The last time I attempted a road trip with the three girls and no partner to help drive/keep me sane/provide iPad IT assistance, Phoebe was in that sleepy newborn stage, waking only to nurse at a couple of rest stops along the way. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but we eventually made it to our destination.
I vowed to take a hiatus from any more heroics — a break that ended this week. Matt has to work, and it’s a particularly important week for me to be with our family in St. Louis. So we packed up the kids and I set out, unsure of what new adventures, trials and lessons the day would bring. Now that I’m on the other side, nestled on my mom’s couch with a mug of Folger’s and a tension headache, I’m here to impart my wisdom with you. So, here are five tips for taking three children on a six-hour road trip in just eight-and-a-half hours:
1. Accidentally stop at a gas station run by sadists. An hour into your trip, pull off for a quick potty break at what looks like an innocuous gas station. Realize your mistake when you discover this is actually a quaint country store that ate a Cracker Barrel, a QuikTrip and a shopping mall. Quickly walk to the bathroom with your resolve. Walk out with chips, brownies, wooden bracelets that your daughters will wear for two days (max) and birthday presents for several members of your extended family.
2. Find a rest stop where you can eat your good intentions. If you want to make God laugh, tell him you won’t be stopping at McDonald’s because you packed a lunch at home. Find a rest stop with picnic tables and a small playground. Realize that it is nearing 90 degrees outside and the playground equipment is hotter than the surface of the sun. Tell your kids to eat their homemade lunches. Eat the brownies and chips instead. Feed the baby while your older two fill their backpacks with landscaping rocks.
3. Don’t let any perfect moment last too long. After multiple prolonged bathroom breaks, hit your stride. Bask in the fact that everyone is napping, the weather is beautiful and you have 800 ounces of Diet Coke in your cup holder. Turn on your audio book of “The Handmaid’s Tale” so you can continue to trail lamely behind the cultural zeitgeist. Listen for 10 glorious minutes until your 3-year-old announces she has to go potty. Question the validity of her claim. Stop the audio book. Stop the car. Wake the baby. Go potty. Get McDonald’s.
4. Investigate suspicious smells. Pull over at a desolate highway exit because your 5-year-old is ranting about a mysterious odor. Check for cows outside the car. Check the baby inside the car. Watch in horror as your 3-year-old shows you the poop inside her cowgirl boot. Clean her foot with wet wipes. Gag. Ask, “How did this happen?” at least 50 times. Accept that you will never know for sure. Roll down the windows. Get back on the road.
5. Muddle through. In the final hour of your journey, humor your kids’ request to listen to “Yellow Submarine” over and over into infinity. Sing along. Laugh because your spirit may be broken, but your sense of humor is still intact. Arrive at your destination. Free your children. Burn the boot.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and newborn Phoebe. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.