Some parents drive at night. Others invite their relatives to visit. Then there are the rest of us, for whom vacations mean long drives with short people.
Keeping children in tightly enclosed areas for long periods of time tests one's imagination, organization and even courage.
Survivors speak of frequent stops, giving the kids a chance to expend their energy in nonvocal ways. Some parents bring along a Frisbee or a ball to toss near the gas stations and picnic grounds.
There are other tricks: Wrapping small treats to be given every hour or every 50 miles; bringing a tray and coloring books or crossword puzzles for each child; singing multiversed songs. But when the bear has gone over the mountain for good, you need some fun games to get you through the minutes and hours that still remain. Here are a handful: CONTORTIONS. Put your right hand on your right ear. Put your left hand on your nose. Try sliding your right elbow through your left arm. Then slide your right hand through without taking your fingers off your nose. Good luck. LEMONADE. One person is picked to be "It." Everyone else in a position to watch says, "Where are you from?" "It" tells his place of birth. The others ask, "What's your trade?" and "It" answers, "Lemonade."
Then "It" must act out a profession (cooking, carpentry, window washing, lobbying?), within the constraints of his car seat, and the other players have to guess what he is trying to be. When they have guessed correctly, the person sitting next to "It" takes on the acting role. MATH PROBLEMS. If your children can identify numbers, have them pick out one through 50, consecutively, on road signs and license plates. Those who can do sums can be asked to find 5 plus 8, or 27 minus 12, or 6 times 3, and so on. Let everyone have a turn making up the math problems.
When the kids get tired of looking for numbers, you can play this game: Each person suggests a number, like 9, and everyone else in the car has to invent a math problem for which that number is the answer. BUZZ. This is a difficult game that trips up adults as often as it stumps kids. If your children know their multiples fairly well, they will probably outlast you. Going around the car, the players try to count up to 100, with each player saying one number at a time. When you get to a number that either has a seven in it (like 17), or is a multiple of seven (like 14), the player must say "Buzz," and the counting switches direction. Thus, if you say 13 and the person sitting next to you buzzes, pick up at 14.
If you say a seven number instead of Buzz, you are out, and the players work around you. This game gets ridiculous in the 70s, if the crew makes it that far. You can alter it with some other multiple, also, if your child is more familiar with the tables of three or four than with the sevens. TWIN NUMBERS. You need a piece of paper and a pencil for this game, plus the ability to write the numbers 1 through 10. The players take turns writing two sets of numbers all over the paper -- two ones, two twos, and so on up to 10 -- scattering them so that no two similar numbers are near each other. Then the players take turns connecting each set in sequence, without crossing any other line. The player who connects the most numbers without getting stuck is the winner, or if all are connected, all win. WORD SQUARE. You need to draw this up in advance for a child who can read in a car: S Y A K E P T W C L I R A O F C G E B X H O D E I
The aim is to start with any letter and move one square at a time, up, down, sideways or diagonally, to form a word (see ox? fox?). The above square happens to be full of animals; others can be cast as you like. BECAUSE. This is really a round-robin story game, very popular with the six children we tested. The first player describes an event, e.g. "The roof leaked." The second player gives a reason for this event ("because the monster who walked on the roof had sharp claws that made big holes"), and the third player gives the effect ("so we converted the attic to a swimming pool"). WHICH ANT?. This calls for school-age children. Tell them to write (or have them list orally) as many words as they can think of that include the letters ANT -- plant, elephant, Santa Claus, and so on. Then make up silly questions about them: Which ANT has leaves? Which ANT visits us at Christmas? Let the kids make up questions, too. TELEGRAM. Older kids should enjoy this. Go around the car once or twice, and have everyone say a letter, while one person writes it down. You may end up with something like: Z B S E L V T Y.
Now everyone needs a piece of paper and a pencil to work with these letters, which are actually initials for a telegram you plan to send. Like the one from the mad scientist telling of his experiments: Zebras Bash Socks Endlessly, Let Vicky Try Yellow. Or the elderly aunt, unable to visit and sending her excuses: Zipper Broke, Sent Ellen Lilies, Very Tired, Yetta. Or whatever. BINGO. Not the board game with all those little pieces to get lost in the car, but a variation on the children's song ("I had a little dog, and Bingo was his name-o"). If your child's name is anything close to five letters, you can substitute "I had a little boy, and David (or whatever) was his name-o." This chorus consists of the letters of the name: D-A-V-I-D, D-A-V-I-D, D-A-V-I--D, and David was his name-o."
On the first verse, you sing the full chorus. On the second verse, you drop the last letter from his name and substitute a clap (D-A-V-I-clap). On the next verse, you drop the next-to-last letter (D-A-V-clap-clap), and so on. This is a good way to teach little children how to spell their names.