After a couple of weeks of planning and preparation, it was time for us to hit the open road. Our first day we had an eight-ish hour day ahead driving from Atlanta to New Orleans. I had my packet of ten pages or so ready for each child, worth $20 Mom Bucks upon completion. The complaints started early, “hers is shorter than mine; his is too easy; let me see hers to check something…” but eventually everyone settled in and started to find their groove. One thing I found surprising is that the requests for screens were minimal. At the beginning of the drive, I would let them know when they would get screen time (usually about five hours into the drive if it was a long drive) and then I would hear anything more about screentime. They were each given an hour of screen time each day. The kids were allowed to “purchase” extra screen time, about $20 Mom Bucks would buy them an additional 60 minutes. I structured the day to give them the opportunity to earn Mom Bucks at the beginning of the day when everyone was in a good mood, and then they could cash in the Mom Bucks at the end of the day for the screens and I could listen to my podcasts to help keep me awake and alert at the end of a long day. These morning drives were some of my favorites. During this time we would chat, play trivia games, talk about what we have seen and where we are going.
A couple of hours into our drive we tried to find a park so we could run around, and enjoy a snack. For some reason, I had a difficult time finding a park probably because I was trying to find one right off the highway. Eventually, I pulled into a parking lot with a Wendy’s drive-thru on one side and a building with a wall on the other, and a small sliver of grass. We needed to get out and stretch our legs. I set the timer for ten minutes. Over the course of those ten minutes, things deteriorated rapidly. My two younger children got out soccer balls and an agility ladder. My son kicked the ball against the wall while my younger daughter used the ladder. I decided to do wind sprints using the parking lot lines, followed by burpees. My oldest decided that this would be a great time to be a pre-teen. She managed to piss-off my youngest daughter, yell at me, and cause our makeshift workout session to come to an abrupt end. It didn’t help that while doing burpees, I managed to find an anthill resulting in six bites on my knee. So now there are children fighting, I’m cursing at the ants and worried that my knee is going to swell up and I won't be able to drive, and subsequently taking out my frustrations on my pre-teen daughter, all in a Wendy’s parking lot in the middle of who knows where.
At that point I’m pretty sure we were all thinking about heading East on the highway back to Atlanta. I know I did. The timer on my phone went off, putting an end to the yelling, and we all begrudgingly returned to our van. A few more words were exchanged by everyone because we all like to have the last word, followed by silence. No one dared ask for a screen or declare that they were bored. Eventually, we all got over it and by the time we crossed the Mississippi border, the kids earned their $2 Mom Bucks (crossing a state line AND posing for a photo with a smile). We enjoyed some soccer at the rest stop and started talking to each other again. I think that was probably the lowest point of our trip. In hindsight I think we all were feeling a lot of emotions about our adventure and the Wendy's parking lot situation brought them all to a head.
When we FINALLY crossed the Louisiana border we were excited and looking forward to our first stop, New Orleans. Prior to leaving I had the kids each pick something they wanted to do while we were in New Orleans. Originally we had planned to go on a swamp tour, but the thought of us having to sit still in a boat for a couple of hours after being in the car for eight hours was unappealing. Who knows, someone might want to feed someone else to the alligators at that point in the day. Instead, we opted for my son’s pick that first night, miniature golf in City Park. After checking into our hotel, we drove to the park, where along the way I salivated over the amazing above-ground cemeteries and French influenced architecture which I couldn’t wait to photograph the next day during our first full day in the city.
We enjoyed a round of miniature golf followed by a less than optimal dinner. In an attempt to be spontaneous we opted (I forced us) to eat at the restaurant in the park which served New Orleans style cuisine. My kids are pretty picky eaters so this is where Mom Bucks were useful, they received a Mom Buck for each new food they tried. Genius right? Unfortunately, the food was terrible - alligator sausage, beans and rice mixed together, all of it incredibly spicy and not super palatable. I’m actually surprised my son didn’t throw-up right there in the middle of the restaurant. In short, we ended up having beignets for dinner.
After a LONG day, we were all ready to head back to the hotel for showers and SLEEP. We had survived day one of our five week journey, and to think we had already exprienced an argument, tears, ant bites, and a terrible dinner. Luckily that was our worst day of the entire trip so I'm glad we got it out of the way early.
Check back next week when we explore the streets of New Orleans.