July 2018

Dad Life: Road Trip!

Author: Justin Jarrett

School is out for the summer, and for those of us with kids that can only mean one thing. Well, actually it means several things, like increased childcare expenses, skyrocketing grocery bills, and enduring the wicked summer heat in the name of getting the little heathens out of the house to burn off some steam before we all lose our bleeping minds.

But most of all it means we’re free to get out of town. Untethered from the school schedule, we can travel to our hearts’ content (assuming those unfortunate souls with “real” jobs have the vacation days). This newfound freedom affords us the luxury of longer journeys than usual, to exotic locales like Kansas or Ohio to visit family and feed cows.

Since even before the Griswold family embarked on its epic cross-country sojourn to Wally World, which tragically was closed upon their arrival, Americans have had a love-hate relationship with the family road trip. We all know the drill: The kids are bored and fussy before you get to the interstate, prompting Dad’s threats to “turn this car around” and/or “give you something to cry about.”

At the risk of going full “get off my lawn” on you, today’s kids sure have it good when it comes to road-tripping. They have modern marvels like portable DVD players and iPads at their disposal, not to mention the luxuries of air conditioning and smartphones armed with Spotify, where virtually every song ever is at your fingertips.

Not that I’m bitter or anything, but I once rode from southeastern Kansas to the Colorado Rockies in a camper shell on the back of my dad’s pickup truck, and the only entertainment I had was a deck of cards and a cheap JVC cassette player with two tapes: Aerosmith’s “Permanent Vacation” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”

Indisputable classics, but they get old after about 14 hours. “Love in an Elevator” and “Dude Looks Like a Lady” still trigger my PTSD. The only air conditioning we had came from a small window in the cab of the truck, which my parents usually kept closed because my two younger sisters were too loud, and the windows on the camper would barely stay open when we were barreling down the highway at 70 mph.

But I digress.

I suppose there’s an age at which traveling with your kids becomes easier, but with a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, we haven’t reached it yet. Ours are practically road trip pros, thanks to regular trips to Disney World, and they still border on unbearable after anything more than an hour in the car.

There are a few things you can do to make your trip a little more tolerable. Start by loading up on road trip snacks. The key here is to pretend you are a nine-year-old who has been handed $100 to spend on food. A handful of gummy worms will keep little mouths busy for a good bit; a package of Goldfish crackers can help settle a queasy stomach; and a nice greasy Slim Jim has just enough protein to hold off claims of starvation until the next Panera Bread.

Our kids have to start every trip with the same “snack”—a dose of children’s Dramamine. I’m not convinced they actually suffer from motion sickness, and if they ever did, they’ve almost certainly outgrown it. But they think they do, and the child’s mind is a powerful thing. Besides, if you’ve ever had to pull over early on day one of a two-day trip to clean up toddler vomit—and lived with the smell for the rest of the journey—you’ll bow to whatever forces necessary to avoid repeating that horror.

But there I go digressing again.

If your kids get motion sickness, portable DVD players might not be the best idea, even though they are probably the most effective way to fend off boredom in the age of rampant (self-inflicted?) ADHD.

I’d love to tell you I have a bunch of alternative tricks to keep captive children entertained for hours in an confined space, but truth is one of the central tenets of journalism (or it used to be). You can arm the kids with coloring books if you don’t mind asking the adult passenger to play a game of Twister while trying to retrieve lost crayons. Those magnetic travel board games are probably awesome diversions if you have the unicorn child who won’t immediately swallow 20 percent of the pieces. You could always go old-school and play a classic game like “I Spy,” but that gets pretty, pretty, pretty repetitive in a hurry with younger kids. (I spy something green. … Is it grass? … YES! … I spy something green. … Is it trees? … YES!)

Our go-to form of on-board entertainment happens to be the family sing-along. We cue up our playlist of Disney hits or the Hamilton soundtrack (“Just don’t say that word outside this car!”) and sing our hearts out. And then we pray they fall asleep before the music ends.

Speaking of which, I would never advocate for drugging your children, but a dose of Benadryl would probably help with whatever allergens they probably have wherever you’re going, at least for a couple hours.

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