Harry's Gang: Road trip rules add to fun times
January 12, 2024
The holidays were fun, with so many relatives at our house that no one really wanted it to end. So, after Christmas, my sisters invited Tommy, 16, to drive back to the Cities with them. He jumped at the chance. Fifteen minutes later, he had packed a bag, made a few calls, and was ready to go. As he asked me for a few bucks, he said, “Dad, I’m heading to Minneapolis. I don’t know where I’m staying. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. And I’m not really sure how I’m getting home. This is gonna be great!”
I couldn’t have been prouder. I have raised truly adventurous children.
Our family seems to travel a lot, and over the years we’ve developed some guidelines to make traveling with three kids as pleasant as possible. We call them “Road Trip Rules,” and they are inviolate.
It all started when the boys were about 3 and 4 years old. I realized that on our long trips to visit Grandma, the boys never used the restrooms at the rest area. But as soon as we start to pull back onto the highway, someone would inevitably say, “I have to go!” So, we decided: everyone “goes” when we stop, whether you have to “go” or not. Problem solved.
It worked so well, we refer to the practice as “road trip rule,” as in: “We’re about to leave — did you road trip rule?” It’s become a habit, and comes in handy even when we’re not about to go on a long trip. The kids always remind each other to “road trip rule” before getting into the car.
Soon, we all agreed on another Road Trip Rule: no electronic devices. Although Tara packs DVDs and iPads, we challenged ourselves to stay electronics-free. We play “I Spy With My Little Eye,” the alphabet game, and 20 Questions. That last one became our favorite; my family can spend hours playing 20 Questions. We’ll narrow down the answers into categories that get progressively more specific. We don’t stop at 20 questions: we keep going until someone wins. Sometimes it takes an hour or more. Someone once told me 20 Questions is good training for lawyers who do cross-examination. I’m raising a family of future lawyers. My apologies to society.
Another favorite is the “Auntie Zora” rule. Usually, my children blindly follow my every wish and instruction without complaint or sass. There is no higher power than me. But when we are with one of my sisters, they have veto power over my decisions. Kids want ice cream — I say “no.” But if Zora, Lisa or Stacy are there, the kids can appeal to them, and their decision is final. As you can guess, the sisters rarely reject one of my kids’ reasonable requests. Such authority also makes the kids want to invite my sisters on just about every trip we take, for some reason.
We also try to find places to swim along the way. Each child must swim four laps before they can play, and it’s turned all three into excellent swimmers. It’s also a great way to burn off steam before getting back in the van, refreshed and ready for more driving.
Being in the newspaper business, we often pick up the local paper. Patrick invented a game called “Story Shifter,” where we read a headline, then take turns imagining the next few lines. When it’s my turn, I try to insert some kind of lesson, either math, history, science or morals. But the kids get it turned back into space ships, ballerinas, and sports pretty quickly. At least I try.
The conversations are great, too. I’ve learned that corralling your kids into a small, locked vehicle with little to no chance of escape is a great way to bond with someone. As the kids get older, the conversations are getting more sophisticated and more interesting. Soon, they will be doing the driving and, eventually, will be bringing their own kids on our road trips. Even then, I suspect they’ll still look the other way when it’s time to pay for gas and snacks. Dad pays. That’s another family Road Trip Rule.