Highway to Hell

Just because I have a lot of kids, people assume I have a lot of kid-managing skills.  Not so.   In the last twelve years, I  have perfected really only two child-related talents:  ignoring screams, and buying spaghetti in bulk.  Other than that, I’m pretty much where I was at the beginning:  terrified, stymied, trying not to let them corner me.

How, for instance, do I deal with lots and lots and lots and lots of time in the car with four small children who have lots and lots and lots and lots of desire to be out of the car?  Haven’t figured that one out yet.  The reason this comes up is that, as part of my nefarious plan to erase all traces of labor, hardship and inconvenience from my life when we decided to send our oldest four children to a charter school, I have been spending an awful lot of time in the car.

Emphasis on the awful.

The four youngest children always come for the ride in the afternoon, and sometimes in the morning, too.  Sometimes they read or play with baby dolls during the ride; other times, they just sit there, quietly soaking their car seats.  Of course I know all about portable toys, books, snacks, window stickers, soothing or amusing music, “I spy,” and so on.  But some weeks, we spend so many hours in the car, it’s not a matter of passing the time.  We’re just living our lives, but in the car, you know?  We just do the things we always do, but we can’t get away from each other.

Here’s a little illustration. To comprehend the psychological freight inherent in the following drama, you have to know a few things:  first, that the three-year-old

is completely nuts, and likes nothing better than to start arguments about nothing at all; and second, the 18-month-old thinks the three-year-old is a god.

And one more thing:  it was raining.

3-year-old:  “It’s not raining.”
Little sister, parroting:  “Yainin’!”
3-year-old:  “No, it’s not raining!”
Little sister, blissfully playing along:  “Yeah, yainin’!”
3-year-old, in a rage:  “NO, it’s NOT raining, it’s NOT raining, it’s NOT raining!”
Little sister, joyfully agreeing with her idol:  “Yain-yain-yainin’!!!!!!!!!”
3-year-old, in a quivering ecstasy of fury:  “IT!  IS!  NOT!  RAI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AININNNNNNNNNNG!”
Little sister, transported with bliss at the wonderful camaraderie she was enjoying with her sister:  “YAAAAAAAAAAAININ’!”

And so on.

There was nothing that anyone could do.  The three-year-old had rocketed so far past the point of reason that she remained in her little orbit of hysteria for a good half hour; and when she came down, she was hungry.  And guess what?  I had forgotten to bring a snack.

Did I mention we were in the car for three hours that day?  I’m just glad we belong a religion that believes in the value of suffering.  Because, man, it’s only Tuesday . . .


  1. This is one of the reasons that I do NOT envy school-parents.

    But I’m afraid my only advice is the age-old “Everyone except the baby SHUT UP RIGHT NOW or there will be NO treats and NO screen time for the REST OF THE WEEK.

    I’ve done that to them enough that they know I’m not kidding around. So they stop.

    Also, there’s al;ways the old “They’re buckled in so noone will kill each other– I’m turning up the radio as loud as it goes!”

    And also the (time consuming) OK! We’re going to have to do three hours worth of errands/pick ups/ drop offs. But look at this map! There’s a playground along our route. Alright, guys. We’ll leave 45 minutes early so you can have 45 minutes of playground time!!!!!

    Which kills the whole day, but makes the kids feel better so you like them more. And then, you just explain to your husband that the reason he has no socks is because it was his laundry or your sanity, and you thought he’d prefer to have most of the kids alive at the end of the day and hey, his work socks are black so he can wear them twice, right?

  2. We have employed the “no one is allowed to talk”. If you are lucky they will fall asleep or at least the worst offenders.

    My other suggestion is to play music really really loudly.

  3. I was you.

    I have seven, and once they were all little, and at that time we lived 1/2 hour to 1 hour away from everything we did. AND one year, we put the eldest in a Mennonite school (Lancaster PA area)( I forget now the reasoning behind this) that, of course, required lots of driving every day. I also homeschooled everybody else.

    I do have to say that all that driving around turned my kids into people that like long car rides. Now they beg to go! But at that time, my van usually smelled like old milk and full diapers.

    One thing I did then, was borrow stories on tape to play on the car, or songs– Wee Sing and stuff similar to that. The repetition will make you feel a little crazy, but at least everyone is calmer. I also taught them songs that we would sing together on the road. But then, when we rode with their grandmother, or a friend who was a Vietnam vet, they would warn–“no singing!” to which I would reply–“okay folks–feel free to argue or whine.”

    God Bless you. And don’t forget! They’ll all be teens one day.


  4. Stupid bumper sticker of the day: “Blasphemy is a victimless crime.”

    Clever, clever atheists. I’m sure Saint Peter will find that amusing.

  5. @Colleen– in our family it’s The Silent Contest. Unfortunately, the kids wise up pretty fast that bragging rights are a pretty lame prize for winning that particular contest and it is vaaaaastly more satisfying to keep tormenting siblings.

    • My guess is that this is my wife’s comment…!
      The Silent Contest was something my dad did when I was a kid. Maybe kids were dumber in the 70’s, because it always worked. Of course, a lot of the fun was trying to make the other guy laugh without doing so yourself.

  6. This post really, really made me feel grateful that we are a pretty housebound family. I’ll remember this post whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself and my “boring” life. Besides mass on Sunday, there are only two days in the week where we “have to” go out.

  7. For me the hardest part of hauling the big kids around is messing up the little kids’ sleep. Tuesday is the one night I have every week where I need to bring out the kids who are still young. Tuesday’s fine. It’s recovering on Wednesday from the little kids not getting to sleep until midnight that kills me.

    Have you thought about a DVD player? There happened to be one in the car we bought, but a portable one might be even better because you can pull it out only when you really just need the kids to sit in their car seats and stare at the screen like the zombies you know they can be.

    And take heart, in a couple of years, you’ll often have an older child with whom the younger ones can stay.

  8. My three year old sounds a lot like your three year old. We have a lot of conversations like this one:
    Three year old: “Bring me crackers!”
    Me: “Can you say please bring me crackers?”
    Three year old: “Please bring me crackers.”
    He is given crackers.
    Three year old: “I DON’T WANT ANY CRACKERS!!!”
    Me: “You just asked for crackers.”
    Three year old: “I. DID. NOT. ASK. FOR. CRACKERS. AAAAARGGHH!!!!”
    I say a curse word or two. The three year old saves up this knowledge of curse words for when we are visiting relatives, or perhaps a family we just recently met.
    I hardly ever used curse words before I had kids. Sigh.

    • Yeah. I suppose curse words are kind of like drinking. I hardly ever needed a drink before I had kids. (Sorry, wanted to post on yesterday’s thread, but couldn’t get to it).

    • Look, I know you have my son hostage. Give him back.

      Wait… no.

      No, you can keep him until after I’ve sleep trained the baby.

      Also, I’m experiencing a sudden burst of gratitude for our carlessness, and a sudden burst of love for public transport, where there are often people willing to chat with toddlers or smile for the baby.

      • When my youngest was two and we were on mass transit, old ladies would smile at him and he would snarl, “I HATE YOU!”

        Took me a while to figure out that the proper response was to smile confidently and reply, “But he’ll get over it!”

        Pick your poison. Though mass transit has the huge advantage that you can do read-alouds or play spot-the-drag-queen or analyze ads (“What do *you* think chylamidia means?”)

        • Those ads, darling? With the two men kissing? They means they’re good friends. Let’s sing “Old McDonald had an octopus” again!

          And that’s hilarious. Mine’s just saying collections of inappropriate body words very loudly right now. I’m glad his diction sucks. Much less embarrassing if only i know what he’s saying.

    • Curse words are great. As long as God/Jesus isn’t involved and they are directed at inanimate objects I say go for it!

  9. This perfectly illustrates the main reason that I want to homeschool: the awful car rides of ferrying children about. It’s not that I think that homeschooling will be a snap, just that I think that driving is torture.
    Also, your three year old sounds like mine. I’m glad it’s a uniform trait I was starting to think it was due to her lack of preschool socialization 😉

    • Or you could be like me, and realize you are no good at homeschooling, but there is a Catholic school 5 minutes away, and the neighbors can sit with a sleeping baby for 15 minutes in a pinch, and it’s goodbye imaginary Charlotte Mason!!!

  10. I concur with your characterization of the 3 year old. Completely. I say I’d gladly take the “terrible twos” any day over the “wretched threes”!

  11. The picture was the best.

    We’re about to jump in the car (again) or I’d write more -but suffice to say that number ten will have his own car when his eight.

    (I talk tough, but I’m really a mess).

  12. Some days it is only the thought of spending an hour in the van every day, plus all of the homework, forms, and fundraisers that keeps me from putting the kids in school. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

  13. We homeschool and still have long drives b/c we live in the BOONIES. It’s an hour+ to anywhere. My worst offenders are the 4 year old and the 10 year old agruing (as they are right now!!!).

    10 year old (referring to infant 2 months old): “She’s my baby sister.”

    4 year old: “Noooooooo!! She’s MY BAAAAAAABY SISTER!!!”

    10 year old: “She’s my sister too!”


    10 year old: “Yes she is. (Sing-song) She’s *my* babys sis-ter!”

    4 year old: “NOOOOOOOOOO”

    Me: “Shut the @*•# up! She’s mine! Quit it!”

    Yeah. I didn’t swear much until I had kids either (don’t tell them that).

    I don’t really know how to fix the car issues. I always bring snacks and sippy cups full of water. If my husband is home he is required to drive so I can sit in the back to referee and nurse the baby. I have thought about a DVD player but I think they’d just argue about what movie I put in.

    • You are awesome and your husband is lucky!
      If my husband is with the kids and I, I make HIM sit in the back of our huge van to talk to the baby, and referee the others…I get to sit WAAAAYYY in the front, where I hardly hear anyone…sh, don’t tell!

  14. Another mom I knew had a great term for the grumpy, irrational, emotional phase that three year olds go through. She said hers had 3MS.

    I thought that was pretty funny.

  15. I’ve learned two things:

    1) Always brush your teeth before you shower, because by the time you get out you will have at least one screaming/crying child and tooth brushing will go way down the priority list.

    2) ALL THREE-YEAR-OLDS ARE PSYCHO!!! The two’s are fairly easy if they get enough sleep and you learn not to care if their clothes don’t match and are willing to let them buckle the top buckle of their car seat. But when they turn three they expect you to read their minds and they develop split personalities. ALL THREE-YEAR-OLDS ARE PSYCHO!!!

  16. The only thing worse than hearing your kids bicker is being trapped in the car while they do so. It’s fingernails on a blackboard times 1,000. It’s all I can do to keep from banging my head on the steering wheel in order to achieve blessed oblivion.

  17. First:
    Lollypops. They’re a treat that kids behave for, and bonus, it goes in their mouth and quiet ensues. Make sure the lollies are exactly the same color and flavor though…cuts down on the covet thy neighbor’s lolly stuff.

    Random emphatic non sequiturs. For the very young, its an amazing distraction from the fight at hand. An example:
    Kid #1: I want that toy! Give it back!
    Kid #2: No its miiiiine!
    Kid #1: I want the toy!
    Kid #2: No, its mine minemine….
    Mom: Holy macaroni kids its a DINOSAUR!!!!! IN!!! THE!!! STREET!!! LOOOOOOOOK! OH GOD ITS HEADED RIGHT FOR US!!!
    And everyone starts looking for the dinosaur.

  18. Very funny! I can relate, we spend tons of time in the car, the dialogue and descriptions in your post made me laugh. My 4yr old and almost 2yr old have similar “conversations.”

    Years of cheerios, raisins and petrified french fries caused a little moth problem a while back–never found the source but eventually the cycle ran its course and we no longer have moths flying around in the van.

  19. We have the same three year old, well now he is four, and still arguing with the elder brothers about stuff like ‘this shirt is not purple, Daddy told me its Aubergine!’ and ‘there’s no such thing as cheese’.
    Hindi radio station at full volume can cut through some (not all) of the noise…

  20. Get some classical opera arias. This is a trick of my husband’s and has worked for many large families I know. If you blast the Pavaroti or Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” nobody can be heard. This was the only thing that would quiet my 5th child who was an extemely colicky baby. Make sure to vary the music so they don’t cry, “oh not that again.” There are lots of kid classical music c.d.s out there that are very appealing to kids even to those who are not “into classical stuff.” Who doesn’t get a kick out out Beatoven’s 5th? or fall asleep to Mozart’s beautiful “letter duet”? Beats “Wee Sing”!

  21. I just want to add that whole operas are boring, you have to get just arias or a Pavarati c.d. He’s the best. sorry for spelling errors!

  22. We homeschool, but my 3 year old does 3 mornings a week at a nearby preschool. (yay)

    Anyways- today, he had to take his sister’s PINK lunch box for snack because Daddy used his lunch box. Oh the drama!

    I guess with 3 year olds, there is no logic

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