There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned road trip to ensure that good parenting habits and ground rules are not only broken, but stomped to smithereens and tossed out of a (moving car) window.
While I normally limit my 2-year-old daughter’s screen time to about an hour a day, a made an exception during our family’s recent 14-hour drive to Missouri for the holidays. Ahead of our departure, I downloaded several movies and a couple episodes of Reese’s favorite television shows on my tablet. I figured it would be a last resort. If we neared hour 12 or 13 of the trip and Reese started howling to get out of her car seat after riding patiently for most of the day, I’d give in and hand over the Kindle Fire. Well, that’s not exactly how it worked.
She did start howling — and thrashing and kicking and throwing pretzels — but it happened around hour two of the trek. I definitely didn’t see that coming.
At first my husband, Noell, and I were determined to see to it that Reese enjoyed the beautiful countryside, just as we had during childhood family vacations decades ago. We both have fond memories of long road trips that involved singing songs with our siblings, playing guessing games, searching for our favorite songs on the radio and intermittently snoozing. Watching television in the car certainly was not an option when I was a kid. Noell and I reasoned that if we made it through many long drives without electronic devices to occupy us, our daughter could, too.
The thing is, had “car TV” been an option that we knew about 20 years ago, we might not have made it, either.
Reese was well aware of my Kindle Fire’s existence, having watched videos and played app-based games on it many times previously. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t occupy herself with it for 10 straight hours. After awhile, I didn’t either.
I endured several hours of having the back of my seat kicked repeatedly before I relented and handed over the tablet somewhere around Atlanta. I vowed to at least make sure my daughter ate a healthy lunch, which can be hard to do while traveling.
We had the best of intentions to stop at Chick-fil-A, where I planned to order Reese a kids’ meal consisting of grilled chicken bites, a fruit cup and milk. It’s our family’s go-to option on busy weeknights when I can’t get home until after 7 p.m.
Unfortunately, the Chick-fil-A we stopped at was so packed we couldn’t even pull in the parking lot. The drive-thru line was about 12 cars long, and there wasn’t a single space available. Noell spotted a Burger King next door and suggested it as an alternative. It was close and quick, so I agreed. Needless to say, they didn’t offer grilled chicken bites or fruit cups. Reese certainly didn’t complain about eating breaded chicken nuggets and fries instead, though.
Later, when she asked for M&Ms at a gas station, I said no and silently gloated. Yes, I’d held my ground on something. At the next stop, though, Reese got her dad to buy her licorice while I was in the restroom. And not just any licorice — purple licorice. The little sneak, I thought. She outsmarted me!
I considered this transgression for a moment while reading the nutritional label on the candy package. It was fat-free, which is more than I can say for the originally requested M&Ms. And, let’s face it, parents do have to pick and choose their battles. Plus, I like licorice more than I like M&Ms. So, there’s that.