- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Our family is just no good at road trips. Yet we keep trying.

Chalk it up to irrepressible optimism or an insatiable taste for masochism, but every weekend, our family goes through the same routine. My husband and I believing it to be our parental duty to expose our children to experiences beyond the television set or video-game console suggest numerous educational but "fun" destinations.

It really doesn't matter what we come up with because our children invariably respond as if we were recommending an afternoon picking up highway trash with a Mississippi chain gang.

I was determined to expose my children to culture during a Christmastime visit to the District. We had recently moved to the hinterlands after years in the Washington area. I was feeling guilty about not having taken advantage of the rich offerings of our former hometown while it was so accessible and meant to make it up to my children in a three-day orgy of museums and monuments.

But I had to quickly change gears just a few hours into my carefully planned itinerary. I actually got my children into the National Portrait Gallery by telling them there was a big surprise inside that impressive building. I wasn't lying. They were totally surprised to find themselves not just in a museum, but in an art museum.

My younger son staged a protest by plopping down on the nearest stone bench and whipping out his Gameboy. My younger daughter actually wept. She dissolved into a puddle in front of a collection of painted presidents.

"You tricked us," she wept as onlookers looked on. "This is a museum. We'll never have fun here."

I edged away, trying to blend into the growing crowd of disapproving onlookers. Eventually my older daughter and I explored the museum and had a great time while my husband took my younger children outside for a walk around the block. They were so grateful to escape the clutches of the dreaded museum that they actually enjoyed the walk.

So on a recent weekend when we suggested a ride to a distant amusement park, we were surprised by the universally enthusiastic response. I had expected the amusement park to be more popular than a museum, but the children were still excited even after I explained that it involved an 80-mile one-way trip in our very crowded car.

So, after getting directions on the Internet, we squeezed into the car and set off. After the first hour, the natives were getting restless, and all of us were getting hungry, so we tried to agree on a place to stop for lunch. We traveled another half-hour and passed numerous eateries without a consensus. Desperate to get out of the car, my husband made a vow that we would stop at the next place, and so we pulled up to a Cracker Barrel.

We munched on biscuits and then perused the gift shop, filled with kitsch and camp. We all piled into the car in a great mood, fully expecting to be at the amusement park within the next hour.

We weren't. An hour later, we were still in the car. An hour after that when I finally persuaded my husband to get off the highway and ask for directions we realized we had made a giant loop, and we were closer to home than to our intended destination.

We made this realization in Lebanon, Pa. By then it was 4 p.m., and we were still an hour and a half from home. My husband decided to take the "scenic" way home. Just what we needed after being in the car for more than four hours a long, leisurely ride back home.

Without benefit of map or compass, he began to follow winding roads. I began to worry when the roads grew so narrow that the car no longer fit on our side of the two-lane road.

"This doesn't look good," I told my husband.

"Baby, any road that has paint on it is a good road by me," he replied.

It was about then that the road dead-ended at someone's farm.

We backtracked about 10 times. But to give him credit, we eventually found a road that brought us home. We practically kissed the ground as we spilled out of the car after our six-hour road trip to nowhere.

The next day, my husband came home all excited.

"You know that town that we were in yesterday Lebanon?" he asked.

"Yes, I'll never forget it," I said.

"Well, that's where they make Lebanon baloney, and every New Year's, everyone gathers as they lower a giant baloney at the stroke of midnight. We'll have to go back on New Year's."

Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com).

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