I’m not taking a family vacation this summer, and I’m OK with that

I’m not taking a family vacation this summer, and I’m OK with that

I foresee many summer days and evenings on our patio, which isn’t quite this fancy but it’s close!

A staycation isn’t my first choice, but in a year when we took a big spring trip as a family, are trying to furnish a new home, and got slammed with medical and dental bills in the second quarter, it turns out that it’s the right one for us this summer.

And even though I’ve been a little disappointed, I realize I am also relieved.

I actually LOVE family vacations. Most of ours take place in our native New England, and there is plenty to do here. We love Cape Cod above all, but we’ve done our share of lake and mountain vacations too. We generally take a week every summer to rent a house either at the Cape where I spent most of my childhood summers, or in Northern Vermont where I spent a small stint of my childhood.

The recurring theme here is my childhood, it’s true. My parents were very good at getting away and passed that knack on to me, and it turns out that my husband is eager to come along for the ride and mostly lets me pick and plan our trips. Everyone is happy.

So this year, I have some anxiety about not booking a weekly summer retreat. I hate to miss out on something we enjoy and my kids have been vocal about feeling let down too. My five-year-old was pining for a ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard, and a stay at a small cottage on the Cape the other day. Ouch!

But there are some upsides here, too.

I think most parents of young children agree that vacations are a ton of work. The packing, the logistics of pet care, the finding of provisions upon arrival, and the settling in. The first night is always a total loss in terms of restful sleep. No one stays where they’re supposed to; we can never get the air conditioning or fan situation just right, and children are up at dawn demanding to go to the beach. If we’re lucky, subsequent nights are better for sleeping, but learning the way around a home, especially a kitchen, is harder when you’re wrangling your children. The game of musical bedrooms generally continues until the middle of the week. Maybe by the fifth night, you’re comfortable, and by then, the trip is winding down.

What I’m saying is, I like vacations but they’re a huge pain and maybe taking a summer off will make me appreciate them more.

I know I will want to get back to our summer retreat next year, but for now, I am actually looking forward to not packing a family of six for a week away. This will be our first full summer in a new house and it has ample outdoor living spaces and a sunroom that spills onto the beautifully landscaped stone patio area. There is a wooded area set back on a hill on the rear of the property with a hammock and picnic table — it feels like a campsite. And we have a large, screened-in gazebo perfect for evening lounging.

Our kids also have a few camps they’ll attend, and their beloved grandma is presently moving to the next town over, so they’re thrilled to spend time at her new home.

There are plenty of reasons that summer won’t be so bad right in our own backyard.

Last year, we booked our summer beach vacation before we knew when we’d move to our new house. As it turned out, we closed barely two weeks before our trip dates and we were unable to change them with the house booked solid through July and August. It wasn’t ideal to pack up after packing and moving our entire lives, but I figured there were worse things than having to take a vacation after a stressful move.

Things got a little dicier when a major family event was planned for the first day of our trip, but we decided that at least some of us would try to make that before we all descended on Cape Cod about 90 minutes southeast of our home.

My stress level grew.

Then on the morning of a departure, our oldest woke up with terrible stomach pain which turned out to be appendicitis. The diagnosis was confirmed during the family event, and I scrambled to get to the hospital and relieve my husband moments before surgery. I spent the first night of our vacation on a fold-out bed next to my recovering son.

Thankfully, he came through well and we were allowed to bring him to the Cape to recover. I tried to take it all in stride but by the middle of the week, when he was able to walk around, we made the mistake of taking the whole gang to a nearby island by ferry on the hottest day of the year. The kids have good memories but there were moments he was too fatigued to walk and by the time we were disembarking on the mainland, I had a hissy fit as I struggled to get our massive stroller onto an elevator — and now my older daughter is strangely terrified of ferries.

Vacations are stressful, there’s no doubt. That one may have been more fraught than average, but now I recall that two years earlier, when I was 7 months pregnant, the fridge in our rental kept breaking and there was also an issue with the upstairs shower flooding the bathroom. It feels like it’s always something.

Home is much less a mystery, and being a parent is already mysterious enough. The kids will surely do and experience a range of things that won’t always be pleasant this summer, but I know the bed is comfortable and the major appliances seem to work. I know where the forks are and the pantry is well stocked, and Grandma is just a few miles down the road.

I need stability and rest after last summer’s move, not to mention the COVID baby and pandemic lifestyle preceding that.

Perhaps a summer staycation will be my very own luxury retreat this year.

Getting a family dog: An honest review

Getting a family dog: An honest review

My husband and I talked about getting a puppy pretty much right out of the gate — like before kids, just after we got home from our honeymoon. With two full-time jobs and remote work a rarity twelve years ago, we didn’t think we could swing taking care of an active young canine so we tabled it.

We both liked the idea of owning a family dog eventually, but since we spent much of the next 10 years producing our own puppies, we continued to put it off.

But seeing our oldest child with his uncle’s dog, and noticing the calming effect it had, our interest grew when our oldest approached double digits. We figured he was now old enough to help, and we were moving into a bigger house. Perhaps adding a puppy shortly after our move made sense — rip that Band-Aid off!

We brought our 9-week-old golden retriever, Apollo, home about a month after we moved, in August of 2022.

Getting a puppy is not like having another child -- but it's definitely work!

The Verdict: Not a disaster, Not a triumph

Nothing went drastically wrong. Our dog, true to his breed, was quite easy to train, especially to housebreak. He only had a handful of accidents indoors and it was totally on us for not getting him out quickly enough. Thanks to crate training, there has been minimal damage to our home and furniture (golden retrievers are NOTORIOUS chewers).

We knew this dog would shed, and he does, but it’s nothing our new Dyson Ball Animal can’t handle! And as long as I stay on top of cleaning, the house doesn’t smell too badly like a dog.

Essentially, my worst fears about dog ownership did not come true.

Still, adding a puppy to a household when you have four children –one a toddler — is not nothing. The greatest challenge is really just managing his energy level amidst the competing energy coming at me from the kids. He is rambunctious in the morning, I’m grouchy in the morning, and my kids usually are too. It’s not my favorite time of day. Also, our oldest, now 10, took a while to figure out how to handle our active young pup, and he was bitten a lot during the first six months while the dog was teething. Because our Apollo is also large for his breed, he is tough to wrangle, so there are limits to how much our son can help take care of him. These were all things we didn’t foresee — which was really just due to our own ignorance. You read a lot about how great goldens are with kids, and how they have a soft mouth, but I think that really starts to apply when the dog is older and more settled!

A related, and unforeseen, challenge is that the kids find him to be too much to handle in these moments. My 7-year-old hates it when he follows her around licking her first thing in the morning. My oldest sometimes just wants to be left alone after school while the dog thinks it’s playtime. I tend to get annoyed as a result. I thought these kids would love having a dog, making the extra work worth it!

If you have a young family and are considering adding a dog, I would say definitely don’t do it when you have an infant. A puppy plus a toddler is borderline manageable. Adding a puppy during a major life transition, such as a move, plus a toddler and three other kids, often felt like too much. Perhaps the Band-Aid should have been removed slowly.

But then again, we seem to be past the most painful training months, and we are beginning to get the hang of it as Apollo approaches his first birthday. I catch the kids admiring him more and more.

Maybe I’ll write an update in a few years, with a long-view perspective on owning a family dog.

Why is summer so stressful with kids?

Why is summer so stressful with kids?

Here’s what I plan to do to cope

Summer can be tough but so are you!
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Summer vacation is within sight on my calendar here in New England, and I’m doing my usual, disorganized, panicked-planning thing. I’m putting camps on a credit card, trying to strike a balance between overscheduling and being stuck at home with four bored children who do nothing but argue.

It seems that every year, when spring rolls around I start telling myself the same story: This summer will be different! They don’t need to go to camp or take classes, they need downtime! Spend less money and more time on your kids!

But when late spring arrives, I can’t seem to shake the image of my children gone rogue: Toys litter the yard, half-empty glasses of lemonade invade every surface, kids whine for snacks every 30 minutes.

I’m not that good at being home all summer with my kids, OK?

But though I like to strategically schedule camps and other fun activities, I am pretty committed to not overdoing it. While being home with nothing to do is my idea of a disaster, I have to remember that my kids like it! They may enjoy being with peers and trying new things at camp, but being home with unstructured time is something they crave. It’s also what I did during the majority of my childhood summers, and I remember the bliss of playing in the neighborhood with nowhere to be.

Like I said, strategy is the key here. Here are some of the principles I use in planning our 7 to 8 weeks of summer vacation. (Recognizing that not everyone can let their kids lounge at home a lot, this post is admittedly more helpful for parents who either stay home, or work from home and have flexible schedules.)

1. Start with downtime.

I’m kind of breaking this rule this year for reasons a little outside my control, but in general, I believe in letting the first couple of weeks of summer be quiet ones. I try not to plan on summer camp, and make room for school debriefing.

2. Prioritize

Take stock of each child and what his or her needs are. For example, I currently have a rising kindergartner who none of us is especially excited to be stuck at home with all summer. He has ENDLESS energy, he is loud, he never sleeps during the day. While I adore him and think he is a wonderful person, a majority of the camp budget will be directed at him. I know he will thrive on the constant action. The rest of us can stay home during his camp weeks and read books in peace.

3. Stagger

Put one child in a camp at a time for part of the summer. Enjoy the extra downtime with your other child or children, and the relative quiet that comes from having one less voice in the mix.

4. Space

I’ve noticed that, as much as I like a quiet house while kids are at camp or other activities, driving to and from these things gets to be exhausting. I try to have down weeks between camps, for this reason and also because I notice my kids enjoy camp more this way.

5. Stack

Camp is definitely pricey and young kids can’t often go, but if you are able, try to pick a week when all of your kids are in camp. I have grand plans of doing this someday, when all of my kids are camp age, and taking time to organize closets, go to lunch with my husband, or hit the beach. Will I ever get there? I don’t know, but it’s important to have a reach goal!

6. Plan outings

Summer is a great time to tackle the things on your bucket list you never seem to get to with the kids. With my mom newly retired, and no babies in tow, I plan to do some serious day-tripping to regional attractions or just some of my favorite childhood summertime haunts.

I am convinced there is no way to avoid hitting that late-summer wall when you’re the parent of a bunch of kids, but hopefully some carefully placed camp, outings and sports (anyone have a gymnastics kid tethered to a gym?!) you can keep that at bay for as long as possible.

And who knows, maybe this will be the first summer as a mom I didn’t want to end.

This is Mother’s Day, ten years in

This is Mother’s Day, ten years in

I no longer need Mother’s Day to meet any expectations, and for this, I am grateful.

Some years have been great, others have been disappointing, but I’ve settled securely into an attitude that can best be described as surrendered, regarding this commercialized, yet worthwhile, holiday.

It’s not that I have low expectations, it’s just that simply being a much-loved member of my family on a day when I feel considerably less pressure to do it all, is plenty. There’s so much freedom in not wanting more than that.

I remember how excited I was to have joined the mom ranks on my first Mother’s Day in 2013. I felt like I had reached a new, respectable status and a place of high honor. I dressed our firstborn son in the cutest navy overalls and sunhat and squealed at his gummy smile while taking pictures. I got flowers and a card and spent time with extended family. My expectations were met.

By the time our third child had made his appearance, just days before the holiday in May of 2018, I’d been beaten down by mom life. I was entirely in the trenches — just treading water. Motherhood was indeed glorious, but it was a hard, grueling glory. Everyone had messy hair and outfits that didn’t match. My husband was too overwhelmed to get me a card or flowers. There was sleep deprivation and crying and arguing. But, flanked by my older children and my new son on my lap, I knew I had a hard-won prize, a complete family, and that was enough.

I’m grateful that, one more child and five years later, I am not delirious or weepy (OK, maybe I am a little weepy) or bleeding and sore, or leaking milk this Mother’s Day. My children walked into my room and climbed on my bed and served me breakfast and coffee. My days are busy, maybe busier than ever, but I can eat and sleep and shower on a regular basis.

Just being this version of a mother, experienced and settled and recovered, surrounded by four beautiful faces that are each burned into my heart and mind forever, is so much more than enough. It’s everything.

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

Photo by Du01b0u01a1ng Nhu00e2n on Pexels.com

Calm down, this is another post about kids’ birthday parties!

No, I’m not pondering whether I should stay in my marriage. Maybe another day I can post about that. KIDDING!

What I’m pondering today is why parents can never leave kids at birthday parties these days.

Birthday parties are still fresh since we just celebrated a 5th birthday in our family. We decided to host a traditional home birthday party since it was for our spring baby and we could take advantage of the generous outdoor entertaining spaces that made me love our home at first sight.

Bounce house in the front, Truly on the patio outback: This party was for people of all ages. I was happy that the parents of our Pre-K kid made themselves comfortable and stayed for the duration. We are new in town and want to get to know other parents. It was a warm May day, the warmest this year so far. All was right in the world.

And then later, I realized I was part of the problem I had witnessed since our oldest began his social life. Parents everywhere are expected to attend birthday parties of their children’s peers — yet another curiosity of our millennial generation that our parents most certainly would have shunned.

I have grand plans to do a data-driven, long-form story about how children’s birthday parties in America have taken on a scary life of their own, but until I get to that, here are the facts I’ve collected so far.

1. I remember my parents attending exactly ZERO birthday parties with me by the time I reached elementary school. That includes the McDonald’s party a pair of twins in my kindergarten class hosted (yes, we were satisfied to eat a happy meal and have some cake for a solid 45-minute party that clearly stands out in my mind 32 years later).

2. It only became acceptable to drop kids at a party when my oldest was around 8. EIGHT. So until then, I and all the other parents had to awkwardly linger in a corner watching a bunch of sweaty boys jump on trampolines or play laser tag or whatever.

I would show up to these parties eagerly wondering if I was going to be able to go kill 90 minutes in a bookstore or coffee shop, or even grocery shopping, only to find that everyone else was staying, leading me to believe that this was expected of me.

I secretly wondered if everyone else was thinking the same thing. Eventually, with a little nervous prodding, I found out that many of them were.

Listen, there are times that I love to hang out at kids’ birthday parties. Often, I’m friendly with the other parents. We get the scoop on what’s going on with our kids’ friends, teachers, sports, and more. It’s a good way to get to know people better. Some of my best friends are other moms I met through my kids. All this to say, I am not above hanging around.

But it should not be compulsory.

After a certain age (I suggest kindergarten and above when kids are generally used to spending long swaths of time in a peer group without their parents), parent involvement at parties should be optional. We are adults, and we are busy people. A couple of hours on a Saturday is a lot to ask of someone who is not friends with the guest of honor. We parents do have our own friends, and many of us struggle to see them — let alone get all our errands done during weekends. Plus, once you have two or three kids with school friends, you could easily be attending multiple parties each month — way too much time to invest for the average parent.

I do accept there are certain venues that call for parents to stay and supervise if possible. I’m thinking of a busy bowling alley that was open to the public during a recent party my 7-year-old attended. They were serving alcohol to other bowlers, and it was getting to be evening time. Clearly, I needed to stay.

But these situations aside, let’s normalize telling parents it’s OK for them to drop off and return at the end of the party to collect their kids. Our children deserve some space to be with their peers and benefit from a sense of autonomy.

And, we deserve some space to do whatever it is we need (or, gasp!, want) to do.

Should I let my kids ride the bus?

Should I let my kids ride the bus?

Photo by Laker on Pexels.com

One of the most mindboggling things about sending my oldest child to kindergarten for the first time was the idea that I would watch his teeny little legs climb the stairs of the big yellow school bus and they would whisk him off to school for 6.5 hours and I would have no idea if he made it there safely.

Still, the bus came to the end of our driveway to pick up and drop off, and we lived far enough from the elementary school that our son could ride the bus for no charge.

Being a stay-at-home mom of three kids 5 and under, including a young infant, I could not pass such a luxury up. The bus he would ride. I would swallow my fear and get the heck over it, real quick.

I did get over it, after a few days. And my son LOVED riding the bus. This, of course, made me super confident in my choice. It was obvious to me and other moms of bus-riding students about town: Kids didn’t have enough free time to socialize during their school day. The bus offered 30 to 45 minutes of time to talk to peers, pass around Pokemon cards, and rough each other up a bit.

The trouble didn’t start until a couple of years later. As the kids got older, they sat further back on the bus. The conversations evolved to include mature topics, such as the details of a child’s parents’ abusive relationship and the ensuing custody arrangement, for example. Then there was a smartphone being passed around among third graders. I started making phone calls more often. My son also got in trouble of his own making once or twice, and I was on the receiving end of the phone calls.

After mulling it over, I decided I was OK with mature conversation topics. My son is an old soul and I had the sense the girl needed someone to talk to about what was happening at home. My knee-jerk reaction was to defend his young ears, but I didn’t like the message that sent. I was glad he told me about the situation, and that was good enough for me.

His getting into trouble and unattended smartphone exposure, on the other hand, bothered me. I suspended his bus-riding privileges for a few days and drove him to school and he didn’t like that at all. Once I felt the school dealt with smartphone use, I let him ride once again.

Then, we moved. While nothing earth-shattering has happened, smartphones are more prevalent because the elementary school in our new town includes students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and the older students somehow end up sitting with younger students, and the screens are shared.

I may seem paranoid but I have known people whose young children have seen porn on other kid’s devices in school settings. There’s also the issue of Tik Tok and other app usage that could potentially capture my young kids on video without their knowledge or consent. Yes, smartphones are a scary rabbit hole, and they are certainly in the mix on the school bus. A generous fourth-grader was letting my first-grader play with her phone on a regular basis before I sternly warned my daughter against using other people’s phones and made a phone call to the school.

Around the same time this came up, each of my bus-riding kids got into fights with other kids on the bus about a week apart. One included physical aggression, the other, a verbal insult that I thought had died long ago but turns out is still very much a thing.

I freaked out. My kids weren’t going to ride the bus anymore! I would use the ride to and from school to listen to calming music or morning prayer podcasts. The kids would love the extra quality time with me in the minivan.

I did it for one week and it totally exhausted me.

I still have two children who are preschool-aged, including a temperamental toddler who enjoys watching Baby Shark every morning as her siblings board the bus and naps well past dismissal time in the afternoon. I’m just not up to the task of loading four kids into the car every single weekday, twice a day.

Meanwhile, my husband felt I was coddling the kids by removing them from bus ridership. He believes they need to learn to deal with difficult situations as they arise. I do feel our younger child is too young to handle some of the aforementioned problems, but since the school administration was meeting to tackle smartphone use and overall bus behavior, and since I was tired of rushing the kids into the minivan every morning and waking our toddler up early from her naps, I relented.

I am not the hero I thought I was.

Still, my experience has helped me understand the reality of the school bus ride as kids get older, or mix with older kids. It’s not a totally safe choice — just like most parenting choices. It still serves our family better than driving, and it still feels luxurious that the bus comes to the end of our NEW driveway. But I pay attention, make calls when I need to, and will take it one year school year at a time.

How I do weekday birthdays

How I do weekday birthdays

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I just finished a VERY long and busy day celebrating my third child’s fifth birthday. I followed my usual template for celebrating when the kids’ birthdays don’t fall on a weekend when we generally have a larger party with extended family and friends.

(First, a little plug for bigger families here: Even when it’s just our immediate family, the mood is always festive with four kids to share the excitement of a sibling’s birthday!)

I feel STRONGLY that the weekday birthday template is a solid plan that should be upheld for each kid, every year. Birthdays are really important days to honor the irreplaceable person they are to me and the entire family. I want them all to feel like they are a big deal to me because they are a BIG deal to me!

My husband shakes his head at the fact that the kids get a mini party during the week and one on the weekend, and while I generally appreciate and share his low-key approach to life, birthdays are an exception and he knows it’s not changing.

Here are the weekday kid’s birthday party essentials in my home

Special breakfast

I don’t care if it’s a bagel, a muffin, or an Eggo waffle. The birthday child chooses what he or she wants, I stick a candle in it, and all the siblings race to the kitchen to sing Happy Birthday. Everyone loves this A.M. tradition.

Small gift or token

Sometimes I let the kids open a small present, depending on what it is, or I give them something like a balloon or birthday button to kick off the day. Today it was a foil shark balloon and it was very appreciated!

Special photo

I always display a framed photo of the kids on the day they were born, wrapped in a hospital blanket and snuggled up with me. That moment deserves it’s time in the sun at least once a year!

Box birthday cake

I discovered the simple joy of making birthday cake from a box mix during the earlier phases of the pandemic. Avoiding stores and with nothing much to do, I realized I didn’t always need to order their cakes. I also realized that my mother almost never ordered my cakes and wondered where I got the idea that I had to. The kids enjoy this activity very much, and those Duncan Hines mixes are actually delicious. No shame in the box cake game.

Dinner of choice

The birthday kid picks dinner. Sometimes it’s breakfast for dinner, others, like today, it’s lobster dinner. The kids have wildly different tastes and I think it’s fun to indulge them once a year and enjoy the novelty of not having to cook like a grownup.


I generally give them a handful of gifts from us during the smaller party because they receive other gifts during their weekend party and I doubt they’d enjoy having a no-gift birthday, but maybe someday we can try that and see if it’s feasible! I am always looking for ways to pare down the material things in their lives.

Saturday idea: Ban birthday goody bags

Saturday idea: Ban birthday goody bags

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

At the risk of scandalizing my children, should they ever read this post, I would like to make the case for banning goody bags at kids’ birthday parties.

I do remember the glee with which I received goody bags as a child, but I also believe my childhood was infused with a fraction of the cheap plastic paraphernalia that seems to pile up continuously in car cupholders and kitchen drawers around here. We didn’t have as much crap thrown our way every time we visited the dentist/doctor/library, so when we did get a goody bag, the odd bouncy ball or slap bracelet was likely tolerable for our parents.

Listen, I don’t think kids need to chomp generic taffy and hard tootsie rolls after cake and ice cream at the indoor adventure park party their friend just had. They’re good. The toys are going to get lost in the car on the way home, and their siblings are going to want to steal everything. Also, they’re choking hazards!

This is top of mind because I’m planning my son’s fifth birthday party next weekend. I’m skipping the goody bags, Yes indeed.

Here’s what I’ve started doing instead.

Useful birthday party favors!

Not that they’re anything special, but I think they’re a darn sight better than a little bag of cheap koosh balls and whistles. For example, for my daughter’s last birthday, we learned to make soaps and put together little baggies of those for her friends. Who doesn’t want their kids to wash their hands? Sparkly soap is so enticing! Next time, we may use the same molds to make chocolates.

For my son’s birthday upcoming (which has a loose kite theme, because he is awesome and thought of that unique idea by himself), I found cheap DIY kites on Amazon and will send one home with each child, or let them decorate them during the party if there is a lull.

I am going to keep at this strategy because, while I don’t want to send anyone home empty-handed, I think we could all use less stuff in our homes. One item, or a small set of things, is more than enough.

And then one day, he could make breakfast …

And then one day, he could make breakfast …

This morning, my oldest child made me breakfast.

He got up early on a school day, decided to cook for himself — and asked if I wanted a breakfast wrap too. Now 10, my son has been making basic meals for himself, like scrambled eggs, smoothies, and ramen noodles, for a few years. Although he’s a bit messy, I want to encourage this activity because independent kids make their moms so happy!

Seriously, I could practically send this child to college. He can feed himself and do a load of laundry. What a relief!

When he asked if I wanted eggs and cheese wrapped in a tortilla, I first hesitated because I’m trying not to eat white flour. But with a little nudging, I agreed happily. How many times have I hauled myself out of bed, whether exhausted or sometimes even sick, carrying a newborn or cranky toddler, to flip his eggs and bacon?

This is the kind of thing I never imagined I’d do: sit and eat a meal my baby made me.

This is the best.

Family road trips: Are they worth it?

Family road trips: Are they worth it?

For me, it’s a resounding, ‘Yes!’

Last night, I returned from my first major road trip as a mother.

I feel so accomplished!

I’m also struck that it’s taken me a decade to get here. Yes, I’ve been afraid of long car rides with kids. I admit it! But after nearly 700 miles each way to and from the North Carolina coast, I am here to say, it was alright.

I am not here to knock flying with kids. I have done that and it is definitely easier. But with a larger-than-average brood, and sky-high air travel prices, we have to save flights for trips that can’t be done by car (i.e., transatlantic and transcontinental flights).

And since we survived our first big car excursion, I’m definitely excited to plan a lot of vacations on the road. We live in the northeast, and in this region, you can get to a huge variety of destinations by car in a day or two. That is definitely a plus.

Here are some things that worked well:

1. The T.V. in the backseat

We drive a Toyota Sienna, and I adore it. But we opted not to get one with screens because I was afraid my kids would end up watching a show or movie every time we ran an errand. Instead, my husband rigged up a T.V. using an old DVD player and computer monitor.

I wanted to believe we could do our ride without screens. I used to take long car rides without one, why should my kids be any different?! But in reality, screens dominate our lives now. When was the last time my kids spent an entire day without a screen? A long car ride of constriction hardly seems like the place to begin.

They watched their favorite movies much of the way. They were mostly content. So was I.

2. Lollipops and gum

Because a little novelty in the form of a long-lasting treat goes a long way.

3. Drawing paper and clipboards

My children are pretty good at drawing – heaven knows that’s not from me – and they can get pretty engrossed with that activity. During non-screen times, my older kids got creative on clipboards and my younger kids used mess-free markers and coloring pages. Probably bought us an hour of peace at a time.

4. Hotel stops

Oh my goodness, I have actual friends who have driven the length of the east coast with young kids and not stopped overnight. That is heroic. I admired them. I am jealous of the savings on the hotel rooms.

I am never doing it. Stopping overnight was essential. A hotel with a swimming pool and Fruitloops for breakfast is the best incentive for kids to stick it out in the backseat.

What I would do differently

1. More homemade food

I did pack a lot of snacks, and lunches for the first day on the road, but I kind of dropped the ball outside of that. We paid for it mightily at all the fast-food joints up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It was a waste of time and money, it was unhealthy, and we will probably save a couple hundred dollars on the next trip through better meal prep.

2. More rules

My kids need CLEAR boundaries. I need to spell out expectations in every situation BEFORE we get to it, because some of them are experts at finding opportunities to maximize their enjoyment, at their and my expense.

Vending machine trips? No.

Souvenirs at the rest area? Also no.

Nintendo Switch for 6 hours straight? Not happening.

Next time, there will be clearer ground rules, and hopefully far less discussion with the short people in back seat about the aforementioned items.

3. Less yelling

Thankfully it only happened a few times, but there were a few yelling matches between the front and back seats. Those memories are the ones I hope won’t stick. With clearer ground rules and healthier food (fewer blood sugar crashes) we might be able to make it happen.

I am eager to learn more roadtripping hacks, and I would love to hear what works for other people. Drop me a line if you have something to share!