf Creek Reservoir. Tomorrow morning we'll hit the road again for our long drive home. When I confess how I feel about the all day drive (eight hours, anyway) people invariably say, "Really?" in a flabbergasted tone of voice. Because I like it. It seems counterintuitive, but it's fun having all five kids crammed into one tiny space for a day. By now we've got the journey down-- I know what to pack, the kids know what to look for, loving husband knows where to stop and when, we all know what to expect, and best of all, we've no longer got any children in diapers.
Tuesday Ten: Ten Ways to Make a Long Drive with Five Children Bearable (and maybe even kind of fun)
1. Brown bag it.
We used to eat fast food on the way. Stop for breakfast at McDonald's on the way out of town, stop for lunch and dinner anywhere that had a play place. Three reasons not to do it that way: It makes the trip longer, it's more expensive, and the kids get crabby and crazy from all of the fast food. The morning we left, I handed each kid their breakfast on the way out the door. Bagel, banana, milk in a cup with a lid and straw. The night before I pack the breakfast bags and put them in the fridge, pack a bag with lunch necessities (bread and so forth), and set a cooler on the counter. In the morning I toss lunch meat and cheese and other cold lunch items in the cooler, give the kids their breakfast bags, and we're out the door. We either eat lunch at a park on the way, or I make sandwiches during a potty stop and we eat in the car.
2. Leave early.
Another "we used to," staying in a hotel to break up the trip ($$$) or leaving after lunch and arriving in the evening. I had the big "aha" the summer my sister and her loving husband came along and wanted to leave at 4 a.m. (Guess who wasn't even out of bed when we showed up in time, even though it was his idea?) My husband is not insane, so we don't actually leave at 4 o'clock in the morning, but we do leave around 6. I make all the kids sleep in their clothes, loving husband and I load the car before we go to bed, and I set out shoes and jackets so that we can find them easily. Sixish rolls around and we roust everyone out of bed, put on their shoes and jackets, toss them their breakfast-in-a-bag, and go. Then we stop for coffee. We really plan to leave at 6 and hit the freeway between 6:30-7. (Don't tell loving husband that when I say "Let's leave around 6," I really mean, "If I tell you 6, then we'll be on the road before 7.") Not only does leaving early give us time to stop if we want, we usually reach our destination mid-afternoon instead of at bedtime, which is more fun.
3. Backpacks and blankets.
Each kid brings a backpack or bag with toys, games, art supplies and one stuffed animal. I usually put a box of animal crackers or bag of goldfish in too. The backpacks keep them busy for much of the trip. And blankets to be played with, to keep warm with,to fold up as pillows.
4. No screens.
These trips are family time. No screens allowed on the trip. No movies. No handheld games. By gum, we're going on a family trip and we're going to spend time together as a family, like it or not! A counterintuitive move, but I believe this has been our key to successful road trips, to enjoying one another's company. We're not completely tuned out. We're all watching the same things roll by the window. We all see the deer trekking over a hill, the funny-shaped rock, the rows and rows of trees. We count the waterfalls along the gorge, remark on the smoothness or choppiness of the river, notice the snow in the hills. We admire the John Day River and look at the green of the rocks in the John Day basin. Moo at the cattle. Point out the trains for the youngest gents. Look for shapes in the clouds.
When I read The Last Child in the Woods, I was struck by this passage:
"...[W]hy do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching? The highway's edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, children's early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the back seat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edges-- all that was and is still available to the eye. This is the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie." (p. 62, Chapter 5: "A Life of the Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind")
It reinforced my committment to our no-screen policy, not because I need someone else's ideas to validate my own, but because it frames my own thoughts so well. I believe that watching the river and the farmlands and the mountains roll by are an important part of travelling, as is learning to entertain oneself by observing and daydreaming and conversing, an active life of the mind.
I was tickled to find that our eldest lovely lady even decided to leave her cell phone at home, and told her friends she'd not be getting her text messages.
5. Don't stop.
When the littles were babies, we stopped. A lot. Most of the stops were necessary. The fine young gents were not happy travellers as babies, the two older guys, at least. One gent would scream and rage if he didn't get a travel break after 2-3 hours; the next cried in absolute misery after four hours exactly; the third was a sunny happy traveller who might cry for a bit but was easily soothed. Encapsulates their personalities in a nutshell, that does. One guy quick to anger, but easily appeased if attended to; one guy easygoing until he reaches his limit, then he's out of commission for a while; and the cheerful easygoing baby, willing to go with the flow most of the time. Anyway...back to not stopping. Trips flow more smoothly when we stay in the car, stopping to gas up and take potty breaks. We all get in the travel groove, patient and still, and it's easier to stay with the groove if we stay in the car.
When else are you going to see the sights so far from home? Instead of taking random stretch and play breaks at a dirty fast food place, we stop at Multnomah Falls and hike up to the first bridge. Or we go to Bonneville Dam and the fish hatchery, to feed the fish and to see the giant sturgeon and the huge trout. Going the other way, we stop at the fossils beds or the Painted Hills, or picnic along the John Day River.
7. "Pleeeee-eeeeee-aaaaase Do-oo-oo-oo Not Aaaaaa-aaaaaa-rgyoooooooooo! Beee-eeee-caaaaauuse if you ar-guuuuuuuuuuu--uuuuu-uuuue, I will have to sing this soo-o-o-o-o-o-ong!"
It is a very very very long song. A song which no one can listen to for long. It is loud and out of tune, and would quickly clear the room, except they're stuck. stuck. stuck.
I am gifted with the abilities to sing quite loudly, and to rhythm and rhyme just about anything. The song goes on for as long as necessary. That takes care of arguing.
We take this trip 2-3 times a year. By now they've mellowed into very good travellers. They know the routine.
9. "I'm bored."
Mom will say...
"Okay" or "Oh." (Noncommittal.)
"What would you like to do to entertain yourself?" (How are you going to solve your problem?)
"Let's play a game." (Would you like my help?)
And the show-stopper: "You are not allowed to be bored. That's your brain being lazy. If you give your brain something to do, then you won't be bored any more." (Of course they're allowed to be bored. I can't stop someone from being bored. But the funny thing is, when I tell them they can't be bored, they stop bugging me...and they find something with which to occupy themselves, all on their own. Go figure.)
10. Enjoy one another.
That's really what it's about and why I like our trips. I love hearing quiet conversations in the back seats. Hearing, "Look at that!" Looking back to discover that a sleeping child has been covered with a blanket by a sibling. It gives us a break from our going-doing-playing-working lives. We get opportunities to listen to one another uninterrupted by text messages or homework or dinner preparations. We're all in the same space, sharing the same sights and sounds. Reconnecting in small ways. Life is good.