She was twenty-nine, I was two and against all odds I was the one that reigned that day, enthroned on the backseat of her car. Not even on a child car seat, just on the plain, soft one Fiats used to have back in the ’80s. Her mission was to “deliver” me to grandma, intact and ready to spend the next two summer months with her. Only a four hour drive stood between our apartment in the capital and my grandma’s cottage; little did she know, my poor mum, that that journey would change the way she felt about road trips. Or children.
If you haven’t already guessed, that was the day I decided to test all my premature skills. I wanted to put the strength of my legs to test, so I kept jumping on the backseat. I was wondering if I could be a soprano when I grew up, so I screamed my lungs out. I wasn’t convinced that an apple a day keeps a doctor away, so I decided to throw it away; at my doctor-mummy’s head. What did she do? She tried driving with one hand while holding me back with the other. That didn’t work. And just when I was ready to launch myself to the front seat… she started crying.
“That was the ’80s”, most of you must think. No compulsory child car seats, no DVD players on the back of the front seats, short journeys made long due to maximum cars’ speed being 50mph… Yeah, right. Technology might have achieved miracles but just not that one yet that makes a baby stay quiet during a long trip. So, as parents, are our road trips doomed to a soundtrack of woawoas and boohoos?
1. Safety comes first
Everything has to be perfect in a baby’s world if you want him to be quiet and happy. When it comes to road trips, though, you might find it difficult to combine safety and comfort. First thing you have to do is choose a suitable child car seat for his age and height that is also comfortable. Your toddler is going to spend the next few hours of his life immobilised; would you behave if you had recently discovered that you can use your feet to jump and run? I don’t think so.
2. It’s never too late
It’s your trip. You have no buses to catch, there are no trains to miss. You might like the thought of departing early in the morning and making it to the beach later in the afternoon, but give it another thought; do you really think you can wake up your baby, pack him up, load him in the car, make him stay still in the back seat for hours and still not have a headache at the end of the journey? Instead, try to stick to his sleeping routine: depart around thirty minutes before his bedtime, drive in a relaxed manner, without breaking or speeding like a Formula1 driver, keep the music down and, God willing, he’ll fall asleep as usual!
3. Don’t worry about making him feel too comfortable
To begin with, make sure that your child is not too hot or too cold during the trip. Use sunblock window shades to prevent him from getting sun-cranky but also to protect him from the hazardous UV rays. If he’s still wearing diapers get organised; you can bring along your portable diaper changing pad and if his diaper needs changing do so as soon as possible. Be prepared to make a few stops: these will help him defuse -and a bit of stretching can also benefit you! Feed him as you normally would and keep him hydrated. Just because you can go on a four hour trip without eating doesn’t mean your baby can too.
4. Start talking
I’ll admit it; when driving alone on the motorway for hours I feel like complaining to someone about my boring, lonely trip. It’s just that no one is there with me. Well, your baby has you to complain to and, rest assured, he will do so. Babies need to hear a familiar voice and see a familiar face (usually their mother’s) in order to feel safe, that’s why during a road trip, when they can only see your back, they tend to get fussy. Talk to him with that calm voice of yours that reassures him that the world is a safe place to live in. Or use that funny voice that makes him giggle every time. If he has already started talking, tell him a story (or make one up!) or engage him in conversation. There are so many interesting topics you can discuss with him; “what does that cloud remind you of?”, “the cow goes… ?”… You get the picture.
5. Play it again… and again
It is widely admitted that there is no proper road trip without a soundtrack. Well, the days of travelling “Like a Rolling Stone” listening to Iggy’s “Passenger” belong to the past since a new passenger was added to the car. Listen to his favourite music while driving and sing along! You can try a few new songs if you want to and see if they catch his attention. Don’t turn your car into a night club, though; keep the volume at a normal level.
6. Bring his best friends too
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and toys are a child’s. If he’s a baby the best solution is to use a baby activity centre (you can find a wide variety in stores) and attach it to his seat. If he’s a toddler, bring his “gang” on the trip too and encourage him to play with them as soon as he starts getting cranky. You can work together on scenarios like “what is Teddy going to buy in the supermarket?” or “what happened to Mr. Tickles at the dentist’s?”… If there are other people travelling with you ask them to play with him. You just enjoy your ride!