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updated: 4/19/2011 12:13 PM

Pick up your shoes and other fatherly advice: Trippin' with my kids

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As I sit at my computer tonight, I am just a few days away from starting an 18-hour road trip with my family.

Pray for me.

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I love my family. But there is such a thing as familial overload, and 18 hours over two days in a motor vehicle, separated by a short overnight stay in a too-small hotel room, is simply too much.

The decision to take this trip, made by my wife, flies directly in the face of the declaration I made the last time we went on a lengthy road trip, which was "I'm never doing this again!" I meant it, and any right-thinking person would have said the same thing at the end of our previous trip.

But I guess it's like childbirth (so I'm told). After time, the memory of the pain fades enough to make you think you might want to go through it again (so I'm told).

When I was a kid, our family (Mom, Dad, me, two younger sisters) would take an annual summer road trip. Every other year we would travel by car from our home in Indianapolis to Los Angeles to see my mother's family, and that was a three-day trip across Middle America. We saw a lot of corn.

The other summers, we would go someplace new, as determined by my father. As a result of his efforts, I have been in every state of the union except Alaska.

My memories of those road trips are almost all pleasant. I remember watching the world go by on state highways or the available interstates (this was in the 1960s). I remember playing "count the horses" (if a cemetery was on your side of the road, you went back to zero).

We would drive in a station wagon that had a back seating area that could be turned down and was large enough to allow all three of us kids to sleep laying down. Is that illegal these days?

The sleeping was the best part. I remember being awake but not up, listening to my Mom and Dad having a whisper conversation just about stuff. It was quiet, peaceful and very pleasant.

My family was a singing family, and we would sing our way across the country when the mood struck. We stopped at historical markers. We ate at unusual diners (the fast food rage having not yet taken over the world).

We did have the battles over seating (with the imaginary line separating our personal space), and as we got older, we got quirky. But I remember when I got old enough to sit in the front seat and Mom would sit in the back with the girls and that was nice, too.

Road trips are different today, thanks to electronics, and the DVD player and monitor in the car. As distracting and time-consuming as hand-held devices and movies can be, we still manage to have disagreements, especially over what is going to be playing on the "big screen."

(The one story my kids will tell is that on every trip we watch "The Sound of Music'' at least once. That's three hours right there, and it's a movie we all enjoy.)

(I hate when they are watching a movie I like. I want to watch, too.)

When my kids were younger and we would travel by car, it was more fun. Even on the interstate, there were things to see that would amaze the kids, and we have lots of funny stories about sudden bathroom stops, traffic jams and hotel rooms.

I remember laughing to myself when I would say things like, "If you don't stop that, I'm turning this car around!" or "Don't make me stop this car!" So cliché. My kids are old enough now to know those are empty threats anyway. They know we aren't going to drop all of our plans and turn around, and stopping the car is only going to lengthen the trip.

There are still times when we have fun. We play the license plate game, and we do it as a group effort, not a competition. My kids being my kids, a competition would be an invitation for disaster.

The best thing to do is to get the kids all on the same side of a topic, and in most cases, that means making fun of Mom or Dad. Bring up Mom's cleaning obsession or my snoring and the kids can have a hearty shared laugh.

We have done this road trip more than once, and we keep doing it. I have three high schoolers and a middle schooler, and pretty soon we aren't going to be taking these trips together any more.

And, after time, just like childbirth, I will only remember the good parts of road trips (so I'm told).

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.

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