Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Road Tripping With Toddlers




I've been a bit absent from this site lately and one of the reasons (the best reason ever, actually!) is that we took a little family vacation. Ok, we took a major family vacation. 20 hours in a car on a road trip to the beach. With two toddlers. That's right. 20 hours.

We've been vacationing in Panama City Beach, Florida forever. Liam has actually been there twice before this trip, including the month we spent there at the end of my mat leave. I was living the dream there, folks. It was fantastic. Here he is at 2 months of age, lounging on our balcony....sigh.




But when Aiden came along, I worried that we'd never travel again. I figured that as a single parent I could never manage two babies who then became toddlers on a 20 hour road trip. And I wasn't wrong. What made this work is that my oldest daughter, Emily, came along and it made all the difference. I can't do it alone. Not yet. So kuddos to Em for being the best auntie ever.




I have no real advice here because, let's face it, I mostly just wing it. But I do have my "live and learn" wisdom and I'm sharing it here.....Some of it's obvious, some of it is just what worked for our family.


1. PACK WELL IN ADVANCE
I took an extra day off work before we left while the boys were still in daycare and was able to finish packing and load the van the night before we left. Suh-weet. Just had to throw in the overnight bag and off we went.

2. DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO MAKE THEM HAPPY
Contrary to all the advice I read cautioning parents not to slide backwards in milestone achievements, I say "let it slide". I haven't potty trained anybody because diapers on road trips are way easier than going the bathroom every hour. (Also, Liam looks at me like I'm crazy when I ask if he wants to try the potty). Liam gave up his "suss' (pacifier) at daycare a few weeks before our trip and he only has it when he sleeps. I gave it to him. For the entire drive. Both ways. My daycare provider is probably not too impressed but I figured since Liam is not in the most pleasant phase of toddler-hood (We're calling him our "threenager")....you do what you can for a bit of peace. I took it away again in Florida and at home....He was fine with this little "suss" blip.


Our grumpy, soon to be, "threenager"


I also left them in their pyjamas until late the first morning. We landed at McDonald's somewhere in Ohio. As an aside, we NEVER go to restaurants. I've tried a couple of times with a friend or family member to help. The first time Liam announced he was pooping to anyone who would listen. (He wasn't. He was just making friendly conversation.) The second time I was too tired to eat because I was trying to keep them from tossing drinks on the floor along with everything else they could get their hands on. So I was worried about disturbing other people but seriously, McDonald's is so kid friendly, you can't go wrong. And they love it. Because it was a Friday morning the place was full of seniors....the boys were fussed over and adored. They had more attention than they knew what to do with. Wish I'd been half that popular in high school. Or anywhere, really.




3. LEAVE EARLY AND DRIVE HARD THE FIRST DAY
I woke the boys and hit the road at 4:30 am because all the Pinterest/bloggy advice said they'll go back to sleep and you could travel in peace. Well, they didn't. They basically stayed awake for 16 hours but for a really short nap. But they were interested and (mostly) cheerful for hours since this was so out of their routine. I never let my kids nap in the car so the fact that they didn't sleep much while travelling shouldn't have surprised me. We travelled 15 hours the first day and neither boy napped longer than 1 hour. Which is crazy because they sleep til 8:30 am every morning and nap 2-3 hours every day. Regardless, they were insanely and unpredictably happy for the first 14 hours. Then we all fell apart and stayed overnight in Cullman, AL. I was trying really hard to make it to my sister's house which is about another hour or so away but we just couldn't do it. This is why I believe in driving hard and fast the first day. The next day we had 5 hours to go and that felt less daunting. It also allowed us to linger at Waffle House, Liam's favorite place in the universe.

4. IGNORE ADVICE THAT DOESN'T WORK
Popular advice also says to stop frequently and let the kids run around to burn off energy. Ummm, not my boys. They acted utterly ridiculous and crazed at every rest stop. In Clanton, AL, one toddler followed the beer delivery guy and got stuck in a walk in freezer while the other was behind the counter grabbing for cigarettes. This was after they all but molested loved the giant plastic M&M dude to death. The cashier was lacking in our world famous "Alabama Southern Hospitality" that day and we're no longer welcome in Clanton.




Let them run loose? Awww, hell no!


4. TV IS OUR FRIEND
I'll be the first to admit that I don't much restrict the number of hours the boys watch tv at home. Don't judge. I do restrict what they watch but I'm single and tired. I can only do so much. Before we left I bought a dual screen DVD player and they watched countless Disney movies, happily in the back seat. I bought 2 new movies that they'd never seen before which helped although, in truth, they're not terribly picky. I bought this one from Best Buy. Love. This. Thing.



5. PREPARE SNACKS AND DRINKS
I packed a bag of individually packaged, moderately healthy snacks in case we couldn't find anything on the road. Truthfully, they ate a lot of fries and I didn't care that much because it was new and exciting for them to eat out. Or eat fast food. I knew we'd eat better in Florida because we rented a condo and planned to cook most of our meals at home. I also brought sippy cups. Lots and lots of them. Some of it we used and and some of it we didn't but it was nice to know that on the last stretch to Florida, where rest stops and gas stations are sparse, I could have fed them if needed.

6. PLAN ACTIVITIES
Ok. I didn't use this one at all. I made impromptu play trays for the boys and attached them to their car seats with bungie cords. Seriously. I spent weeks browsing Pinterest for ideas for DIY trays. However, I ran out of time and energy and at the last minute I grabbed two thrift store wood trays that I'd been planning to paint and used those. The boys used them once for like 5 minutes. And Liam only colored on the tray. He does what he wants.




Truthfully, they were either way too young or way too happy with movies to make use of all the activities that I packed. Most of those things came in super handy when we ate out in Florida but the in-car trays? Not so much. They're still there because I think the boys will grow into them. And we're planning more road trips in the near future.


7. RELAX
Easier said than done for old-school parents (aka grandparents raising grandchildren) like me. I love a good schedule for babies and toddlers because that's what has always worked for this family. When the boys were tiny I structured everything around naps and bedtime. So I was so nervous about disrupting the boys and what could happen. Because sleep is my favorite thing. EVER. But, aside from the first night in the motel where Liam kept giggling and wanting everyone to play with him, the boys slept beautifully, napped well (and even skipped a few) and all was well. AMAZING. I brought playpens for the boys to sleep in and they did just fine. Aiden actually asked to go to bed the first night in the motel, even though we were all roaming around and the lights were on. He just lied right down and drifted off to sleep (love this kid!) For the first time in almost three years, I didn't stick to much of a schedule and it was fine. I couldn't believe it. They napped, they slept well, and they went right back to their routine when they got home. I was so scared! One night, after a late dinner, Aiden fell asleep standing up. In the elevator. He slept til 930 the next morning and life went on.




There you have it....what little wisdom I gained from road tripping with two toddlers. My standards were really low. Basically we just wanted to make it there and back alive.

I can't begin to tell you what this trip meant to me. I have been single forever. FOREVER. When my girls grew up and moved out, I started travelling like crazy. I'd been Hawaii just a month before Liam was born and we were back in Florida when he was two months old. The hardest thing about accepting that I would raise two more babies at this stage in my life was thinking I wouldn't travel again. It might look a little different but it's clear that we can do it with some planning and help. Yay!

Anybody have any must have pieces of wisdom that they want to share for our next road trip in the fall?


Sharing this road trip adventure here and over at Serenity Now, Home Stories A to Z,  Cedarhill FarmhouseCoastal CharmJennifer RizzoBlackberry VineFrom My Front Porch to YoursSavvy Southern Style, and Salt Tree.