Preparing for a road trip is like preparing to head out into the Wild Wild West. You really have no clue what to expect and you only can account for so many contingencies along the way. Knowing this, my husband and I weren’t ready to take on a big journey for our first adventure by car as a family of three. So we chose to hit the road and head north to San Francisco, which is a manageable six-hour drive give or take some. Even though this trip was more of a baby step for us than throwing caution to the wind, our time wasn’t without a few surprises, lessons learned, and tumbleweeds. Driving forward, this is what I’ll remember for the next time we motor to our destination.
1. Whoa Nelly! If you’re not careful your car can soon look like a covered wagon ready to take on the Oregon Trail. Because I wasn’t constrained by the TSA luggage limits, I ditched my usual travel checklists and loosely threw things together. It totally was a stress-free and lazy approach to packing; however, one look at the trunk and the contents of my suitcase would tell you that I overpacked (yet I still managed to forget pajamas, jackets, and face soap…I guess I was preoccupied with amassing enough healthy snacks to help us avoid starvation for those rough pioneer winters that one often faces on the drive through what’s essentially an irrigated desert along I-5). Next time, I’ll know my son takes the word “vacation” seriously, which means he’s ditching his healthy ways in favor of indulging in French fries and Mexican food (read: he refuses to eat anything else, including his favorite greens), so I’ll forgo lugging a week’s worth of meals and snacks with us and instead tote a few granola bars.
2. Personal space is guaranteed. Why? Because it’s the law. Having your wee one strapped in his car seat for a few-plus hours means mommy can sit in the front seat without having to lend her parts and pieces as a jungle gym. Yay! No more monkeys jumping on my head. Seriously, who would’ve thought that three hours riding shotgun is the closest thing I could have to a spa session in quite awhile (unless, of course, I’m counting the time some guy performed Cirque du Soleil on my back). Ahhh…heated seats relaxed my tense shoulder muscles, prompting me to doze off. And thankfully monkey see, monkey do because the Little Dude napped too.
3. No technology is needed. Being trapped in a car with a screaming kid is one of my worst nightmares. Their primal screeching literally drives me insane, batty, ape shit. Despite my fear of this predatory pterodactyl, a.k.a. the toddler, I ignored the “sensible” voice in my head instructing me to stockpile Elmo clips from YouTube—the only thing my son will watch—in case desperate times called for desperate measures. Instead, I packed a mini Magna-Doodle, a book, and a stuffed dog as the only means of distraction (I was relying on the trucks on the road to provide endless entertainment). In the end, my gut instinct was right. The Little Dude was surprisingly content for most of the ride—thank you bulldozers, cement mixers, and tomato trucks—and when he got antsy and let out a scream or two we discovered that making whip crack sounds and gestures made him laugh hysterically. Random, I know. Maybe he was gleefully letting us know that he thinks he has us whipped?
4. You’ll arrive at your destination sporting a road glow. Don’t worry if you haven’t had time to hit the beach because sitting in the front seat is like enjoying a free tanning bed. Except you’ll exit the car with less-than-flattering geometric tan lines. Don’t forget to apply the sunscreen even if it’s overcast, unless of course you want your skin to look like you borrowed Lady Gaga’s outfit!
5. Shit happens. I was forewarned to expect barf, but I guess I missed the memo that one’s child reserves the right to have explosive poop even after his nursing days and breast milk muck are long behind him. And in the car seat no less! I don’t know which was worse — the dirty diaper or the dirtier gas station bathroom — so we opted to disinfect clean him standing up in our crossover’s trunk. Five hundred wipes later, countless stink eyes, a change of clothes, and a few double-knotted plastic bags to hide the rotten pants, and we were finally ready to hit the road again. The takeaway here, washing poopy pants in a gas station bathroom is all part of the family bonding and fun.
6. There's always a sweet reward. No matter what is behind or ahead of you on a trip, enjoying your chosen destination is priceless ... until your child only naps for thirty minutes two days in a row.
~ The Other Sarah
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