The most common advice I see for parents traveling with children is to get them a portable DVD player. It makes me cringe every time. We all traveled long before TVs in the car were an option and we all survived it. Most of us probably enjoyed it. Emi is a well-traveled child. At 2 she has already flown across the country three times (and once in utero!) and has spent countless hours in the car since we live so far out in Middle of the Desert Land, USA. She wasn’t always an easy-going car rider, in fact to start with she couldn’t be in the car for more than 5 minutes before making herself vomit from screaming. It was torture, stressful for everyone and I am glad we’re past it. Eventually she took a pacifier and that helped her stay calmer and I learned how to nurse her without ever taking her out of her car seat. It was still bad. I considered turning her front facing against everything I believe, simply because I was so desperate for the situation to be different. It was a rough road to travel (no pun intended) to get where we are now, but I am glad I waited and trusted her to self regulate as she developed.
She is still rear facing at 2 years old and a little over 20 lbs. I will keep her rear facing as long as she is within height and weight limits. I think it’s important to note this because even rear facing, you can help your children become self-soothing, independent, happy travelers simply by trusting them to be. I traveled often as a child, always by car, and we didn’t have cell phones or TV’s to keep us entertained. We had our imaginations, small activities, and each other. My memories of family road trips are some of my favorite ones and I want Emi to have that experience as well.
Before starting out I packed Emi a little bin of activities: books, a coloring book, a magnetic drawing pad, wooden musical instruments, and a puzzle. I used velcro to secure the puzzle pieces so she would be able to play with it vertically. I made sure to have music she likes on my phone and I also packed her some snacks in these awesome spill proof snack cups, and a water bottle. I tried to keep it limited but varied, as not to overwhelm her with options.
Emi happily occupied herself for most of the ride playing independently. What was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive turned into 7 hours and it was tough for all of us towards the end. As she started getting restless she wanted to be involved more with us. So we all sang songs and played games. It was during these times that we had the most fun and the car was filled with laughter. I know that by getting through these tough times instead of distracting her from her discomfort or boredom, I am equipping her with important life skills. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s not impossible and it’s so worth it. Next time around I will try to incorporate her toys into the drive if she gets restless, but since she can’t see out the window yet it’s a little hard right now. We could have used her Brown Bear, Brown Bear book to practice animal noises or her car puzzle to look for those types of transportation as we drove. There are always more ways than one to play with a toy, so keep reinventing.
On the return trip, once we got close to home, Emi started to get tired. All she wanted was for her dad to sing her songs and Mommy to hold her hand and we were happy to oblige. As the sun set with her little hand squeezing my fingers and Ross softly singing You Are My Sunshine, I couldn’t have been happier.