The Road Trip and “Are we there yet?”
Car trips can be a real stressor on young families. Young children have a lot of legitimate needs requiring frequent stops and they can be quite fussy when they are bored. (I used the word “fussy” but if you are the adult in the car, other words probably come to mind.) Instead of dreading these car rides, they can become enjoyable and memorable events for the family. One secret … audio books from the public library.
Audio books became part of my family’s complex ritual of the road trip. It would begin at the supper table where we would discuss the up-coming trip and type of story we would like to hear. During these discussions, the children honed their diplomatic skills, ranging from persuasion to compromise to threats of misbehavior. (It was like a Junior United Nations.) Once we settled on the type of story we wanted (“settled” may be an overly strong word), we made a family trip to the library to pick through the audio books that were available.
With a good book ready to play, the children looked forward to the car ride. And when it came time to start our trip, we had no problem with dawdlers. Everyone went potty before we started because no one wanted to interrupt the story with an extra stop. Eager to hear the story, even the required stops went more quickly.
In some respects, listening to audio books is like sneaking extra vegetables into the spaghetti sauce without the kids noticing it. Audio books are good for kids. They help build vocabulary. They develop listening and concentration skills. And through the variety of readers and story genres, children learn the art of story-telling. Fifteen years later, our children still remember our car trips with fondness.
One favorite story was “Raptor Red,” written by the imaginative paleontologist Robert Bakker. As my twenty-five year old son observed recently, “It had adventure and dinosaurs – how could a kid not like that?” In the story, the female raptors are dominant and I think that helped capture the interest of my two daughters. At the kids’ insistence, we heard this story on multiple trips. This was no burden to my wife and me, as the reader was talented, the story was rich, and the car driving was efficient.
One of our favorite book series was “Hank the Cow Dog.” These were delightfully campy with background music suitable for silent picture theaters. Hank, the Cow Dog, suffered from delusions of great importance thinking he was managing and protecting the farm. He didn’t realize that he was really just a mutt, barely in control of his side kick, Grover.
To this day, we continue to recite lines from those stories. One of my daughters recently quoted a line that one cowboy had said to another as they were measuring some boards to cut. One cowboy asked the other what the little lines between the inch markers meant. The response was, “How should I know? It’s not like we’re makin’ a piana or anythin’.” That line is now code speak in our house for don’t sweat the little things.
Audio books from the public library cost us nothing and became an important and enjoyable part of our family experience when the children were younger. Try it. You’ll like it. And tell us about it, please! Next time … The Big Family Project.
-Written by Bruce Incze