Dear Mountain Mama,

Our young family is taking a long road trip. My wife and I are debating on whether to buy a video player to occupy our toddler during the long haul. 

What’s your opinion about using a video player to help children endure long periods in the car?

Thanks,

Road Tripper

 

Dear Road Tripper,

My two-year old and I recently drove ten hours. Without a video player. Sure, when he grew sleepy, his whines turned to howls and then full on screams until he finally relented to sleep’s whisper. His discomfort tormented me from the driver’s seat. I twisted my arm to hold his foot, providing the comfort of a mama’s hand. Sometimes that worked and his cries subsided to whimpers. Sometimes it didn’t.

When I told a friend who asked whether I’d used a video player that I hadn’t, her gasp led me to question whether I’d unknowingly committed a mild form of child abuse. I pointed out that I’d grown up going on road trips without the distractions of modern technology. She asked whether I found it necessary to make my child suffer in the same way given that society had come so far.

Or have we. I thought back to the place where I first started writing for fun — the gas station where I worked the 5 pm to midnight shift most weekday nights. I was a junior in high school and I knew that if I wanted to go to college, I’d have to pay for it. We lived in a rural area and most nights were slow. At first I’d stare at the cars whizzing by on the highway. I started telling stories about the people driving, guessing at where they were headed. Some of those stories made me sad, others made me smile. I wrote down my favorite ones and let a teacher read them. He encouraged me to enter a writing contest. I won at the state level, beating out kids from fancy schools whose parents carted them from one after school activity to the next. I’m convinced that the stillness of working in that sterile environment nudged me to imagining a more entertaining world, whereas the kids busy taking extracurricular activities never benefitted from the same luxury of doing nothing at all.

The gaps between where we are and where we dream to be can be uncomfortable, like working late nights at a gas station or sitting for a long time in a car. Inhabiting those in-between spaces requires the type of quiet that can be boring. These days we too often drown the uncomfortable spaces with the noise and distraction technology provides. But in that quiet wasteland, creativity takes root, cultivating a sense of wonder and hope. When we encourage our children to press their foreheads against the window and stare, they’ll take in plenty of strip malls and roadside construction. Those ugly and drab landscapes serve to accentuate the beauty of driving over glistening rivers and seeing the rainbow after a storm.

On our road trip, my toddler learned about cranes and back hoes, tractor trailers and buses. We talked about the color of the clouds and greeted the arrival of the moon like a long lost friend. I’m pretty sure the road trip would have been easier with a video player, but then we would have missed out on scanning the horizon. Listening to my toddler’s delight at pointing out when we were going downhill or over a bridge reminded me just how often we find the extraordinary in the mundane.

Road Tripper, consider unplugging and allowing your child’s mind the freedom to wander and marvel at the scenery.

Enjoy your trip!

Mountain Mama