The open road. The windows down, an iced coffee in the cup holder and a bootleg Pearl Jam CD playing loud enough to push everything else out of my head. I’m driving, and I’m the king of the road.
Like most Americans, driving is a personal experience. I am the master of the vehicle I am in. It is my sanctuary. There have been days where 4 tires and several hours of windshield time have been my problem solver, my planning committee, my confessional and my best friend.
I have had jobs where I’ve driven for hours a day. I’ve traveled up and down the east coast. I went on every college road trip I possibly could, loving every minute of drive time.
Now I have a son; car trips are now the enemy.
Welcome to my nightmare. Traveling with a toddler. Having a child fundamentally changed every possible aspect about getting into a vehicle. Literally every element of the situation is different now.
Don’t believe me?
- The driver’s seat is at a different angle.
- The rear view mirror is pointed in a different direction.
- The volume of the radio is lower.
- The songs are different.
- The windows are not down as far.
- The speed is decreased.
- The defense is up.
- That space you used to have for your dog…gone
- and so on…
It is 100% true that your little bundle of joy will strip away every possible thing you loved about driving in cars. Imagine that you do not have a baby strapped in to your back seat, but instead, a ticking time bomb that will explode at any moment.
Today, I go almost nowhere. Just the thought of being in close confines with my child and no exit strategy for more than 30 minutes is enough to send stabbing pains of panic to my brain.
It isn’t so much a question of if your kid will have a meltdown in the car, but when. Just how far can you get before it all goes to hell. Can you make it to your mother’s house a few hours away? Can you make it to the beach? Can you get to visit the friend 15 miles away? Will you make it to the grocery store to buy milk? Only your child knows and they obviously aren’t telling you.
I have a few tips for you. They are things I have picked up from “adventures” with my kid and watching other parents tackle this problem. Hopefully something in here helps.
- Nap Time: Your child is little and they sleep a lot. If you are going on a trip that is more than 20-30 minutes consider planning it for when your kid regularly naps. They may just sleep the entire ride. (This is what we call the ride to heaven)
- Past Nap Time (doubling down): You can try to keep your child up a little past their nap time in hopes that they sleep longer on the ride. This is practiced when your trip is of extra ordinary length. This is a bold strategy as it has been known to backfire. The child not only is pissy before you hit the road but may wake up early, and angry. (This is what we call the road to hell)
- Buy them something shiny: A new toy or game can go a long way to keeping your young one entertained.
- Feed them: Crackers are good, cookies work well, cheese is an option (with a side benefit of binding them up for the length of the trip to avoid that diaper change on the side of I-95). I never think to do this but I have seen more organized parents pack a small cooler for their child with milk, cheese sticks, grapes and other foods better kept cool.
- Road Construction: Avoid it.
- Movies: I do not personally have little TV’s in my car for my son to watch and he is still a bit young and facing the wrong direction for that sort of thing. But I see many of them used and am a tad envious of the child watching Sponge Bob in the other lane while I’m reading the pro guns/god/life/choice/democrat/republican garbage plastered on the vehicle in front of me.
- Get help: Half the problem is that your baby is stuck in the back seat with nothing to look at but the stain from that milkshake incident you had 2 years ago. So sticking someone back there to entertain them is helpful. Choose wisely in this though as the person you choose may be more annoying than your kid crying. (This is a reference to no one in particular, don’t worry mom)
- Bring everything… ever: I don’t care if you are just driving to the end of the street. Bring 2 dozen diapers, all the food in your refrigerator, 4 outfits for 4 seasons, 2 hats, boots, toys, an umbrella and a stroller.
- That’s It: That is all I have. It’s a short list. Riding in cars with babies sucks 95% of the time. There is no getting around it.