In the good old days, there were no TVs or smartphones to distract the kids
As I sit here in my van, writing this article on the way back from vacation, I can’t help but feel like Jane Jetson, what with my lap-sized computer and lipstick-sized flash drive. Shoot, even being able to say the word “flash drive” makes me feel extraordinarily space age.
In the backseat are six children, ages ten on down to one year. By the time we get home tonight, we will have been on a ten-hour roundtrip road adventure.
I love road trips. And the more kids we have, the more I love them.
We don’t have a DVD player in the car (TVs in cars? What do you think this is, Star Trek?), and no one has a DS. There are two smart phones in the whole family, and while one of them occasionally gets passed around on Angry Bird rotation, the other remains plugged in to the radio to play the audio version of 39 Clues. (Yes – “smartphone” plugged into the radio. Space age technology here.)
When people complain about how hard it is to travel with small children, I want to shake them until the circuitry in their head realigns and they go, “Wow. What was I saying? I feel like I just said something really dumb.”
Unless you are traveling with a person who has special needs (and I’ve seen the heroic levels of planning and packing and preparation that goes into family vacations of that sort), you don’t get to complain. Don’t do it. Do you remember what road trips were like when we were kids?
Oh yes. I’m going there.
When I was a kid, there were no TVs in cars. Instead, we had a window that had to be cranked down by hand. And if you didn’t get your butt in the car fast enough, you were stuck with the side that had the broken crank, and so you couldn’t roll your window down for a breath of fresh air when the car got a bit “fragrant.”
When I was a kid, there were no personalized playlists on shuffle mode on your iPod. You know what the music was? Either crackly local stations which would last roughly ten minutes until you’d sped past the broadcast range, or, even worse, your dad’s cassette tape of Abba or Kraftwerk played on a never ending loop.
True story: on one fateful six-hour trip from Detroit to Buffalo, my dad played Abba’s Gold album the entire time. (Yes, the perky harmonics of those adorable Swedes on six-hour permaloop.) When we were stopped in traffic on Grand Island, 20 minutes from our destination, my mom suddenly ejected the tape, dangled it out the open window, and threatened to drop it on the highway if my dad ever played it again. He looked at her in surprise and said, “What? I’ve been playing it the whole way because I thought you liked Abba. I can’t stand them!”
When I was a kid, there was no “Angry Birds” or “Temple Run” or “Cut the Rope” to play. Rather, we kept ourselves entertained by playing car bingo: a medium-sized cardboard square with a series of drawings depicting objects one would ostensibly find on a road trip. Once you found an object, you slid a red cellophane window over the object to mark it on your card.
This was all well and good until you played with the card too often, and the windows started to slide back and forth without you pushing them. Then, every time you hit a bump (or a sibling hit your card because they were losing), all the windows would reset themselves and you were back at square one, wondering how the heck you were going to find a cow in the middle of downtown Buffalo.
Parents, you had it so much worse during road trips when you were younger. This is an indisputable fact. So with the summer travel season now upon us, instead of wringing your hands over how are you going to cope with your kids on that next cross-town trip, how to make sure two dozen electrical devices stay charged while still providing just enough battery power to start the engine after you get gas, remember your roots! Remember the low-tech obstacles you overcame!
Then, regale your darling children with tales of the glory days and watch them drop off to sleep one by one. Then, enjoy a blissful silence devoid of the cawing of Angry Birds or the din of a DVD.
St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers: pray for us.