My sister’s getting married in Chicago (YAY!! SO EXCITED!), so we thought, hey, let’s make a vacation out of it! We can go out a week early, see the Lincoln Park Zoo, run around Millennium Park, maybe do a museum if it rains. And then we thought about ALL. THE. STUFF. that it takes to successfully cart two children across three different states, and we remembered a not-so-fun plane ride to Florida last summer with a toddler who couldn’t sit still while a nauseated pregnant mama and tired daddy tried to wrangle her. And then, we looked at prices for flights. Yikes. So, in a moment of either naive optimism or just pure stupidity, we decided to drive to Chicago. Of course, we allotted two days of travel each way because we may be brave, but we aren’t *that* clueless.
Our first goal was to get to St. Louis. 10 hours. Now, in driving with small children, things can change in a heartbeat. One second everyone’s happy and good, and the next, someone has to poop “RIGHT NOW, mommy!” Here’s a basic breakdown of our day:
Stage 1- We TOTALLY got this: This stage is most recognizable by a false sense of security and a fair amount of cockiness. We decide to leave at 6am because the baby’s been getting up around 5 anyway. Surprisingly, the three year old wakes up so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for adventure, that I’m 100% sure she doesn’t comprehend exactly how long we will be in the car. The baby, on the other hand, goes back to sleep after eating and barely wakes up as we change his diaper and put him in the car seat. For the first hour, we chat pleasantly with our daughter about the sun coming up and she flips through the pages of all her books quietly as we drive. I actually turn to the husband and say, “This is waaaayyyyyy better than flying right honey?” and we go back and forth rationalizing that it is at least the same amount of hassle. Then, after about two hours, baby wakes up and is hungry. So we stop, ushering us into stage two.
Stage 2- Settling into a “new normal”: This stage can be identified by mostly quiet moments with a few snafus, like an unplanned potty and gas break. So we get back on the road and are trucking along. We dig into the snacks and start movie #1 (who doesn’t want to watch Finding Nemo at 8:00 in the morning?). Baby goes back to sleep after a huge diaper change and some cute cooing noises. We look at each other and say, huh, this isn’t that bad, maybe we can make it past our goal for the day? So I pull out Google Maps and start searching for hotels somewhere past St. Louis. And then baby wakes up and is MAD. So, I squeeze my child-bearing sized hips in between two carseats, smashing all my organs down so that baby can look at mommy, ‘cause apparently that’s all he wants in life. And we’re all good. For a while. Bringing us to stage three.
Stage 3- Starting to get over it: The most common phrase of this stage for us was, “How much longer?” also known as “Are we there yet?” At one point, the baby is sad, so we stop to change and feed him and find a nice grassy area for daddy to play tag with the three year old to run off some of her pent up energy. This is when we start obsessive Google mapping to see just exactly how much longer we can actually stand being in the car. By this point, we have finished movie #2 and have sampled pretty much all the car snacks, moving us right along into the next stage.
Stage 4- Realllllllly over it: All we hear during this stage is, “Mommy? Daddy? I really wanna get out of this seat.” Baby’s finally napping again, but the three year old is DONE. No movie is good enough, all the snacks are about gone, even Pooh Bear sucks. Coloring lasts a whole 5 seconds. She doesn’t want books. Then baby wakes up screaming, and we start massively regretting our life choices: sure it would’ve cost like quadruple the amount to fly, but who cares? We would have been there by now!
Stage 5: The commit: Here’s where we make hotel reservations because we absolutely HAVE to get there now, no matter what. Hand in hand, the hubby and I grit our teeth and decide to take it hour by hour until we pull into the glorious Holiday Inn Express in Troy, IL, 282 miles away, hopefully making the second day’s trip more bearable by not having to drive through St. Louis traffic during morning rush hour. Looking back, this was a great decision even though it felt like a death sentence in the moment.
Stage 6: Both kids are asleep, aka silence, aka BLISS: This is when we revert back to middle school, joking around because the kids can’t hear us. Thank goodness this is when we start to see the billboards for the “Uranus Fudge Factory” and can’t stop giggling. (According to Google reviews, you can apparently get a tattoo here along with your anatomy-shaped candy, in case anyone is interested.) We finally get to have an uninterrupted adult conversation and I even read a little bit of a book aloud as he drives. We actually make it a surprising amount of miles while both are asleep and vow not to stop until one wakes up.
Stage 7: We JUST stopped for gas and peed like 15 miles ago and we’re only 100 miles from the hotel but “I HAVE TO GO NOW!!!”: This is the stage of the broken record “We’re almost there baby, hang on, keep watching your movie.” The toddler is coughing, the baby is screaming, and even though I swore he wouldn’t see a screen until he was a year old (insert eyeroll here), THANK GOD for Baby Einsteins because it makes him calm down and I don’t feel even a little bit guilty. WHY didn’t I do this during the meltdown of hour 6?
Stage 8: The final stage: My butt’s asleep, my arms are asleep, I’m pretty sure my leg muscles have atrophied, because I squeezed in the back again, but hallelujah, we only have 5 minutes left!! I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a local po-dunk barbeque joint and the hotel. WE MADE IT!! Now where’s the pool?
Even though day two was a much shorter and happier drive, we sure learned a lot from that first day of travel: First, bring ALL. THE. SNACKS. These chips are LIFE. Even food you don’t normally eat, and maybe hide the “treat” snacks for when you’re really desperate and need to use them as bribes for good behavior. Try to vary the activities. We would take breaks from movies and try to color and read in between because even kids get tired of watching a screen for hours on end. Have low expectations. Just know that driving with kids is probably going to suck, and then when it’s not as bad as you thought you will be pleasantly surprised. OR when it is just as bad at least you won’t be disappointed. And most importantly, make sure you can have fun through it with your partner in crime. It’s so easy to get frustrated and there were times when I was about ready to scream or give up, but we had to laugh, shrug our shoulders, and just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
Currently Reading: Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. I am so far captivated by his writing style and stories about a culture I know virtually nothing about. Also, we started reading The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines (because y’all know how much I love them) and it is just the cutest EVERRRR!Currently Baking: Not. A. Dang. Thing. We are, however, in Chicago and eating alllllll the food. Pizza. Real deli chicken salad on challah bread and matzoh ball soup. Jeni’s Ice Cream (ummmm how is this not in Texas???) And… don’t judge my choices based on last week’s blog post hahaha it’s all about balance. And vacation is for eating!
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.