10 Things I Learned Driving Cross-Country Alone With My Twins

driving cross-country

Never one to sit still in life, I recently embarked on a roadtrip driving cross-country, from New York to California with my toddler twins and our dog, ALONE. Here are some observations from eight days of madness, mayhem and memories:

1. They don’t teach toddler math in Common Core

I figured I’d need two hours or so after the movers left to gather things up and load the car. Of course, I forgot to factor in the two 2 ½-year-olds “helping.” Between them moving every carefully stacked pile, and randomly trying to kill each other, two hours became about six and a half. In the end, we got on the road at 10:45 at night. After a 2 AM check-in in Pennsylvania, we were off to a great start!

2. It takes a nationwide village

One of the coolest things about driving cross-country was getting to visit people that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and introducing my girls to those who had only seen them online. In 8 days, I got to visit a high school friend, a former high school student of mine, a friend from my Foreign Service days, and several family members. Not only were these visits great ways to connect, but the adult conversation was also key to keeping my sanity!

3. Toddlers are evil geniuses

Here’s a sampling of things yelled by my kids from the backseat: “Mommy play catch!” “Mommy take cup!” “Water!” “Mommy take off shoes!” “Mommy put on shoes!” “Mommy clean finger.” Did you suck on your finger? “Yeah.” “Sun in eyes!” I can’t change the sun. “Sun in eyes!!” “Eye hurt! Mommy fix eye!” Did you poke yourself in the eye? “Yeah.” “Mommy help me!” Mommy help you what? “Mommy help me!!” I’m driving the car; I can’t help you. “MOMMY HELP ME!!!!!!!” “Elmo!” Were watching Mickey. “Elmo!!” You already saw Elmo. “ELMO!!!” “Food! Food!! FOOD!!!!” (Just kidding, these were all from one kid, on one day)

driving cross-country

4. My dog is a saint

My 12-year-old mini-Schnauzer, Cali, joined us for this adventure, and was a champ the entire time. She just laid quietly on her blanket, never complaining or making a sound. If we had to deal with toddler meltdowns, she waited patiently for them to pass, or offered her nurturing assist. Cali was an A+ student all the way and the clear valedictorian of the trip.

5. Children’s programming will crush your logic brain

I’ll be honest – our iPad was on ALL day. Without headphones (they would have strangled themselves), I got to listen to hours of Elmo, Mickey, and Frozen. This led to some deep questions, such as, “Why is Elmo allowed to roam freely around Sesame Street when he’s only 3?” and “How have Mickey and his friends lasted this long when they can’t even pour a glass of milk without the help of Toodles?” As for Frozen, I’ve long questioned the physics that allows gloves to block Elsa’s powers, but not shoes (seriously, she stomps her foot and poof – frozen fjords!). But by the 563rd viewing (give or take), I got stuck on these lines that Anna sings when she’s ready to meet the townspeople: “There’ll be actually real-live people/It’ll be totally strange!” So basically, our beloved Anna does not consider the servants to be real people? Oh, Anna!

6. Satellite radio is worth every penny

No, seriously. See #5 if you doubt me. It only amazes me that it took two days for me to realize this. But once I saw the light, I could rock out to the ‘80s Pop and Hair Bands stations up front, while the illogical cartoon world dominated the backseat. And, of course, when they were actually sleeping, it helped to have something to perk me up when the GPS said, “392 miles to your exit.”

driving cross-country

7. The heat was on (so was the AC!)

With the dog along, we had to get creative with our stops, given that the southern route meant 90-115 degree temperatures for the entire trip. We could not spend a lot of time away from the car. So a system was born: With the AC on blast, I would change both girls on the front passenger seat of the car (this also helped handle one twin’s sudden terror of restroom changing tables). We would then crack all the windows and run inside so I could use the restroom. Then we’d walk the dog, and then all get back in, crank the AC, and eat. And then it was on the road again. We did this every 1.5-2 hours. So, you know, not exhausting at all.

8. Kids will surprise you

I sometimes think that we underestimate the resilience of children. They really are more adaptable than we give them credit for. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, by any means. One twin screamed across much of the Deep South and Texas. But she also had great days. And while I could have wished that she had been more invested in Mickey and Elmo, I couldn’t really complain too much given what I was asking of both of them. We did manage to find a couple of parks and playgrounds to stop at along the way – and one sketchy grass patch at a gas station when they cried, “Play in grass!” And we made it work.

9. You never truly know someone until you’ve forced them to spend two days in a car with toddlers

This one’s not really funny so much as completely wackadoodle. I had made arrangements to pick up a sitter in Dallas, who had worked for us before. She agreed to finish the trip with us and help us get settled in California. Everything seemed fine at first. But she became progressively disengaged (to the point of sullenness), possibly exacerbated by one twin melting down a lot (and calling her by another sitter’s name!). Finally, in El Paso, after a bad dinner, she said, “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this. It’s too emotionally draining,” She announced that she had booked a flight home (without discussing it with me) and wanted to go to the airport. At the airport, she took her things and left, not even saying goodbye to the girls. So, yeah, that happened.

driving cross-country

10. It’s was so worth it

What can I say? You might think that I reached the end of the 8 days determined never to enter a car with my kids again. But that’s so far from the truth. In fact, when we left our hotel in Phoenix on that last day, I was a little sad. Sure, I was excited about our new start in California, but I already knew I was going to miss our time together on the road. It was unique and special. And even if we do it again someday, it won’t be the same. The girls will be older, so their experience will be totally different, and we almost certainly will not have the same dog. This was a fleeting (OK, maybe not fleeting) moment in time that we shared, and that I, at least, will always remember. Could we have flown? Of course. But where’s the fun in that?

Kristen Marée Cleary is a writer and English professor who lives in California. She is a single mom to 2-year-old fraternal twin girls and her first-born, a miniature schnauzer. When she finds herself without two children and a dog on her lap, she enjoys Doctor Who marathons, coaching figure skating, and travel. She is an optioned screenwriter and, whenever the madness of raising twins as a single mom actually leaves her time to write about raising twins as a single mom, she blogs at www.spinstermom.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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