Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are We There Yet?


As we look toward family gatherings and lengthy car rides, let's discuss the oft asked question, "are we there yet?" It comes in multiple forms:
"How much longer?"
"How many miles do we have to drive?"
"Why do we have to go?"

After several rounds of intense questioning by my middle child it started to dawn on me that the string of questions were code for "what's going on?" We spend so much time planning and discussing with our partner the upcoming events that we forget that until Thursday night in a flurry of packing and prepping the car that the kids may not be aware of a five hour trip across the state for a weekend stay with Aunt Beatrice, who they only know as a name on Christmas cards and occasionally invoked in long-ago memories.

So one of the first things we can do to avoid a long string of repetitive backseat inquiries is to actually forewarn the kids of travel plans. Now if you've been parenting for a few years, you have learned that mentioning speculative plans can backfire especially if the plans don't come to fruition. However if you wait until the plans are solidified, it could be Thursday night prior to leaving before you know anything for sure. Rarely do these plans materialize in a matter of days. Usually you know several weeks, if not months, in advance that this weekend is even a possibility. Therefore, you owe it to your kids to give them fair warning of upcoming plans, even if it's not etched in stone, at least a week or two in advance.

The flip-side of the backseat inquisition is EXCITEMENT. Those kids are jittering with sheer anticipation of getting there. And NOW! So then you need to find something to distract those anxious minds. Depending on the length of the trip you can utilize electronic babysitters (DVD's, hand-held games, books, CD's). Don't rely on just one gadget to be enough. Your normally sedate child will turn into a bouncing chihuahua and will need multiple distractions. You will need a whole diaperbag of games, gadgets and maybe a horse tranquilizer. Okay, nix that last one, but trust me you will fantasize about it.

I also found getting extra copies of maps to be a great silencer. On a fourteen hour car trip to Florida, I handed my middle child a map with the anticipated route already marked out with a highlighter. I taught him watch for road signs and how to follow along on the map. For his younger brother I got a travel book with games and cartoons relevant to the area we were traveling. Because we were crossing several state lines, each child got their own stickerbook so they could record the states they visited as we drove. I still have mine from my childhood and continue to update it thirty years later.

All of this planning and charting and mapping is also a fantastic teaching opportunity. Reading, geography, sequencing, alphabet...

Remember all of the stupid cartrip games people play? Find words in alphabetic order on billboards. Singing 99 Bottles of Rootbeer on the Wall (okay, I admit, my kids learned it the real way with BEER). I Spy, 20 Questions, and a whole songbook of campfire songs. Anything and everything. Even teenagers too "cool" to do anything but roll their eyes will join in... eventually. If you also think all of this cheesy and unnecessary, lighten up. You're making memories dammit.

Sadly you'll still have a few "are we there yet" but hopefully not a constant string.

So everyone, what car ride distractions do you remember from your childhood? What do you do with your own kids?

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