My husband and I met at a small college in Iowa. Going into it all, I should have known there was a good chance I’d end up marrying an Iowa farm boy. But I also didn’t think I’d ever be the type to want a small town Iowa life (although I now sometimes wish for it). This has resulted in us living exactly 306 miles of two-lane roads and one-horse towns from my husband’s parents. Over the years our children (currently nine, seven, and two) have grown accustomed to these screen-free six-hour road trips, but it hasn’t been without a lot of tough love along the way.

Maybe you’ve successfully traveled long distances with kids this summer, or maybe you almost lost your salvation following a pilot car across the Nebraska plains (hypothetically speaking, of course), but you know what I mean when I say that good riders aren’t usually born. They’re created with sweat and tears. . .and the occasional boot camp-style threat.

We all have our own ways of getting through the miles. For us, here’s how it goes down:

Hour 1: It starts with a united front. We often head out very early in the morning while the children are still half-comatose, in an effort to gain an hour or two of peaceful riding. My husband and I, the united front-seaters, have a rule that no one is allowed to speak or eat the first hour in the car. I know what you’re thinking: Jen, that’s so harsh! What if they really need something? Stop it right now! They are clothed and fed and secured. What could they possibly need? Give me this one hour, people. It truly is the only way to make it through the ones to come.

Hour 2: After the noise ban is lifted, the inquiries begin. Mom, can I have some crackers? Mom, can I open the window? Mom, are we in Iowa yet? They know the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. My head tilt and eyebrow raise generally gives them their answer. The boys resort to chattering between themselves, and the baby starts to sing.

Hour 3: The questions begin again. I answer every last one while I dig into the snack bag and dole out some goodies, which are devoured in 20 seconds. Thus begins the “I’m bored” phase of the trip. I tell the children boredom is good for kids, great even. It inspires creativity and imagination, and why don’t they take a look inside the fun bag? (The fun bag is loaded with books, stickers, small toys and games. It is SUPER FUN.) They look inside the bag and moan, and I’m offended by their gross under-appreciation of the fun bag’s funness.

Hour 4:  It’s getting tense in here. The baby is glaring at me as she attempts not to fall asleep. I can feel her eyeballs melting two little holes in the back of my skull. But I will not turn around.

Hear me, my friends. Eye contact is the death shot of a peaceful road trip. If the children are quiet, don’t look back. This is a biblical principle found in Genesis 19, so I feel great about it. You want to turn around and make conversation with the heathens like Lot’s wife? You’ll WISH you were a pillar of salt after the crazies realize they have an audience.

For the love of all sane things, follow the word of the Lord and NOBODY look at the baby.

We don’t look back. Baby falls asleep.

Hour 5: We make a pit stop for gas and a quick meal. Child One spills red Hi-C on husband’s shorts. Child Two indulges strange fascination with public restrooms by visiting them twice in twenty minutes. Child Three eats everything in sight like she didn’t just devour an entire box of animal crackers in the car.

We get back to the vehicle and notice the smell.  A combination of growing boys’ feet, Cheez-Its, and desperation. Y’all, it’s rough.

Hour 6:  We can feel it boiling just beneath us. The incredible amount of energy that has been contained in our vehicle all day is ready to blow. Everyone’s eyes have glazed over, and the husband looks like he’s about to get sweary. It’s time to dig deep. I turn on some music to drown out the fighting and are-we-there-yet’s, and I sing loud. After a minute or two, everybody joins in. All the rules fly out the window. We just had lunch, and you want 12 snacks? Sure! The baby’s tattooing her arms and legs with markers? Oh well! I urge the husband to drive faster and turn the volume up a little more.

And suddenly, we’re there.

The children bolt from the vehicle to the nearest patch of grass and begin spinning with their arms out like Julie Andrews.

We made it. In our own crazy way (which the children will cherish in hindsight, right?), we made it.

If you’re traveling with kids anytime soon, just know I’m behind you. Make your game plan and own it. United front, don’t look back, and when all else fails, turn up the music and tell the crazies to pass the Cheez-Its.