We Are Both Right

On the Road Again…No Entertainment Necessary

© Chrysler

© Chrysler

When my husband T. and I decided to buy a minivan nearly two years ago, a few weeks before our youngest child was born, my two older kids were unbelievably excited. Like jumping up and down, cheering, high-fiving, getting along with their sibling, overjoyed.

I was happy about the purchase too, but I couldn’t figure out where their enthusiasm was stemming from. We were buying a minivan, not an ice cream truck (how cool would that have been?), a fact I reviewed with them more than once. I never knew kids could be so invested in a car.

Anyway, the big day arrived and off the four of us went (nine months pregnant, I waddled) to the car lot where we picked up our newest vehicle. We settled into our seats and T. and I expectantly turned to our sweet children, waiting for their celebrating to really begin now that they were actually sitting in our new wheels.


They were sitting in silence. Not pleased.

Apparently, when our kids heard us say “minivan,” what they actually heard us say was “minivan entertainment system with built-in DVD player, headrest speakers and dual swivel LCD screens.”

Trust me, we said minivan. I don’t think I’ve ever said “dual swivel LCD screens” until just now (and technically, I typed it).

Not to go all “back in my day we walked six feet in the snow uphill both ways and we liked it” on you, but unless we are driving more than two hours (and mind you, that’s two hours after we spend an additional two hours in the car getting past the bridges and tunnels that connect the region where we live to the rest of the country) then my kids can read, or play video games or gasp! talk to their parents. (And honestly, we have to be in the car for at least an hour — the car ride to grandma and grandpa’s house before I allow them to break out their DSs.)

I just don’t see the need for some form of entertainment when we are driving, especially when we aren’t going very far. (And trust me, with the way I get lost,  I’m entertainment enough. Plus, I sing along to the radio and of course I’m awesome.) I want my kids to see where  they live. To be aware of what’s going on. To see how their community changes and stays the same, even in the short time they’ve been on the planet.

And when we are on vacation, I want them to see where and how other people live. We talk about the difference in locations, how where we are compares to our town and the major metropolis closest to us. We look at the homes that people live in, the stores they shop at and the schools they go to.

Besides, what’s a road trip without a few heated rounds of License Plate Bingo and I Spy?


As it turns out, when we go on long car rides with Suzanne and her family, our kids are all miserable together. Where We Meet Week continues, as Suzanne explains why if Jack Kerouac didn’t need a portable DVD player, than neither do her children.

Look Out the Window. The World is Your TV.

© We Are Both Right

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.