Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Road Trip Rebuttal

If you're not regularly reading Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan, you should be. She is relevant. She is wise. She is compassionate. And, often, she is hilarious. Also, I want to go with her to ALL THE PLAYS and I want our children to be best friends. There's my plug for her before I go ahead and disagree with one of her posts. But it's not her. It's me. I'm a road trip bigot.

Bigot: A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.

Yes. I am a bigot. I am a bigot when it comes to Christmas trees. Go real or why bother? I'm a bigot about smoking. Just do not do it around me or anywhere in my vicinity please because I do not want that stuff secondhandedly infiltrating my lungs. And I am a bigot about road trips.

Kristen's post, sponsored by Chevrolet, and titled, "Turning vehicles into wi-fi hotspots? Yes, please." falls into one of my biggest pet peeve categories. I don't fundamentally disagree with turning vehicles into wi-fi hotspots. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Since getting a phone with Internet capabilities this past spring (because, yes, it took us that long to cross over into the land of the living), it's been nice to be able to find the cheapest gas in an area, locate a restaurant to eat at on the way from San Diego to Salt Lake City, or check for available hotels when we're stuck in the WORST VEGAS TRAFFIC THAT EVER THERE WAS. EVER. Kristen points out that, with vehicular wi-fi, her children could work on homework in the car, pull up Google maps and learn about the geography of a particular region they're driving through, or use the Internet to find historical landmarks. All great ideas.

What I disagree with are her thoughts (and, really, it's just the echo of the thoughts of so many people I know) regarding the boredom of road trips, the fact that thirty years ago travelers had two options: stare out the window or sleep, and the general idea that our children need to be plugged into something in the car or heaven forbid they might just shrivel up and die from the lack of entertainment. (Um. Those are totally my words, not hers. And I'm not trying to call her out here, I'm calling out our society.)

When I was a kid we regularly drove LONG distances to visit National Parks, Lake Tahoe, and other destinations. You know what? I did not die. I looked out the window at our gorgeous (and, sometimes, not so gorgeous HELLO! BARSTOW! THIS ONE'S FOR YOU!) country. I read books and books and more books! When I tired of reading books I flipped through a new magazine my mom had bought me before the trip. I did not sleep because I was born without the gene that allows for napping--even on road trips--unless it is dark outside. But my brother slept. For hours on end and his road trips were shorter for it. We took a bucket of toys. We had notepads for drawing or writing stories. We talked! We had walkmans and, eventually, discmans. When we were very little, my mom would buy a few small toys and hand us one every few hours. We anticipated rest stops because, perhaps, an ice cream or a candy bar would be our reward for good behavior. We didn't ask, "Are we there yet?" because we knew that if the car was still running, the answer to that question was an obvious, NO. (We weren't stupid children.) We fought, sure. But we did that at home so a road trip was really no different. We laughed, hysterically, at each other. We played car bingo, slug bug, and the license plate game. We created our own entertainment.

And it has turned us into adults that have the ability to go on long road trips. Those vacations have sculpted us into people that can now be behind the wheel on those long trips without wanting to claw our own insides out from our own attention deficit. (Um...road trips involving HORRIBLE VEGAS TRAFFIC NOT WITHSTANDING.) Those trips helped us become adult passengers that don't need to be playing on and/or watching their phone/laptop/DVD player incessantly. These days, my husband and I take turns driving on long road trips. When I'm the passenger, I rarely do anything except listen to music and have extensive conversations with my spouse. Sometimes I read. And that's it. Those long road trips from my childhood built character that I wouldn't trade for the ability to watch endless movies.

When our boys were tiny little people we began taking road trips with them. We do have a portable DVD player but our general (loose) rule has been ONE movie for every 12 hours of travel time. That means they need to find a way to entertain themselves for the other 10 and a half hours. They look out the window. Then they ask questions about things they are seeing and it opens up dialogue between us and them and someone always ends up learning something. They crack each other up. They listen to music. They read books. And, before we leave, they pack a bin of toys. It is their single greatest joy--when we're getting ready to go somewhere--to choose the small toys they will take and they often ask me many days in advance if they can do it.

Have there been growing pains? Of course there have. Have there been times when they've asked how much longer or how much farther or if we're there yet? Of course there have. But my boys are eight and five and they are the best travelers I know.

Kristen said, "Because, as much as we like limiting the kids' time with electronics, we're also realists. Making everyone power off in the car works for about 10 minutes, followed by screeches of 'She touched me!' or 'I'm bored' or (God forbid) 'Are we there yet?'"

(Read more:

And, while my degree is in Theatre, I took a boatload of English course work and I know hyperbole when I see it so I realize the exaggeration for comedic effect. But it's not unrealistic to expect your children to put down the electronics. So what I want to say to all the parents out there, the parents of teenagers and the parents of tiny little kids, is that you're missing an incredible opportunity. Your children, when stuck in the car, are a captive audience. You have no where else to be, nothing else to do. Point out landmarks. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up and why. Introduce them to the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and the Wicked soundtrack. Read them a book. Let them entertain themselves for awhile.

Unplug them and they will learn how to travel unplugged. Then, instead of your road trip being all about the destination, it can also be about the journey getting there. But what do I know? I'm just a road trip bigot.

Note: This totally breaks down on an International flight from Salt Lake to Israel that takes 18 hours. When the lights in the plane are off and everyone is trying to sleep and your kids think it's three o'clock in the afternoon and they didn't bring toys because you didn't want to haul them around the Holy Land and the iPod is dead and they don't have a window seat and they're confused because the flight crew is trying to feed them breakfast but it involves salad and the baby two rows up has been screaming for a solid two hours, then you totally just let them watch as many movies as they want to and you thank God that you chose a flight where they have their own screen built right into the seatback in front of them. But, because they usually have to entertain themselves on trips and this time they get endless movies, they will be the world's best travelers and handfuls of other Israel bound tourists and the flight attendants will tell you how wonderful your children are. So what I'm saying is that building up road trip character in your kids will, inevitably, gain you parenting praise on an International flight. AND WHO DOESN'T LIKE THAT?

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