Because we have family who live far away, we are often piling into the car like so many sardines, accompanied by snacks and pillows, band aids and toys. We like to think of ourselves as experienced road-trippers. One of our tricks is to have a surprise to reveal partway through the trip. Like a spoonful of sugar to medicine, a treat can make an unpleasant car trip bearable. At least that’s the idea.
On a recent trip to Vermont, we decided to unveil a surprise we’d sat on for almost two years – our car is equipped with a DVD player. The little ones never knew what the gray box on the ceiling was for. Now they would find out. We couldn’t wait. Like parents preparing Christmas stockings, we snuck out to the car the night before the trip. The moon was high and bright above. Sitting in the backseat where our children would be the next day, we watched part of a movie. It was magical, transfixing. “They are going to love this,” we told each other. And, of course, we thought we’d love it, too. Less whining, more relaxing: win/win.
The next day, about four hours into the drive, we revealed the DVD player. Our son was stunned. “What’s this?!” he cried. But then he gave us a surprise. “I don’t want to watch the big movie,” he said. “Let’s watch the little movie!” The “little movie” was the menu screen. And only the menu screen. It featured jungle creatures singing a loud, grating song and repeated every half minute or so. After an hour, our four-year old could sing along. A bit longer and the baby was dancing, too. We sighed and donned noise-cancellation headphones. We listened to podcasts while our children sang and danced with the “little movie.”
What have I learned from this? Some surprises are double – you surprise your kids, and then they surprise you. And some surprises don’t work exactly like that spoonful of sugar! But now we are back from Vermont and the DVD player has been shut for a while. I find myself thinking it wasn’t so bad. After all, the kids had fun. And next time, maybe we’ll get beyond the menu screen.