Like tumbleweeds rolling across the prairie

It's that time of year again. Time to pack up the family and drive across country on summer vacation. See the grand panoramas of America. Soak up history and culture at museums and national monuments. Spend meaningful time together. Fill those photo albums.

Had you going for a minute there, didn't I? Let's face it. For most of us, traveling with our kids is a battle of wills. Children gag at the thought of a museum. They make faces at the camera. They wander off. They get bored. Seen one grand panorama, you've seen 'em all. The national monuments all have golden arches.

All together now: "Are we there yet?"

My wife and I recently took our two sons, ages 6 and 8, on a driving trip to Arkansas to see my relatives. More than 900 miles each way, through some of the most unspectacular country on God's Earth. Interstate 40 takes you through eastern New Mexico, which is almost scenic in a big, empty sort of way. Then there's the endlessly flat Texas panhandle and the whole rolling blah of Oklahoma.

People in that part of the world know they don't have much to offer. Their tourist attractions are big enough that you can marvel at them without stopping the car. The Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo. The World's Largest Cross in Groom, Texas. Oklahoma has a lakeside exit called Lotawatah Road (hilarious laughter from the kids) and one called Arnot Road ("Are, too!"). That's about it. I always look for a town called Allright, OK, because that's what we parents keep saying, but I haven't found one yet.

We're veterans at this. We make this pilgrimmage to see the folks back home every year or so. We know to take plenty of toys and books. We know to keep lots of snacks hidden in the car. We know to stop overnight in a motel with an indoor pool.

We even stock the car with children's music on cassette. Of course, that's hard on the adults. After a dozen listens to Bob Dylan croaking "This Old Man" or chirpy folksingers giving us "Little Bunny Fou-Fou," we're pulling out our hair.

Making up new lyrics helps. One song strings together all the parts of the body by funny names -- "smell-sniffer" and "soup-strainer" and the like. My wife and I sing a version that goes: "nosepicker, backstabber, bootlicker, Whitewater, pants-dropper. . ." The boys don't understand why we're laughing up in the front seat.

As the kids get older, each trip gets a little easier. The 8-year-old simply reads one book after another, never looking up until we reach out destination. The 6-year-old plays with his plastic superheroes, plays handheld video games, sleeps and, twice an hour or so, says, "How much longer 'til we get there?"

We travel eight hours a day. On our recent trip, the 6-year-old was good for about seven hours, then his patience wore out and he started getting into trouble.

During the last hour of our trip home, when we could see the Sandias looming up ahead, he amused himself by removing his shoes and tossing his dirty socks at my head. My wife was driving, so he left her alone.

But the shotgun passenger makes a heck of a target. Knowing we were in that deadly last hour and trying to be the good-natured dad, I tossed them back. Oh, that was so funny we had to do it again. About the ninth time a stinky sock hit me in the head, I wheeled on him and, laughing villainously, rubbed it all over his nose, saying, "How do YOU like that smell? Hah?"

His reply: "Smells like French fries!"

By that time, everything in the car smelled like French fries.

So, as your summer driving vacation nears, remember this advice: Lots of food, lots of distractions, regular exercise breaks.

And keep their socks in the trunk.

No comments: