Life on the road: 'Are we there yet?'

My son, Silas, and I recently took a quick trip to Portland. We drove my sister, Marley, home after she was nice enough to come down and be the entertainment for Silas' eighth birthday party. Marley is a lot more fun than I am, in general, and particularly in a water fight.

Marley and Silas did about as well as you could expect people to do on a five-hour drive. The first four hours were easy, but the last hour, when we hit Portland traffic, they started moaning and yelling, "Why aren't we moving?"

I, on the other hand, love it when I arrive in Portland during rush hour. This is because during rush hour, no one is actually rushing.

I can drive as slow as I want over the scary bridges, and being that Portland is still Oregon, if I leave my blinker on long enough, someone eventually will let me merge.

I depend on the kindness of other drivers since it takes me a little longer than everyone else to figure out what lane I'm supposed to be in.

It seems every trip I take to Portland is a little rushed.

Last time I went there with Silas, we visited OMSI and played underground pirate-themed mini golf.

Upon leaving, Silas was disappointed that we didn't have time to visit the Oregon Zoo. So on this trip, after we dropped Marley off, we drank some sustainably grown smoothies out of recycled cups and visited the zoo before starting our drive back home.

There are things about the zoo that make me a little uncomfortable. The idea of animals caged up, displayed for people's entertainment, is a little odd. I've heard stories that zoo animals are unhappy and bored, and as a parent I really do try to teach Silas not to take joy out of others' misery.

But here's the thing: I love the zoo. I love walking around outside, eating an ice cream cone and being able to see elephants within a 15-minute walk of seeing bears. Silas loves taking the map and playing tour director. I'm pretty sure he spent more time looking at the map of the zoo than he did looking at the animals themselves.

But I know we were lucky to find an activity we could at least enjoy in parallel ways. I can watch bobcats groom each other while Silas can consult his map and mutter, "Well, if the bobcats are here"… and the bathrooms are here"… then we must be "… ." After all, being able to read a map and have a good sense of direction is probably a better life skill than learning about the grazing patterns of zebras.

I, however, depended heavily on my GPS rather than maps or a sense of direction to get me from the Oregon Zoo back onto Interstate 5.

Unfortunately, I was unable to time our departure around rush hour, so I was left to grip the wheel with my sweaty hands and listen to my navigation system tell me things, such as, "Merge left in 200 yards."

About an hour outside of Portland, we got stuck behind an accident. We sat without moving for more than 45 minutes. I explained to Silas that there had been an accident up ahead, too far ahead for us to see, and that traffic was stopped for the police and emergency responders to be able to do their jobs.

Silas was thrilled. "I hope we get to see the crashed cars!"

This took me back to the same kind of guilt that I have about the zoo. I also wanted to see the crashed cars (I am the worst kind of rubber-necker), but I felt obliged to tell Silas that it's more important for us to hope that everyone's OK and not to get enjoyment out of someone else's misery.

For the rest of the trip, Silas asked every three miles, "Are we there yet?"

Finally, I told him, "Silas, you'll know when we're there because the car won't be moving anymore!" I should have given that kid a map.

Zoe Abel is trying, one day at a time, to be a good parent. You can contact her at

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