It happens one of two ways:
They fall asleep as you are backing out of the garage en route to the mall. This can happen at any time, 9 a.m., 2 p.m., midnight. However it never happens on a four-hour trip to another state. My advice is to press on. If you start letting them dictate your schedule now, you’ll never go anywhere again.
Once you get to the mall, you won’t be able to wake them up without a full marching band. (However, if you were trying to sneak out of their bedroom at night, a bent carpet fiber would alert them.)
Tips to wake them:
- Try tapping your brakes especially hard (stand on them) as you pull into a parking spot. There’s nothing like mom “driving like an idiot” to get them excited.
- If their movie is running on the DVD player, turn it off. This should wake up even the deaf one.
- Try to unwrap a candy bar for yourself. They will want half before their eyes are open.
Once you get them awake, things get ugly. There’s crying, arguing, lost hats, untied shoes. And that’s just you. You have to get them past the whole disoriented stage. They are likely to: Punch their brother. Punch you. Accidentally lock the keys in the car. They never come up short in their bag of tricks.
What should you do? I like to strong-arm them myself. It makes my time spent at the gym all the more worthwhile. If they are wearing big thick coats, make it a game to catch them by a fistful of coat and zipper and plunk them out of the car and onto the pavement with a laugh and a flourish. Meanwhile, you can threaten them with things like “now” and “you better” in a deadly whisper.
This is why Big Box Stores were made for moms. You can drag two screaming children with hair matted to their face and yours through a set of double doors and grab a cart without anyone so much as giving you a sympathetic nod or asking if the children are yours. (Everyone realizes you’d never steal these two children.) Anonymity is good in these situations.
They fall asleep anytime after 4 in the afternoon. This is the witching hour. You’ll see them about to nod off in the rearview mirror, look at the clock and decide this cannot happen. It will mean nothing but grief for you come their bedtime in a few hours.
Your first instinct is to start up some lame-brained conversation, which the kids will ignore. Better to pick up the cell phone and try to carry on an intricate convo with your boss or ob/gyn. This gives them a firm goal.
Next you might fiddle with the radio and try to find a boppy little song. Do not voice your opinion on what song that might be. Should you find a likely suspect, rush past it, hitting the seek button furiously. This is like waving the red cape to a backseat full of bulls.
If the dancing doesn’t unfold, you might try a round of “Knock-Knock” jokes. This doesn’t usually work on infants. Toddlers, however dumb, get these jokes because they think “Knock-Knock” is the punchline. You can pretty much say anything you want. Have fun with this but make sure they aren’t at the repeat-everything stage yet or you’ll be in a handful of trouble when they go to school.
“Who’s there?” they ask. “Your dad,” you say. “Your dad who?” they ask. “Good question,” you reply. While you giggle inside enjoying how naughty this makes you sound, the kids have already moved on to the next “Knock-Knock” joke with no punchline whatsoever. They are simply trying to say it louder than each other.
Worst-case scenario: The No-One-Is-Steering Game. (Do not attempt on icy roads. This is for professional amateurs only.)
With your hands in the air, scream in horror. As the gleeful panic unfolds behind you, very, very carefully, steer with your knees. Do not attempt this in a silk skirt. Time the car “coming to life” on straightaways at first. This will save you a lot in car insurance the first few times you try it.
As your confidence builds, try slow, rounded corners – better yet – Ys in the road where you have a 50/50 shot of not killing them. When the initial thrill of the car driving itself wears off, ask the kids to call out commands and then promptly argue with them. “Don’t you dare go faster, Car!” you’ll scream. (If you’re feeling creative, you might even come up with an even cleverer handle for Car.)
When they scream “Faster!” go ahead and pound your foot on the accelerator. Careful not to blow anything. This gives them the feeling of control and speed. If you’re driving a minivan, it gives them the feeling of control. Then take command of Car again like the authoritative figure you think you are.
If they start getting cocky, go ahead and coast to a near stop. (Ignore the cars behind you; do they have to deal with these children at bedtime tonight? No, I didn’t think so.) Wait for the kids to be “good enough” for the car to listen again. From there, you might have an argument between them, you and Car, as to whether or not to stop for a green light or go for a red one. You get the picture. Just make sure a cop doesn’t.
This little song-and-dance will probably get you about five minutes further down the road, at which point a good song will come on or your boss will call and you’ll forget your mission just long enough to look up and see you’ve lost them. Crap. You reach back and grab their legs, trying to pull them off. Still, they sleep.
You drive home, trying to gauge if it’s too cold or too hot to let them sleep in the car all night.