The Rockwood Files: ‘Tis the season to drive

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I’ve got that familiar feeling of pre-trip anxiety today. I’m packing up what feels like our entire house for a short five-day trip to Minneapolis to see Tom’s parents and six of his seven brothers and sisters who are also converging on the Twin Cities for a brief holiday reunion. We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone, but there are 633 miles and roughly 11 hours between us and them. First, we’ve gotta get there.

If we had a big ol’ bag of money, we’d just throw it at an airline so the five of us could fly to Minneapolis in less than half a day. But sadly we’re fresh out of big bags of money, so we’ve decided to drive instead. Besides, flying with three kids under the age of 8 is not without complications of its own.

We’ve made this trip before so at least we know what to expect. We know we’ve got to pack enough car snacks to feed a small country. We know we’ve got to ply the kids with movie DVDs and hand-held video games to keep them occupied on the road. And we know that it’s best to leave in the afternoon so that at least half the trip will be spent after dark while they’re snoozing in their car seats.

But letting kids sleep in the car is not nearly as easy as it once was. When I was little – before car seats and booster seats were the law of the land – my parents routinely made long car drives at night so my older brother and I could sleep through most of those monotonous miles of highway. We had a green station wagon with wood paneling on the side (much like the behemoth pictured on the right), and it had a huge back-end where my parents would spread out sleeping bags and we’d crawl inside and snooze peacefully.

Every now and then, my dad would have to turn a sharp corner or stop a little quicker than he planned, causing our slick sleeping bags to slide forward until we bumped our heads against the back of the backseat. But we always thought it was funny when that happened, although now I’m not sure if it was because it really was fun to slide around in the car or if we were just too dazed from the minor brain trauma to know the difference. But I digress.

These days, we wouldn’t dream of letting our kids out of their five-point harness, crash-tested car seats even for a minute, let alone an entire car ride. When the kids get sleepy enough, their little heads droop awkwardly to the side and they sleep in that position as much as they can. I’ve tried using travel pillows to make things a little easier but have yet to find a solution that doesn’t leave the kids with a neck cramp or two. Still, sleeping helps pass the time so much quicker for them.

Today I’m packing and cleaning the house like a crazy woman. Men rarely understand this, but women hate coming home to a dirty house. We hate it. The car ride itself is tough enough, so we like to know we’re coming back to a peaceful, orderly place without a mountain of laundry waiting to welcome us home.

Tomorrow we will make a few stops along the way to eat and let the kids go to the potty. When we’re traveling, Tom usually takes the kids out to the parking lot of a restaurant while I order our food and wait at the table during a few stolen moments of blissful silence. He instigates foot races with the kids and they all end up doing laps around the back part of the parking lot. We’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t let little kids burn off their pent-up physical energy, it will morph into something sinister in the car – the kind of irritating behavior that will make you want to leap from the moving vehicle no matter how many bones you break in the process. So the pit-stop foot races are good for the kids’ circulation and imperative for our sanity as parents.

If you’re traveling or will be traveling during this holiday season, just know that I feel your pain – on the packing, on cramming all your work into the few days before you leave, and on those long stretches of boring interstate. Here’s wishing you a safe trip that’s as peaceful as possible. Oh yeah, one more thing: “Are we there yet?”

Want to read previous installments of The Rockwood Files? Click HERE.