Are We There Yet?
The toys are bought, the stockings are stuffed, the presents are wrapped, but instead of piling them under the tree, many of us are piling them into the trunk. For us, Christmas is not just goodwill and good cheer: instead, it also involves a particularly gruesome form of self-torture: car trips with children.
For those of us travelling over the holidays to various relatives’ homes, getting there can be an exercise in frustration. Tiny ones repeatedly bleat "are we there yet?", while older ones yell, over and over, "she’s on my side of the seat!". Your nerves are frayed, the kids are wound up, and you’re about to arrive at grandma’s ready to explode. How can we survive this nightmare?
First, you must have a zero tolerance for fighting. I simply can’t stand it when my daughters fight, because it distracts me as a driver. So whenever they do, we pull over. Sometimes those first fifteen minutes of the car trip expands to almost an hour, with all the stopping and starting, but then the rest of the trip is much smoother.
If you don’t want to wreck the beginning part of your car trip to make your point, try making trial runs before Christmas. Being strict on a less important trip may bode well for the future grand finale. Promise the kids you’ll take them to the zoo, a favorite store, or a friend’s house that’s at least a half-hour away as long as they keep their voices down and do not fight. Then, when they do turn up the volume, turn around and go home. Hopefully when the yuletide trip comes, they will remember to settle down.
Keeping them settled, though, is infinitely easier when you have something to do that entertains them. Desperate parents on long car trips have invented a myriad of car games to keep kids distracted. Try looking for all the state license plates, or see who has more cows, mailboxes or flags on their side of the car. Search for things beginning with all the letters for the alphabet. Coming up with a word for "X", though, takes a lot of brainpower. This year I’m prepared. I’ll be the mother with the binoculars on the lookout for a xenolith—a type of rock fragment. I also have on hand our rescuer from last year, some picture bingo cards I laminated in a spurt of energy between packing the van and doing laundry. These cards have horses, cows, railway crossings, signs, and other landmarks the kids can search for. They proved to be big hits, and the kids played with them themselves, so my husband and I could talk.
The smartest thing we ever did, though, was to borrow audiotapes from the library. You can borrow whole books on tape, like Charlotte’s Web, or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles. Many libraries also have seasonal books available, including my favorite, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. These books are often entertaining for adults, too, and best of all, they can last hours! Hours of not hearing "are we there yet?", but only "it’s not over yet, is it?".
Finally, you can take the time that you’re confined together in the car to remind the kids—and yourselves—why your family celebrates Christmas. Christmas songs, which transcend age brackets, are perfect for this. Try singing all you can remember, and the time will fly by. You can also take the opportunity to generate some discussion about your values and your dreams. Ask your kids what their best and worst memories were of 2002, and what they look forward to in 2003. Talk about what you’re all grateful for at this time of year. As you remember your blessings, you’re all less likely to get caught up in the trappings, rather than the meaning, of the season.
I’ll leave you with my favorite holiday car ride story. During a particularly long trip, one eight-year-old girl started to feel very carsick. She rolled the window down, but it didn’t seem to help. Her eleven-year-old brother watched her with growing concern as she turned different shades of green. Then, when it was obvious something REALLY BAD was about to happen, he showed tremendous forethought. Sticking out his hands, he caught his sister’s vomit and threw it out the window, so that they wouldn’t have to sit in a stinky car.
So as you’re driving to your relatives’, and the traffic is awful, the weather is worse, and the kids are starting to whine, just be thankful that at least you don’t have to catch the vomit.
Listen to a talk that Sheila gave specifically on how to create Joy-Filled Families!