Opinion

Innovation – 1% Inspiration, 99% Traveling With Children

I have just returned from vacation with my family, who inspire me. Not in a birth of a foal in a dew-kissed meadow kind of way, or even in an egret taking flight in the gloaming kind of way. It’s more practical than that. My family inspires me to invent new products in order that certain events of the past week might never happen again.

Was the journey long? Too long. Were the quarters close? Too close. Did I bring notebooks? Two notebooks, in which I jotted down what went well and what did not. I write with the swagger of a man who knows at least one of these is a million-dollar idea.

Our first stop on the road out of town is dinner, sooner than I would have liked. I say that because I can still see my house. We’re seated pretty quickly for a large family. I guess the way my two youngest boys – the Kennedys, as we call them – are fogging up the dessert case makes us a priority table. We eat quickly after being seated and I motion for the check. It’s then that Ruben, my waiter, goes into four corners on me, denying me eye contact. Let’s just say he’s otherwise engaged. I’m no killjoy, Ruben, I hope things go well with the hostess tonight. But maybe the courtship can heat up once you’re in my rear-view mirror.

I try everything to get Ruben’s attention — bob my head up and down, do the mutually demeaning sign-the-check gesture with my hands, even hum the Czech anthem — all to no avail. So I break out my notebook. Idea #1 – Make waiters wear Velcro vests. On every table is a basket of Velcro balls, color-coded to the table. Throw a ball at your waiter whenever you need something. If your ball sticks to his suit, he must come to your table, no muss, no fuss. Not a solution for every restaurant, mind you, but certainly the ones where my family tends to stop. Ones with incongruous names like Chalupa Haus.

We get back on the road, hoping to put some miles behind us. My stress level rises when I realize the Kennedys not only took all the jellies from the center of the table – a fairly regular occurrence – they took the entire center console. I try to relax with some Mel Torme, but it may as well be the Star Wars bar scene behind me with all the buzzing and beeping. I tell the kids to turn off the games and they listen. But it’s only technical compliance since, armed to the teeth with gadgets, they simply reach into their pockets – this seems why cargo shorts were invented – and activate newer and louder devices.

Idea #2 – An electromagnetic pulse that temporarily disables all noisy games whenever I’m driving. No negotiation, just sweet, sweet silence for me and the missus to enjoy the Velvet Fog. Idea #3 — If the pulse venture is prohibitively expensive, instead secure installment rights for limo privacy screens in family vehicles. I’m not heartless. I want to know key data when I’m at the wheel, like no doors are opening in transit and such. But if I don’t have to see ‘em or hear ‘em, it can be Attica back there for all I care. Besides, nothing curbs bad behavior like a little frontier justice meted out by the older sibs.

We press on, but the Kennedys continue to be holy terrors, strapped in as they are in the way, way back. They’ve figured out that it’s pretty much international waters back there, since I cannot discipline on the fly and I’ll surely forget their crimes when we stop. Idea #4 – Take extender arm from the bedside reading light in the guest room and retrofit it with a boxing glove on the kid-end. When the Kennedys get unruly, send them each some chin music with a gentle jab thrown from the driver’s seat by dear old dad. That’s right, boys, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Finally, we stop for the night at a hotel. Just as I start to relax, I hear the shower in the room next door. No matter, it’s probably just my daughter. I know that for sure when the singing begins. Idea #5 – A portable showerhead that automatically shuts off the water anytime Let it Go from “Frozen” is sung. This one is practically a license to print money, for there are two kinds of parents of preadolescent girls in the world. Those who desperately want this product, and those who will soon learn that they desperately want this product.

Imagine what else Thomas Edison might have conceived if only he drove his kids cross country to the Grand Canyon!