Real Life with Kids (and Dogs) in the Car

Like many other Americans around the country, our family traveled over the Christmas holiday.  All of our family members gathered over the course of two days in rural Minnesota.  To get there from our house is about a three hour drive.

Our trip to see all the girls’ grandparents was quite uneventful.  We got up early on Christmas Eve, loaded everyone in the car, and happily chowed down on cranberry muffins while our favorite carols played on the radio.  Even our two dogs contentedly hung out in their spacious cubby behind the third row of seats in our vehicle.

Once we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we had a great time.  Everyone (dogs and kids included) celebrated with the best of them.  Eventually, though, it was time to return home.

Now, before I continue with the story, I want to make a special note of highlighting the presence of the dogs and kids in the car.  They will be important as we continue our story.

This is Maggie:


  • She weighs 47 pounds.
  • She is a cross between an English Springer Spaniel and a German Shorthair.  Although she will be 9 years old in a few weeks, she often behaves like a puppy.
  • She suffers from motion sickness and is deathly afraid of riding in the car.  She also refuses all forms of doggy car ride sedatives.

This is Penny:


  • She weighs 68 pounds.
  • She is a mutt, but we think she is mostly German Shepherd.  She is very sweet and better behaved than her canine sister, but is not the most brilliant dog on the planet.
  • Penny travels well, but usually goes into full-on doggy whine mode for about a half-hour during any given car trip.  It is loud.

These are our kids:

KC Ballet

  • They ate a lot of sugar and junk for several days in a row.  They also slept less than normal over Christmas.  Both factors contributed to wonky emotions and stomach problems.

We began our trip home at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning.  The car was stuffed tight with Christmas gifts, children, and the dogs.  We failed to plan any entertainment whatsoever in the car.  Our snack plan was high-sugar, high-fat junk food. We also forgot all considerations pertaining to motion sickness.

After leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we made a brief pit stop at the other Grandma and Grandpa’s home to drop off a few items that belonged to them.  Approximately 10 minutes later, we were off, presumably only 3 hours from home.

Fifteen minutes later, one of the children announced she was going to be sick.  Our lack of foresight concerning motion sickness preparations meant that the only person sitting in the third row of our vehicle, who also happened to be physically ill, was virtually stranded.  The result wasn’t pretty.

Since we were in rural Minnesota, our choice was to turn back (15 minutes to Grandma’s house) or press on (10 minutes to the nearest gas station).  We forged ahead, while our poor child suffered alone in third row of the car.  Once at the gas station, Todd cleaned up the kid and the car as best he could and our child rummaged for clean, dry pants to wear.  She found snowman pajamas.

I went into the gas station in search of anything that might help my child feel better.  I found nothing except for a bottle of Sierra Mist.  I purchased the Sierra Mist and endured the stink-eye of the cashier while she complied with my request for a fistful of extra plastic grocery sacks.  For the next 60 miles, I manually released all the carbonation from the bottle of soda.  Very, very carefully.

We returned to the road.  A half hour later, Penny (German Shepherd) barreled her way over the rear seat of the car and sat squarely in the lap of our previously carsick child.  Initially, this was really funny.  It quickly became a problem.  Penny could not get comfortable and decided to explore the rest of the car’s interior for a better location to lie down.

I don’t know about you, but a 68 pound dog, going for a stroll in the middle of a moving vehicle, all while three children shriek and scream, is not my idea of a good time.  Therefore, life became really unpleasant when Maggie (German Shorthair) decided to join the fun and climb into the passenger cabin as well.

Things were loud.  There was crying.  Todd developed a headache and stated he could no longer see out of his left eye.  And I became possessed by a fit of the giggles.  If anyone could have seen us, they would have had a good, hard laugh at our expense.

Since we were once again stuck between towns on a rural highway, we suffered along for another 20 minutes.  Originally, we planned to eat lunch at home.  Since we were severely behind schedule, though, lunch on the road became necessary.  Options were limited, so we dined at McDonald’s after Todd finished stuffing the dogs in the back of the car again.

Very intentional choices were made concerning food.  Nothing greasy for anyone who might cause another motion sickness delay.  Everyone ate quickly so we could get back in the car.  We were pleased to discover that the dogs stayed where they were supposed to during our brief venture into the restaurant.

Approximately ten minutes down the road, Maggie decided to have another go at leaping over the rear seat in the car.  Since the child back there is somewhat small and was caught unaware, Maggie was effective.  Maggie unbuckled someone’s seat belt, rearranged luggage, created total chaos, and eventually found her way into another child’s lap, where she sat and panted stinky 47 pound dog breath in that kid’s face until we could stop again (20 minutes later).  She also tried her best to imprint muddy paw prints on any Christmas present made of a light colored cloth.

When Todd retrieved the dog from the passenger cabin of the car at our next stop (which also ended up being a need to refuel the car), he discovered that Maggie had also unfastened her leash from her collar.  After a momentary contemplation about letting her go for good, he briefly chased her around the gas station’s parking lot before convincing her to come back to him.  Maggie was returned to her place in the rear of the car.

Another ten minutes down the road, Maggie returned to the passenger cabin.  The screaming from the children was almost deafening.  This time, we were only a few minutes from the next town.  Todd dove off at the nearest gas station, told me to drive, and demanded that two of the children climb out of the car.

He then put Maggie in her spot for the fourth time in as many hours, climbed into the third row of our car, asked the girls to buckle up, and requested that we all just please get home as soon as possible.  It looked like a game of mobile musical chairs.


The last hour of our trip was fairly unremarkable.  That is, if you don’t acknowledge the icy roads.  Or the wind.  Or the grown man acting as a human barricade against almost 120 pounds of panting dogs.

The moral of the story is this: We do not have it all together.  Not even close.  But if we plan ahead, we can sometimes fake it.

Which is what we did when we traveled to Washington, D.C., last spring.  So, stay tuned.  We will share all of our favorite tricks for traveling with kids.  And they really do work…when we plan ahead.

Did you travel with kids over the Christmas holiday?  What strategies do you use to make things go smoothly?  Let us know in an email or comment below!