So, if you happen to be facing a 13 hour road trip by yourself with five small children, let me share a few ideas that will make your life a little easier- and their life a little more fun. (Listen, five Magna-Doodles just were not going to cut it.) I scoured the web and gleaned a handful of good ideas and sort of mixed it all together and added some of my own. I basically made each child (well, the oldest four) a tupperware box with a lid and their name on it.
Inside, I filled it with things that were all new to them, and hopefully pretty exciting. (I went to some thrift stores so that I could stock up on some books at almost no cost, but they would hold some novelty for the kids). Each one got books that were appropriate for their reading level/interest. I added some word search and puzzle books for the older ones. Tons of aluminum foil for sculpting. Lots of pipe cleaners so they could create animals, people, houses, designs, etc... This was a big hit.
I added new crayons and pencils. A box of tissues. Gum! Some small snacks. And each child got a small "gift" just for fun. (A watch, some new headbands, cute little sunglasses, etc...) And perhaps the most productive and time-consuming for them was "Road Trip Bingo" and some lists of things to "Spy". That would include things like: jets in the air, a cemetary, a tractor, cows, a blue pick-up truck, a red barn, etc... I was amazed at how long they kept at this and were determined to find everything on their lists.
The lids to the boxes also made a perfect little lap desk for them to lean on while "working". And, I assembled these boxes for a minimal amount of money. I didn't keep track exactly but because I know how incredibly cheap I am, and also just did a little addition in my head...I'd say I made all four of these for less than $20. And the fact that my children were virtually silent and completely occupied for the first 7 hour leg of the trip made it priceless. Oh, and by the way, I have no clever and unique idea for a 14 month old baby. Just throw a bunch of toys in a bag and throw a ton of snacks his way, keep the sippy cup full and hope for the best. Most of the time, it worked.
Also, I recommend the use of audio CD's (books on tape) which are sitting at your local library, just begging to checked out. But I do not recommend this if the driver is sleepy. In that case, I recommend some loud, crazy music that you can sing/scream along to and thus remain awake and alert. I want to take this moment to thank Dan Zanes, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops for singing me through the Carolinas. And while I LOVE Ray Lamontagne, JJ Heller, and Sufjan Stevens, I cannot recommend them for sleepy mamas on cross-country road trips. But any other time....
Anyway, with the aid of my soundtrack and some providentially placed Starbucks in Charlotte and, uh, some other place, I made it to the halfway point- Savannah, GA. Whereupon we did two things which we never usually do...eat at a restaurant and stay at a hotel. Fun stuff, people!
Fortunately, there was a great little place to eat, Houlihan's, and we could walk there from our hotel.
Baby carrots and dip, baby. Life is good.
While I'm already bragging a little bit about my kids, I may as well go ahead and say that both the server and the restaurant manager came over to me and said that they had never seen kids so well behaved. And instead of saying, "Stick around" or "Well, they're not always like this" or making other excuses...I said "Thank you! They are really good kids." And they are. It's really OK to accept a compliment every now and then.
So after ice cream, we headed back to the hotel, where we began a three hour Iron Chef marathon. We don't own a TV at home, and the only thing completely non-offensive and not intensely stupid was the Food Network that night. My boys were completely mesmerized. They LOVED watching the way all of the food was prepared and all of the unique dishes. And in the meantime, Gil managed to find the ONE way to find something dangerous and possibly breakable in a hotel room. He displaced the Gideon's Bible and decided he was a better fit in the drawer.
The following day, we stocked up on the free breakfast and hit the road for the final 6 hour leg: destination Port St. Lucie! The kids were still pretty into their boxes on Day 2, and our adrenaline and excitement about seeing our family fueled us well. We arrived safe and sound at Chateau Reinhardt and the fun began...