Being on the road with the family is a test of wills, a test of manners, and a test of endurance. But it’s summer! And isn’t it fun to pile in the car with a load of sleeping bags and a deck of cards? And doesn’t it add to the excitement when, an hour out of town, you start hearing that weird rattle coming from the front wheel-well? And isn’t it fun to take bets with your spouse on how soon the first “Are We There Yet?” is heard?
Whether you are heading across country or to the local beach, you can hope your children will arrive to their destination cheerful and rested. Hope springs eternal. But they also may need a few tools to help them along, because life just has a way of lighting up “No Vacancy” signs, making cars break down, and making five year-olds wait an hour for their dinner.
In addition to a deck of playing cards, which can keep children busy for hours on road trips, we have a guessing game we trot out anytime there’s a long wait for a meal, or it feels like the simmering restlessness is about to boil over into mutiny. After spending a certain number of hours together in captivity, the family may be more than a little cranky, and the game serves as a way to unite the troops. It might take Mom and Dad’s mind off the rattling noise under the hood and the fact that they didn’t make motel reservations on a busy holiday weekend. Most important, it might distract the kids from the fact they’re hungry and out-of-sorts.
It’s an observational game, using your surroundings, and I can attest it works as well with grandparents as it does young kids, taking everyone’s mind off the fact that you may not have seen the waitress since you were seated forty-five minutes before. The game is basically twenty questions, but with no limit on the questions And each person gets to ask a question in turn. But instead of choosing some random animal, vegetable or mineral, you use your immediate surroundings. You or your child, grandpa or great aunt Ida surreptitiously picks something in the vicinity. A clock, a fork, the ketchup label, the moose head on the wall, the bad painting above the pie case; each person asks a question (bigger than a breadbox, does it have four legs, etc…) until someone guesses correctly, or gives up, or the waitress arrives—whichever comes first. And the winner gets to choose the next item. Sound simple? Almost pointless? Yet you would marvel at how fun it can be when you are stuck waiting in an unfamiliar locale. The game involves everyone, and is far preferable to the poking and fidgeting that is bound to eventually flare up between restless children or annoyed, antsy adults. Plus, it will give you an opportunity to explain what a “breadbox” is to your mystified child.
You’ll still need that deck of cards, and that magnetic chess set, and a fat satchel of reading material to distract the kids once you’ve reached your destination. We adore the company of our children, but we also need to make a little time for ourselves, especially after being confined together in a small space for hours on end. Haul out the bag of books and some small games, so your kids can be entertained while and your spouse enjoy some grown-up time together. And should the two of you be too tired to actually engage in grown-up talk, you’ll be fully equipped to play a nice game of gin.