Dads, Day Trips, and DVD’s

Many people express their being impressed with my taking my two girls (now 5 and 2) out on long trips. Even my wife. I take them for weekends to my parents’ house 150 miles away, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We go out all day to science museums and parks. We do occasional play dates (though I think most of the moms we’ve met since becoming parents still feel unsure what to say to me, since most of them don’t follow sports, as if that’s all I do when not parenting). When my wife was organizing a suprise party for her best friend at the house, I took them — and my twelve-year-old nephew, who is a big help — out in the monsoons of summer, to Liberty Science Center, managing somehow to keep the little one dry as we strolled her from the lot to the main entrance a million miles away.

My wife has made these kinds of trips, too, on her own, and generally keeps her sanity. And no one stops to think how amazing it is that she does it. I used to think that it might be a challenge for me as long as the girls were nursing –and we night-nursed both of them until the first was three and the second two — but even that’s not much of an issue, though it’s much easier now that they can both sleep through the night. Yet when my wife tells her friends, moms all, that I do this, they act surprised.

I wonder if part of this is the perception that dads are not prepared to do this stuff. I don’t know. I’d think it’d be pretty simple. When you think of it, driving is something guys are supposed to LOVE to do anyway! We may not comprehend the forty different shades of yellow, and we sometimes have trouble listening, but cars, we know. And, of course, we don’t get lost, ever, so what’s the problem? Have caffeine, will travel!

I pack up the diapers and changes of clothes, I usually remember their toothbrushes and special toothpaste (unless the visit is to my mom, who has her own stash of the stuff), gas up the car when we cross the border (gas in New Jersey is thirty to forty cents cheaper than in NYC), have snacks and water bottles at the ready (we don’t do juice boxes in the car — when they’re old enough to drive, they can have beverages other than water), make sure the six-CD changer is fully loaded, and we’re off. We spend the whole day out at museums, or visits to family. Last Saturday, I went to my friend the optometrist’s office to pick up my new frames, then dashed over to my aunt’s to drop off some presents and take some lunch to go — and I don’t think twice about it. As long as I can find a reasonably clean spot to chance a messy diaper, I’m okay. Anything else I forget, well, there’s always a convenience store somewhere, or a gas station.

There is a challenge to it at times, like last weekend, our trip to my parents’. Everyone ended up having some effects of a stomach virus (I’ll skip the details). We stopped twice when we drove down, once for gas (we were pretty close to empty) and once to stretch and use facilities. I was not feeling all that well but fortunately we made it without incident. That night the little one was up all night pooping, but in otherwise good spirits (her grandmother and her dad were another story). We left on a Saturday night (about two weeks ago) because of an impending storm that did not leave too much snow, but would have made for a treacherous morning drive home, so I know i did the right thing. Both girls slept the whole time; the little one would periodically cry in her sleep and I would think to stop, but then she would be asleep as we neared a rest stop. The big challenge was that I did not feel well, and wanted to stop, but when it’s nine in the evening in December and it’s about twenty-five degrees outside and you’re the only adult in the car, the thought of dragging two unconscious children from a parking space into a bathroom, even a clean “family” bathroom, tends to inspire you to keep driving until you get home.

But generally speaking, I don’t think it’s a big deal that I take my two kids — 2.5 and 5.5 years old — out for day trips, even if they have to spend two-plus hours in the car. They generally entertain themselves, loving looking out the windows and playing I-Spy, get very excited when they can see cows (their special sign that says, WE’RE ALMOST AT GRANDMA’S HOUSE!). The tell stories, read books, sometimes color, and since they are strapped in their car seats, they don’t land any blows on each other’s heads.

What about the DVD player in back seat, dude?

Nope. We’re not allowed. My wife would never permit it. she’d sooner play I-Spy and sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider for 100 miles. Or 200. We’ve traveled to the Auto Train, and up to Mystic, Connecticut, and even took the oldest all the way down to Florida when she was 18 months, all without the benefits of the greatest sedative known to humankind.

Of course, when we get there, we break out a few favorites — this trip a Dora, that drip a Blue’s Clues. And they loved watching Harold and the Purple Crayon on my laptop in a Mystic hotel. We may be crazy, but we’re not insane.

I suppose I should not complain too much about impressing these other moms. I just think sometimes there are assumptions made, and I don’t think those assumptions make much sense. It’s not any harder — or easier — for me to take my girls out than it is for my wife. I wonder if these other moms don’t trust their husbands to take their young children on a wekeend trip. Reflecting on this issue has opened several ideas about expectations and trust issues. I won’t speculate on them any futher here. I’ll let them stew a bit.

Happy Motoring, Dads!

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About T.B. White

lives in the New York City area with his wife and two daughters, 6 and 3. He is a college professor who has written essays about Media and the O.J. Simpson case, Woody Allen, and other areas of popular culture. He brings a unique perspective about parenting to families.com as the "fathers" blogger. Calling himself "Working Dad" is his way of turning a common phrase on its head. Most dads work, of course, but like many working moms, he finds himself constantly balancing his career and his family, oftentimes doing both on his couch.