Sunday, March 18, 2012

How I spoiled a 60-mile car nap with a candy raid

It was only 7:00pm, just 10 minutes in an hour-long drive, and Ryan was already nodding off quietly in his car seat. To some people, mostly people without kids, a child sleeping peacefully in the backseat is a sweet picture. But to the parent of a preschooler, it’s the sign of a sleepless night and a child who is squirreling away his energy.
Photo by Paul Anderson, Morguefile

Before a child hits 3, car sleeping is so wonderful that many of us plan our day around them. When my son was younger, I believed that a car nap was worth twice as much as a nap in his crib. I took the long way to Target—the detour through quiet farm land that added five miles to the trip, but also allowed for 20 minutes of peaceful toddler slumber.

But when a kid turns 3, car naps become the enemy. A scant 10 minutes asleep in the backseat means a long night of extra drinks of water, a third or fourth reading of Brown Bear Brown Bear, every potty excuse in the world, and the likelihood of a bleary eyed child who falls asleep on the couch with a blanket over his head so he can't watch CSI: New York (okay, maybe that’s just in my house). A car nap means that Ryan impedes on my time, that brief hour before my bedtime when I can watch grown-up TV, pay bills, and catch up on email.

And that’s how I ended up at a road side quickie mart midway between Pottsville and the tiny town of Womelsdorf at 7:10, encouraging Ryan to pick out a sugar filled snack much to the bemusement of fellow travelers. Only five minutes into trip home from Nana’s house, Ryan asked for his blankie, a sure sign that sleep was imminent. The thought of him nodding off nearly brought me to tears as I considered the laundry and writing I had waiting for me at home, neither of which is conducive to a preschooler’s demands.

I tried the standard options—opening the windows to blast him with fresh air, playing “find the red car,” and putting on his favorite CD of Noggin tunes, all to no avail. He was dropping into the car sleep position—head cocked to the left and propped up by the comfortable head rest of his car seat. His quick disinterest told me that this was the time to call in the big guns, to break all the rules of parenting for the sake of keeping him awake long enough to get him to bed at a normal time.

“Do you want candy?” I asked as we pulled into the quickie mart. This couldn’t just be a quick snack, it had to last long enough to hold his interest and keep him occupied for at least half of our trip.

I fished three dollars out of my pocket, surely enough to buy a snack and, if lucky, a diet soda for mom. We paced the short four aisles of the store as I pointed out great snacks like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Big Mouth suckers. Other people in the store looked at me like I was mad as I offered Ryan Milky Ways and even ice cream cups. I was willing to take the hit on the messy car seat if it made him happy and kept him awake.

We finally settled on a bag of M&Ms, a perfect snack filled with sugar and individual pieces that had to be dug from the bottom of the bag, both tricky and time consuming for a preschooler. I even had enough left over for my soda.

As we climbed back into the car, a motorcycle pulled up next to us. The sheer excitement of this encounter alone probably would have kept Ryan awake for the rest of the trip. We made it home awake and full, both of us, as Ryan foraged out the yellow M&Ms and handed them up to me. It wasn’t the best example of parenting, but sometimes the best memories are made from breaking the rules a bit, as every time we drive by that quickie mart Ryan reminds me of the time we stopped for a whole bag of M&Ms and I’m reminded of the time I outsmarted the car nap and got a good night’s sleep.


  1. This is awesome. Sugar snacks for all!

  2. Hilarious! But I'm a little concerned about the habits this kind of strategy instills.

  3. Great story---as a parent myself, I can TOTALLY relate! As for this being something that creates a habit, I doubt it. You sound like a smart mom and as all smart moms do, we pick our battles and sometimes it's simply the lesser "evil." Well done!