All about the ‘music’

20160719_111840It wouldn’t be summer in our family without weekly road trips somewhere fun. Most of the trips are relatively local: San Francisco, Monterey, Napa. Some are farther afield: Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles. And here are some commonalities about those trips:

  1. The most frequently consumed food is homemade GORP (without raisins).
  2. Everyone takes a bio break every two hours, no matter what.
  3. Kidz Bop is playing over Internet radio. Incessantly.

The first two realities are easy to stomach; my GORP is second to none and (despite the occasional protest) everyone benefits from empty bladders. No. 3 on the list, however…well, let’s just say that music MAKES ME WANT TO PULL OFF MY EARS AND STOMP ON THEM UNTIL THEY BECOME A BLOODY PILE OF MUSH.

For the uninitiated, Kidz Bop records sanitized versions of modern songs, sung by kids. In theory, it’s a wonderful introduction to grownup music from a kid’s POV. In practice, however, all of the songs sound like bad karaoke being sung underwater by a gaggle of weak and terminally ill cats. To call it “music” is generous. IMHO, it is, in fact, anti-music.

The problem of course, is that my kids love it. Obsessively. The first thing L asks when she climbs into the minivan: “Can we listen to Kidz Bop?” The first thing R says when she finds out we’re going to listen to Kidz Bop: “Can we keep listening to Kidz Bop the whole way there?”

(Thankfully, Baby G doesn’t have an opinion about Kidz Bop yet.)

I can’t explain their fascination at all. Powerwoman and I played Mozart for both big girls when they were in utero, and I spent a good part of their early childhood years introducing them to Springsteen, Lucinda, and other (artists I deem to be) classics. They are exposed to grown-up music in other forms, too: We do a lot of singing around the house, and it’s always the real versions of these songs, warts and all. Still, their love affair for the heinous Kidz Bop continues.

The worst part of this undying fascination: The damn music is catchy. The other night at the gym I was humming the Kidz Bop version of a popular rock song. Sometimes, usually when I’m drinking wine, I’ll catch myself playing, “What Does the Fox Say?” in my head.

I’m not sure how to end Kidz Bop’s reign of aural terror.  Some days I fantasize about instating a moratorium on Kidz Bop. Most days I just quietly hope L and R will get tired of it. At some point, something is bound to change, right? Until then, I guess I’ll just quietly give the kids what they want. If it helps them enjoy our summer road trips, I guess the music isn’t that bad after all.

Sand in the minivan

We rung in the new year in style today, traipsing all over our favorite beach in Sonoma County. As the crow flies, Goat Rock State Beach (part of Sonoma Coast State Park) is only about 25-30 miles from our home. But because it takes about 75 minutes to get there, we consider an excursion to this spot a family travel adventure of the day-trip variety.

And what an adventure it was. After experiencing a shutout for the first 20 minutes, the big girls found 27 pieces of beach glass in the 35 minutes that followed. The wind whipped us until we felt like icicles. We counted not one, not two, but THREE rogue waves.

Oh, and Baby G slept through her first trip to the ocean.

After the beach, we drove 10 miles south into Bodega Bay, where the five of us (ICYW, Baby G still was sleeping) grabbed some fish ‘n’ chips at one of our favorite local restaurants.

I capped the excursion by taking L and R on a walk around the marina, exploring finger docks (thankfully no-one fell in), dodging seagull poop (thankfully no-one got hit), watching pelagic birds (they loved the petrels), and scanning the surface of the water for signs of Harbor seals or California sea lions (sadly, no dice here).

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the afternoon came when we pulled into the driveway at home. The Big Girls got out and went inside. Powerwoman took the baby out and brought her in, too. I lingered a bit to collect some of the wrappers and usual detritus a family amasses on a daylong road trip.

That’s when I noticed it: The inside of our new minivan was covered with sand.

Normally this kind of unexpected mess would drive a neurotic freak like me nuts. This time, however, it was comforting, enthralling, and downright wonderful.

In that moment, the sand was the physical manifestation of a return to normalcy in our lives—a sign that after more than a month of working through a new routine as a family of five, our Wandering Pod was wandering again. It was, quite simply, proof we are back. Now that’s a mess I can embrace.

The ultimate vehicle for family road trips

Inside our van, during a rare moment sans kids.

Inside our van, during a rare moment sans kids.

My name is Matt Villano, and I drive a minivan. A Honda Odyssey, to be exact. And I’m proud of it.

I know what you’re thinking: WHAT A TOTAL LOSER. And you’re entitled to your opinion. The truth, however, is that I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK. What’s more, I actually kinda sorta love my new wheels. So there.

No, dear readers, minivans aren’t pretty. They’re not cool. Even after Toyota tried to brand its version as the “Swagger Wagon,” they’re not even remotely stylish. But I never was a form-over-function kind of guy. Minivans actually are the ultimate in function-over-form. And when you’ve got a wife and three kids and you take a lot of road trips, all you ever really care about is function, anyway.

Let me repeat that for you, just to make sure there’s no miscommunication here: MY NEW MINIVAN IS AWESOME FOR FAMILY TRAVEL.

Allow me to count the ways:

  1. It came with seats for eight human beings. EIGHT HUMAN BEINGS. That means our family of five has room to spread out. Hell, I took out the center seat in the second row to let L access the back of the van more easily and there’s still room for seven. (ICYW, no, we are not having more kids.)
  2. It has SEVEN cup holders (nine if you include the two that were part of the seat I removed). This means there are plenty of places for Powerwoman and me to put our coffees/water bottles, and plenty of places for L and R to store their plastic gems and other treasures they collect along the way.
  3. It has three-zone climate control. This rules because I doze off behind the wheel if I’m too cold. With this feature, the girls can be all warm and toasty (at different temperatures, mind you), and I can be chilling (literally) behind the wheel.
  4. Even with the third row of seats, there is ample trunk space. This is good news for our family, since the girls like to take a bunch of crap stuff when we road-trip.
  5. It has cool back-up and side-view cameras. I don’t really use these things, but they are great tools to call into action when L and R are melting down or fighting (or both). You can almost picture how this goes. HEY KIDS, STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER AND CHECK OUT HOW COOL THE SHOULDER LOOKS THROUGH THE SIDE-VIEW CAMERA! It actually works!

These five faves barely scratch the surface. Another reason I love the new van is because it reminds me of the first car I ever had—oddly that also was a minivan, though I removed all but the third row of seats so I could make out with girls in high school and college. (Definitely another story for a different blog.)

Admittedly, our new van isn’t for everyone. Most people likely would have sprung for the model with the built-in TV screens in the back; we, because of our stance on screen time, did not. Most people in the Bay Area probably would have opted to spend a little extra money for an oversized SUV (such as the Chevy Tahoe or Suburban) with four-wheel drive; we, because we only go to the mountains once a winter, did not.

(Also, if you care about things such as gas mileage, the van’s is pretty terrible.)

Still, this vehicle is PERFECT for family road trips, and we intend to take it on a bunch. Already, in the van’s short life with us (we’ve had it for fewer than 1,000 miles to this point), we’ve taken it to the beach (60 minutes away), the city (75 minutes away), and the remote country (90 minutes away). Next spring, we’ll take it to Yosemite. Next summer, it might even make the drive to Disneyland.

In National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Griswolds called their lovable station wagon the Family Truckster. I think we’ll start calling ours the Family Vanster, or F.V., for short. Make fun of us all you want. We’ll be laughing from our comfortable ride all the way home.

What are some of your favorite vehicles for family travel?

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