Musings on DVD Players in Cars

Following is a column of mine that was published in the Dallas Morning News on July 11, 2001. Replace the word “VCR” with “DVD Player” and it’s still relevant.  Only now, things have gotten worse.  People are popping in DVDs just to drive their kid to the grocery store. Completely limits any family conversation that could take place during that journey. And once your kids turn age 5, the percentage of time they spend away from you (in school and other activities ) is forever greater than the time they spend with you– and, concurrently, a lot of the time you manage to have with them is spent in the car driving to activities, if you’re like a lot of busy families.  So why not make the most of the time you have?  Some of the most interesting questions from my kids have come while riding in the car…






Should Cars Have VCRs? I Can’t See It


By Patricia Long Allbee



When moms gather to gab, I’ve noticed in the last year that when the subject is summer vacation, there are always several people singing the praises of the tiny “travel VCR” for vacationing by auto. 


“It’s great,” said one mom.  “We just pop a tape in when we leave and keep popping them in until we get there, and hardly hear a peep out of the kids.”


I just smile and nod and say something like, “We’ll have to give it a try,” and then firmly bite my tongue.  While inside I’m thinking about how sad it is that the TV/VCR has invaded perhaps the last bastion of family togetherness.  I mean, first it invades the evening meal, then it encroaches upon bedtime stories, and now road trips? It’s almost a sacrilege.


I’ll admit, if travel VCRs had become commonplace several years ago, I might have gone for one as well.  When my oldest, now 6, was a baby, I wouldn’t consider making the 850-mile trip to my parents’ home via car.  The thought petrified me, and it didn’t get any better as she got older.  What would we do with a child in the car all that way? Wouldn’t it be hard? Wouldn’t it drive us crazy? It’s so FAR, it would take forever.  And my husband would have to take extra vacation days just to drive! So we flew, and because of the expense, not often. If someone had told me that a few Barney videos could solve all my problems, I might have been tempted.


But now I know better. A few years, a larger vehicle and a second child later, my husband suggested driving.  Before panic could fully grip me, he looked up the easiest, quickest route on an Internet map site and said, “It’s only 13 1/2 hours. If we left in the late afternoon and drove ‘til midnight, the kids would sleep a lot during that time, and the next day, we’d be there at lunchtime.” I exhaled.  That’s do-able, I thought. (Much better than his original “he-man” plan, which was to leave at night and drive straight through, non-stop.)   To fill in the non-sleeping hours, I decided to plan everything out, an “itinerary” so to speak. It went something like this: 3-3:30, Free Time for Mom and Dad- kids play with coloring books; 3:30-4, Snack Time and listen to kids’ music cassettes; 4:00, Stretch Break at the nearest park; 4:30, Mom gets in back and plays with one child; 5:00, Mom switches seats and plays games with other child while first child plays with basket of toys; 5:30 Auto Bingo; 6:00, Dinner break.


It appealed to the control freak /list-maker in me and was the only way I could see to manage it. (I also knew that if I simply began the trip by giving the kids a bag of toys and said, “Have fun!” they’d go through all of them before we ever got out of the city limits.) It was fun buying the snacks for the cooler and coming up with inexpensive  activities (my top picks: Books and matching audio cassettes from the library; Mad Libs word game tablets; hidden picture workbooks; and Viewmaster reels, all saved only for trips, to make them special.)  The kids had a great time, and needless to say, I haven’t bought another plane ticket to Grandma and Grandpa’s.


I know that some moms grimace at the thought of doing an “itinerary” and that a VCR seems so much easier.  But “doing fun things” isn’t the only benefit from not using a travel VCR. Without being glued to the tube, it’s much easier for kids to “See America First”.  I always think that if we had had a VCR over the last two years, my kids would’ve missed seeing the spectacular mountain scenery in Arkansas, or the McDonald’s that stretches completely over the highway in Kansas, or the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, or the Sam Houston statue near Huntsville.  In fact, when given the chance, kids are usually so observant they’ll point out interesting things that aren’t even on the map.


And when we run out of things to do and sights to see, we’ve actually been known to talk (gasp!) or sing a bunch of songs (double gasp!) Okay, before this family starts sounding sickeningly sugar coated, I’ll admit that the trips are not perfect. Sometimes the kids don’t like all the toys, or the snacks, or both. Last summer, the time on my plans marked “Kids Sleep” was anything but that.  Yes, we heard, “Are we there yet?” way more than we wanted.  Yes, we were tired, and yes, it was hard. But not enough to make me cave in and get a VCR.  (Next time I’ll be sure to bring larger pillows.)

 Maybe if our trip was double or triple the miles, I might borrow one, but then use it only with limits.  Most kids, including mine, see too much video and TV on a daily basis at home.  Isn’t vacation supposed to be a break from routine? ###