So, here it is: Summer Vacation.
Everyone on their way overseas to Europe? To Capri, perhaps?
Well, not if your bank account looks like ours, you're not.
We're lucky if we can afford gas to get to Pasadena. And we live in Orange County, CA (about 40 miles away, okay?)
If you are one of the "lucky Americans" this summer, who can afford to drive to a different zipcode, then I thought I might offer you one or ideas about traveling long distances with girls.
I have two. Now, age 13 and 9. But, they were once 2 and 6. And even 4 and 8. They have always been two girls, about 4.5 years apart. Which means, as far as mutual entertainment goes, they are in two different camps of female child preoccupation. This means: Car trips required lots of crap for each of them. (Or, so I thought.) One pile of crap will not entertain the other child and visa versa.
Back in time both girls were endlessly engrossed in all things American Girl Dolls. That was a great investment of entertainment fodder for about ten years...but now? They've gotten older. The "teen" isn't quite as interested in taking along Elizabeth or Felicity anymore.
We used to stock up on books, and pack mounds of arts and crafts into the backseat to keep them happy and entertained because while planning the trip, what we feared the most were "BORED KIDS!"
Oh, no! No!!! Not that! Not kids that are BORED! Heavens! That simply can't happen. Bored kids would be a tragedy that would threaten to unravel the parental fabric of our world and become a messy, flaming ball of hell if we were stuck in the car on a long stretch of interstate and THEY. GOT. BORED.
Back when they were little I used to scramble for weeks putting together little entertainment nests to occupy them so they didn't suffer the terrible pain of boredom. I felt it was my maternal duty to create engaging, enriching things for them to do. All. The. Time.
Then, this funny thing happened. As years went by, I realized that I cared less and less about their auto entertainment. In fact, they did, too. We all got more comfortable with less crap in the backseat than we used to jam in there.
Sure, we let them take some stuff with them, the younger one gets more, because there's still that doll or book or "thing" that is a comfort-object more than anything and so they get to pack that.
But NO more games with small parts. Or felt-tip ANYthing that can be left on the fabric of my Honda Odyssey seats. No more damn Polly Pocket ever. Again. As long as I live. If I ever see one of those tiny plastic shoes or miniature hangers ever again, or if I ever have to bend over one more time to pick up something tiny that was made in China, billowing out toxic smoke out of a chimney to produce some shit some stupid Mom felt compelled by GUILT to spend money on, then I will start to bitch and moan, worse than a tea-bagger at a Nancy Pelosi speaking engagement. You have been warned.
-- So, NO! Do not bring home the Polly Pockets to my house unless you really do hate and loathe me.
Proof of the change in our relationship to road trips with the girls is evidenced in our broken DVD player protruding out of the ceiling of our van which remains broken and unused. And unmissed, too. I usually regard it as a form of Honda Wart on the roof. Something unsightly that eventually must be removed if it threatens to become malignant.
Nobody misses the DVDs. Nobody misses the mounds of plastic lanyards to be woven into enough bracelets to adorn a small army.
So, my message now to parents traveling with kids, well, daughters, is: Just let them have the trip with you the way you travel. With a couple of things, and then their own sense of observation of the changing landscape. The people. The monotony, even. They should be in the moment with you. If they get bored, they can have a conversation. Or draw a picture, with something really radical, a pen from the bottom of your purse and the Starbucks reciept from the floor of the van, because, hopefully you stopped to use the bathroom at Starbucks and not Carl's J.R. because the Starbucks bathrooms are so much cleaner and the one thing I detest on a road trip is picking up a bug from a filthy freeway junkfood restaurant. (Okay, I just showed my germ phobia. Oops. My bad.)
These days, my girls get two books, each. And perhaps they can share my oldest daughter's iPod (which they happily do with one ear pod a piece) listening to Lady GaGa and LaRoux and then -- when that wears off, I tell them look out the window.
Really. Even if it's The 5. Between Bakersfield and Stockton.
I'll tell them to look out the window and make it interesting.
I have never traveled with boys. And I'm quite sure making a road trip with a penis makes this type of experience entirely different. (I am kidding, yes, that was a joke.)
Sometimes I just give them the digital camera and tell them to shoot what looks funny or interesting. That buys a lot of time. I could hope they find sweeping landscapes to immortalize, but once the challenge of making something lovely wears off it usually digresses into a lot of shooting into the surprised faces of truck drivers which provides endless amusement to them.
I guess it's easy to see why Eloise might have been one of my favorite books. It still is. Well, Eloise in Paris, is. That's by far my favorite book of the series. And the food looks so much better, too.
Madeline may have behaved in a heroic manner, saving dogs, or, rather, letting them save her, but Eloise was a hero because she took a life of parental neglect and spun this into an engaging, imaginative, endlessly amusing adventure, all without a shred of self pity. Dogs may not have been saved, but there was so much more going on in Eloise's head, than those endlessly long walks in straight lines. A life of order punctuated by the all too rare freaking out of Miss Clavel. Much too sedate an existence for Eloise.
Eloise would have been sent to french reform school and then Truffaut would have to make films of her troubled coming of age stories.
See? I digress.
Back to my point about giving advice regarding long, summer road trips stuck in cars with daughters.
Let them observe what's going on right around them and make that interesting for them.
This is a child being photographed by her sister on a road trip. See? She's smiling.
Here is another child smiling on another road trip (New Year's Day 2008, Brattleboro, Vt. to Boston.) because she is being photographed by her other sister during a snow storm on the way to Logan Airport.
Here's an entertaining way to pass the time. Snap shots of the drivers who "went too fast."
Here's some car window shots of horses in Vermont from Route 30, August 2009.
Here's what to do in a traffic jam on Thanksgiving Day weekend if you're stuck in a minivan in Los Angeles up to Sacramento. Give the kids the camera and tell them to shoot what cracks them up.
People on cell phones even though they're not supposed to be.
Lots of doll parts, for miles along the center meridian.
Look. This driver is an animal lover. Loves cats and moths.
Look. An "X"
No, Mom. There really are people on the freeway between Bakersfield and Stockton, see?
Scary top on a sad old truck bed.
This is a better life lesson anyway. Because sometimes life is really boring. Deal with it. Be miserable about it, or make it fun: Your choice.
Less arts and crafts. Skip taking American Girl Doll items unless they are firmly attached TO the dolls. Those shoes and bonnets cost GOOD money, and nothing will piss you off faster than hearing that Kit's reporter note book fell out at the Shell station 40 miles back. Nope. Don't do it. If they have to have a doll, then glue gun their clothes to the doll, first.
And never, ever, ever bring Polly Pockets. Two books a piece, a pen, a piece of paper, and fun with digital cameras.
Oh, and Starbucks has the cleanest bathrooms.