Road Trip Unplugged: Traveling 1,000 Miles Without Television



“Well, the pioneers did it,” my mother mused.

“Yeah, but their kids could run through the prairie grasses and catch rabbits with their teeth. They weren’t tied down in a car seat for hours and hours.” Suddenly, I had new sympathy for those pioneer women. A trip in the car with my kids restrained where I cannot even legally let them out is sometimes my sanity for the day.

“I think you should do it” and “I am going to be fine,” came out of each of our mouths together. You could say we have the same spirit animal; if there is suffering to be born, rush and meet head on, and in my case, blog about it.

That is how I found myself on an eight hour road trip with three children. Alone. Nothing besides a few bags of pretzels and three children’s CDs for entertainment.

My sister had flown to my house five days before to help me drive to my parent’s house for a little end-of-the-summer vacation. The Fireman had been logging some big weeks between his two jobs, so he stayed at home to work and sleep. When I packed the car for the first trip, I realized that our portable DVD player had finally died a well deserved death after five years of road trips. Between the cost of replacing, finding a place to put it where everyone could see, wondering how I would change the movies out, I decided to make the trip “unplugged” as a nod to the last summer before school started. When I casually mentioned this to my childless sister who has 21 nieces and nephews, there was a kind of frozen smile on her face and she kept nodding politely at all my reasons. And then we decided together that we’d just stop at Walmart if the situation became too desperate.

All in all, it wasn’t too terrible of a trip. We made plenty of unscheduled stops to fertilize the grass on exit ramps (the urge to urinate increases exponentially when you are a child, male, sitting in a car seat, and have only the cars passing by to entertain you), we spent an hour “eating” lunch, we drove through rain storms the last two hours, and still made it 500 miles in 9 1/2 hours. At one point, my oldest declared he “could not survive!!!” anymore and my youngest decided to eat his toes, but other than that, we did very well. My sister may never have kids, but I came through pleased while still possessing both ear drums.

I kept secretly hoping I’d find a portable DVD player for the trip back while I was in Arkansas,  because I knew I’d be driving as the only adult. And you can’t really reach back and open a package of gummies while you are driving 75 mph. However, I was boosted by the pioneers and my mother, and set my teeth to endure a trip that could alter my mental state for good.

Was it awful? No. Did they go crazy? No. Did you? Still sane enough to put words together. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Here is the take away: I am a stay at home mom, providing the primary care for 99% of their lives (excluding child care at the Y and church), so you’d understand I have a large quantity of time with my kids. The growing mantra in parenting with careers, school, sports tugging for time and attention, is that it’s not the quantity of time, but rather the quality of time you spend with your children that matters. As we’re being told by researchers, spending true quality time with our children will always be better than the quantity you can’t spare.

But if they could please tell me a formula to make quality happen, I’d love to hear it. Mothers, be honest: can you entice or make your five year old son sit down and talk about his day or why the sky is blue? Yeah, neither can I. When we get home from church on Sunday, he is not divulging any information on what he learned if he doesn’t feel like it. And to press the matter just makes him clam up more. Sometimes, I can plan reading time with him during nap time that sparks questions and conversations, but that is not always dependable.

I want to have conversations with him, to understand how he is thinking and what is making him afraid or happy, but these almost never happen when I am ready to have some quality time…it’s in the quiet moments of everyday life, when we have been together, when we have been grocery shopping, cleaning the toys up, working in the garden; once he asked me about where people go when they die, and he was sitting on the floor, naked after a bath time.

Another time was in an eight hour road trip on I-40. We talked about dinosaurs and extinction, which historical figures came when, why grandma wasn’t alive when the world was created, the difference between a superhero story and a real life event; we talked about why people need jobs, why we couldn’t spend every day at the amusement park, why he was older than his brothers for the rest of his life…about six hours of conversation before he nodded off. The last hour I had silence while they all slept and I was able to reflect on the gift of the trip. Here, the quantity of time we had together created a quality time that could not have been born with a TV in the car. Neither could I have crafted it with careful planning. The quality came with the quantity. Thankfulness overwhelmed me; I had been given what I had been seeking, and through a circumstance I had only seen as bleak.

I am not saying that all the moments we have with our kids should be good ones; there is a lot of bad (like waiting in line at Walgreens for a half an hour at dinner time), many in which we wish ourselves away to anywhere else, where they will just be quiet and distracted and getting their hands off of me!! Nor should we beat ourselves up about the bad times, feeling guilty for not making them quality. I would just send out a word of caution to not write off every event that sounds disastrous as non-redeemable. It is when we prejudge our children as incapable of rising to the occasion and behaving well that we have lost the opportunity to have a time together that can be remembered fondly. 

I don’t believe every future road trip will be as pleasant and I can’t promise I will stay unplugged for much longer…but I am thankful for the circumstances that gave me a beautiful memory with my children.