John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac got by without the portable DVD player. And so can my kids (and I).
When another mom asked Amanda and me recently where we stood on the subject of portable DVD players on car rides with kids, we each responded with a number. It represented the minimum number of hours our kids would have to spend in a car before being eligible to watch TV during a trip.
Eight was my answer.
My husband and I have done our fair share of road trips with the kids and have been on both sides of that number.
Twenty-three hours in the car with our son when he was three was the longest. I think we watched Wiggle Bay twice and maybe a snippet of Finding Nemo on my husband’s laptop, but otherwise he was busy looking out the window and fishing with the magnetic pole I surprised him with as we were leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning. Filling the gaps were letter searching games, 20 Questions, and quizzing Daddy on how many dinosaurs he could name in thirty seconds. A break (or three) at rest stops carefully selected for the presence of a Dairy Queen and we were good.
In the three years since my daughter was born, our car trips haven’t been as long. A few times a year we take a weekend trip about four hours from home. It’s punctuated with a ferry ride at either end, but the same rules apply. No portable DVD players. And we certainly don’t own a car equipped with headrest monitors — not that my son hasn’t sat in a dreamy state in a fully loaded minivan on the floor of a car showroom on more than one occasion.
Between this and my ban on handheld video games, you might think I’m willing to sacrifice my sanity before I give in to an electronic babysitter. But that’s not quite the case.
I am at the ready with my credit card when it’s time to swipe the TV monitors on board an airplane. In fact, my husband insists we only fly airlines that offer in-flight satellite TV. Amanda knows what I’m talking about. When our families took a four-hour flight together two summers ago, we couldn’t reach into the row in front of us fast enough to activate the TVs where the three older ones were sitting together. Nobody cared who was paying for it. We just ran those cards through as quickly as possible. And that’s because we didn’t have the option of singing Kumbayah and searching for license plates while flying through the clouds and worrying about the tolerance level of our fellow passengers.
But as soon as we landed, and set out for the driving part of our trip, those kids were busy with everything but portable devices (well OK, maybe they had a little fun with the walkie-talkies — when the could pry them away from their CB-calling fathers). As we spent hours driving through a national park, they searched for wildlife that they would never see in our neck of the woods. We chugged up to elevations where snow was still piled high in July. There were cabins to spot and streams to follow along the road. And then there was always an hour or so of cartoons to satiate them when we returned to the condo at night.
It’s not that I’m trying to prove a point that my kids don’t need TV. We certainly don’t live a TV-free life.
It’s just that when we are somewhere new and there are things to soak in and experience, that’s what I want them to be doing. My ulterior motive — and the reason I’m priming them this way — is that we will soon take a road trip that will be the grand-daddy of them all.
My husband and I did a coast to-coast-and-back-again road trip over three weeks before the kids were born. In a few more years (when our youngest is in first grade and the oldest is in sixth) we’ll set out to prove that with good old-fashioned creativity, a family road trip of any length can be managed without bringing along the TV.
Amanda and I agree where it really matters, like how to keep SpongeBob out of our cars. See what she (unconsciously) promised her kids and didn’t deliver.