Sunday, June 07, 2009

Plugged in

When I was childless, I thought that I'd never let a child of mine watch television in the car on road trips.

It wasn't that I sneered at the idea (like I sneer at some ideas that I've deemed silly or stupid). It's just that I didn't have television to entertain me on long boring road trips when I was a kid. I had to read books, scribble in activity books (anyone remember those magic ink pens?) do Mad Libs, listen to cassette tapes (yes, I'm that old), play the Geography Game or the License Plate Game with my family, or stare aimlessly out the window at the scenery speeding by. So I reasoned that any child of mine could entertain himself or herself the same way.

It was one of many lofty ideas that I had as a childless adult that I promptly threw under the bus once I actually had a flesh-and-blood child and was no longer getting anywhere close to my RDA of sleep. That should actually be a theme in my life as a parent, now that that I think about it. I had a friend tell me that she never takes parenting advice from people who don't have children or don't have extended experience in working with children. My own personal policy is that I am allowed to try out the theories I had before I had children but I am not allowed to feel bad if or when they don't work out at all and in fact flame out spectacularly.

You see, I had this lovely baby. And lo, the sweet baby who slept in the car became a child. A very bright and (mostly) happy child. A child who was not old enough to read to himself. And the child was also very social and wanted to talk with or at Mommy all the livelong day. And Mommy could only keep that up for so long in the car before she wanted to put her head down on the steering wheel and sob for mercy. Or at least for someone else to do all the talking and listening for a little while while she drove, drank Diet Coke and pretended she was going to write up her gritty and fascinating road trip for a sophisticated magazine and sell it and make lots of money.

So when William was two, I convinced my husband to let us borrow a DVD player from our friends for our trip to the beach last summer. No, we did not plug our son into the DVD player for the entire trip. We talked to him. We told stories and we sang songs. But eventually, we got tired. So William got to watch episodes of "Arthur" and "Sesame Street" and snippets of "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story." And David and I were able to have a nice quiet adult conversation in the front seat. I even got to read some of my library book (I was immersed in the non-fiction book Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God and Diversity on Steroids by Julie Salomon.) We had snacks. We talked some more. We were all reasonably sane and happy.

This year, as you know, I was planning a trip to Natchez to visit with my family. Originally, we planned to fly. That little plan got derailed by a 106 degree fever the day before our scheduled flight, but I couldn't have known that in advance. So I was planning ways to entertain my active three-year-old on the airplane. I told David that we really should just suck it up and buy our own portable DVD player. He balked for a few minutes, then remembered the beach trip. And a couple of days later, he walked in the door with a bag from Target. We had second thoughts, though....which resulted in our buying a set of nice headphones for William to use when watching his DVDs.

Even after the plane trip was cancelled, I had a road trip to deal with. Not only one road trip but two: one to Natchez with my parents and one home from Natchez without my parents. Have you ever driven any of the routes between Nashville and Natchez? No? Well, let me just fill you in: they are boring. So boring. So blindingly mind-numbingly boring. So boring that you'd be hard-pressed to find anything interesting enough to play "I Spy" for more than two rounds, and you can consider yourself lucky if you see license plates from more than four states. So once the initial excitement of hitting the road waned and the best snacks had been eaten, I dug out the little white DVD player. So, for a little while, somewhere on I-55, south of Batesville, Mississippi, I got to have a nice conversation with my mother while my son watched "Cinderella." He only got to watch a total of two hours of TV on the entire five- or six-hour trip, though; that's how long the battery lasts, and I didn't clue him into the fact that the player has a cord that plugs into the cigarette lighter. So he still got some of the "God, I'm so bored" road trip experience that was so crucial in shaping me into the person I am today.

A week later, I drove home with William in the minivan (we've named her Matilda, a nice combo of Sedate Old Lady and Slightly Retro Wacky, don't you think?) that my grandparents have so graciously bequeathed to me. William contentedly watched "Sleeping Beauty" while I settled back in the driver's seat and listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing songs from "Porgy and Bess." Summertime, and the livin' is easy, indeed.

I don't think I'll make big bucks (er, or any bucks) from writing this up here, but hey, now you know the secret to my survival.

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