Traveling by Car with an Almost-Three-Year-Old

My birthday is this week. My mother decided to celebrate the
day by having her uterus cut out.

Too graphic? OK, she is having a hysterectomy for health
reasons and my family took a six-hour drive today so I could spend time with her before
and after the surgery. The date of the operation is just a happy coincidence.

I was wondering what a six-hour drive with an active 2.8-year-old toddler
would be like. We packed a
bunch of books, expecting a parent would sit with her and pile through them.
Not so.

Departing at 5:30 a.m., our Little Miss ate a sandwich and
then slept for an hour. From there on out she was pleased to watch the scenery
go by and chat with her parents.

"Mama, look at that beautiful meadow over there."

Seriously, we were blown away by her observations.

And there was the requisite family mooing and waving at passing
cows, mooing extra loud if they were far away. We passed a field with 7
buffalo. They are not exactly common in California. I didn’t know how to greet

The fun really started near the end of the trip when Little
Miss decided she was driving from her position in the center of the back seat. She grips her steering wheel by making two fists and rubbing them together. That lasted a good hour. Then she decided Mama and Papa had to drive with her.
I was driving with my hands in the 8 and 4-o’clock position on the steering wheel, but she couldn’t see my
hands from her vantage point.

"Papa, drive! Drive,

So for an hour I drove with my hands in the 10 and 2 o’clock
position. As bad as that was, Mom had it worse. She had to keep her arms
elevated while gripping an imaginary wheel. And you’d better believe Little Miss
became Little Miss Bossy, snapping at us when she caught us not driving.

"Mama, drive!  Drive,

Mom eventually pulled out some lacing cards, and that
effectively quieted our backseat driver. Mom used the lacing cards too, which probably helped keep my daughter’s attention. An activity is more fun when it is shared, even if your companion is sitting in the seat in front of you.

[Interruption update: a car-oriented blog linked to this article with a comment suggesting kids should be given Dramamine (e.g., sedated) for car travel. Such a person doesn't understand the joy of raising kids. When I wrote "the fun really started," I wasn't being facetious. I
meant we really were laughing and having fun through the "ordeal" of
traveling with our wonderful daughter. I can only hope that blogger is
not a parent.] We now resume this travelogue already in progress…

Potty breaks were a breeze, slapping our travel potty on the
passenger seat and tossing our yucky Ziploc bags in gas station trash bins. Meals were the usual dry fare—nuts, bagels, crackers, a sandwich
and grapes. Sleep at Grandma’s house is a snap with our inflatable Ready Bed, familiar
comfort items and night light.

Her bedtime every night has become simple since we realized she is mature enough
to skip her once-a-day nap without being cranky. She goes right to sleep at about 6 or 7 p.m.

Little Miss and her mom will be traveling to Reno by train on
Thursday to visit an old high school friend while I hang out with Grandma. I’m
a bit envious because from everything I’ve read, it sounds like a train ride
can be a mini-adventure for a toddler while being quite an alternative for a parent who is accustomed to being stuck behind a wheel. I’d love to hear from anyone whose family has traveled by train on vacation.

See previous: HOW TO: Enjoy Car Travel with a Toddler (at 18 months)


5 Responses to “Traveling by Car with an Almost-Three-Year-Old”

  1. Christina says:

    This is a great topic because we are driving to Texas (from New Jersey) in May for a wedding. It’ll be about 26 hours. We intend to leave at night because, like you, we have found that traveling at night with a toddler is the best thing to do (we drove from Tallahassee, FL to TX a year and a half ago and on the way there we drove at night and it was great, while on the way back, during the day, it was a little tougher). This trip should be pretty fun for us, as there will be three adults and we can do Chinese fire drills to see who gets to drive and who gets to sit next to the toddler and who gets to sleep up front. I can’t wait!

    March 16th, 2007 at 4:53 pm

  2. Jeremiah says:

    We have thought long and hard about cutting out Z’s nap. She is about Little Miss’ age, and is currently getting to sleep very late and having a hard time of i. She also seems to do okay on the days when she skips it. Two problems loom: Part-time daycare, where they have a daily nap routine that we can’t really get around, and a bedtime as early as 6 or 7 would mean that I, at least, would hardly see her at all during the week (I get home at 5:15-5:30). Anyone have any creative suggestions for eliminating our naptime and maintaining a reasonably consistent schedule?

    March 19th, 2007 at 8:04 am

  3. AJ says:

    Jeremiah, there’s nothing inherently wrong with your daughter going to sleep late as long as it’s the time she naturally becomes tired and it’s not conflicting with your schedule. And if it means you get more one-on-one time with her, then all the better.

    Where does the “having a hard time of it” come in?

    I’m a believer in routine. Find the time she most easily gets to sleep and then stick with it (until her sleep pattern changes again).

    A big plus for us is that because we don’t show her TV or videos, we read lots of books. She has memorized many of them. So, when she began insisting on staying awake at bedtime (lying quietly in bed in the dark for an hour or more with her eyes wide open) on days when she had napped, we let her read picture books. I give her a stack of 5 or 10 books and she talks her way through them. There’s nothing cuter than to be listening over the baby monitor, hearing her sing happy birthday to character in a book. Anyhow, she eventually gets tired, lies down, and we come back later when she’s asleep to pick up the books and tuck her in.

    March 20th, 2007 at 12:40 pm

  4. Jeremiah says:

    I agree with your general attitude regarding bedtimes. We had a while where she would sit in bed and read books (she’s a big reader too) and it was a lot of fun to listen in. But after getting pretty sick recently she has decided that NO WAY does she want to be in her bed without us in there with her, reading to her or telling her stories.

    We don’t “cry it out,” if that isn’t obvious. Every parent has an opinion on that, no need to discuss that.

    We give her the choice of being held or being in bed. Unfortunately, lately she’s wanted neither, and seems paralyzed by the choice, clearly very tired, lots of crying, and long sessions nursing.

    March 21st, 2007 at 7:58 am

  5. AJ says:

    “Clearly very tired” sounds dangerously close to “over-tired.” If you wait too long for bedtime, the ensuing crankiness can actually prolong falling asleep. The trick is finding precisely the right time for bed.

    We worked it out in numbers, determining how many hours after an afternoon nap were required for my daughter to go swiftly to sleep. For a while she needed 3 hours, then 4, and at 2.8-years-old, we are at 6 hours. This pushes the nap earlier and earlier in the day until it’s questionable whether to even have a nap.

    March 21st, 2007 at 1:35 pm

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