Here's what we did: We drove from Durham, NC to Jackson, MS. Here's what we didn't do, not once in the four days total we spent on the road: use a screen to entertain our kids. This wasn't a deliberate choice: We had a backup plan with plenty of videos loaded onto our computers. Our boys love watching videos of garbage trucks and trains. On the other hand, our children also turn into drooling zombies when they tune in to screens, so we thought we'd see whether things ever got so bad that we'd bust out our laptops. We were close. But never really thought of going there. Perhaps we should have.
That first day, we felt like champs. We'd purchased several new items, mostly variations on toys/activities they already had. This had worked for us when we flew cross-country with 2-year-olds. What could possibly go wrong?
Some of the best stuff we tried:
|Mess-free drawing pads|
|Tubes that stretch, compress, and hook together. The BEST toys we bought.|
|Lift-the-flap books with few words for us to read, so they could "read" them themselves.|
And this leads me to Tip #1: Never assume that works one day will work the next day. Do buy a few new things. Don't buy too many.
We arrived at our first day's goal, the ACTUAL General at The Southern Museum, with almost an hour to run around inside, take selfies with the train, and enjoy some of the fine playthings there. Our boys LOVE Buster Keaton's film "The General," and we'd carefully planning our trip so that we could go see the real thing. They were delighted. Tip #2: Plan for a destination midway through the drive that will get you all moving/out of the car for at least an hour. Our stop at the General was necessarily at the end of the day, but the kids were so excited to see it that the anticipation carried us through. For subsequent days, having a longer break mid-day would have helped more than having a final destination.
Tip #3: Don't eat dinner at the hotel. There is a well-rated burger joint next door to the museum in Kennesaw. We didn't eat there. We regretted this decision for the rest of the evening as we waited ages for mediocre burgers, wilted salad, and lousy fries.
Tip #4: Book a hotel with a pool. There are people who will drive 12 hours in one day. We are not those people. We like to sleep all night. It takes longer, and costs more, but is so worth it. The pool was extra-pleasant: We got up in the morning and swam before we hit the road. After a day spent cooped up in the car, spending a while moving before we got cooped up again was great. Day Two started off great.
Then came the turn: about an hour into the drive, D asked, "what else did you bring for us?" We managed to put him off for a while. But eventually we went through our whole stash in a couple of hours. We tried audiobooks. Those produced screaming. With another two hours left before we got to Jackson, things were getting serious. We took a break.
The break shifted the air a little bit. We said things like, "Well, you can have the toys you have, or we can just put them all away." It wasn't pretty. Music helped, for a while. But we arrived in Mississippi with about an hour of whining total over two days. We felt even more smug.
We had a great trip—got to go on walks together every night, spent lots of quality time with the family. The kids slept great, unlike the last time we traveled.
For the return trip, we aimed at Chattanooga and its many wonders (trains, aquarium, Lookout Mountain) as the endpoint of day one. Day one found the children totally onto our strategy: imagine colossal amounts of fussing and whining and frustration with every new variation on drawing/coloring/cheap stuff to play with. At one point we were walking around in the rain trying to calm down screaming children. That novelty addiction is serious stuff. We survived, thanks to an emergency, yet extremely frustrating, toy purchase (not pictured because it was so annoying. Instead, please look at this cute picture of the boys with those spinning sparking things. These were a brief, glorious hit.)
Tip #5: Always double-check that your "halfway point" is really halfway, possibly a little more than halfway. Also, please refer back to Tip #4: we took a swim as soon as we'd parked our car. It totally changed how we all felt about each other. Very little about driving in cars with small children over long distances is fun: they don't want to play I Spy, they can't read, and even the truck-obsessed become jaded about all the tractor-trailers. The boys didn't take a nap until 3:30pm, which led to a cranky wake-up and a late bedtime. But swimming with small children is a delightful opportunity to connect—no requests for food; no help with LEGO; no sibling fights. We didn't know, during that swim, just how unevenly we'd divided our days of driving.
As a side note, I would absolutely drive through Chattanooga again—the scenery was fantastic and there were plenty of fun things to do, had we chosen to do them. Chattanooga to Durham is just under 7 hours on Google Maps, but I can promise you it is a much longer drive than that at 451 miles: the scenery is amazing, but there are windy roads, tons of trucks, and a lot of stops to make. The kids continued to play with their frustrating toy, with varying levels of success. We were all wiped out from going to bed too late. We did mention to them that we would not be giving them new things every five minutes; perhaps I will look back on this trip fondly as the time they learned to deal with delayed gratification. Perhaps I will look back on it as the trip that made me give away all the toys.
The best rest stop I've ever been to we discovered just over the North Carolina border. This stop saved our sanity. I wish we'd had a picnic lunch to eat; we could have spent an hour playing here. Instead, we were looking for somewhere to stop for lunch. Tip #6: Pack lunches, or plan ahead for a stop you can tolerate. Don't hope to stumble upon a great place at the next exit. It doesn't exist.
|Fresh air and room to run.|
|We climbed trees.|
|All of us climbed trees.|
Peace and bliss were achieved when the kids finally took a nap at 3:30 and slept until we were only an hour from Durham.
Tip #7: Keep your sense of humor and drink plenty of coffee. Happy travels!