Driving to and from the grandparents’ house for Christmas vacation got me thinking: It should be illegal to travel with small children in the backseat of a car.
The distractions caused by children far outnumber any minor diversions caused by cellphone use, hair brushing or newspaper reading while driving. I cringe when I think back to some of the journeys I took while running on three hours of sleep in the months after each child’s birth. The police should stop wasting time ticketing speeders and phone-talkers. Sleep-deprived mommas are where the real money is.
Murphy’s Laws of driving with little kids:
- Even though you have purposely played only non-toddler music in your car for two years, Murphy’s Law says that the day you have a long journey to take is the day you accidentally put in a Raffi CD. Your children will sing Baby Beluga at the top of their lungs on every car trip you take for the next three years.
- Before you start the car, each child has a favorite toy in hand. As you back away from the house someone flings a toy across the car and needs you to reach back and pick it up.
- Before you back out of the driveway, the old DVD player is dusted off and plugged in.* The light in the cigarette-lighter-plug shines bright red as you start Toy Story 3. Once you’re on the highway a child kicks the DVD player, loosens the plug and makes the red light turn off, causing you to swerve all over the mountain road (*shudder*) to try to re-start it.
- There will be vomit involved. Just please, please don’t do what a friend of mine did. A dad I know was cleaning up a stinky mess and ended up shirtless, with a naked toddler, in a parking lot at night. Yikes.
- Don’t even tempt yourself with the idea that your children will sleep the whole way. If they do fall asleep, it will happen fifteen minutes before you arrive at your destination, thus nixing any possibility of a real nap that day.
- Before the car is in reverse, each child has a snack within reach. As you drive away, one child drops a snack and needs you to stop the car to retrieve it. Every time you pass a snack to the backseat someone will complain, “Why did she get more Mini Wheats than me?” or “Why did he get his banana first?”
- At the beginning of your journey each child has a sippy cup in hand. Just as you are merging onto the highway, your toddler flips her cup upside down, gleefully shouting “Shower! Shower!” while drenching herself with milk.
- It goes without saying that you will stop for a bathroom break. If possible, have a boy before a girl. When you are travelling without backup (i.e. a husband or grandparent) and your firstborn needs to relieve himself, you can simply pull over to the side of the road; no need to drag a sleeping baby sister into a nasty truck stop bathroom.
- Just when everyone settles down and you relax a little with your coffee, the steady refrain of “ARE WE THERE YET?” starts. You are not even a sixteenth of the way there yet.
- If your baby starts the trip happily sucking on a soother, it will eventually be flung to the muddy, Cheerio-covered floor. First option: Stop the car, pick up the soother and wash it with a baby wipe. Second option: Drive with one hand and crane the other arm backwards to hold the soother in the wailing child’s mouth. For five months my daughter screamed from the moment the car started until the moment it stopped. I did what I had to do to survive.
These laws apply only to one or two-hour trips to grandma’s house. For longer trips, take a plane.
*No, I do not have a minivan with built-in DVD players. I will never own a minivan.