When I think back on my favorite summertime memories from childhood, what perhaps stands out most are sun-soaked days on the beach (followed by ice cream of course) and road trips to visit relatives. But interspersed with these fun days were the hours spent on the highway on the way there and back.
It’s a major undertaking for a child, trying to fend off boredom when faced with seemingly endless hours sitting in the car, feeling like the destination might never be reached.
As a kid, each mile looked the same as the one before, and felt progressively longer. Whether the car was speeding along the highway or sitting nearly motionless in a traffic jam, it felt like a Herculean effort not to scream out, “Are we there yet?!” every two minutes.
We had a variety of diversions to keep us occupied, of course — action figures to play with, books to read, and pictures to color. I remember our old cassette player, on which we listened to book after book, the narrator pausing every couple sentences so that a noise could remind us to turn the page. “Bing!” it said time and again, “Turn the page!”
But there always reached a point during the trip when the books, the toys, and even the cassettes were no match for the doldrums and despair of boredom. I’d lean my head against the window, watching the asphalt zoom by, perhaps spotting houses in the distance and musing that if we lived there, we would be home by now. Why couldn’t we live there?
During those times I would unfold my list of states and gaze at the license plates we passed, hoping to someday check off all 50 states.
As an adult I have more patience for long summertime car rides, but my kids are great at reminding me how difficult boredom can be.
“Mommy, Daddy,” they ask repeatedly, “How much longer?”
Like me so many years ago, they play with toys and read books and color pictures. Instead of listening to cassette tapes, they watch movies on their Kindles. But boredom remains a difficult foe. On our most recent trip, as my daughter looked out the window and watched the asphalt zoom by, inspiration hit. She took out her notebook and opened it to a fresh page. Instead of looking at license plates, she decided to count RVs. And porta potties. The entire trip, she kept a competing tally of RVs and porta potties, yelling out whenever she spotted either of them.
I had to hand it to her; it was a great way to pass the time. The rest of us joined in the action as well, pointing and yelling whenever we passed a porta potty or an RV. Sometimes we’d go many miles between sightings; other times, my daughter could barely keep up, frantically making tally marks as we yelled out, “There goes an RV! Blue porta potty, right over there!” Construction sites had plentiful porta potties, and my daughter’s pencil moved particularly quickly whenever we passed an RV dealership.
In the end, RVs beat out porta potties by a ratio of almost two to one. Regardless of the results, we all agreed that my daughter had found a unique and effective way to combat boredom during our summer road trip.