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774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep!

774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep.

My head spins just thinking about it. But we did it. Not once but twice in one week as we traveled up to the finger lakes to kick off summer vacation. I only attempt these trips knowing that my kids are accustomed to longer distances. As soon as my oldest was born, my ex-wife and I were hitting the road. We’ve been traveling long distances ever since and as each child joined the caravan, they became more and more accustomed to sitting for long stretches. Based on history, knowing that some great moments are just up the road is more than enough incentive to keep on truckin’.

The funny thing is, we typically can’t drive five miles at home without a meltdown of some sort, and yet on the long trips they typically do great. But even this trip was a record for us and I’m still astounded that we made it home without having to drop someone off in Columbus or Cincinnati.

I remember when I was a kid (he said in his best old man impersonation) we didn’t have car seats, or laws about sitting up front. We also didn’t have DVD players, streaming video and i-pod touches. We rode on the hump, laid in our dad’s lap as he drove, sprawled out in the back seat, played road bingo and punch bug. Dad typically pulled over several times threatening to throw us off a bridge which garnered 20 miles or so until the next round of back seat anarchy.

But now, even with the restrictions of car safety legislation, the kids (and parents) have tools that make the trip a little easier. So as I packed the car for our trip north I thought I had it covered. Snacks, drinks, DVD player, i-pods, headphones, books, games, you name it we had it. Then it happened. As we pulled out of the drive way we realized the DVD player wasn’t working. On top of that my car charger was AWOL. That meant no movies and I had maybe 2 hours before I’d hear, “DAADDD!!! My I-pod is dead!”

A wave of panic rushed through my veins as I tried to assess the potential damage and come up with a plan B. Meanwhile by the grace of all that’s holy, the kids all fell asleep within the first 30 minutes which bought me a couple of hours.

I heard a couple of yawns and saw some stretching going on which let me know I’d soon have a lot of requests coming my way. That’s when I heard one of the kids ask, “Can we watch TV on your phone?” I hadn’t even thought of that! Fortunately I had a full charge and the Netflix app ready to roll on my i-phone. My car stereo has an ‘aux’ plug that allows you to listen to your phone through the car speakers which is an added bonus! And so it was that we managed to make it through the first 1/3 of the trip virtually unscathed. From there we picked up another charger and suddenly the DVD player was a forgotten memory as my phone, little screen and all, became the center of entertainment.

As I mentioned we’ve been road tripping for a long time. So my kids are accustomed to long stretches in the car. We started with little 1-2 hour trips and worked our way up. Now it’s my kids, all 10 and under, who are typically the ones who don’t want to stop. When we stop to gas, they just want to go to the bathroom and get food through the drive-thru so we can keep on moving. Pretty amazing actually. When everyone’s doing well we will do that, but I’ve learned that sometimes we all need a break from the journey and will stop for a longer break while I recharge and the kids decompress.

And then we’re off again.

Traveling with kids can be a challenge as we all know. The trick is to do as much preparation ahead of time as you can. And not just in terms of entertainment and snacks. Mental preparation is almost, if not more, important. Acknowledge in your head from the very beginning that there are going to be trying moments and plan ahead how you’re going to handle them. Promise yourself you’ll keep a cool head and recognize that it’s the circumstances that are causing the issues. That’s not to say you won’t have your moments of “don’t make me pull over!” which you will, but the more you can prepare yourself the more enjoyable it’ll be for everyone. As the dad (or mom) you set the tone.

Some tips.Make sure snacks, drinks, etc. are within arms reach as you won’t have someone next to you to help. Have a “take turns” plan of action for movies, tv shows, music etc. At the same time, depending on how many kids you have, don’t be afraid to double up on DVD players. Borrow a neighbor’s DVD player to give the girls one to watch Barbie on and the boys one to watch Thomas the Train on. It’s more effort, but makes for a much smoother ride.

Above all try to remind everyone about the north star; the goal, the prize! Talk about it with the kids mid stream. “What are you looking forward to most when we get to the lake?” “How many fish are you going to catch?” “Are you going to go tubing this year?”

As frustrating as traveling with the kids can be at times, not once have I ever regretting the trip. The bonding that takes place is irreplaceable. The time spent focused on the kids is priceless. Even the trip itself becomes an event you conquer together. The important thing is that you’re spending time as a family. The trip itself is really only part of a much more important journey. It’s that thought that keeps me throwing the kids in the back seat and taking off for adventures that otherwise would be time spent watching too much Disney. (no offense Mickey).

Every mile is a memory. Every memory is one more opportunity to remind the kids of how important they are and how important your relationship with them is. That in and of itself is worth the trip.
 

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STOP!!! In the name of Love!

As a single parent my life can get pretty full. Perhaps the most dangerous trap that trying to juggle it all can lead to is that the kids can start to feel as if they’re just another ball I’m juggling. As much attention as they’re given and as much they’re told how important they are, they can sometimes get lumped into the chaos of work, home, family etc. It’s easy for them to blame it on the divorce but regardless, as important as it is that they understand the realities of life, the last thing I want them to feel like is just another spoke in my life’s wheel.

Part of the problem is that they don’t get to experience time with relaxed dad or undistracted dad. Even when it’s their turn, an e-mail about a project or a phone call can easily pull me away despite my best efforts not to let that happen. And as an independent contractor, it can be difficult to just “shut off work” at 5 p.m. Sometimes notes on a project come in at 6 p.m. or a call from a client comes at 6:30 and as an independent, there is always the fear of losing a client over a missed call or not being there when they need you.

So you juggle. And sometimes you drop the ball. And sometimes it’s at the expense of the kids.

So what’s a parent to do? Well. Some times you have to make a conscious decision to block out the rest of the world and give the kids your undivided attention. Or at least that’s my opinion.

A few years ago one of my sisters called me with an interesting offer. She and her husband live on one of the finger lakes and they had become friends with the guy who owns three houses directly next to them. He rents them out to vacationers and had an opening. He offered it to them at a remarkably lowered rate since it was the off season and he hated to see it empty. It was an amazing offer but they couldn’t find anyone to take it for that week. So they called my wife and I about it and we decided to take them up on the offer. And so my family and I took off for Lavonia, NY.

It wasn’t Orlando or Hilton Head but personally I kind of liked that fact. We had an amazing beach house complete with canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats in one of the most amazing lake communities I’d ever witnessed. AND I didn’t have to sacrifice 3 months pay to make it happen. There were no lines, no rushing to get everything in, no walks to the beach, no $10 sodas just a full week of nothing to do but play in the water, go boating, fish to our hearts content, barb-b-que hot dogs, sit by the camp fire and make smores. AND they got to know their aunt and uncle to boot. On a deeper level, there was magic in being surrounded by nothing but blue skies and water instead of deadlines and office walls.

What I learned that first trip was the value of leaving work behind and playing with my children. Not just playing catch for 30 minutes, but really playing with them. The resulting benefits were undeniable. Their attitudes were better, their reactions to their mom and I were better. And I believe it all stemmed from the fact that their mom and dad were more laid back and less reactive themselves. The kids didn’t feel like they themselves were a distraction, they weren’t an annoyance, they weren’t “in the way,” they were the center of our universe and as a team we took a break from the rest of our lives to focus on our parent / child relationships.

So fast forward a few years to today. Now divorced, the level of chaos has grown 10 fold as I try to maintain the lifestyle we once enjoyed as a nuclear family. As the annual trip to the lake started to approach I honestly didn’t know how I could afford to do it either financially or logistically as work was becoming more of a priority. And then I realized; as I saw the kids starting their summer vacation without me; as my ex-wife and I started attempting to figure out summer schedules, camps, day care, and seeing how all of it was affecting the kids, I realized then that I couldn’t afford NOT to do it. We needed to launch into summer together. We all needed a break to reconnect and remind ourselves that we as a family are the root of all that’s crucial. And for that to happen, the kids needed to be with fun dad, undistracted dad and less reactive dad.

And so it was that we came up for the first week of their summer vacation. And within 24 hours all of the benefits started to become blatantly obvious. Suddenly the 13 hour drive up here, which had reached new levels of angst and anxiety and had me proclaiming that I’d never do it again, quickly demonstrated the value of every mile and every “don’t make me pull this car over.” Even the trip itself became its own battle that we conquered as a team, high-fiving each other as we exited the mobile prison that desperately needed more elbow room.

Just a couple of days in, the kids and I have been reminded that our lives may have many spokes, but we as a family are the bike. The kids are not balls I’m desperately trying to keep in the air along with work and the home and the finances. We’re all jugglers working together. We are a team and sometimes the team needs a break to bond and reconnect, away from the stress. But most of all, I think the kids needed to see me blow everything else off to be with them. Yeah, I still have to clean a bit; do a little laundry; make meals; be responsible etc. Yes I answered a couple of work e-mails and did a couple of quick project fixes to keep things moving back on planet earth. But I’m the one leading the charge as we jump off of the dock into the lake. I’m the one jumping in the Jeep to go by night crawlers and hooks for their rods.

You’ll be able to come up with 1,000 excuses not to do it. But I can’t tell you how crucial it is that you do it. Especially if your family is experiencing a new reality of two households and new routines. Because as important as it is that your kids know you’ll blow off the world for them, it’s not just the kids that need to be reminded that you’re still a family.

 

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