8 Ways I Managed To Assuage My Toddler On A 6 Hour Road Trip

What if I told you making a 12 hour round trip drive with a toddler doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing descent into parenting hell? Okay, I would be lying a little bit, but I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome of my road trip to Oklahoma City last month to visit my husband during a work training program.

It’s not rocket science. But I’d also recommend going into your voyage with this mantra in your head: “It’s all going to be just fine.” It’s amazing how a positive paradigm shift can help you withstand things that might otherwise make you want to gnaw your own hands off.

1.  Develop your “Mommy Arsenal”

lego warriors
I was riding alone for the vast majority of the trip, so I had a bag in the passenger seat filled with static toys (dolls, blocks), active toys (things that go beep and play music), creative toys (books, crayons) and toys that aren’t really toys, but things my daughter uniquely appreciates. You know. Shit we shouldn’t give to our kids but do anyways, like crinkly plastic bottles.

(photo:  ~Wølfpack29 Custøms/Reviews)

2. Distribute your ammunition pursuant to your child’s mood

child screaming

She whimpers? Give her a doll. She yells? Give her a book. She screams? Give her your smartphone. Kidding. Not really.

(photo: sasakie)

3. Be frugal with snacks

toddler snacks

You can make snack time last an hour if you dole out Teddy Grahams two at a time, but hand over the whole box and your child may be too heavily tempted to test exactly how far she can overturn the box before everything spills out.

(photo:  sherimiya)

4. Have a favorite book or two memorized 

toddler reading grail
I managed to keep my eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel while holding up various board books and reading them from memory. “Are You A Cow?” was my favorite, because my daughter likes to answer each of the queries (are you a duck? A dog?) with a resounding, “noooooo!”

(photo: thebookishlife)

5. Enlist helpers

thumbs up
My parents drove separately, in part so I could follow them without fumbling over directions and exits and turnpikes, but also so we could trade off driving my car in case baby’s crying became too much to handle. It actually worked out better than I could have dreamed — when baby was really at the end of her rope, my mom sat in the back with her and interacted for an hour. She sang “Old McDonald” about 37 times, in a variety of voices. My daughter stared at her like she was God.

(photo: adele.turner)

6. Be prepared for kiddo to randomly fall asleep

sleeping toddler car
There’s nothing like a road trip to rip your daily routine to absolute shreds, so while you can’t count on your toddler napping at “the normal time,” you can positively count on her dozing off at any given moment. If you’re traveling alone, I’d recommend stocking up on water, snacks and whatever else you need to be comfortable in the car at length — because you don’t want to stir the sleeping beast in the back.

On the other hand, I’d also recommend taking it easy on your fluid intake, unless you’re comfortable pulling over and popping a squat in a field (you’re smart readers, so I shouldn’t have to say it, but don’t leave your sleeping baby alone in a car while you run into the gas station, and don’t ask that guy in the cutoffs and the “Who’s Your Daddy?” shirt to watch your kid while you pee, either).

(photo:  jules heart)

7. Find your happy place

toddler and dad meditating

Because that little angel of yours is going to cry at one point or another. This is just what toddlerhood is like, and sometimes I stop and think how it must really suck to have boundless energy, curiosity, and zero ability to entertain oneself using introspective mental processes, all while strapped down in a five-point harness. But the faster you get from point A to point B, the better, and I say it’s just fine from time to time to crank up the Bruno Mars or Simon and Garfunkel or whatever you need to drown out the screaming and get to your Zen Place.

(photo: alizasherman)

8. Take full advantage of stops

toddler vending machine
Hold her hand while she paces on the sidewalk, even at that sorta shady gas station. Do what you can to allow her to stretch her body in ways different than she can in the car seat. I never took advantage of rest stops with playgrounds, however, so I can’t share whether those help or make things worse. Personally, any time I tear my daughter away from a playground she screams her head off.

(photo: vlnjodie)

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