I was born into a family that utterly lacks the map gene. There isn't one of us with an innate sense of north versus south or even a passable facility with an atlas. Instead we ask for directions constantly, arrive late as a way of life, and discuss purchasing car GPS systems that tell you exactly where to go (I want one!).
In my own case, I conveniently married a man who, as far as I can tell, has the world's greatest navigational skills. Not only that: ever since I accidentally steered his secondhand Honda over a curb on our third date, Ted has generally been willing to do all the driving. In return, it's my job to keep the beasts in the backseat happy and to provide food and games for all.
Back in the days of leaky sippy cups and stops for diaper changes, I can't say our car time ever qualified as a vacation. But now that our children, Asa and Nell, are 11 and 9, I actually welcome a long stretch on the road with them. When else do we all sit together for hours and hours, playing the same silly games we always have, devouring snacks out of Baggies, fiddling with Ted's iPod, and nodding off whenever we like?
In my decade as rolling entertainment director, I've discovered that our kids feel little need for me to vary the routine. And so our oddball traditions rule: We nibble continually, alternating between the surpassingly sweet and the somewhat nutritious. For the latter category, I recommend a visit to the supermarket sushi counter for edamame in the pod, California rolls, and, if your grocery happens to have an Asian bent, teriyaki-flavored nori (roasted seaweed strips, which my kids munch like chips).
As we go, the gravelly voice coming out of our car speakers is almost certainly E. B. White's, reading Charlotte's Web. Our driver, you see, finds audiobooks headache-inducing, with this one flawless exception. While White reads, we mouth the sentences with him. (Download the book at Audible.com, and you may never need another.)
At least once every road trip, I attempt my own School of Rock session, blasting the Rolling Stones, Jonathan Richman, the B-52's, and Johnny Cash until both kids scream for silence. Inevitably, the Game Boys get pulled out, as do other travel toys. We also play the alphabet game, a race to spot all the letters in order from A to Z outside the car windows. It's dizzyingly fast, until you hit J, Q, and X. Then we move on to Name That Tune, which, we long ago discovered, even pre-verbal people love.
We have yet to succumb to a car DVD player or even headphones. I'm sure that's all around the next bend. Don't ask me exactly where we're going; I'm just glad we're not there yet.