My baby boy pressed his banana-coated hands against the window, happily vocalizing as our large passenger bus passed green fields, blue skies and smaller cars. He seemed to relish his freedom from his car seat while simultaneously struggling to free himself from my lap. His big sister contented herself with my Kindle Fire, watching a movie I’d downloaded before we left the Internet behind.
It was our great road adventure, like Kerouac with kids.
OK, actually it was three hours on a bus from Bismarck to Fargo. But with a nearly 11-month-old and 4-year-old in tow, it was as great an adventure as I could handle by myself.
Summer is the time for the classic American road trip, the stuff of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” But for my two little ones, a few hours in the car is all they can seem to handle.
The last half of our Memorial Day drive home from Minneapolis was spent in a vicious screaming cycle. Owen would cry softly, causing Eve to cry, which made Owen scream, and Eve would shriek incessantly in response.
My husband, Craig, and I just looked at each other across the front seat and laughed hysterically. It was the only thing we could do in this quintessential moment of parenthood, two kids tormenting each other in the back seat.
The same scene unfolded as we all drove to Bismarck late last month, joining Craig for part of a business trip. We spent a couple of days at the hotel before the kids and I headed back east on the bus.
I had my reservations, even as I reserved our bus tickets. I imagined a worst-case scenario of being tossed out on the side of the road near Tappen.
We got off to an inauspicious start. We were all sweaty and filthy after a long morning playing outside and at the zoo. The bus arrived at the depot 45 minutes late, and as soon as we stepped on board, Owen started screaming. In our cramped seat I clumsily tried to make his bottle, get Eve set up with a movie and stow our overstuffed carry-on bags under the seat in front of me.
The next three hours were spent switching out activities for Owen about every 26 seconds to keep him from crying. When no toy would do the trick, I resorted to feeding him Froot Loops from Eve’s half-eaten single-serve box. It was a desperate move, one I was sure would ruin him for Cheerios.
As West Fargo came into view, Owen briefly fell asleep. The jerky start-and-stop traffic of construction-filled Main Avenue woke him, and there was no stopping his crying at that point.
The driver made his announcements over the bus intercom – everyone off the bus in Fargo – and then curtly asked that passengers with young children be allowed to exit the bus first.
At least we made our destination before getting kicked off.
The same day we traversed half the state, some friends from Moorhead completed a road trip to the West Coast and back, spending 27 hours in the car with their 2-year-old. As I followed their journey on Facebook, I wondered if our family would ever dare try such an odyssey.
I asked the brave father how they managed. He replied with tangible travel tips: lots of snacks, a DVD player, frequent stops and overnight driving.
The family’s overall philosophy struck me most. That travel with a youngster is troublesome, but the rewards – in this case, their daughter’s sheer delight at seeing the Golden Gate Bridge – make it worth it.
Certainly splashing in the hotel pool with Dad and an up-close view of mountain lions, tigers and grizzly bears (oh my!) are treasured moments that outweigh the bus ride antics.
Still, I doubt we’ll be taking to the road again anytime soon. Route 66 will have to wait until age 6.
Sherri Richards is an employee of The Forum and mother of 4-year-old Eve and 11-month-old Owen.