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The long and winding road

We have been travelling. "We" being me, the kids, and the dog. Our trip-- seven hours of driving time-- ended up taking just over nine and a half hours, including five stops. Thankfully I was able to feed the one-year olds in the car as we drove, keeping an eye on them with strategically placed baby mirrors. Our stops mostly consisted of diaper changes, stretching legs, and having my four-year old use the restroom. Three of those stops were very short, only one toddler needing a diaper change or being able to quickly get in and out of the rest stop with the kids. Still. It was an adventure. This was also the first time that I stopped with the twins to stay at friends' houses (two separate overnight trips, one with all three kids, one with just the one-year olds).

Here are some of my road tripping tips with kids:

1. Thoughtfully pack your snack bag.
I had snacks for our four-year old and me and snacks that were great for one-year olds. My plan was to feed the kids as we drove. My four-year old takes about the same time that I do to eat; we could have eaten in about twenty minutes. My one-year olds take at least double that amount of time, especially when you start factoring in finding high chairs, cleaning up the space and kids... on and on. Feeding toddlers is time consuming and they insist on doing it themselves. Anyways, I knew I needed food they could eat in the car, nothing too messy and nothing that they can easily choke on. I cut the food up and divided everything into snack bags the night before. I put things that my four-year old could help himself to next to his car seat. The snack bag sat next to me, within reach. All I had to do was pull of the interstate, hand out food, pull back on the interstate, and along we went! I also thought ahead, before I went on the trip, where I would be going while gone and what I may want food wise. For instance, with two overnight trips, two legs to drive (actually four, I also drove to my second overnight visit, three hours of road time done in three and a half hours-- oh, yeah!), and at least two meals at my friends' houses (dinner and breakfast), I made sure I had full meals for the toddlers at each of those times as well as snacks for my four-year old in case something didn't suit his fancy. (You know how kids can be.) I also knew that, for the rest of our trip, we would need snacks for the diaper bag and possibly meals for the kids while dining out. It is easier to have these things in advance instead of arriving somewhere and asking if they have bananas or yogurt or oatmeal or if they have something my one-year olds can eat... Dinner is taking longer than expected to get on the table? Whip out the snack bag and give the meal you already have on hand. Happy babies mean a happy visit.

2. Plan your trip.
Timing is everything. Leaving during a feeding time will mean an immediate stop and, more than likely, angry kids. Being stuck in traffic for hours because you left during rush hour will mean, more than likely, angry kids. Think about where you are going and how long it will take you to get there. If you have a drive time that will bring you to a major freeway at 3:30 pm, think about how many stops you will have before then or what foreseeable hiccups you may have along the way, such as a particularly restless child or a frequently travel sick animal. Know ahead of time that your trip will be much slower than back when you were taking leave by yourself and driving through the night (ahem, Husband...). My kids nap in the car. I like to leave right after a feeding time; this way they can sleep the longest, verses feeding them breakfast, leaving two hours later, then needing to stop to feed them (i.e. wake them) after only an hour nap. Bonus: if they fall asleep, they may sleep a little longer than usual, allowing you to squeeze in a couple extra miles before the next stop!

3. Expect the unexpected.
At home I have four baby gates that are always up, two that I can put up when I need to... I have a sunroom full of baby-proof toys... I have a baby monitor, a room for them to nap away from the commotion, a schedule... I have their favorite foods, all their sippy cups and drinks, all the baby gadgets I may need... Plus I know where the hazards are, since, they are our hazards. (For instance, my asthma meds in my bathroom.)  And, I don't mind if they make a mess. Being in someone else's home is just different. Yes, I do feel fine letting them feed themselves at my parents' house. But I spend much more time cleaning it up and making sure they aren't tracking lunch around their home. If the toddlers refuse a menu item at home, I let them fuss and whine about it ("mom" does not equate "short order cook"). At someone else's home, there is conversation to be had, plans made, and people who aren't used to hearing 15-month olds exercise their lungs (or four-year olds, for that matter). Sometimes the best way is the easiest way when away from home. You are refusing carrots? Fine, I have yogurt. (To feel that I am making a "parenting stand," I just try not to make it a big deal to them.) Now, these are toddlers who already sleep through the night and already eat well-balanced meals. If I was still in the training phase with them, there would be much more "sticking to my guns" and less "let them eat cake." I also only exercise this mentality with short visits, short meaning under three days; anything over three days is habit forming. So, if we are off-schedule for two days, the third day will be back on schedule as much as possible while away from home. Think big things: mealtimes and bedtimes. Going with the flow is much different when you have to include children. Expect the unexpected and come prepared: wipes for messes, food for meals, and favorite toys (or, as I call them, distractions) for fussy times.

4.  On-the-go baby proofing for one-night.
The idea of going somewhere not baby-proofed when your own home resembles a day care can be daunting. I had two one-night visits planned to two different friends' houses. The first visit was to a family who's youngest is a freshman in high school (no, freshman do not require wall plug covers) another to a Navy wife who was visiting her parents, meaning I would be staying overnight at her parents' house. I wanted to visit these friends. I was just very concerned about how the visit would go with two 15-month olds and a very active four-year old; would we even be "visiting" or just playing zone defense? But guess what! It turned out great! (My friends may be reading this thinking-- "What?! It was crazy!" ha ha!) My oldest had his "listening ears on," as we like to say. And my 15-month olds were not at their craziest, despite all appearances. Visiting with friends who had two teenagers turned out to be wonderful. They took my four-year old swimming (under the supervision of their dad) and then helped man "danger zones" (the stairs and pet water dish). The boys went to bed without issue and I had a great time catching up with friends. It is so wonderful to go out on a limb with all the kids (playing the house guest with three kids?!) and everything turn out way better than expected or anticipated. The visits went so well that I look forward to my next visits with these friends! Following around two 15-month olds as a means of baby proofing is not ideal. But for one-night, it really isn't that bad. Just smile and enjoy the company!

5. Baby proofing for a week.
And then you are staying somewhere for a week and it is not baby proofed. At all. There is a fascinating media center, laptops, china, and stairs, stairs, stairs. So much to explore! You take them upstairs and there are lamps, good carpet, hair appliances, glowing LED nightlights... Oh, to be one. It is hard with just one person to wrangle two toddlers. As my girlfriend told me today, "Keeping twins in the same room is like herding cats!" Amen. Add electrical hazards and valuable decor... you have the recipe for disaster. It is harder to follow two toddlers around for a week and keep that smile on your face. Best advice: get out of the house at the crazy times. In the mornings when the boys are all over the place, I like to take them somewhere fun, maybe an indoor play area or somewhere to walk. Second best advice: stick to an area of the house. You will become acquainted (quickly) with the hazards in the area (a wobbly floor lamp or hard-to-navigate step) plus you have a better chance of knowing exactly where they are and what they are doing. Third best advice: if all else fails, containment. Drag in a Pack'N'Play or strap them into high chairs. If the problem is that they are fixated on something, such as the stairs or climbing on a piece of furniture, change their focus ("Look at this toy!") and then change their scene ("Let's play with spoons over here..."). Containment has the added bonus of--possibly--being calming. If they can't go anywhere, they may content themselves with the toys you put in their Pack'N'Play or on their tray. Who knows? But it is worth a shot.

Happy travels!


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