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Taking the Kids

Driving You (and Them) Crazy

May 18, 1997|EILEEN OGINTZ

ON INTERSTATE 95, HEADING SOUTH — "Pleeeze make the radio louder!" "Turn off the radio and put on a CD!" "Not that CD!" "Who cares about hearing the news?" A Beanie Baby dog (those beanbag animals that everyone seems to be collecting this spring) flew our way. My husband and I looked at each other grimly. It was going to be a long ride.

"Are we in South Carolina yet?" 6-year-old Melanie asked before we were even out of New Jersey. The minivan was already a crumb-and-paper-strewn mess.

"We should have flown," grumped 13-year-old Matt, who guarded his territory fiercely to avoid sharing space with his sisters Melanie and 11-year-old Reggie.

Certainly there were bargain air fares advertised, but they weren't available when we needed them or required several stops en route.

We figured at the least, we could save some money driving. My husband also was convinced that a 1,906-mile car trip down the East Coast and back home to Connecticut would give us some much-needed time together away from soccer fields, baseball diamonds, the computer and commuter trains.

Tip One: Store up plenty of stories from when you vacationed with your parents to tell on the way.

But my husband didn't figure that the trade-off for all that togetherness would be temporarily raised blood pressure (we made believe we didn't know him when he lost his cool in front of the North Carolina convenience store) or the five pounds I gained eating my way down the highway.

Tip Two: Pretzels, popcorn and favorite dry cereals may be messy, but at least they're a healthier alternatives to lollipops, chocolate bars and sugar-laden drinks, though we had our share of those too.

Even in the worst moments, it was comforting to know that we have lots of company on the road. Last summer, the American Automobile Assn. reported 187 million driving vacations were taken at least 100 miles from home. Roughly half of those cars, vans and RVs--more than 90 million--contained often fidgety, noisy and bored kids. Tip Three: Plan your overnight stops ahead. You can always cancel a reservation, but you can't always find a place to sleep.

It took us three tries on the way south and five on the trip back north to find a motel with a vacancy. If we hadn't been so tired, we might have given in to the kids' pleas to drive all night.

Tip Four: Plan your survival strategy as carefully as you plan your route. You'll need every road smart you can muster to manage kids and driving at the same time.

Jody DeBussy, the mother of 5-year-old triplets, opts for a small TV-VCR gadget to keep the peace. The only problem, she concedes, is the squabbling over which tape they'll watch.

Kyle McCarthy stops at old cemeteries. "Kids think tombstones are fun. And it's a great place to run around and stretch your legs." Pet cemeteries are especially big hits, added McCarthy, president of Family Travel Forum, a membership organization ($48 a year) that publishes a newsletter and runs a Web site for traveling families. (For information, [888] FT-FORUM or visit the Web site at www.familytravelforum.com.)

Before we left, we thought we had enough music for two days of driving. Along with the minivan's requisite radio and tape player, we'd packed four Walkman-size tape players and a portable Diskman, a bag full of audiotapes and another holding CDs. But we hadn't bargained on our kindergartener forsaking Pocahontas for the Spice Girls. Nor had we realized a tape player wouldn't cut it when there was a portable CD player on hand. The arguments, though, weren't really about what was being played. The crux of the battle being waged in the van was over something far more important: power.

Tip Five: Bribes work wonders.

By the time we pulled into our driveway at home, I realized the family car serves as a microcosm for much bigger disputes.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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