If there’s one place we travel ball families spend a ridiculous amount of time (other than the ball field), it’s the car…..truck, van or SUV. I have travel baseball to thank for most of the 127,000 miles on my 2013 Explorer.
This weekend, we’re at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, a good three-and-a-half hours from our home in Richmond. (I don’t recommend the Days Inn where our team is staying…unless you’re looking for a good location to shoot amateur porn.)
Through the years that my sons have been playing travel baseball, I’ve learned that those long car rides are important….just as important as anything our players accomplish on the ball field. They’re an opportunity for uninterrupted time with our kiddos..without the TV blaring, chores to get done, dinner to cook, homework to finish.
The car ride is sort of a blank slate that can be used for bonding time, learning more about each other, sharing old memories and stories they’ve never heard before, playing silly made up games and pondering the world around us. It’s during this one-on-one time that my boys actually tell me what’s going on on their lives and in their heads, a refreshing change from the usual “oh nothing” or “it was fine,” when I ask about their days.
It’s way too easy to let valuable car time slip away with each mile, lost in our own thoughts as the kids contentedly play Fortnite on their devices or stare at a Disney movie in the DVD player.
Just like banning phones and electronics at the family dinner table, I propose that we turn them off in the car also. (At least part of the time.) Start with half-hour periods of unplugged time. Your kids will probably think you’ve lost your mind at first. But that’s okay. Let them be irritated for a little while.
Here are some of my favorite ways to make the most of family car time.
- Tell them about they day they were born (the weeks leading up to it and the days after). My 16-year-old still laughs out loud when I talk about getting him ready to leave the hospital in his adorable little “going home” outfit and blanket. I even had myself dressed and looking half decent. As I was oh-so-carefully bending down to place baby Andrew into his car seat, my little 2-day-old power sprayer peed all over himself, the blanket, the car seat and me. That’s when I realized the hard way to carry extra changes of clothes for your newborn AND yourself. We made the half hour car ride home with my husband laughing at his wife and child in the backseat both covered in urine. Oh, and it just happened to be my very first Mother’s Day also.
- Share your favorite music with each other. Thanks to long car rides, my boys know the lyrics to dozens of songs by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Guns-n-Roses and a bunch more that they probably wouldn’t discover on their own. And I’ve come to appreciate my kids’ music as well (some of it). We usually take turns playing a song from our favorite playlists.
- The MLB player alphabet game is an old standard of ours. Whoever goes first says the name of an MLB player (past or present, as long as they really exist). For instance, Matt Harvey. The second person has to name a player whose first name starts with H (because it’s the first letter of the last name of the player just chosen.) So, he names Hank Aaron. The next person names Albert Pujols, and so on. If a person chooses a player with the same first and last initial, the order of play reverses. This game lasts as long as everyone can keep thinking of names. Sometimes we cheat and allow players from our kids’ teams.
- Have a bubble gum blowing contest. Biggest bubble wins.
- Listen to podcasts and/or audio books together. Some of our favorite podcasts are Lore, Snap Judgment, HowStuffWorks and pretty much anything by Gimlet Media. Back in October (when I actually started this post), Andrew and I listened to every single episode of Spooked while driving back and forth to Virginia Tech. If you like true life ghost stories, I highly recommend it. We still mention some of the tales from time to time.
- Secret Place Race: This is great if you keep a road map or atlas in your vehicle. One person looks at the map and chooses a town, river, lake, or some other state landmark. They announce the name of the place they selected. A second player has 60 seconds to look at the map and try to find the secret place. This is best played with more than one passenger, since it probably isn’t terribly wise for the driver to play.
- Road Sign Alphabet Race: What a great old standard car trip game! Players race to complete the alphabet from letters they see in words on road signs out their side window of the vehicle. For example, I’m driving and looking on the left side, while my son Jack, in the passenger side, gets all the signs on the right. (Hint: Exit signs are an easy place to find the letter X.)
- Animal Farm: When I was a kid, my brother and I used to play this game where each person counts the animals they see out the window of their side of the car to add to their “farm.” But when you pass a cemetery, the player collecting animals on the same side of the road as the cemetery has to start over because all their animals “died.” Whoever has the most animals in their farm at the end of the trip wins. Kind of a morbid game, now that I think about it. But no worse than all the killing video games our kids play.
- Outrageous Add-On Stories: One player starts a story. For example, “A kid named Carl built a spaceship and landed on a tropical planet made of Sour Path Kids. He loved Sour Patch Kids, so he ate and ate and ate. But when it came time to get back in his spaceship and go home, he found that it had been taken over by a violent band of opera singing giraffes armed with explosive Pillsbury cinnamon roll cans.” Next person adds onto the story. These tales can get really funny and ridiculous if everyone’s feeling creative.
Got a game or fun way to pass your time on the road? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.