How to survive a 310-mile road trip as a solo parent with an infant and a toddler:
1. If you let your husband leave you at the beach with your kids for an important meeting, make sure he has to go back on an overnight Greyhound (this should be at least a 12 hour, 2- connection journey). Since you know he’s been punished too, it’ll keep the resentment to a minimum when your own trip starts to go awry.
2. If it looks like a five-hour drive, bank on seven after you factor in nursing and bathroom stops, backed-up traffic and multiple rainstorms.
3. If you’re leaving your beachfront cabin on a windless days and mosquitoes and biting sand fleas are hovering around your car in droves: Get the car packed and then shut yourself inside, slaughter 50 biting sand fleas on the back windshield and crawl around the car until you’ve struck a fatal hand-clapping blow to six mosquitoes or so. Then hug the grandparents in the cabin, pack the infant in his car seat topped with mosquito netting, run for the car and don’t belt the toddler in until after the doors are closed. Slaughter another 30 sand fleas and a few more mosquitoes, strip the netting off the infant seat, crawl up to the driver’s seat, blow kisses to the grandparents through the window and hit the road.
4. When your toddler (who is unversed in juice boxes – just gets them on road trips) insists he can put the straw in his juice box he’s probably right. You don’t need to pull over and do that one together. But be prepared once you’re back on the road, to change his shirt when he squeezes the undrunk box too tight and douses himself with juice. Can’t find an extra shirt because it’s packed away in a suitcase in the center of the trunk? A pajama top will do.
5. When your toddler asks “When are we going to get there?” 20 minutes into the seven hour trip start pointing out exciting roadside attractions. When he tells you the flag you pointed out on a colonial-era house isn’t exciting – firetrucks and ambulances ARE exciting, admit that he’s probably right.
6. Since you won’t see a single fire truck or ambulance on the whole 310-mile journey, point out every motorcycle, cow, salt marsh, boat, school bus, cotton field and digger that you do see. Tell your toddler about how his pajama shirt is made of cotton and about how birds love to lurk in the salt marsh, where they can find lots of great things to eat. If nothing else, it’ll help you to stay awake.
7. Never stop the car unless at least one of the kids is crying.
8. Bring along the CD “Country Goes Raffi.” Play it again and again. Repeat “Shake your Sillies Out” and “Baby Beluga” time after time, if that’s what the toddler requests. Sing along loudly if you expect it to entertain the infant too. When you realize that the infant likes “Baby Dear,” which is the one song that bores your toddler (sorry Alison Krauss) – teach your toddler to think of it as a song about his baby brother. Then play “Baby Dear” again and again.
9. Don’t even think about playing your own music when the kids are sleeping; the infant will wake up.
10. Nurse a Coke over the space of two hours. If you don’t normally drink caffeine, enjoy the caffeine high as you drive through a light rain, glance back at your lovely sleeping boys and wonder how this driving solo thing could be so easy.
11. Laugh at yourself shortly thereafter when the infant starts crying on a rural stretch of Interstate and you exit at a gas-stationless road, pull over on a dirt road and realize you can’t open the windows while nursing because there are mosquitoes lurking outside here too.
12. Don’t ask your toddler if he needs to pee when he wakes up sleepy at this nursing stop. He’ll just say no. And he’ll be wrong.
13. When your normally potty-trained toddler informs you that his pants are wet, call an end to the nursing for the infant and cheerfully find a new pair of underwear and pants for the toddler. Dab the car seat with a paper towel.
14. Kill the mosquito that got in the car when you were changing the clothes.
15. Don’t rub your eyes in a moment of weariness. You’ll probably dislodge a contact lens.
16. If you violate rule 15, know that it is possible to insert a contact lens with a single hand while driving down the Interstate and staying in your lane and attending to the cars around you. You probably shouldn’t do it, and it’ll take at least a dozen attempts and your lens will be almost shriveled and deformed before you get it back in, but at least you won’t have to wake up the kids with another stop.
17. When your toddler says he needs to pee, pull over immediately. If you land at a Subway, they might just have a clean restroom big enough that you won’t have to put the infant in a front pack; just leave him in the car seat. And they might have an unoccupied outdoor patio area with an assortment of Halloween- and nature-themed windsocks for both toddler and infant to gaze at, as well as semi-privacy for nursing. Buy your sugar-deprived toddler a 42-cent cookie for making it so far without whining (even if he has managed to wet every article of clothing he started the day in). Don’t tell him you’re glad he’s not whining – just call him your travelin’ hero and let him enjoy the cookie.
18. When your toddler tells you stories about Ally and Puff from the back seat listen to each word attentively.
19. When your infant starts to scream, you can pull over to the right of one of those turn-off lanes leading off the freeway and insert a pacifier with minimal stopping time.
20. When the pacifier falls out a couple minutes later, you can pull over again.
21. When the pacifier falls out and infant screaming resumes for the third or fourth time, begin weighing the costs and benefits of minutes-long pacifier use and time lost stopping to reinsert the pacifier. Suck it up and listen to the poor kid scream. Sing and talk to him if it makes you feel better, but it won’t do a bit of good. Thank someone or something way up high for not allowing the screaming to ensue full force until the final 45 minutes of your seven-hour trip.
22. Swear to yourself you’ll never do this again.
23. When your toddler says he needs to pee just 25 minutes from home pull over immediately on a rural dirt driveway and let the kid make an attempt. When he hesitates and declares instead he needs to poop, haul him a bit further out of sight (brambles make good screen) and let him do the deed.
24. Clean the toddler up and get him back in his car seat. Then find a plastic bag and about a dozen wipes to pick up the deposit and cart it back home. Sure for a half-second you might consider leaving it, but if you get irked by the dog owners who don’t clean up after their leashed-ones at the park, think of what these property owners would think of you as a negligent human-owner.
25. Put the plastic bag in the trunk and don’t forget to tell your husband about its precise location when you finally do make it home and he starts unloading the car.
26. Tolerate some final infant screaming, wish your way through the stop lights (where the wailing reaches its highest pitches). When you get within a mile of home and your infant suddenly stops crying and starts gazing at his big brother from his car seat and smiling through his teary eyes, don’t worry if you get a little misty eyed yourself: You’re almost home and you’ve got yourself a couple of mini road warriors.
27. When you get inside hug that infant tight and cover him with kisses and swear off all solo road trips until at least 24 months have gone by. Give your toddler hero some hugs and kisses too. And if you’re feeling generous save a couple for the husband who went home early. But let him handle that plastic bag in the trunk of the car.