As you can see in the above picture, K. loved my parent's bulldog, Vicky very, very much and was sad to leave her. He wasn't sure about her at first, since she stands as tall as he does, but over the five days he discovered she was a sweetheart and fell in love. K. always loved pictures of dogs before, but having spent five days with two dogs, he loves them even more. For the record, J. and I are continuing to enjoy being dog-free, but the pressure from the dependents is mounting.
We drove home the southern route (AZ, NM, TX, OK, MO, IL) over the course of three days. Three loooong days. There really isn't anything extraordinary to report as we didn't stop to see anything. We just drove. And drove. And drove. I do want to send a thank you note to whichever hotel started the free breakfast-thing. It has since become standard and I think it's the best hotel perk ever. As I mentioned before a friend from church paid for our hotel rooms with her hotel points. (Thank you! Thank you!) It was a double blessing since not only did we not have to pay for rooms, we didn't have to buy food for breakfast. And it was a generous breakfast; far more choices than we have at home. It is one of those little things that makes travelling with children so much easier.
I was asked about what travel tips I had for long car trips with many children, so here they are:
1. I know (once again) that I am in the minority, but we do not use any video devices while travelling. Instead we use recorded books. (I keep referring to them as books on tape, and my children roll their eyes and point out that they are not on tape anymore.) I find that watching too many movies/things on the screen causes great amounts of whining when they end. This is no different in the car than it is at home. In fact, I would rather deal with it at home than in the car because at home there are more options to redirect after the movie than in the car. In the car when the movie is over, you're still in the car...except you are now in the car with whiny children. Few things are worse in my opinion.
Listening to a story does not seem to have the same effect. I personally think that because listening requires more use of the brain than watching something does, consequently, it is not so difficult to begin using the brain again after it's over. I have absolutely no proof, but it sounds good, huh? Plus, everyone is listening to the same story. We have had some great family discussions about the books we've listened to. We didn't pick a huge amount of really great books this trip, but most were decent. The best one (IMO) was The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs.
2. Everyone has assigned seats. This is true for nearly all rides in the car. I hate hearing bickering about where someone is going to sit, so avoid it at all opportunities. By keeping the same seats on long trips, it's just one less decision that has to be made every time people get in the car. This is especially nice when you're trying to shorten the length of your stops. I also know we have all the children in the car before we drive away. Someone will notice if their seat mate is missing if they always sit by the same person, but if people are switching, it is more likely someone will be missed. We didn't forget anyone, but we did all leave a building before P. had come out of the restroom once. She was completely unconcerned when she arrived at the van saying, "I knew you'd be at the car."
3. Special car trip toys. I keep a box of special car trip toys stashed away that we use just for long car trips (over 6 hours). These are things specially made for trips...those bingo games with the little red windows you close, magnetic travel puzzles and games, etc. But we also have things that work well in the car...magnadoodles, wikkisticks, clipboards with pens and paper, etc. When the majority of the children were smaller I would also purchase a bunch of carnival-style prizes to have on hand. I would dole them out over the course of the trip whenever I felt meltdowns were approaching. It's amazing how much play time can be generated by some small, new thing when one is stuck in the car. Oh, one important note: I am in charge of the car activities. I can then decide when and what to pass out to make them last through the trip. They lose their effectiveness if all the toys have been examined and played with before you've even left your home state.
4. Food. We always travel with a stash of food, both for lunches and snacks. We try whenever possible to picnic for lunch. It is significantly cheaper, plus, it's nicer to be able to let the children move around while they eat after having been cooped up in the car. It's misery for everyone to keep them still at a table after they've been still in the car. We bring sandwich stuff and/or bagels and cream cheese, crackers, fruit, water, and some sort of dessert. The snacks are things that are easy and relatively neat to eat in the car. We also add to the snacks attractiveness by making it something that we don't normally buy.
5. Music. We can't listen to books all the time. (Well, D. can, but the rest of us can't.) We have found having CD's that everyone enjoys and can sing along with is a great distraction. On various trips we've brought the complete Flanders and Swann, Sondheim's Into the Woods, Oliver!, and various praise and worship recordings (we really like Seeds of Faith and Seeds of Courage). One of our favorite CD's is called Poles Apart. We picked it up at a tall ships festival a while back. It's traditional sea chanties sung by a polish guy with a group of backup singers who sing in Polish (most of it is in English). It sounds odd, but it works and has some great songs to sing along with. Besides, I don't think families sing together enough anymore (at least judging by the number of small children I've come across who can't find their head voice) so start now while you have a captive audience.
6. Breaks. We try to take slightly longer, but less frequent stops. It's difficult for everyone to find their riding groove if there's a lot of starting and stopping. We try to find a place where everyone can run around when we do stop and we'll often throw balls and Frisbees in the car to play with.
As we discovered coming home, three straight days in the car is too much. Everyone would have been happier if we could have taken the time to stop and see something along the way. J. and I briefly considered making an impromptu stop at Merrimec Caverns, but we were already going to be getting in late and it would have made us even later. It would have worked if we could have added another day of driving.
7. Make it memorable (in a good way). One of my favorite authors is Edith Schaefer. She wrote in one of her books (I can't remember if it was The Hidden Art of Homemaking or What is a Family) that we, as mothers are memory makers. That sometimes it is worth the expense to help create wonderful family memories. Being the miser that I am, this is good for me to remember. Though not all good memories have to involve money (and many surely don't), sometimes money is needed. It can be an entrance fee to an attraction or something as simple as Dairy Queen cones to help soothe frayed nerves and disquiet spirits. I can't say I always succeed (depending on the day, this is quite an understatement), but I do try to think in terms of how my children will remember any given situation. It's a humbling exercise, I tell you.