My friend and I drove to Texas to visit a girlfriend when my son was 6 months old. A seven-hour drive, and he slept nearly the whole time.
The whole family piled into my in-laws car in 2017, when my son was 11 months old, for a 10-hour drive we split into two days. He didn’t do as well as the Texas trip. But he still did pretty well.
I was still breastfeeding during both of those trips. Any fuss could be nipped (ha) in the bud quickly by a quick pit stop, snack and the ensuing nap.
This trip? Not. So.
Not only am I not breastfeeding, I knew milk wasn’t going to cut it. Plus, it would have been too hard to keep cold.
The toddler has recently been showing off how much of a toddler he can be with the independence and the tantrums and the sass, so I knew I needed more than a few toys and his favorite drink to keep him entertained and satiated — and the rest of us sane — on a two-day, 13-hour PLUS STOPS road trip from Wichita to South Haven.
So I Googled it.
“What to pack for a long drive with a toddler.”
Pause Blog for TL;DR
You don’t have enough snacks.
Pack more snacks.
Favorite stuffed animals, blankies and lovies. Maybe a pillow. (I forgot a pillow.)
Coloring books and crayons or a doodle board — or both.
Storybooks. (So you can get car sick while trying to entertain him.)
Toddler-sized driving steering wheel and dashboard toy.
A couple to 100 more snacks.
Back to the Blog
One tip rose above the rest in my research: overpack snacks. Pack ALL the snacks. You think you have enough snacks? Pack more snacks.
I dumped a case of applesauce on-the-go pouches in three flavors into the biggest diaper bag I own as well as a box of mixed bagged treats of graham crackers, cheese crackers and “Cheddar Bunnies” — that my son wouldn’t touch, but I sure enjoyed — alongside his go-to favorite strawberry-banana snack bars.
I mean, look at this thing.
A water cup, 25-ounce water bottle for refills and spare milk cup for when we stopped for lunch rounded out this bursting bag.
Of course, I also packed road clothes for potential accidents or diaper leaks of which we only had one — solved in the driveway to the house we were staying in because of an epic tantrum in a grocery store and parking lot during which I gave TF up.
But that’s another blog post.
I did not neglect the need for toys. Food can only be so entertaining… when you crush it up into crumbs to wipe on the adjacent car door or person (me).
I packed one of his collapsable storage cubes to the brim with crayons, coloring books, storybooks, comfort stuffed animals, lovies, blankies and a magnetic doodle board.
I also had a perfectly timed Drive With Me Kiwi&Co. Crate delivery with a cardboard steering wheel and dash. It arrived just three days before we left.
It’s like they knew.
I packed his sound machine in the cube to help him sleep in a strange place. As I unplugged it and took it off his dresser, it dawned on me that he’s never touched it. It’s always been on his dresser. He played with it in the car several times. It’s shaped like an owl and has a fascinating amount of buttons.
Rotating snacks, toys and people in the back seat with the toddler kept him mostly entertained and fuss-free.
It’s genius, not toddler-proof.
Any tips? I’ve got another one of these things planned.
I used to travel often for work. I learned how best to pack light and travel lean to reduce costs and crap for which to be responsible. The less you have, the less you lose.
With a toddler, my packing skills are pretty much moot.
One suitcase, one overstuffed diaper bag full of snacks, one laptop bag, one collapsable storage cube full of toys, a booster seat, a sleeve of diapers and a doodle board that didn’t fit in the toy cube filled my in-laws car to nearly full alongside their luggage.
I did successfully pack all of my clothes and the toddler’s clothes into the smallest suitcase we own. A minor victory.
Loaded into my in-laws car, we left at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 26, and set off on a two-day road trip to South Haven, Michigan, for family vacation.
We, as in the toddler and me. Not we, as in the toddler, my husband and me.
Daddy stayed home for work during this family vacation. Poor man. It’s a sacrifice I appreciate him making.
The first leg of the trip was only a seven-hour drive. We turned it into a longer leg thanks to the need to stop for diaper changes, food and general toddler tantrums.
Our first stop was in Emporia, Kansas. My son already needed a diaper change, and I had had several cups of coffee before leaving the house.
There’s a historical marker at the rest stop. My husband’s parents used to stop at every historical marker on road trips with him and his sister. Largely because it drove them crazy. I fully intend on continuing this tradition.
Throughout the drive, my son refused to take a car nap. (I know, right?!) When he finally did fall asleep, we enjoyed a blessed 47 minutes of silence.
The second leg of the trip was much shorter. Only five hours, which of course took much longer due to driving with a toddler monster — and Chicago.
We arrived in South Haven just a half an hour too early to check in, so we went to Meijer (Super Target on steroids, according to my sister-in-law, and she’s not wrong), and my son promptly threw a huge fit. When we finally got to the house, the toddler was salty, I was salty — and we were both done.
I put him to bed at 4:30 p.m. He didn’t wake until the next morning at 8 a.m. I might have a toddler monster, but I have a good sleeper. (Knock on wood.)
The rooms were themed! We slept in the Music Room. Grandma and grandpa were in the Principal’s Office, and the four cousins and their parents enjoyed bunk beds and a spare bedroom in Detention.
The bathroom was very cute, too. My child wanted to spend an unnecessary amount of time in its shower. And I had to go with him, for some unknown reason.
I made Zuppa Toscana for dinner Sunday night — without the appropriate ingredients or cookware. You see, I forgot to pack several things, including the Instant Pot in which I usually cook Zuppa Toscana.
It was still pretty good.
Our first morning in South Haven was a bit of a blur. My son ate like a starving man — famished from refusing to eat anything but applesauce and cheese crackers for two days in the car. He had toddler tantrums, and we had to go “relax” in bed until he calmed down. Often. We climbed and played on the most epic playground equipment ever (just down the street from the house) for the better part of an hour.
There’s nothing between the playground and Lake Michigan, which made for beautiful views. My son said, “Wow,” in his precious toddler way when we walked to hill overlooking the lake. He’s never seen a body of water bigger than a friend’s pool.
My father-in-law’s brother and his wife joined us for dinner — Honey Garlic Shrimp and Roast Vegetables from my sister-in-law.
I will be getting that recipe.
My son immediately fell in love with his great uncle. I think most of the littles have.
Tuesday was beach day, and not a moment of it was blurry. I waded the toddler into the chilly water of Lake Michigan and let the waves crash on his feet.
He. Loved. It.
My fearless son dragged me through the water, trying to go farther and farther in, and pitched a hot fit when I carried him back up the shore to start all over again. He clung to me. He tried to escape from me. He jumped into the waves with eyes closed tight, teeth showing in a wide smile and arms open to welcome the force of the water. He giggled and squealed and just loved it.
That night, he slept early and well. Too tired for dinner of burgers, brats, corn on the cob and salad under the pergola.
I woke up late Wednesday to the sounds of my toddler jabbering at nothing about everything. Neither of us were really ready to get up, so I pulled him into bed with me to cuddle. We get so few moments of happy cuddles that I couldn’t waste the opportunity.
We went to lunch and shop along South Haven’s main drag.
South Haven has a Farm Market to rival any I’ve seen. Blocks and stalls of berries. Blueberries, blackberries, cherries and raspberries. Wichita’s has garlic, greens, onions and root vegetables more than anything else. Not bad, but I’ve never seen so many fresh, plump blueberries in my life. I wish I had brought a shopping bag with me and cash to buy pounds of what were probably the best blueberries ever.
Missing his normal nap time again, the toddler lost energy and patience quickly. He rode grandpa’s shoulders nearly the entire time and fell asleep just as soon as we got to the house.
We celebrated grandpa’s birthday that evening with chorizo black bean quesadillas (I will be getting this recipe, too) whipped up by the littles’ great aunt and uncle, pineapple salad (and this one) and chocolate cake.
I got my father-in-law coffee for his birthday — our go-to gift for him. Bought it right in front of him at the Farm Market because I don’t prepare well. We both love coffee and were the only drinkers in the house. Lucky us, we had a 12-cup drip coffee brewer to share.
And we drank all of every cup.
After the toddler went to sleep Wednesday night, I walked back downtown in search for a brewery where I could get some cans to take home to my hubby and Gnomies at my favorite Wichita brewery, Hopping Gnome. (Have you noticed my #AGnomeADay attire? I entered the #TaketheLongWayGnome social media competition by accident.)
I missed my first choice, Harbor Light Brewery, by 27 minutes. Walking downtown, it looked like the entire city shut down at 9 p.m. Luckily, South Haven Brew Pub was still open and serving up mix-and-match six-packs to go.
I greeted another late morning with my son on Thursday. He spent the majority of the night in bed with me, snorting and coughing himself awake. We Gnome-a-stayed in that day — this is my Gnomaste shirt — so he could rest and recover enough energy to make the drive home Friday with as little discomfort as possible.
While he napped, I did what any red-blooded vacationing woman would do. (I’m sure.)
Thursday night was a rough night. My son was up and asleep and up over and over again feeling terrible. Toddlers are contagious little boogers. (Of course, I’m a terrible parent and just wiped his binky off every time it fell out of his mouth… and then I gave it back to him.) Fingers crossed none of my sister-in-law’s kiddos caught his cold RIGHT before school starts for them.
Because Thursday night was horrible, Friday morning was difficult. I had to drag myself out of bed late to help load the car for the drive home.
And what a drive it was.
And then we got home. He happily jumped up and down in our driveway. Daddy was a sight for sore eyes — for me, for sure — but it lasted about 20 minutes before the toddler hated everything and everyone.
He slept until 9 a.m. Saturday. (Again, knock on wood, y’all.)
Going places with a toddler is a pain. They’re nearly never satisfied, and you — as a parent — NEVER have the solution to whatever problem has popped up in the last five minutes.
But my 2-year-old gleefully jumped into the waves of Lake Michigan. He wildly explored a strange place, excited about every cranny, nook and turn. He challenged me, and he tested his limits. Pushed boundaries. Found obstacles. Needed me to help. Didn’t need me to help.
Going places with toddlers might be a pain, but I can’t wait to take him on every adventure we have. No matter his age. I loved watching him experience more than I wanted to experience. Such a strange feeling.
We’ll be hunting down historical markers and taking the long way home from now on.
Getting our s*** together took a back seat to getting my physical health — and associated sanity — back on track.
I think I went to see a doctor once a week for two months. It was exhausting.
My biggest scare happened the last week of April, when a large, painful lump appeared protruding at the base of my throat.
Two doctor’s appointments, three vials of blood and a sonogram later, and we discovered fluid-filled nodules on my thyroid. Words like “cyst,” “cancer” and “biopsy” were flung about by my primary care physician and the radiology tech.
Thankfully, the nodules deflated on their own before my scheduled ENT appointment. The ENT decided that — since they’d shrunk and he saw no solid masses in my sonogram — I didn’t have to have a biopsy.
Fluid-filled nodules rarely become solid masses, and solid masses rarely become cancer. However, the ENT said that if the nodules constantly flare and cause constant pain, he’d recommend REMOVING MY THYROID.
I’m keeping that sucker. Stand down, cysts. Stand. Down.
Turns out, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis runs in my family. Another chronic something to add to the chronic list of chronic nonsense in my new normal. (An update on the chronic back pain to come.)
I just sighed heavily.
Still rocking accident grams.
I don’t even know what a retirement account is anymore.
Considering I hurt myself doing the most minuscule of movements, I’m giving up on this one. I’m going to sleep in, read books in the evening and enjoy my rolls. I weigh 140 pounds of no-longer-gives-a.
Here’s a win.
No more takeout two or three nights a week. My husband and I cook dinner at home nearly every night. At least four nights a week. Another night is leftovers. Two other nights consist of what a Junior League friend of mine coined as “Snack Dinner” where we fend for ourselves (aka sandwiches).
My toddler eats six things. “Cackers,” yogurt, Annie’s bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese (Not any other kind of macaroni and cheese. Don’t come at him with some tractor-shaped crap. Only bunnies.), peanut butter sandwiches, “nanas” and toddler pouches.
I see toddlers eating salad on Instagram.
How do you do it?
If you approach my toddler with anything other than those six things, he loses it. We prepare a plethora of different types of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and my kid won’t eat any of it.
He doesn’t even eat chicken nuggets.
My baby-food baby used to eat soft carrots, mushy peas, blueberries and oatmeal. No more. Last week, I made him a colorful fruit salad of watermelon, blueberries and strawberries for dinner. It was practically dessert. Straight up trash, according to him.
Actual dessert? He’ll eat that. “Coocoos” (cookies), cake, ice cream, chocolate. Loves it.
I guess that’s seven things. I’ll let you know if he deems it necessary to ever eat eight things.
I ate canned beets as a child. They were terrible. But I ate them. Because I was fed them, and you don’t not eat at grandma’s house.
Being alone in your house when you’re a parent is… indescribably amazing.
The silence. The stillness. Not being touched. No one’s talking or fussing. Even the mess doesn’t cry out when you’re alone.
It’s just so damn peaceful.
Today, my husband took our son out of the house for a daddy-and-son playdate for two hours and left me alone.
In the house.
For two hours.
Neither of us is ever alone in the house.
This house is rarely silent, and it’s never still. There’s constant movement. There’s always talking or fussing. The mess is chaotic as it gets made, and cleaned up, and remade, and left for tomorrow.
The cycle isn’t terrible — but it certainly isn’t peaceful.
Unscripted alone moments are rare. Sure, when I drive to and from work, I’m alone in my car — but that’s not a moment. When I’m rushing through a seven-minute shower, I’m alone — but that’s not a moment. When I’m running errands or grocery shopping, I’m alone (with other people) — and those are not moments.
True alone moments are when you don’t have to think about what happened or what’s next or what’s happening now. When your body can take a break from doing, and your brain can take a break from considering.
Thought and action are natural during alone moments. No reason. No consequence.
I showered, exfoliated, used moisturizer. I let my hair air dry. I ate apple slices with peanut butter without little bites taken out of the best parts.
Finding — and obtaining — truly alone moments as a parent feels impossible, and I can’t remember being alone for any amount of time when I felt I could allow my brain to turn off and my body to relax its tension.
And my kid is 2.
We’re both overdue, and I plan to pay that amazing man back for those two hours with two of his own.
Our days were still full. Coffee. Work. Toddler nonsense. Family time. And a very merry Christmas.
Let’s start with coffee.
I’m wicked easy to shop for. I will never not need coffee.
Of course, one cup of hot tea cracked the beautiful blue mug at the end, which is what I get for cheating on coffee with tea. Anyone know if this milk trick actually works? Well, I’ll try it and let you know.
The office was filled with holiday cheer this month with nearly two weeks of merry activities and a nice Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day holiday break.
First, we filled ourselves with sweets.
“First” like we didn’t do this the entire two weeks. I certainly did.
Took fun holiday photos.
Shhh! I’m Santa.
And we played elves by giving the office a good cleaning.
The toddler developed a couple less desirable talents. The pterodactyl scream is making a comeback, and fit-throwing is our go-to to get our way. He also can now get himself into these…
“Time to eat, people.”
He had another pretty cute “Time to eat, people” situation before Christmas lunch.
“Don’t talk to me. Don’t read to me. Don’t touch me. Don’t even look at me. Just let me sit in my stroller and watch Peppa. …Mom. Stop taking pictures of me.”
He was pretty pooped (read: cranky) after two play days in a row with his cousins and surviving on a car nap alone.
My husband was able to spend Christmas Eve, Christmas and the two days after the holiday with us before returning to work, so we had plenty of family time this month.
We wrapped presents and watched A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning, we headed over to my in-laws’ to celebrate the season.
My toddler had a good haul. Cleaning supplies (so he stays out of mine). A hammer-ball-bonk toy that he’s real into. A boatload of lego duplos for mommy to build and him to destroy. And a car.
His Shocker hat stays on his head for hours at a time — thank you, Grandma — and his Spiderman helmet was only annoying to him for a little bit — thank you, Aunt and Uncle.
Santa brought us a handmade busy book (sewn by the busy little elves at twobusylittlebees.com) and, by the time he opened it, he was too pooped to play with it.
My husband and I gifted each other kitchen things, as we do nearly every holiday. This year, we replaced our nine-year-old blender and found a better way to store knives. The blender is awesome, but we haven’t installed our under-the-cabinet knife storage unit yet.
Mostly because the house was a disaster.
We didn’t even host. Just normal, day-to-day destruction on top of special, holiday destruction.
Our family gifted us experiences this year, too. A renewed membership to the Sedgwick County Zoo and a new membership to Botanica Wichita.
Speaking of Botanica…
We went to see the lights. Alongside the entire state of Kansas. Illuminations was a crowded Christmas Eve Eve holiday adventure — and we’re definitely going on a Tuesday next year — but it was beautiful.
And I got my Santa picture in the knick of time! (Before he went back to the North Pole to prepare for Christmas Eve, of course.)
Hope your holidays were merry and bright. Except today, of course. I hope today the lights are dimmed.