On our previous road trip, with the two kiddos in the van and some 1100 miles rolling onto the odometer, we had the opportunity to revisit a lesson from Psychology 101. No, it didn’t occur to us up front to try some psychology, or even reverse psychology, or to introduce the concept of transference to our screaming 2-year-old who had clearly had enough of the 5-point harness. We were simply desperate. Already having maxed out Tim’s vacation and bereavement time, we had to make tracks back to the homestead.
As I wrote in Travels with Baby, “Making good time doesn’t always make for a good time…” when you’re traveling with small children, and on the final morning of our unplanned journey this was proving to be an excellent case in point. “OUT DIS CAH SEEEAAAT!!!” was a catchy sentiment that quickly spread to Big Sister as well. Soon, not one of us was happy in our car seat, but there was nowhere safe to pull over.
Enter the penguin. As I looked over my shoulder from the front passenger seat, pleading for the umpteenth time to join the chorus of “Old Macdonald” or find solace in whichever toy had last been hurtled at my headrest, I spied the penguin puppet on the floor. It was within my reach. Soon, the penguin was peeking over my shoulder and around the side of my seat. He waved and there was a giggle. “Penguin! What are you–?!” and suddenly he was dancing on my head. There was laughter.
“Penguin, get down from there!” I looked over my shoulder and told the girls, “Really!” Then I scolded the “Naughty little penguin! Don’t you know you need to stay in your seat while we’re driving in the car?!” No one was screaming. For the moment. I apologized to the penguin for not having a car seat the right size for him, and explained how he must be a a good “lap penguin” for the duration of the journey. “What would the police say if they saw you dancing on my head?!”
He agreed to stay on my lap. But the moment he got antsy and began the climb up onto my shoulder, the girls shouted in sheer delight, advising him on proper road trip etiquette. Penguin tried to be good and stay on my lap, he really did. Sometimes he behaved himself so well in fact that he got to take turns riding on the girls’ laps. But the moment he fell to the floor or started to dance the Macarena on Mom’s head, there was an entire car full of passengers ready to help keep him in line.
I can’t say it was all that much quieter in the car, but it was far preferable to hear their laughter and shouts of instruction over their cries of discontent and pleas for release. We were all laughing at times, if only for the absurdity of the situation. “Naughty little penguin!” are words that still make us chuckle in tense and tired moments at the house.
We just returned from another Rivoli Family Road Trip, logging some 1730 miles from the Bay Area through Central Oregon’s high desert country, the fertile Willamette Valley, lush rainforest with waterfalls, and the rugged Pacific coastline. We stayed in our tent, a couple of hotels, a family home, and a vacation rental. Thankfully, there was no shortage of meaningful stops on this journey.
In my next posts, I’ll be sharing some of our favorite sights from this adventure and some tips for great road trips. To all of you parents gearing up for road trips with your baby or toddler, I wish you many miles of smiles and memorable stops along the way. And just in case the next scenic viewpoint is farther down the road than your child would like, be sure to pack a penguin —or at least your sense of humor.