I wasn't trying to make my kids smarter or recharge their minds. I also do not dislike television. I know all the words to the Scooby Doo theme song, and when I visited New York last year I spent a Sunday morning at the NBC Store, where I loaded up on souvenirs with "The Office" logo on them. But I understand too well television's power to transform our kids into zombies tuned out to the world. The bottom line was, I didn't want to transport zombies across the country. I wanted our kids to be there with us, even if being there meant boredom and the protests that go with it.
They were there all right. "Texas is so boring," our 7-year-old son announced on Day 1. "This is dull," he declared on the way to Carlsbad Caverns along lonely state Highway 54. The next day, struggling against his seat belt, he wailed that he "couldn't take much more of this," before melting into cries of "Arrrghh!"
His 5-year-old sister was better at the long hours, pulling stickers off a sheet or playing make-believe with the stuffed animals she had packed for the road. Our toddler daughter was likewise a natural at free time, coloring her knees with marker pens and ripping sheets of paper from notebooks and flinging them around the car.
Our son got better at boredom as we made our way west. On Day 3 he began to count windmills and look for trains. He started to see poodles and dolphins in puffy clouds in the Texas sky.
"Texas is not as boring as I thought," he said. I often joined the kids in the back, where we did taste-comparisons of gum, thumb- and toe-wrestled and used a monkey and a frog as proxies in mixed-martial-arts contests. Our son counted and recounted his money in preparation for stops at gift shops. "Gift shops are the best part about Texas," he said.