No country for young boys

My wife and I just finished driving to California and back with our three boys. We live in the Eastern Time Zone, so this was a substantial road trip.

Why would anyone drive cross country with three little boys? Are we crazy?


We went to California for my sister-in-law’s wedding. The cost of flying the family there and then renting a minivan for several days was a big factor in the decision to drive.

Plus, we’re crazy.

Sane people would have gone into debt to fly. Probably. Honestly, I have no idea how sane people think.

Driving 5,000 miles (8,000 km) with a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a seven-year-old was a fun adventure – the kind of fun that takes years off your life.

I’m older now, and wiser. It’s the kind of wisdom that’s only useful for those driving consecutive days with children, which is something, God willing, I will never have to do again. So, it may turn out to be useless wisdom; that would be the best case scenario.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

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In case any friends out there find themselves with such a daunting journey ahead of them, here are some nuggets of wisdom I learned on our trip:

  • Nothing makes a preschooler have to pee more urgently than traveling a mile past a rest stop.
  • Driving is often touted as a great way to see the country, but America all looks pretty much the same at night. The dashboard lights are the same everywhere.
  • One-year-olds can be amazingly peaceful car passengers, for a little while.
  • Speed limits are unnecessary if there are enough trucks on the road.
  • A three-year-old and a seven-year old can fight over which movie to watch for longer than any movie lasts.
  • Everyone knows “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is an idle threat.
  • To Daddy, “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is a beautiful, forlorn daydream.
  • The western states are too big. They should be divided up so kids don’t have to ask, “Are we still in Colorado?” 300 times.
  • A seven-year-old + a third row seat + the Rocky Mountains = puke. It’s simple arithmetic.
  • The rift between the McDonald’s and Wendy’s factions can tear a weary family apart for the duration of the highway break.
  • Regardless of who won the restaurant debate, you’ll have an upset stomach for the next 200 miles.
  • Sprint does not operate a single cell tower within the state of Nebraska.
  • When the Garmin tells you your next turn is in 524 miles, you are someplace you don’t belong.
  • Despite what seems like constant tumult, kids do actually sleep in the car. You realize this when, after arriving home at 7 a.m. and going straight to bed, the kids wake you up two hours later.

Driving across the US and back with small children is not for everyone. Rational, mature, reflective adults have no business attempting it. It’s a fool’s errand, and only we fools know how to do it right.

A chicken in every pot and a child in every arm: good luck trying to eat the chicken

People without multiple small children at home must think I exaggerate wildly when I complain about the difficulty of accomplishing anything with children underfoot. These people are wrong. I only wildly exaggerate these difficulties part of the time.

Complaining always feels better when you exaggerate the problem. Who wants to be accused of complaining about trifles? But sometimes you don’t have to exaggerate; your carping can flow easily from real life events.

The other afternoon, I took vacation time to care for Buster and Big Man so my wife could pick up a shift at her job. We met at her work and swapped cars. Big Man was napping in his seat, but Buster cried because he wanted to stay with Mommy.

After 10 minutes of trying to reason with Buster and build up Daddy as an acceptable parent, Mommy had to go. Buster cried all the way home. As we pulled into the garage, Big Man woke up. One-year-olds are often still groggy after a nap and need to be held. Crying three-year-olds need hugs. Daddy desperately needed some lunch, but with a child in each arm, that wasn’t likely.

I was able to lower Buster before my arms turned to jelly, but he kept himself comforted by hugging my leg. The floor turned to hot lava when I tried to put Big Man down. He tightened his grip around my neck. I didn’t force the issue, as one crying child is plenty.

I made what lunch I could with one arm and one leg. It was not tasty.

Hands free parenting

Do they sell these at Target? I could really use one. (Image: Keystone View Company)

Buster quit sobbing and lay down on the futon in the sun room. Big Man shook off his cob webs and let me put him down. This would allow me to tidy up before running errands.

Two seconds later, Buster was asleep. So much for packing them in the car to run errands.

But wait, the next time I looked that way, Big Man had climbed onto the futon and sat on Buster’s head.

Buster woke up, crying again. (Big Man is not an inconsequential toddler to find sitting atop your head.) But as long as everybody was up, errands were back on.

A cold front was moving through, so everybody needed to be changed into warmer clothes.

An hour later, we got in the car and headed to our first destination. Big Man was asleep again. Fortunately, all I had to do was open the trunk and point out a box. A helpful gentleman took it away. No, it wasn’t a weapons deal; it was recycling.

Then it was across town to make a merchandise return for Mommy. No matter that Big Man was asleep, I’d just carry him into the store.

We parked. I turned around to face two sleeping children. I couldn’t carry both around the store. We backed out of the spot and drove home to finish napping. Daddy could work while they slept, except that Big Man woke up when we got home.

He was still groggy. He needed to be held.

Flag football: a sport where getting in the way is a useful skill

The oldest son is playing soccer and flag football this year. This is his third year of soccer and first of organized football. Sports get pretty serious in 2nd grade. The soccer team uses a goalie now and there are actual refs on the field. It’s like the World Cup all of a sudden.

Being new to football, we can’t document the changes from 1st grade, though we learned a mouth guard is mandatory. This was a good lesson, and it came in handy when the boy had a face-on-face collision with a teammate during practice. We also learned the difference between soccer shoes and football shoes. When I was a boy, we had one kind of shoe; it was called a sneaker.

Football requires as much determined movement as soccer. This is unfortunate, since the boy uses up all his aggressive play on his little brothers. When it comes to sports with non-related children, he is a passivist.

He is also behind most of his teammates in experience, with a total of two lifetime practices under his belt. Yet he made the most of his practice time in the first game, handing the ball off twice without dropping it, and throwing one almost-complete pass.


Preparing for the snap in shotgun formation.

look it in

Going out for a pass. It’s not important whether or not he caught it.

But his finest moment was one that won’t show up in the stat sheets. He was playing the 2nd grade equivalent of Wide Receiver when the 2nd grade equivalent of Running Back ran a sweep to his side of the field. My boy threw a crucial block, allowing the runner to get around the corner for a long gain. Now, the 2nd grade equivalent of throwing a block is putting oneself in the way of the kid who is trying to rip the flag belt off your teammate, and I’m not sure my son did this on purpose or whether it was just another manifestation of his innate skill of being in the way, but it resulted in a long gain, so who cares?

All those times when, arms full of grocery bags, I tripped over him as he stooped to remove his shoes, just inside the doorway, paved the way for this wonderful moment. Just because I never played football beyond the playground doesn’t mean I’m not capable of coaching him up a little at home.

So, even though the kid may never develop into a star ball carrier or quarterback, I think there is potential for him in this game. I’ve never known a kid so talented at being in the way. As he proved on Sunday afternoon, being in the way is a vital component of the game of football. I’m not sure he’ll ever be large enough to get in the way professionally, but no one expects that.

As long as he enjoys doing it, whether he carries, throws, or catches the ball, or just puts himself in the way of the right player, we’ll cheer him on. I may even compliment him on his blocking practice next time I trip over him.

football hero

The next generation of football hero. Yup, we’re a regular pipeline of star recruits.

Three boys who built a nation

You know when you read a post on a Mommy/Daddy blog and the whole thing is an excuse for the writer to brag about his/her kid’s intellect or athleticism? Don’t you just hate that?

Good news! This will be the latest in a string of 260ish posts in which I do not brag about any of my kids’ prowess on an athletic field. Yes, I did post about my son’s first soccer goal, but that was more relief than boasting.

The bad news is that there are two more boys coming along who may develop into star athletes, should lightning strike, and who knows that you won’t be showered with tales of their goals and touchdowns through the seasons of the future.

But that’s for another day. For now, I will take the humble road and merely tell you how smart my kids are.

For his seventh birthday, Big Brother asked for a puzzle map of the United States. Since this was easier to procure than an authentic German pickelhaube, worn by a real WWI soldier, preferably his great-grandfather, I decided the map would make a fine gift. (I doubt his great-grandfather packed his pointy helmet for his voyage to America.)

Big Brother was thrilled to receive his puzzle map and, being an eager student of geography, put it together immediately. To challenge himself, he began putting it together with the pieces upside down. His enthusiasm for the map drew Buster’s attention. Before long, Big Brother was helping Buster put the map together.

east is west

When you use the pieces upside down, it makes everything seem backwards too.

We can build a nation.

Big Brother helps Buster learn the ropes. Big Man refrains from eating the pieces.

Now, Buster doesn’t know the names of the states, or their capitals, like Big Brother does, but I’ll be damned if he hasn’t learned where a good many of them go.

building a nation

This is how much Buster can put together without any help.

I would have been completely satisfied with this. It is more than enough to fill an entire post with cringe-worthy paternal pride. But Buster, his father’s son, finds joy in sharing knowledge. Like his father, he never let the fact that he only half knows what he’s doing prevent him from teaching somebody else how to do it. The world moves fast, and we can’t wait for them to wait for us to learn the whole thing.

Buster has begun teaching Big Man how to put the United States together. As of last night, Big Man could put Michigan and Maine in the right spots. That may not seem like much, but it is almost 1/3 of the Ms, and the Ms pull as much weight as anybody, state-wise.

junior partners

Buster passes his learning on to Big Man. If this cycle retains its natural course, Big Man will soon pass on his knowledge to me.


By this time next week, they’ll all know more about geography than I do. It’s a good thing I didn’t wait until I knew much about it to start teaching them, or maybe getting out of the way so they could learn it on their own.

Anyway, aren’t you glad I used this post to objectively document intellectual progress rather than get all puffed out about my amazing kids? Don’t you just love it when a blog is all classy like that?