From the days of the wood-paneled station wagon to our modern, tripped-out SUVs with smart technology, blue tooth capabilities and Wi-Fi, the American family continues to be on the go. Whether it’s the preschool carline, soccer practice pickup, grocery store and Target errands or the latest version of the Griswold “Family Vacation,” spending time in the car with kids is just a part of parenthood. Sometimes it’s a scene straight out of your favorite TV show, complete with good conversation, songs and laughter. Other times, you feel like a prisoner in a tin can from Hell when the kids are tired, hungry, fighting as you sit in traffic.
As a parent, preparation can make almost any situation better. So before you take to the road yet again, be sure you’ve got the items that every parent needs in the car.
- Paper products, please: Toilet paper, paper towels and wipes – this is every parent’s trifecta and can help in almost any situation. Whether it’s a spill in the car, a runny nose, an ill-equipped bathroom or a forgotten napkin, these items can help you keep the peace and keep on trucking. And let’s just take a moment to sing the praises of baby wipes. Even if your child is long out of diapers, wipes are still a Godsend. For sticky juice, a small cut, a dirty face, baby wipes do the trick. So, as a parent, take a moment and say “thank you” to trees for these paper products are your lifeblood – especially on the road!
- Bags or baggies: Yes, as a culture, we are trying to reduce our footprint, but sometimes, you just need a bag. For the dirty diaper you changed on the side of the road, your kids’ after school snack trash, your son’s shorts when he “didn’t quite make it” to the potty – as a parent, you need some type of catch-all, receptacle, place you can put these. If plastic is not your thing (again, we’re trying to improve the environment), then paper or even washable, reusable bags are the ticket. Easy to keep in one of the pockets behind a seat, these are a must-have when you’re in the car. But small note to self: remember to take the bag – and their contents – in the house when you’re finally home. Otherwise, you’ll have your own science experiment going on!
- Hand Sanitizer: When I think of the Dark Ages, I think of a life before there was hand sanitizer, or as my kids knew it, “Magic Soap.” No matter how much you’ve promoted good hygiene with your children, it’s almost impossible to have your children wash their hands as often as they need. When there’s no soap in the bathroom, when your son just tied dirty, wet shoelaces and now he’s reaching out for his snack, when your child just sneezed over everything, a little hand sanitizer can be the answer. Now, a word to the wise – unless your kiddos are older, this should be something that Mom handles and dispenses. All too often, young children and toddlers like to “overdo” and typically, things end up in the mouth, especially when they’re not supposed to be there. So, keep a nice supply of hand sanitizer with you and all will be just a little healthier.
- Safety first: If blood is going to happen, there’s a good chance it’ll be when you’re behind the wheel. For these situations and more, you want to have Band-Aids and some type of first aid ointment in your car. It’s best to have a First Aid kit in your vehicle, but speaking from experience, you will use all the Band-Aids in your First Aid kit so you want to have replenishments. Enough said.
- Tools: We’re not talking wrenches, hammers or pliers here but rather scissors, a flashlight and a pen/pad of paper that stays in your car. Whether you’re driving your kids to school and they forgot to finish one part of their project, if you just bought the required gear for your daughter on the way to her game and need to cut off the tags, when something important rolls under the seat and you have to find it, these items are great to have. Add to that a car charger that only stays in the car and you may just have the perfect glove compartment (proof of insurance and registration are good too!)
- Food and water: We realize that you’re not in an episode of Survivor but some parents like to keep water and snacks in the car, saving them from always having to remember these. And if you’re on a road trip, these are a must! In fact, some parents find it helpful to pack a small cooler to keep drinks and snacks cool. Based on your family’s “in the car” schedule, pack what you think is best. However, be careful of things like water bottles and sippy cups that stay in the car overnight as these can breed bacteria and not be healthy for little hands to grab the next day.
- Entertainment: Depending on your schedule and your children, you may want to have things for your kids to do in the car. If you have younger children who need to come along as you drive older ones around, then you might want books, toys or even electronics. If your car has a DVD system, this may be your saving grace as your 4-year old is waiting with you at your teenager’s lacrosse practice or when your preschooler is waiting in elementary school carline. However, it’s ok for you to have rules about what is and isn’t used in the car. For example, my family only did DVDs if it was a road trip and given my kids’ activities and ages, that worked for us. Be careful that you don’t let electronics or other toys be default as car time is also talk time for you and your children. And while you may not appreciate it now, when they’re in the tweens and teens, you will relish any opportunity when they want to chat with you!
Whether your kids are newborns, toddlers, school-aged or older, there will come a time when you feel less like a mom and more like an Uber driver. So, take this list to heart, tweak it, expand on it – whatever you need. Being prepared will definitely make your life a little easier as you’re pulling out of the garage – yet again!