Driving in cars with toddlers
A road trip can be a great way to bond a family — but be prepared for a speed bump or two
Photo: Annette McLeod
Annette and family look happy here, but you should've seen 'em five minutes ago.
Annette McLeod — Driving Miss Crazy
Picture yourself driving north up the California coast with the one you love in a whisper-quiet BMW 7-Series. There should be ocean to your left, craggy cliffs lashed by waves whose salty tang you can taste each time you crack the window slightly, just to take in the sea air. Your bum is cradled by the finest leather; your fingertips rest gently on the sophisticated controls for the info, ent, and nav.
Your soundtrack? Are you a romantic? Josh Groban maybe? A rocker? The Strokes? A modern-day mod? Lady Gaga? Nostalgic about the open road? Maybe some classic wandering minstrels, like Gordon Lightfoot or Dylan. All good choices.
Now open your mind's-ear and listen to the soundtrack to my recent trip along the PCH: "I'M GOING TO BAAAAAARFFFFF!!!!!"
With the holidays approaching, 'tis the season to hit the road. If you're travelling with toddlers, this can mean tossing peace and goodwill out the window at the first rest stop.
The PCH: Gorgeous, beautiful, amazing. But not for your motion-sick child.
Car sickness is just one of the nastier things you can run into (no pun intended). On our trip, our son was not-quite-three, and although we knew he had a propensity for puking in cars, we thought it was just on those ill-advised occasions when we gave him an iPad as a distraction. Turns out five hours on a plane and many hours on hilly coastal roads don't do him any favours either.
Of course, every time he emptied his poor wee stomach, he was starving again, so we embarked on a juggling act of trying to keep to the straightest roads possible, keep his belly full, encourage napping, and making tracks from LAX to San Fran.
I made a lot of mistakes on that trip, the first of which was trying to cram in too much. I had been in LA on business, and my significant other and son were joining me after my business was concluded. We were to spend 10 days together, then head — tired, happy, and closer than ever — for home. At least that's how it played out in my head.
I love California, and was eager to show it off, so I planned a route, and booked accommodations in advance, so we'd at least know where we sleeping each night. I planned to pick them up at LAX, and we'd head immediately for San Francisco, which should have taken six or seven hours. It took us 12, split among making slow progress — quickly migrating from the prettier coastal route to whatever was fastest and straightest — mopping up raspberry vomit, stopping at assorted pharmacists in search of a miracle cure, and calling home for advice.
Photo: Annette McLeod
There's a whole lotta flat nothin' between Los Angeles and Las Vegas — great for car sickness, but not terribly exciting.
We planned to stay there for three days, head back to LA for a night, then drive on to Las Vegas for three days, then back to LA for three more, then home. It's exactly the kind of trip I love — and little kids loathe. With no entertainment system, the prospect of an iDistraction making him barf, and all our rooms prepaid (to get the best price, not knowing how much that price could climb metaphorically!), we grimly stuck to the driving schedule.
While we had a marvellous time every time we got settled for our three-day stints, the driving itself became time to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Neither grown-up-dose nor children's Gravol are available in at least that part of the U.S. I tried to find Gravol in Tennessee once, desperate for a honky tonk hangover cure, and they didn't sell it there either. The Colonel Sanders-ringer pharmacist had given me a bottle of something I thought was just high-glucose, fructose, whatever-tose goop (and it had fixed me right up!), so I asked the California pharmacist about it. He said they usually carried it, but didn't have any. Neither did the next three pharmacies we checked. Finally somebody had it but told me they didn't recommend it for children.
Another pharmacist told me I should give my son children's Benadryl, which has nothing to do with motion sickness, but will knock him out. The box for the children's Benadryl says specifically not to do that, so I balked.
We were told to give him something very sweet to eat about half an hour before we hit the road, but on that first day, it only resulted in sweeter-smelling barf. Neither I nor my spouse have a lot of child-rearing experience, nor do we any longer have our moms, so as soon as the time difference permitted, I called my Auntie Mary in Halifax and asked her if she thought it was OK to give half a grown-up Gravol to the poor kid. She said she didn't know, but she'd just been watching the Westminster Dog Show on telly, and in one of those cute little backgrounder stories they film, learned that one owner gave her Westie half a Gravol regularly. We have a Westie, and I know he's much smaller than my son, so that was good enough for me. I'm not nominating myself for Mother of the Year, but we were desperate. (Getting it down his gullet was another matter.)
It's the happiest place on earth ... right?
By the time our time in San Fran was over, his stomach had calmed (the long plane trip couldn't have helped on that first day), but he had figured out that yelling, "I'm going to barf!" meant we would immediately pull over and alleviate his boredom.
By the time our penultimate day in California rolled around, we were all excited about spending the day together at Disneyland, only a few kilometres from our Manhattan Beach hotel. When Callum discovered there was car travel involved, he had a total meltdown. "I DON'T WANT TO GET IN THE CAR!!" became his new battle cry. Can hardly blame him. We wrestled him into the car and drove to Anaheim, where my spouse and I had a big fight over which restaurant to go to for breakfast, which ended in a vitriolic, "SO GLAD WE'RE SPENDING THE DAY AT THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH!" from me.
Overall, the trip was worth it (believe it or not!). Cally loved Disneyland, the aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the lights of the Strip in Vegas (OK, so I'm definitely not going to win Mother of the Year), the San Francisco zoo and the wharf, the beach and the pier in L.A. — and nearly two weeks of next to no routine and sleeping with Mommy and Daddy.
When we got back, he was an ill-tempered little monkey for a couple of weeks while we retrained him on the finer points of bedtime, sleeping alone, and spending time at daycare.
If I had it to do over, I would holiday exclusively at all-inclusive resorts until he's eight. Or 18. As it is, we tried, we failed in some cases, but we saw the Golden Gate Bridge together, met Goofy and Donald together, had a great time at the beach, the hotel pools, even a couple of funny moments in the car. But on balance, too much stress.
The time spent in the car became something to be endured, not an enjoyable part of the trip. We spent the entire PCH from Monterey to Los Angeles in a high-tension state of piss-offedness.
How prepared are you and your car for spring?
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- 65 %Winter tires are off tune-up has been done and I'm set to take on the hot season!
- I've been procrastinating getting my winter tires put off. This weekend, I promise!
- I'm daydreaming of warmer days and to protest winter, I'm driving my convertible.
- Excited, see you around!