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3876528879 - The Summer Car Trip Horror Showphoto © 2009 Quim Gil | more info (via: Wylio)

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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