The hotel we stayed at had a free breakfast, so I had the older two put on their shoes, strapped the babies into the double stroller, and we rolled over to the breakfast room.
Now is just as convenient time as any to note that ANY time during the ENTIRE trip that we were not in the van or a hotel room, I had the babies strapped into the double stroller. It made getting in and out of the van take almost 10 minutes longer. It made getting through any closed manual door a big hassle. But it was a HUGE sanity saver to have them strapped into place any time I was physically vulnerable. Paxton, while dear to my heart, is a flight risk. Kendra needs little direction in public and Elliot needs a bit but is very good about following it...but Paxton is pretty content to go where ever he wants when ever he wants and you really have to stop what you're doing and physically direct him because he's two and even the best and brightest two-year-olds struggle with following verbal cues when they're in new and thus exciting places. And at 14 months and tenaciously walking, Bridget also needed to be strapped into a seat.
So, we took a look at the breakfast options and then I parked the stroller at a table in the line of sight of the food. I helped the older kids get their food first, then I made a trip for the babies, and then finally got something for myself.
And again, the kids all handled themselves beautifully in public, doing nothing but charming the other guests around us. They all ate surprisingly well, too, so I felt really good about the start of our day. With that, I filled up the milk cups and we headed back to the room to get dressed and ready for our day.
The rest of the morning was a little hairy. The kids were all still SO enthralled with being in a hotel, but enthralled kids tend to be quite active, and I was trying to get myself and them ready, while also preparing for another day of travel. I asked my mom to call the room because a huge selling point was the novelty of the phone. They did enjoy it, but it didn't provide as much distraction as I was hoping it would, but we got out the door and to the lobby desk to check out.
Only when I turned away from the desk to grab my keys, I couldn't find them. They weren't in my purse. So I started searching through the bags I'd put on the luggage cart and no luck. It took almost half an hour and two trips back to the room to find them--in my desperation to keep the kids entertained while I got everything ready for the day, I'd handed them to Bridget and they'd wound up in one of the drawers of one of the dressers in the room. It was a rough experience because I was flustered that it delayed the start of our traveling for the day and I actually go a little nuts when I can't find something I have recently had in my hands. I'm pretty sure it's part of some undiagnosed neurosis, but it doesn't pop up very often and doesn't last long when it does, so I try to handle it by taking good care of my keys.
Keys finally in hand, I took the kids out to the van and buckled them up and then pulled up to the lobby door, where I left our things on a luggage cart. Then I took some time to clean out the mess from the day before and get situated for this day before heading out.
Being in a van, there was a bit of a logistical situation with how to effectively meet the needs of all the kids while still trying to make good time. The first thing to address was Bridget, as she'd proven to be difficult to care for even with an extra pair of hands in the vehicle to take care of her while I drove. I decided to put her in a front-facing seat. I know that the current recommendation is to keep kids rear-facing until at least two and as long as physically possible after that. I know that many parents have kids Elliot's age who are rear-facing. But the legal requirement is 1 year, and Bridget's birthday was 2 months before our trip and after a lot of very careful deliberation, I decided to put her in a front-facing seat so that she would be able to see more (and be more entertained) and so that I would be able to hand her things from the front seat. I also brought the rear-facing carrier with us in case I changed my mind. Paxton is already front facing on the passenger side of the middle row in the van, but I could reach him very easily, too, so the babies were good.
For the older kids, I decided to give them most of a days worth of snacks at the beginning and let them choose when to eat it. I had other things I could distribute when we loaded up after stops, and I did but I started each day with giving them both a full water bottle, a full snack cup, and a loaded "lunch bag".
About a month before we left, my mom sent us these, preloaded with treats she knows the kids like. I knew when saw them that I wanted to use them for the road trip, but I was having a hard time figuring out how. Then a day or two before we left, I came up with the idea of not worrying about letting all the kids benefit from the bag and just giving them to the older two, who would be able to open both the bags and the containers in them without help. And voila! The problem of passing snacks to the older kids was solved! I filled the cups with things each kid prefers and packed a bag of chips and two bags of fruit snacks in each one and handed them to Kendra and Elliot. Elliot was so attached to his that he had to bring it with him EVERYWHERE. The whole trip.
And so, though getting off much later than I wanted to, we finally pulled out of the hotel parking lot at noon with yet more rain drizzling down on us. Though when I opened my email to get the address of the hotel I'd picked for that night to plug into the GPS, I realized that I never got a confirmation email for that hotel stay, which probably meant that my reservation didn't go through. Since we were going to be on I-70 all day and I didn't immediately need directions to the city where we'd be staying, I went ahead and decided to call someone for help than try to handle it myself.
My sister-in-law Debbie, whom I'd just seen the day before, was very happy to sit at her computer at home and figure it all out for me, and we got another suite confirmed at the same hotel I'd chosen in Columbia, Missouri, though not without me needing to pull into a gas station parking lot to fish out my credit card to read to her.
I hoped that the stop was just a fluke and that we'd be able to easily cross the rest of Indiana without needing another one. Oh, how I hoped.
Not long after stopping for the credit card, Bridget suddenly got unusually fussy. I tried handing her several different things, but it was obvious that whatever was bothering her, the things I was passing her were not cutting it, so I listened to her and found another gas station, less than an hour's drive from where we'd started that day and stopped for the second time.
And it's a good thing I didn't just let her cry it out and chalk it up to a sleepy baby, because there was a real problem. I'd given her a pouch of yogurt and instead of eating it...she had doused herself in it. When I opened the door, I found a ridiculously sticky baby! So I stripped her down, grabbed a clean outfit out of my easily accessible stash of extra clothes, and wiped down her carseat before unloading everybody else and heading into another gas station. I ended up giving her an all-out bath in the sink of the bathroom, and doing my best to rinse off her dirty clothes. Once she was situated, I had us all take a potty break for good measure because even though we hadn't covered much ground to show for it, it had been a couple of hours since we last went at the hotel. I decided to splurge and let the kids pick out drinks--I could definitely use a Diet Coke at this point! I felt like such a rock star...
...until we had to stop less than an hour later due to overfull bladders. Kendra had chosen a 24oz bottle of Gatorade and she drained the whole thing immediately. Things got really urgent right after we had passed Indianapolis and it took us a while to find a place to stop, but we got it taken care of.
I wish I could say that was the last stop in Indiana...but it totally wasn't. In fact, our next stop was so long that we all got out and use the bathrooms, came back and filled up the car, and then had to go in and use the bathrooms again!
We only needed one more potty break in Indiana...but then we had to stop again at the first rest stop across Illinois border. So, it should be no surprise for me to report that we needed 5 hours to travel just over 150 miles. But, I had my brain firmly wrapped around the fact that traveling with kids meant I'd need to stop a lot and I was crossing into a new time zone and gaining an hour on the clock, so it was all good.
And, because I fueled up at a couple of these stops, (ever optimistic that this time we'd be able to cover significant ground before needing to stop again) we zipped right through Illinois and well into Missouri, only stopping again less than an hour from the hotel! I saw a Wal-Mart and decided to grab stuff to feed the kids at the hotel that evening since we'd be getting in significantly earlier than we did the night before.
There were even still a few rays of light in the sky when we got there! The kids were squirrelly again and this room was significantly smaller, and without an actual door to separate the rooms, which was suboptimal, and we were all pretty cranky. And when I told Kendra that Paxton and I were sleeping in the big bed and she and Elliot were sleeping on the sofa, there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth...poor thing was the only one who hadn't napped in the car (not that others weren't still pretty beat). Luckily the sofa had a chaise lounge along with the pull-out bed, so I put her on the pull-out and separated Elliot onto the chaise lounge so they wouldn't disturb each other in the significantly smaller pull-out bed.
We slept in a little, but didn't have as good luck at the breakfast serving lots of things the kids were willing to eat, but luckily I had options that I'd brought in that case so this time I just loaded up with things and brought stuff back to the room and fed them there. And I had the good sense to turn on the dang TV while I got everybody ready for the day and packed up our stuff so they weren't so wild (packing up wasn't tooooo crazy because I put everybody's clothes for the trip in a large laundry basket in the back of the van, and then I pulled out what I'd need for the next day when we arrived at the hotels and put them into a small carry-on bag, so even though I was dealing with five people's worth of clothes, I was only dealing with 1 day's worth at a time).
Our departure from the second hotel went much more smoothly, in part because I kept very close watch on my keys, and in part because I'd figured a few things out from the day before. And we were off significantly earlier in the day than we were the day before. I did need to stop for gas, but I just paid at the pump and left the kids in the van and we made the rest of our drive without potty breaks--we'd stopped in Columbia, Missouri which is about an hour and a half outside Kansas City, and our final destination was less than hour outside KC.
Driving through Kansas City is always a thrilling experience for me because it was a very common destination as my paternal grandmother lived there, and it is very much like coming Home. In fact, my grandmother's backyard faced I-70, and we drove right past it. And then going through downtown Kansas City and hearing Elliot call my favorite skyscraper there a castle was pretty fun. Paxton noted that, "Oooooh, it's dark in here!" and "Mommy, look! It's tunnels!" when we were going through sections with lots of overpasses, which I remembered thinking similar things when I was driven through them. And then outside the city, the kids started spotting signs with Jayhawks on them, the mascot of the University of Kansas with which I affiliate even though I haven't graduated (YET), so they all know what Jayhawks are. I loved it! Sharing my own childhood with my children...it was awesome.
We got to Lawrence, where we'd be staying, just in time for lunch so we met my Mom at a McDonald's with an indoor playground. We arrived the first day of a major heat wave, and while it had been a pleasant 68 degree when we got into the van in Columbia, when we got out in Lawrence, it was 100 degrees. And plenty humid. As we got out of the van, Kendra announced, "Mom, it is HOT here. Like...REALLY, really hot." And she repeated similar observations the whole time I got her siblings unloaded. All I could think was that we were heading a LOT further south where we'd experience a lot more of this level of heat...the poor thing.
I took this after the peak heat of the day, it really was 100 degrees when we got there!
Mom showed up at the restaurant while we were finishing up our potty break in the bathroom, and we had our meal before showing them the playground. I'm not entirely sure who had more fun...the kids getting a chance to really run around and play, or Mom watching and hanging out with her grandchildren. Both of my parents just light up around our kids in a way I've never seen them before, and it's really, really satisfying to observe.
We stayed at McDonald's a really, really long time. I figured that the kids had spent the two previous days mostly cooped up in a car, they could use the exercise. When we'd had our fill, we went over to Mom's place to hang out for a while before heading to where we were staying to get the kids tucked in for some good sleep (hopefully).
And! We did it! The bigger part of driving was OVER. Now we could settle in and start making our rounds...