True Life: Taking a toddler to the DMV

True Life: Taking a toddler to the DMV

I recently took my first non-solo trip to the DMV with my one-year-old son. If you haven’t been to the DMV with a tiny human who needs to run around while you need to sit still and fill out mind-numbing paper forms, let me give you some insight:

When you first walk into the DMV, whether you arrive right when the doors open or in the afternoon, you will be greeted with a line. You wait in the first line for the information desk and tell them why you are there. While waiting, your toddler needs to run around, so you leave your diaper bag as a placeholder in line while you make sure he isn’t causing havoc, constantly returning to the diaper bag to scoot it up a smidge further as the line moves. In a desperate attempt to keep your toddler still and in line with you, you give him your car keys. He immediately presses the trunk release button on your key fob, and that super-close parking spot you snagged now seems like a dangerous idea. You say a silent prayer that your trunk is not wide open, and trudge through the line.


The person behind the information desk is quick and helpful (thank you!) and you get your ticket and sit down. Your ticket says F106, and the waiting area is mostly full. You look for an empty seat, preferably one near someone who isn’t easily annoyed by the sound of a small child pulling and re-pulling the velcro straps on their shoes.


You sit down, place your diaper bag under the seat and wrangle your kid. He sits on the floor in front of you, the floor that looks clean enough so long as you don’t look too hard. Since you just arrived, he is pretty content with fiddling with the zipper of the diaper bag in front of him. Three whole minutes later, he has exhausted all possible activities that could sustain his attention and you break out the snack that you brought to keep him satisfied.

A voice on a loudspeaker calls F102 to the next available window. “Wow,” you think, “I’m only 4 spots away!” Unfortunately F is only one letter in the alphabet and as you hear M244 and A6 called minutes later, you try to better manage your expectations that this trip is going to be less than an hour. You immediately regret using your snack option so soon.


You begin filling out the form with all those tedious questions when suddenly your toddler decides he needs to examine every stranger in the waiting area. He gets up, walks to each person, stares at them in the face with a serious expression while they smile and say hello. If anyone tries to put their hand out for a high five, or do anything genuinely kind, your once sweet child will furrow their brow, shake their head and walk away from the nice person. You smile at the stranger and thank them for trying as you move along with your curious toddler and balance your unfilled-out form on your thigh because they were out of clipboards.


Various iterations of these scenarios play out for the next 45 minutes until your number is (finally!) called. When you get to the window, you present the DMV employee with all your forms and paperwork while your toddler sits at your feet pulling wipes out of the wipe container. You notice the wipe-pulling only after a considerable pile has been created on the floor. You squat to take the wipes away, making the DMV employee look up and wonder where you went. You pop back up after cleaning the mess and scare the employee on accident.

Eventually your transaction is complete, you give your toddler the special honor of throwing away all the wipes he put on the floor, and make it to your car. The trunk is still closed, hooray! You unlock the car, get the baby in his car seat, and breathe a sigh of relief. And then you remember your next stop is the post office.

So what are you to do when you are faced with those long errands that require a fair amount of waiting? Here are my top three tips I've learned with experience!

  1. Let them move as much as possible. In the DMV, we were in a large waiting area but I let him walk through our aisle and the aisle behind us. He was within grabbing distance from me but he felt like he was getting to explore.
  2. Let the other people in the waiting room entertain them if they try. Sometimes people want nothing to do with your wandering or cranky kid, but sometimes you get some truly wonderful strangers who will make faces at your kid and play peekaboo. We sat in front of a saintly woman on a plane ride once who did this, and saved not only us from a cranky baby, but the whole plane from his crying! Bless you kind stranger!
  3. Bring mess-free snacks. Nothing will calm my active boy quite like a snack. However, nothing messy! You don't want to leave a mess, or deal with clean up. Try something bite sized and crumb free like mini teddy grahams. And whatever you do, hand them one at a time or else the entire bag or container might end up on the floor.

Happy waiting!




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