From our home in Georgia to my parent’s home in Virginia lies 572 miles of pretty lakes and weird construction and leagues of expressway, not to mention the largest fireworks emporium in history looming just off I-85. Between here and my husband’s family in Illinois is even further: something like 670 miles straight up through the mountains surrounding Chattanooga.
From here to those locales on a road trip requires a certain degree of saturated preparation, particularly when we decide to take the four-year-old and the one-year-old. Granted, Jrue began long car expeditions right at age three months, a time when he slept the similar chronology of an old cat. Jai followed at about four months or so with her first lengthy ride. The dull lull of the car’s motion kept them as babies in somewhat hypnotic, sleepy states, drunken and…very quiet.
It was nice.
But, now, with the two of them and ticking brains (and plane ticket prices the equivalent of our chances of winning a lottery we rarely play), I have to be smarter with my travel planning. I have to be equipped and determined. I have to put my back into it.
Oftentimes, the bulk of my organization surrounds one main thought process: How do I keep the kids entertained? Or, stated alternatively: How do I keep from pulling the car off the highway and putting them out?
I usually start with the basics in recreation. With Jrue, this includes packing a set of completely accessible cars. A single toy that, if lost, I could easily replace or just forget ever existed. Crayons and something to draw on (which translates to napkins in the car door). And something new that he hadn’t seen before.
This last requirement becomes a bit tricky. I think up something stealthy, like obtaining a second Kid’s Meal toy that I reveal on the road or purchasing something random on clearance from the dog food/office supplies/toys aisle in Publix. Then I have to hide the item in my purse until we leave. Which means that the surprise has the distinct possibility of getting lost.
I packed his tablet in the past, but until a new one that holds his attention is garnered, my cell phone has taken its place. YouTube’s “Ryan Toys Review” holds his electronic interests these days.
Jai is still a baby and is easily captivated by whatever Jrue is playing with. For Jai, I add her new doll and something musical to her “sack of stuff.”
I call the leisure bag “If the Kids Yell.” It’s a masterful valise of toddler fun that we keep up front with the parents to supervise content usage and car seat mess levels.
All of this effort is unremarkable, however, after a few hours in one spot.
I must, then, confess how I truly so frequently get two mostly satisfied young children teleported during a few excursions out of a year. It may be distressing. It may be unprincipled.
But it’s snacks. A lot of snacks.
I pump my children with sugary and salty nosh to keep their mouths full in the car during long road trips. If they’re eating, they’re not talking. If they have sugar crashed, all is serene.
Yes, it’s true. I’m airing out a secret. It is quite real.
It is ironic how the candy and the cheese crackers and the potato chips and the apple juice hits their system at just the hours of naptime, when they have been awake for a time and are beginning to individually fight the groggy sand in their eyes. There’s a chance that they hype up for about an hour, talking mindlessly as fast as the car goes, calling out “Mommy! Look!” to passing vehicles, slapping one another’s hands across the space between their seats.
But this here is a welcomed storm before the dawn.
Jai may cry out for a few minutes. Then, boom. Down she goes, head swaying gently side-to-side in her sleep. Jrue’s may be equally as dramatic as “talking-one-second-sleeping-the-next,” but we routinely and suddenly notice that we can only hear the radio out of nowhere. No reasonless talking. The hubs will glance in the rearview mirror. “He’s out” is his content announcement.
They can sleep for an hour. Sometimes we manage two sugar crashes, depending on if we are traveling in the middle of the night.
Sugar is not good for young children. In no way am I celebrating a free rein of Skittles when road tripping. I am merely admitting the fact that I am a human mother who loves to have short moments of adult conversation with my husband in a car for nine hours. This is the way I have learned to achieve some semblance of what it was like to drive with just the two of us pre-babies.
Admitting it is the first step.
The kiddies have natural tendencies with portion control. Jrue will eat five Doritos and save the bag against his side in his booster seat, mostly so that Jai won’t reach for one. He’ll take down a half-bag of M&M’s. Gulp an entire cup of milk. Jai will suck on three Skittles, then spend several minutes slinging what we hand to her to the seat and floor below. She’ll then snack on Teddy Grahams and Cheetos, then stare out at the passing landscape with her cup of apple juice to her lips.
This is hardly a giant bowl of sugar I provide, and I’m not ashamed. There are so many more things for mommies to be stressed about.
Here’s a recent news flash about sugar consumption, as published in Parents: “‘Most parents have no idea how much sugar their kids eat,’ says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, MD. ‘So much is added to even healthy foods that your child could eat what looks like a pretty balanced diet that’s still full of sugar.'” (Ramnarace) Of course, the long-term damage of a child eating large amounts of sugar every day is terrifying. But I keep the realism of the here and now in mind. I keep the end-result ahead like a blinking yield sign.
Sweets are open on the road. At destinations, healthier home-cooking is, of course, presented.
Someday, I will get on the highway with two preteens wearing ear buds and cell phones. I’d stop and they’ll rummage through a convenience store for what they desire at the moment. They’d return to the car and tune back into their devices, oblivious to mom and dad and the smacking as they chew.
Our current traveling adventures will be a distant, pleasant memory, replaced by the hubs’ verbal worry of whoever it is Jai keeps giggling and texting.
Ramnarace, Cynthia. “Sugar Shock.” Parents Magazine, n.d., http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/kids/sugar-shock/. Accessed Jun. 20, 2017.