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Holidays seem to mean driving

I ask one son to spell “canine,” and he says, smirking, “K-9.”We are on a 13-hour drive, playing a spelling game, and I am losing my contestants’ attention.I ask my other son to spell “ennui,” explaining that this was the word that stumped our friend Matt, then 10, at his state championship. (Now an adult, Matt finds that very funny, claiming that the word defines him.)The kids perk up briefly, and they, too, try, “O-n-w-e?”They like the next word, “tsunami.” But when I ask a boy for “coronary,” he seems insulted, telling me, “Duh!”I try “pulchritude” (it was in one of two recent spelling-bee movies) and that nearly sinks us.In extremis, I ask Roy to spell “testicle.”My husband, Mike, speaks up for the first time in the game.”N-u-t.”The boys delay the contest while they motion at truck drivers to honk their air horns, or they pause to admire certain rigs. They impatiently spell each other’s words out of turn. Roy, 10, veers into asking for the spelling of the name of a girl Teddy, 13, likes. In the seat behind me, feet and fists kick and flail. I don’t think that when my sisters, one younger brother and I played spelling games, we brawled. We pull over at a rest stop and Mike tosses the football, much deflated since we left home, for 10 minutes, until one boy is hit in one of the spelling words, and gets mad.It is the holidays, and that means family, and gatherings … and maybe really long drives. This year, we decided to spend Thanksgiving with Mike’s family, in Kansas.When I was growing up, in Maryland, we often spent holidays with our grandparents in Michigan or, later, skiing in Vermont. Dad would pack the station wagon, and lay our suitcases in back with blankets across them (no seatbelts involved) and we’d lie there. We’d have AM radio.We played license-plate games, and spelled words doled out by our mother, which is why I, and by extension my progeny, know how to spell “restaurant.” And we played the spelling game Ghost, in which everyone endeavors not to end a word.Once, long ago, Mike and I started out to go camping at the City of Rocks, Idaho, 12 hours away. Roy was 11 months old, Teddy 3. We had not made it even half an hour before Teddy was wailing from his car seat, “This is taking too long!” Roy, wordless, just howled. Mike and I looked at each other and wondered, “What were we thinking?” Had we not committed to meeting friends, we’d have stopped somewhere nearer. Like New Castle.Now the boys are bigger. We started our drive with these things on board: CD player/tape deck, DVD player, Gameboy, three books on tape, a laptop computer and two cell phones. To me our system sounds shockingly posh, but acquisition has been very piecemeal.The boys watched two movies each direction, and Teddy showed me how to text-message, and I happily texted everyone I knew until I grew very carsick. We listened to an extremely action-packed book on tape, “Far North,” about two kids and a Native elder stranded by a plane accident in the Yukon. In winter.My spelling games were dubbed easily the worst part of our trip, but the kids at least played, and the best parts were said to be movies and the book on tape. That was good enough for me.What did we kids used to do in the car? Truth is, I think we were bored a lot. I have to say: I like today’s systems better.Bink! On the return drive, someone texted me. A reply!It was Teddy, from the back seat, begging us to drive all the way home, so the boys could ski the next day. And we did.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com.Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, CO


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