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Diary of an Epic Road Trip with Kids



My husband’s uncle passed away recently, and his memorial took place in Kansas—which means we packed up the car and took an epic (14 hour!) road trip to the midwest. It turns out that road tripping means something different when you’re in college than it does when you’re a parent. My biggest takeaway was this: even though I brought crayons, markers, paint dots, workbooks, threading projects, games, and books (steal more ideas!), my kids mostly just wanted to watch movies. My second takeaway is for you…please, whatever you do, do not take a 14 hour road trip if you can at all help it. Whew! I documented our journey for your amusement and/or education. Learn from our mistakes, or laugh at them—your choice!

6am: Our journey begins. We woke the kids early and put them in the car in pj’s with bundles of toast and almond milk. The 3-year-old is confused and silent. The 5-year-old is saying nonsensical things and giggling. “Look, my arms are criss-cross applesauce.” “I’m tired but I’m not sleeping because I’m using my awake voice.” The 3-year-old asks for a pillow and lays her head down for 30 minutes.

7am: Kids are just now getting antsy and seeming truly awake. The 5-year-old’s statements are starting to lose their sweet wonder. “Give me some paper. Where’s my writing surface?!” The 3-year-old asks for paper and crayons, asks repeatedly where we’re going, and demands we put her shoes on. The hubs and I haven’t had enough coffee and have barely spoken all morning. I have to pee, but I don’t have energy to tell him.

8am: First stop. No coffee here. Just filling up on gas. Kids refuse to get out to stretch their legs but demand a movie be turned on.

8:15am: Back on the road, the hubs and I are trying half-heartedly to make conversation to keep from being so sleepy, but sleepiness prevents intelligent conversation. We Google mapped a Starbucks, and we keep reminding each other that it’s only a few more miles. We’ve discovered that the DVD player we borrowed from a friend has a finicky cord, and it keeps shutting off. Every time it does, it starts all over with the previews, and I have to contort my body around the back seat to fast forward to where it left off last.

9am: The Starbucks is freaking hidden! We’re too sleepy to make sense of the map. It looks like it’s inside a mall?! Which means it’s not open yet!? The kids’ movie has turned itself off again. I contemplate hurling the DVD player out of the window.

9:15am: We end up at a Panera, and we are dang happy about it. These egg and cheese sandwiches are literally the best thing any of us has ever tasted, and there are 15 minutes of silence as we get back onto the road, all of us blissfully eating, and the hubs and I guzzling coffee.

10am: Amazingly, after only six or seven restarts, the movie has ended. We all ate to the bottom of the Panera bag and the hubs just noticed we’re already down to half a tank because the AC is working so hard in this 90 degree weather. It’s discouraging to look at the map and our progress. Six and a half hours to go. We just stopped to pee, but it’s been about 10 minutes and now both kids need to poop. So we’re stopping again. I can’t complain about them though…they’re contentedly coloring and reading back there, which is more than I can say for myself. I’m bored.

11am: We just made a horrible discovery: we’ve gone two hours further north than we were supposed to. We’re doubling back to find an alternate route, snapping at each other, and cursing a lot. The hubs is taking his anger out on a gnat that keeps landing on the windshield.

11:30am: This “scenic route” is the absolute worst. So far, it’s just a lot of trailers, cornfields, stoplights, and unfortunate signs that tell us to go 45 mph. In my mind, I’ve had two margaritas.

12pm: We’re still only halfway there because we went the wrong way for so long. As frustrated as I am, the kids are still doing great. After I started a new movie a few dozen times and The Incredibles ended up being too scary for the 3-year-old, I put in Cars 2, and the kids have been contentedly vegging out. In my mind, I’ve switched to wine.

12:15pm: The 3-year-old has fallen asleep, and the five-year-old has decided he’s starving. We pass the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which is pretty cool.

2pm: We stopped at a park just outside St. Louis for a picnic lunch. I wore a cotton dress today because it’s comfortable and cool and seemed like a good travel outfit, but it’s really short, and when I bent over to help the 3-year-old into her shoes, I exposed my white butt to the whole park. After we ate, I lamented not having a penis because I wish I could go pee on a nearby tree. The 5-year-old thought that was hysterical. After we left the park, we had to stop again for a bathroom at a gas station, and since we’re not in Tennessee anymore, they sell liquor! I gazed dreamily at the whiskey until I heard my son say, “Um, Mom? What are we doing?” After jolting back to reality, we bought some water and left.

3pm: ARE WE THERE YET?! Every time I look at the GPS, it’s four hours away…how can that be?? We aren’t talking much. Kids are plugged in again because they are getting cranky, for which I can’t blame them in the slightest. In fact, I am way more bored and antsy than the kids seem to be. I’m beginning to wonder if we will ever be there, and I start beating my head against the steering wheel. We’ll die here in Kansas City. I know it.

4pm: The hubs insisted on good coffee, so we ventured off the beaten path and lost another half hour. The barista was all like “Oh, I see you brought the whole family…” and the hubs and I raised our eyebrows at each other. Our kids were the only ones in there. It was good coffee, but I missed Ugly Mugs!

5pm: I’m driving again, and the hubs is in charge of messing with the DVD player. GOOD. I hum to myself a little. We play 20 questions. The 3-year-old asks if I’m a zebra. The 5-year-old guesses a cheetah. They guess nothing but animals until it’s the 5-year-old’s turn. He’s a non-fiction adult man named Noah who is also a shark. That was a hard one to figure out. The 3-year-old is bored of all movies.

7pm: The hubs and I wonder aloud what makes people live where they live. We stopped for dinner in Topeka at some Guy Fieri burger dive. It was okay, but I’m spoiled on Riverside Grill Shack, and for the second time on our drive, I realized how grateful I am to live in Nashville!

8pm: I have renewed hope that we might actually make it there. I’m dreaming about the box of wine I brought with me from home. Kansas is seriously flat. I’ve never seen anywhere this flat—including my backyard. I can actually see the bottom of clouds! We are an hour away. We can do this. I think.

8:30pm: The kids are so exhausted they’re practically zombies, staring glass-eyed at this movie. The gas light has been on for 15 minutes, and there is nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. No gas. No stores. Just flat grass and cows. Our cell phones don’t get reception here, so if we do run out of gas we’re in big trouble. The hubs and I are sweaty and nervous.

8:45pm: Oh sweet charity, we made it to the gas station!

9pm: Sticky and sweaty, covered in coffee stains and chocolate milk (respectively), oily-faced, stringy-haired, smelly, and puffy-eyed, we make it to the hotel. In two days, we will do it all over again on the journey home, but for now we’re here, and there’s a minbar with my name on it and two queen-sized beds that the kids are already jumping on, so I’ll be signing off now!

What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken with your kids?
How did you entertain them?

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