How to survive an 11-hour road trip with a two-year-old and a nine-month-old nursing baby and even have fun along the way:
I have no idea.
Ha ha - just kidding! :) No, I actually did just drive across the country a few days ago with my son (2) and daughter (9 months) - an 11-hour drive which turned into 16 hours (each way)! Your first question is probably, "Are you insane?" to which I would answer, "Maybe." But let me tell you WHY I drove to Iowa! My grandpa celebrated his 90th birthday last week! 90 years, wow! That means he was born in 1920 - isn't that just crazy to think about? And, as my uncle said, "I can't think of any present that he and Grandma would like more than to see their great-grandchildren." And seeing the look on Grandma and Grandpa's faces as Zachary (and then Natalie and I) walked into the room was priceless. And totally worth the craziness of the road trip!
(Zachary is behind the camera in the last picture). :)
On this 11-hour trip which took 16 hours, I learned that in the future I could probably stay patient with my kids for about a 9-hour drive. :) I did lose my patience at about nightfall both days - I just turned the music up, and drove the rest of the way, ignoring any noises that may have been coming from the backseat! :) But we made it, and the time with family and friends in Iowa was wonderful! We drove out on a Thursday, and stopped in Illinois at my hubby's aunt's house, where we have an annual 'Girls Weekend' with the ladies on Hubby's mom's side of the family - it was a wonderful, relaxing time of shopping & talking, and I was so encouraged by chatting with other young moms who are having the SAME struggles with discipline & parenting that I am - isn't it always such a blessing to know others have the same struggles as you???
Then on Saturday the kids and I drove a (relatively) quick 3 hours (which took 4, of course), up to my grandparents' apartment building, where we surprised them and my sister - I heard her voice first, exclaiming, "Are you kidding me?" from inside the apartment as Zachary walked in with my dad (who was in on it)! :) After the kids went to bed, we two sisters stayed up late chatting, which we don't often get to do anymore, so that was awesome, too! My grandparents were excited and very pleased and surprised, and they had a great time with the kids, as did my aunt & uncle & cousin from Kansas (all pictured above)!
On Sunday afternoon, we drove to my parents house (in another part of Iowa), where we stayed until Wednesday morning, when we took off early for home. Natalie was teething and didn't sleep well, and on Monday, I was just so tired from traveling and being up with her that I did not think I was going to be able to do the big road trip home - I was planning on coming home Tuesday, and I just knew I couldn't handle it, so I called my hubby & we talked about different options, but then Monday night I got a full night of sleep, and on Tuesday I felt much better and spent an extra day relaxing with my kids & my parents, and then we came home all the way on Wednesday.
Whew! It was quite the trip! It's especially crazy that I did this by myself with the kids, considering that I don't even like to go grocery shopping with the kids - our trips to town consistently end in tears (sometimes it's not just me crying, either!) So how did I do this?
First, I didn't go alone. "What? Were you lying to us earlier?", you might be asking. No, I was the only adult in the car, but I wasn't alone - I spent a lot of time before and during the trip praying over our trip, asking God to renew my patience (and even asking for His forgiveness a couple of times....). So no matter where you go, don't go alone!!!
Second, I planned ahead. I had a big bag full of individually baggied snacks handy next to me in the front seat, so whenever Zachary got hungry I could hand him a snack baggie. (snacks are your friend when you're traveling - I bought things I don't usually buy like the frosted animal crackers & Teddy Grahams & fruit snacks for special treats) I also had several sippy cups full of water, since he tends to drop or throw them, and then be thirsty a half hour later. :) We put Zachary's car seat in the middle seat in the back, and Natalie's behind the driver's seat. That way I could easily hand things to Zachary while driving. I had a separate bag full of toys that Natalie loves, so that if she started crying, I could hand a toy to Zachary and have him hand it to her. This worked pretty well, he was usually willing to hand the toys to her after a reasonable amount of time playing with it himself. :)
Third, we used a car DVD player! This was awesome - we watched a KidSongs video from the library about animals NINE times on the drive out - I pretty much have the words to "Jeepers Creepers" memorized now, thank you! :) KidSongs DVDs play over and over, which is really nice when you're traveling & can't press 'play' every time the 30-minute video ends - we'll definitely be renting these again (or buying some if we see them)! ;)
Fourth, if you have a non-walker (or a little walker who likes to get into everything), wear them! I wore my stretchy wrap all day in the car, and popped Natalie in it when we stopped to use the bathroom & get food - that way she didn't have to sit on any nasty bathroom floors or anything!
Fifth, if you'll be nursing on your trip, try to find a nice area for your toddler to play while you feed your baby instead of sitting in the car - those travel plazas/rest stops often have picnic areas, sometimes even little playgrounds where your toddler can run & climb on the picnic tables/chairs while your baby eats - this worked well for us, and God provided a nice (or nice enough) place each and every time Natalie had to eat.
Sixth, getting out of the car for meals may take longer, but it will give the kids a nice break from their car seats - we ate lunch & dinner each day in travel plazas or restaurants & the kids enjoyed it - we even stopped at a PlayPlace and let the kids run/crawl at suppertime around on the way out, which was fun but it did take a LOT of time, even though I let Z run around the whole time and then eat in the car after we left.
Finally, just plan to take forever. If you have a deadline that you HAVE to be there by, leave a couple of hours earlier than you think you'll need to, otherwise you will just get frustrated - I discovered that to get the kids out of their carseats, go to the bathroom, buy food, and get the kids buckled back in, food passed out, and a DVD started took me THIRTY minutes!!!! And a lunch stop where we got out of the car, changed diapers, used the bathroom (usually twice), ate lunch, and got the kids back in the car, took an hour! So, just plan to take a really really long time, and you'll be less frustrated with the fact that traveling with kids takes forever! :)
Although this wasn't an experience that I would readily repeat for little or no reason, I learned that with God's help, I can take even a long road trip with my kids! After getting home, I told my hubby's mom that trips to the grocery store didn't seem so daunting any more. Then I took the kids to the grocery store & we all ended up in tears again, so there goes that theory. :) But it really does SEEM less daunting, anyway. :)