The ideas were brilliant. Felt boards. Quiet books. Singing games. Magnets. Snack bags. Almost all left DVDs as a last-resort suggestion at the very bottom of the list.
Magnet boards are fine if you can crawl out of the passenger seat while Daddy is driving and go in the back to fetch a snowman's head that's somehow wedged itself between the seat and cup holder.
I've done the math, and for a total of 62 hours in the past month I've been in a car with three pre-school-aged children ON THE INTERSTATE. Most of those hours I was alone with them.
I'm calling myself an expert on traveling in a car alone with little kids. As an expert, I've developed a list. This is not a pin-worthy list, mind you. It's a list for solo parents who want to stay sane.
1. In-car DVD players are the best invention ever for people who live far from family. I mean, we don't drive around Asheville with the DVD player constantly cranking out Fireman Sam, but I have no qualms about letting the DVD time exceed reasonable limits on an extended, solo road trip.
For long trips, we keep a basket of DVDs under the console. I can pop them in and out without swerving off the road. We even have headphones if I get tired of hearing Curious George's curious monkey noises. But really I never tire of George. (Really. Love George.) We only have two headphones anyway.
2.) Have those snacks. Make them tossable. When we're traveling, we drink out of water bottles. I can toss them to the kids, and the kids can open them and drink. Food stuff also has to be tossable, openable, and holdable. I put fruit, crackers, and cookies in plastic containers that have easy-open lids.
3.) Pack lunch. This is my biggest tip for those traveling alone with three kids. We pack lunch and it saves money, time, and the headache of serving/cleaning up ketchup. We picnic. It's more challenging to find a place in cooler months, which brings me to. . .
4.) Utilize rest areas. In the warmer months we eat at the picnic tables and run around the grounds. If I'm feeling especially over-achieving, I'll pack bubbles and a ball. We spend an hour at lunch getting fresh air to (hopefully) ready them for naps. Rest areas are much easier to use for potty breaks. We don't have to leave the interstate, and they're generally cleaner than gas station/fast food restrooms. When the weather is colder, we take our picnic lunch into a fast food restaurant. We'll order a frostie or something and call it even.
5.) Caress your iPhone. I have fallen madly, deeply, passionately in love with my iPhone for so many reasons, not the least of which is Pandora and streaming NPR while driving. Even through the remote areas, 3G lets me listen to music or news to my little liberal heart's content. (PSA: don't text/surf/etc.while driving.)
6.) Be patient. My body still starts twitching uncontrollably when I think of the traffic jam I encountered on the way home at the end of October. Our trip was lengthened by three hours. No exaggeration. The traffic between Knoxville and Gatlinburg was bumper-to-bumper. For hours.
(Excuse me for a second. Deep Breaths. In. Out. Breathe, Michelle.)
Forget patience. Call your mother and cry. That's what I did.
7.) Enjoy it. Cray-cray, as my sister would say. (That's short and hip for crazy, FYI.) My most stressful motherhood moments have happened while in a car. BUT, so have my most warm and fuzzy motherhood moments. When they're all peacefully snoozing in the backseat, and I'm cruising down the road listening to cheesy country music, and the mountains are looming in the distance . . . Praise God, it doesn't get much better than that.
We bond on the road. Seriously. We've peed in inappropriate places, eaten in the median of an outlet mall, and stopped by a river to hear the sound of the water crashing over rocks. We've gotten lost, found new exciting views, and all screamed together loud enough to almost shatter the glass.
It's not easy, and I'm dreading Sunday's drive home, but traveling alone with the kids has created memories and adventures that (almost) make the twitchy times worth it.