It’s not easy to impress children with scenic landscape.
I can see this now, having spent a week urging them to look out the windows of our van as we traversed across Kansas and through the Rocky and Sangre de Cristo mountains.
I grew up in a road-tripping family, and while my parents took us to many-an-impressive national jewels, I spent a fair amount of time with my nose in a book or drawing or wearing out The Yes Album, which I played on a loop on my boom box. (And no, I didn’t have earphones.)
The amber waves of grain are no more captivating to kids today than they were in the early ’80s. Purple mountain majesties inspire awe — for about 2 minutes. We saw a windmill blade being towed to a wind farm. The enormous, single blade required an oversized vehicle caravan to get it to the wind farm where it joined hundreds — maybe thousands — of similar blades. Were my kids awestruck? Um, no.
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As we navigated the hairpin turns, inches from the plummeting drops of Monarch Pass, the kids giggled and tussled in the back, sifting through Pokemon cards and spawning livestock in their Minecraft computer game.
“Look out the window,” I urged, again and again, declaring entertainment-free blocks of time, just to get them to take in all that nature had to offer.
They did look, and I think they were even quite impressed. But at their age, staring at landscape for hours is not their idea of entertainment, just as it wasn’t my idea of fun at their age.
It was a little bit disappointing — it felt like a parenting fail — that they were more interested in their screens and games than the sights out the windows. They wanted to arrive and get out of the car. They found no beauty in the ride.
We spent an evening at The Penny Arcade in Manitou Springs, Colo. With a pocket full of nickles, dimes and quarters, they played arcade games — mostly vintage. My daughter and I played Ms. Pac-Man, a favorite from my own childhood. They shot clowns with balls in a game that appeared to be from the ’50s or before. My daughter played an old-time driving game that pre-dated animated screens. Many of the games were so old that they only cost a nickel or a dime to play.
It struck me: Kids have always been the same. The kids who played these games when they were new probably also recited, “Are we almost there?” every 12 minutes for the entire car ride. For ages, moms have said, “Look at that!” while their kids sulked, giggled or amused themselves with backseat activities. But pulling levers, earning points, racking up tickets — these are inherently fun to kids. Cave children would have loved an arcade as much as my kids love their hand-held electronics.
In my backseat days, I didn’t gaze for hours at the landscape, soak it in, revel in the beauty. That type of appreciation comes with age. I remember snippets, though. I’m sure my kids will, too. They’re not ungrateful, they’re young. Just like kids are supposed to be.
Mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.