In the time-honored tradition of the back-to-school essay, I thought I’d spend this week dropping a few pearls of wisdom that I have been rolling around in my mind since we got back from Vermont. I know I already posted a list of travel tips from my Paris trip. But I thought this one would be a bit different, specifically relating to that all-American (and for all I know all-Human) road trip with the family to someplace familiar: the cottage at the beach, the cabin in the woods, Grandma’s house. Matt and I have been taking trips like this since Tommy was less than three months old, so I feel pretty qualified to offer some sage advice. These are trips that involve hours in an overcrowded car, card games, sitting around in webbed lawn chairs talking to your relatives.
So here’s Tip #1: Snacks are good
This may seem like a funny tip, and perhaps it’s not one that you need. I mean surely, you bring snacks along when you go places with your children. And yes, surely, if you are like all “good” 21st-century parents you know that these snacks should be healthy. Fruits, cut-up veggies, maybe the occasional whole-grain bagel. And yes again, these things are always in the bag that is tucked under my feet along with reusable bottles of ice water. I pass the test.
But, I ask you, before hitting the road with your family, do you also make a special trip to the grocery store to pick up a shopping cart full of delights? Are your children allowed things they would never, ever get under normal circumstances? Say, for instance, Pop Tarts? Or gummy worms? Or, if you prefer to choose from the savory column, beef jerky? I can answer a proud yes to all of the above.
I will always remember the trip my mother took me and my sister Sheila on to an island off the coast of Maine when I was eleven. We stayed right on the beach, collected jar after jar of beach glass, picked wild blueberries, and swam in rock quarries with water so pure and clear that I could see down at least fifteen feet to the bottom. But you know what really stands out in my mind? Grape soda. Ruffled potato chips. And a big box of Chips Ahoy. All foods that we never, ever had at home.
What I’m trying to get at here is that on a long trip, when you will be in the car a lot, sharing close living quarters, and encountering an unexpected “Closed” sign or rain when there is supposed to be sun, snacks work. And they work in a lot of different ways: to pass the time, to make up for disappointments, as a bribe for good behavior.
(Yes, I did just use the word bribe.)
I know, food is not supposed to be a tool in one’s parenting box. It’s supposed to nourish, not nurture. But I’ll come right out and say it here: for me there’s nothing like the excitement of handing out lollypops as we speed up the New Jersey turnpike. Snacks are part of what defines a vacation for my family, a sense that we have left home and are going somewhere special, that the normal rules have been suspended a bit. Perhaps for your family it might be something else, but I find that a few cans of soda do the trick admirably.
Of course, now that we are home, we’ve hidden the leftover bag of gummy stuff (spiders, sharks, root beer bottles, and peaches included) way up in the top cupboard where it will only come down in emergency situations like perhaps long waits at the doctor’s office. It’s back to school, back to reality!
(Please note that this post was written while the author was under the influence of some leftover chocolate-coated pretzels.)
If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll visit the others in this series: