(Ahem, full disclosure: I eloped on April Fool's Day.)
These are the things that enabled my survival (in addition, of course, to my husband -- who does all the driving and provides the wisdom of full-time childcare experience, vetoing countless irredeemably stupid ideas before I'm hip-deep in them -- and alcohol).
Lumpyhead's Mom's Roadtrip Checklist:
1. DVD playerHow do people go on roadtrips with kids without these? Before we left, I transferred some of the kids' favorite TV shows to DVD, so I didn't feel so bad about their viewing choices. Nothing assuages nonstop-screentime guilt like a few episodes of The Electric Company. (See? They're learning. Sure, they could be discovering geography through first-hand experience, or building literacy by finding letters on billboards, but that Hector is kind of hot.)
Everyone gets a chance to pick the show. We establish the rotation as we're pulling out of the driveway -- by age, height, next birthday, whatever -- and stick to it until we get home. Bump and I are included in the batting order, even though we cannot see the screen from the front seats. This ensures that a few PBS titles get sandwiched in between every Pixar film ever made.
We only use the DVD player on long trips, and it goes dark between 2pm and 4-ish, when Quiet Time (you don't have to sleep, but you gotta go to your room and shut up) is enforced in our house.
The definition of "long" trip, as well as the official end of Quiet Time, is always at our discretion.
2. Games and activitiesLumpyhead spent the entire drive to Maine asking "What state is this?"
Toll booths prompted the question without fail, but sometimes he would just randomly spout it. We got really tired of saying "We're still in New Jersey, Buddy."
For SC, I made him a checklist of towns along the route. I used a map and picked ones near the highway. Most - but not all - were listed on the exits.
I found Mom's Minivan through Devra, and it is probably the best thing to happen to long drives since the in-car DVD player. Laurel has a great collection of games and printouts and ideas. Lula often asks to play the "Lines and Dots" game - which we called "Corn" when I was little, I have no idea why - when we are sitting in the living room.
The bigger kids also got highway maps in their packets, which they both completely ignored. Poor Nathan Jr didn't even get a real packet - it was more of a folder - that he didn't give a rat's ass about anyway.
The town checklist was by far the biggest success, adequately ending the "where are we/are we there yet" chorus. Predictably, when we reached our destination I realized that I didn't have a version for the trip back.
3. Playground stopsThis is probably the point at which I crossed over into madness. I compiled a list of rest stops and playgrounds along the way - along with Chick-fil-A's and McDonald's with playspaces. Using the KaBOOM playground finder and Google Earth, I made a nine-page list of possibilities for when we encountered that inevitable "Oh my god, we have got to get these rabid monkeys out of this car immediately" moment.
Our GPS has a "Parks and Recreation Area" feature, but it cannot reliably distinguish a swingset-slide combo from a boat launch. On weekends, a "find elementary school" command might work, but that's not always an option.
I'll share the list if you want it, but you really don't. I'm planning some future posts about our favorite roadside playground stops, which I'll probably publish in time for your Thanksgiving travels.