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The Joy Of Traveling With Young Children, from a teen's point of view

Updated on April 5, 2014

How My Parents Dealt With Children

My dad was a restless wanderer who loved to spend his annual vacation traveling in our white 1961 Chevy station wagon, 6 cylinder, three-on-the-tree. All of us kids got that wanderlust from him and even today we all travel. My mom was amazingly stoic and really organized. Dad says that was the worst car he ever owned. He loved his 1958 VW Bug though. I still dislike Chevys, but I have always liked Bugs.

In the period from 1967 through 1972 we explored all of California, I swear we saw every square inch. In 1967 we went north. We explored Oregon spending the night in Eugene then Washington, staying in Tumwater, checked out Seattle and crossed the border into Vancouver where we explored Stanley Park. Somewhere in Vancouver there was a department store that had Hockey star Gordie Howe present. I got his autograph even though I had no idea who he was and I bought a nifty little antler handled knife, which thrilled me far more that meeting some old guy.

We had planned on going to Victoria and were heading for the ferry when my mom finally was fed up and put her foot down.

End of trip, we are heading straight home starting RIGHT NOW.

In 1969-1970 we traveled into Arizona, parts of New Mexico and Utah and Nevada. By then we had a much nicer Ford LTD wagon. That thing was huge and a luxury car after that Chevy.
We did a big circle through Colorado. We hit Pikes Peak, Black Canyon, Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder and everything in between. In New Mexico we went to Canyon de Chelly and saw the buttes along the way. .

This was a period that was pretty rough on young children. In 1967 my sister was 3 years old and my brother was 7. I was 11 and didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
Starting off on a trip my sister would quickly become bored and would vocalize her unhappiness often degrading to a self-indulgent high-pitched screaming fit. She also had a terribly embarrassing habit of sitting with her legs up in the air. Mom would always dress her in little dresses so we would be driving down the road giving everybody a cotton covered crotch shot. My sister didn’t care. It didn’t bother her a bit.

We soon learned that she loved cows. So whenever someone would spot a cow we would all point them out to her, “Look, cow.” She would press her tearstained face against the window and in a low quiet voice say, “Cooooww, coooowww.” One time there were no cows and it was getting to be unbearable so someone in a flash of brilliance spotted some sheep, “Look, oh look! Sheep.” My sister would press her poor suffering face against the window and say “Coooooowwwww.”

This was a highly treasured respite for all of us.

This worked pretty well except that as soon as the “cow” disappeared we all knew she was about to start up again. It was a very serious problem when there were no distractions. Then as a joke my dad pointed out some hay bales, “Look square sheep!”

You know what, that actually worked.

In later years my brother and my sister would cover themselves with a blankie and talk in high squeaky voices just to annoy me. It did, but I tried hard not to give them the satisfaction.
But I did spend my time staring hard at my mom willing her to DO something.
I did suggest that I recalled being an only child quite fondly.

The hint was unacknowledged.

I did suggest that the children might be very happy if we left them at the gas station or park or anywhere else we happened to stop.

I was feeling ignored.

Somehow I managed not to open the door and push them out at highway speed, although it was at times awfully tempting.

Oh, well at least I got a decent story out of the deal.

How My Wife and I Dealt With Young Children

My parents had their way of dealing with children and my wife's parents had theirs. Neither of these techniques appealed to us when trying to manage our own two boys.

Instead we used food and drink to distract them when they were getting on each others nerves and books when they were getting on ours. Throughout it all we kept a steady playlist of music going and at times would simply increase the volume.

As the kids grew we discovered books on tape and we would seek out material that appealed to both us adults and the children. I think this helped my sons develop an interest in literature although it was mostly fantasy stories like The Hobbit or Ursula K. Le Guin. At times we would play Where the Sidewalk Ends or something similar. Every once in a while I would slip in a more adult humor topic.

The boys were intelligent kids and they were aware that things would occasionally go over their heads, but that was accepted. I was surprised at times by the questions they would ask and even more surprised by the questions they didn't ask.

In addition to those activities we as parent strove to stay engaged with our sons and encouraged them to discuss what they were seeing out the windows. Sometimes I found myself explaining why things were like they were or what something was and what it did.

Of course on a long drive people tend to run out of steam and the kids would often get bored and so did we. I made a point to find interesting places to stop and allow everyone to stretch out and get a little space and time to themselves. It was also nice when they both would nap.


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