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The Summer Car Trip Horror Show
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I'm really busy this summer doing things like vacationing (where I'm busy lying around in a hammock doing absolutely nothing). So I thought I'd go through the archives and publish some of my older articles and columns periodically that never showed up on this blog, because I wrote them before the blog started. Here's one from way back in 2002, when my girls were still very small. It was the very first column I published!

It’s that time of year again: camping, cottages, water skiing, boating and beaches all beckon us. Unfortunately, they all involve a particularly gruesome form of self-torture: car trips with children.

For those of us travelling this summer to fun-filled destinations where we can relax, getting there can be an exercise in frustration. Tiny ones repeatedly bleat “are we there yet?”, while older ones yell, over and over, “she’s on my side of the seat!”. How can we survive this nightmare?

Every summer, our family takes an eight-hour trip down to Pennsylvania, and a four hour one up to Muskoka. They’re not always pleasant, but we’ve found some ways to pass the time, many gleaned from other parents who have trod this path before us.

First, you must have a zero tolerance for fighting. My award for Shrewdest Mother of the Year goes to a mom with two girls who told them they were going to visit Grandma, some six hours away. She packed their bags, loaded the van, kissed Daddy good-bye and took off, with a stern warning that when the first fight broke out she would turn the van around and head home.

They made it about half an hour before she kept her promise, landing them once again in their driveway. The two girls were too stunned even to cry. When they realized this was for real, they sobbed and begged, but their mother would not relent.

A week later, after many promises, they set out again. This time, they made it the whole way. What the girls didn’t know was that mother’s vacation time was actually booked for that second week. She knew they wouldn’t make it to Grandma’s on the first attempt. That was only a trial run to make the point.

Like that mother, I can’t stand fighting or whining in the car. It infuriates me, and if I have to listen to that for eight hours, I’m not going. The girls know that, because at the first sign of whining we stop the car.

We’ve also played every game in the book to keep them occupied: look for all the provincial and state license plates, count the cows, and find things beginning with all the letters of the alphabet. These really do entertain younger children, though unfortunately they’re not the most entertaining for us adults. Coming up with a word for X, though, took a lot of brainpower last year. I’m better prepared this year. I’ll be on the lookout for a xenolith--a type of rock fragment—as we traverse through the Canadian Shield to Muskoka.

Last year, in a spurt of energy between packing the camper and doing laundry, I laminated some “picture” bingo cards, with horses, cows, railway crossings, signs, and other landmarks. These were big hits, and best of all, the kids did them themselves, so Keith and I had time to talk to each other.

But the smartest thing we ever did was to borrow books on CD from the library. You can borrow whole books on CD, like Charlotte’s Web, or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles. Many of them are entertaining for adults, too, and best of all, a lot of them last hours! Hours of not hearing “are we there yet?”, but only “it’s not over yet, is it?”. And to whoever lives in Trenton and is currently listening to Quinte West’s copy of Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, I need it by the 19th!

I’ll leave you with my favourite summer car ride story. During a cross-country trip, one eight-year-old girl started to feel very carsick. She rolled the window down, but it didn’t seem to help. Her eleven-year-old brother watched her with growing concern as she turned different shades of green. Then, when it was obvious something REALLY BAD was about to happen, he showed tremendous forethought. Sticking out his hands, he caught his sister’s vomit and threw it out the window, so that they wouldn’t have to sit in a stinky car for the next few days.

So as you’re driving to the cottage, and the air conditioning isn’t working, and the kids are whining, just be thankful that at least you don’t have to catch the vomit.

Where are you heading this summer? What do you have planned to keep the kids busy?

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At 9:30 AM , Blogger Belly said…

Three things:

Thank you, Shrewd Mother for that inspiring, holy LORD, GENIUS idea re: trail runs. Wow.

Thank you, Sheila for the laminated "Bingo" cards idea. My boys are great travellers, but I tire of games like "I Spy" quickly and the more they can entertain themselves, the better.

Thank you, brother of green-girl. Someday, you will rule the world.

Great post!


At 9:30 AM , Blogger Belly said…

P.S. By "trail runs" I meant "trial."



At 11:34 AM , Blogger ET @ Titus2:3-5 said…

Totally love the trial run idea! I should definitely do that!

One thing we've done for long road trips (like 4 days to get to Disneyland) is the reverse "incentive" (that's the nice word for bribe). Everyone starts out with a full roll of quarters ($10). Their money is to purchase a souvenier when we get there. Each time there is whining, arguing, etc., the child gives a quarter to Mom for her souvenier fund. If they're mean to a sibling, they pay a quarter to him/her.

Our eldest son had $14 for a Disney souvenier. Our middle daughter, $4.75. :)

We also discovered the joy of musical chairs in the vehicle. At each stop, the 4 kids not in car seats would relocate in the Suburban. New seat-mates every few hours is fun!


At 3:23 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Tyler, I totally love the "reverse incentive" idea! That's brilliant. I think everybody should do that.

And the trial run idea I thought was so fun, too! That brother of green-girl will definitely rule the world, Belly. Too funny!


At 4:03 PM , Blogger barb said…

We love car trips with our kids. I'll echo your commendations of books on tape. One thing we learned when travelling in the States is that Cracker Barrel restaurant stores rent books on CD - and you can borrow from one store, and return it at another store down the road. We drove to Florida from Ontario this spring and had a great time with that.


At 4:42 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


What a great tip about Cracker Barrel! That's an awesome service. Thanks for posting about it.


At 8:28 PM , Blogger Mary said…

Wow, that trial run thing was cool! We used to sit out 2 boys in their car seats (they were still young, and small for their age) so they would be safe and so they could see out the window. Propped their feet up so they wouldn't dangle uncomfortably. Then, we'd put the ice cooler in between them with pillows on top so they couldn't see each other to fight. Then we had them listen to children's books on tape. It worked. Once we got to the motel, I ran a bath and got them in it right away to help them wind down. They used to love those MacDonald's play parks, too (I don't think they have those any more: too unsanitary, I guess).

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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