November 20, 1995 in Features

Hitting The Road The Holiday Ritual Of Piling The Kids Into The Car For Family Visits Needs To Be Figured Into The Fun

Michael M. Ashcraft Special To Families

A working part of any family holiday season is that special time when over the highway and off the ramps to some other house you go. Making somewhat of a pilgrimage last year, our family drove more than 1,200 miles to various other houses together. A family of five in a fourdoor sedan for a total of 19 hours, with three of the five being 6 and under. (Correctional facilities may wish to consider this form of confinement as an effective alternative to solitary.)

Survival on such an excursion is indeed of the fittest. Mistakenly, many parents believe watching the scenery fly by should be entertainment aplenty for young minds. That the possibility of seeing something new just around the bend should keep them at the edge of their seats, silently vigilant for hours on end. In fact, such serendipity is good for maybe five minutes. Maybe.

And, lamentably, even if something interesting should come along, most people lack the verbal skills to effectively point it out at interstate speed. By the time you go, “Oooo, oh, look! It’s a … over by that … right there next to the …,” it’s gone.

Emphatic pointing is equally frustrating. The inadvertent result is expectant cries of “Where? Where?” followed by heartbroken sobs of, “Waaa, waaa!” when parents are forced to say, “Sorry, you missed it.”

Vain as these efforts may be, good parents fully realize that if they don’t find something to entertain their offspring, their offspring will find something to entertain themselves. The favored pastime of children locked in a car at high speeds is the game of “Aggravation.” Not a bored game at all, it is an almost relentlessly escalating activity. In the course of a game, even the stern parental warning “Keep your hands to yourself” will come through a child’s ear canal as “Please poke your sibling.”

Clearly a need exists for more structured activities. A family must prepare to enjoy the car time they have to spend together. And once preparations have been made, parents must make children appreciate the choices they have available; i.e., settle down or get out and walk.

What helped our kids settle down this time out were the books on tape we borrowed from the public library. Granted, more time was spent untangling the headphones than actually listening to the tapes, but it was time passed in relative silence.

In addition to individual quiet time, we gained the unexpected benefit of group listening. We would play the tape in the car’s main tape deck and my wife would hold up the book for all to see. Granted, I, the driver, couldn’t see a thing out the rearview mirror. But we hardly ran anyone off the road because of it.

And amazingly, the kids got bored listening at almost the exact same time my wife’s arms went altogether numb, so things worked out perfectly. Except that we had to wait awhile for her to be able to pass us snacks again.

Which leads me to another very effective balm for back-seat unrest. Parents should worry about their children’s nutritional habits the other 50 or so weeks of the year and let time in the car be set aside for eating foods advertised on TV.

Most such “food” items, being both nutritionally and environmentally unsound, provide hours of entertainment merely attempting to remove all the extraneous packaging they come in. Best of all, ingesting large amounts of empty calories is apt to cause children to lapse into a long, winter’s car nap. Parents can then drive along without being driven crazy as over the highway and off the ramps to some other house you go.

MEMO: Michael M. Ashcraft is a free-lance writer based in Kansas City, Mo.

Michael M. Ashcraft is a free-lance writer based in Kansas City, Mo.

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