We went a lot of years without electronic road-trip entertainment for the kids. No game systems, no iPods, no DVD players. The closest we got to new technology was listening to books on CD instead of books on tape. And even then we listened to quaint titles like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.
This low tech choice was mostly due to circumstance. We were a family of four living on one graduate student income, so we prioritized things like food and shelter and winter coats in Minnesota over entertainment gadgetry.
Had we had the money for DVD players, though, I’m still not sure we would have bought them. I secretly wanted our kids to entertain themselves the old fashioned way, even though I cringed every time they asked me to play I spy or find-the-letters-of-the-alphabet-on-road-signs games. I have romantic notions of watching the landscape change, listening to music, having conversations, taking quiet time to think deep thoughts about things like men and their socks.
But the reality of road trips with kids is that the changing landscape out the windows does not interest them, you can’t enjoy your music because the kids are constantly talking over it, conversation is replaced by boring road trip games, and deep thoughts are interrupted by complaints of “I’m hungry,” “I’m bored,” and “my butt hurts in this seat.”
That all changed today, though, as our son pulled out his brand new 3DS, hand-held Nintendo game system, complete with his very own earbuds. Since he had this fancy new birthday toy, I loaded a couple of new games on my Nook and dusted off our ancient iPod, “purchased” with credit card rewards, and loaded it with all the High School Musical soundtracks for our daughter. We found her some earbuds and she is bopping silently in the backseat, knotting a friendship bracelet as I write.
And let me tell you, our road trip was glorious. I don’t regret or feel bad about their electronics, not even for a second. My husband and I got, not minutes of quiet in the back seat, but hours. Hours of satisfaction and contentment for the kids. Huge stretches of concentration for my husband, who navigated the treachery of sleet and fog and driving rain on steep, slick mountain passes. Wide expanses of time for me to watch rivulets of rain stream across my window, trees creep out of the fog, farms and hay bales and rolling hills drenched with December rain. I listened to the spatter of rain on the windshield, the hum of tires on the highway. I had conversations with my husband.
On this trip, our kids received the precious gifts of 3DSes, and iPods, and Nooks, and of unlimited screen time.
And I received the gift of putting pen to paper, of scratching inky words on lined paper, of writing the old fashioned way, my family all around me as I fulfilled my commitment to write 30 minutes a day.
I originally wrote this during our holidays travels in 2012. Since we’re on the road again this year, I thought I’d repost it. Enjoy!