So far this year, we, as a family, have twice driven from our hometown of Cardiff to London and back in a day (a six-hour round journey); to Hampshire and back in a day (four hours); to Tenby for a week’s holiday (two hours each way); to Bristol several times to see the in-laws (an hour each way); and countless other journeys of an hour or so.
In short, with family and friends dotted around the country, Trixie – or the Mummy Wagon, as Cardiff Daddy’s friends have nicknamed our faithful seven-seater – ferries us about rather a lot.
I know that fact in itself is not unusual – lots of families do long journeys all the time. However, from talking to other friends with children, the fact we don’t switch on the iPad or portable DVD player the minute the car’s out of the drive (we don’t own either for a start), definitely puts us in the minority.
Most young children we know spend their car journeys watching their favourite film or TV show. I’m not judging them because I know how stressful travelling with children can be and how sometimes you’ll do anything for peace and quiet. However, Cardiff Daddy and I have made a conscious decision to embrace car journeys and turn them into fun family events.
We both have vivid memories of childhood car journeys with our respective families. Perhaps we are remembering them through rose-tinted glasses, and our parents might tell us how hellish they really were, but we both remember car trips being fun. I had a great little card game where you had to spot certain road signs, and I can still hear my dad singing along, completely out of tune, to his Queen greatest hits cassette, me and my brothers crying with laughter. Hubby remembers a game of having to spot specific numbers on car registration plates, and, coincidentally enough, his dad singing along badly to Queen too.
And that’s what we wanted to recreate with our children. Maybe not the bad singing bit, but it being a fun experience and an integral part of whatever trip we’re going on.
I’m not saying our car journeys are completely blissful. Of course there are the chants of ‘Are we there yet?’ and of course we have the odd emergency wee stop on the hard shoulder, despite just ‘trying’ at the service station. Of course my little ones argue with each other at times and of course there are occasions when we’ve timed journeys with baby or toddler naptimes and baby or toddler has refused to sleep and had a full-scale melt-down on the motorway.
However, for the rest of the time, I love our little family road trips. We start off a journey by each choosing a CD to play on the way. That way, we don’t have to listen to the Frozen soundtrack or nursery rhymes on repeat for three hours, and our little ones get introduced to some of their parents’ favourite music too. They are well versed in such classic bands as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, certain ‘clean’ Oasis songs, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and, of course, Queen, not to mention more up-to-date artists such as Ellie Goulding, Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran. I’m not quite sure what other motorists make of us air-guitaring, air-drumming and hand clapping our way down the M4 – I’m enjoying myself too much to notice.
We also like a good game of I Spy. Little E is good with her letters, but her brother, Little O, is still learning, so our clues are more along the lines of ‘I spy with my little eye something that is brown and green and has leaves on it.’ One of them will get the answer and then, for their turn, give the same clue again, and Cardiff Daddy and I will pretend not to know straight away.
They love pointing out cows and sheep and horses when they see them roadside. They get so excited every time they see a convertible – or ‘a car with no roof’, as they call them – or a motorbike, or a car with a caravan attached. If they should see a pink or an orange car – her and his favourite colours – you’d think they’d won the lottery. Same goes with tractors, fire engines, police cars and so on. They love holding their breath when they go through tunnels and they are fascinated with the people who work on the toll booths on the Severn Bridge. We once got a lady who had painted her finger nails green, and Little E is desperate to see her again. And you know how annoying it is when you just miss getting through a traffic light and have to wait ages for the next green light? They think being first in the queue is simply wonderful.
They’re getting good with road signs too and are fascinated with speed limits. Sometimes, though, they love nothing more than staring out of the window, watching the world go by. As a writer, I know how important allowing your mind to completely empty and switch off is in terms of getting the imagination going. I always know such a silence will be followed by some thought-provoking question or statement. We recently spent a car journey discussing why it is possible to see the moon in the daytime and different time zones across the world. Quite deep topics for two pre-schoolers.
I think of car time as being purely indulgent time. At home, it is easy to get distracted with cooking, cleaning, laundry and so on. When you’re travelling, you can’t do any of that. There will soon come a time when my children will cringe with embarrassment at me singing and dancing along to the stereo, and a day when they won’t want to play I Spy, or wave at passing cars, and will spend the whole journey texting their mates, moaning about day trips and holidays with their parents. So I’m making the most of it while I can in the hope that one day, maybe when they have children of their own, they will look back and think, ‘actually, those road trips were really good fun’.
What about you? Are your family car journeys full of traditional driving games, or does the thought make you shudder and it’s a DVD and a pair of headphones all the way?