Wanderlust. With kids.

The thing no one tells you about parenthood is that it breaks your brain: it makes you construct sentences ("Quit hammering the Legos with the dinosaur" and "Don't stick the brachiosaurus up your brother's nose" -- in the same breath, no less) AND think thoughts you never would have considered.

You know that look you get when you take your toddler into a public place and half the people are remembering the trials and tribulations of parenting and are willing to extend an empathetic hand and the other half are wishing you an instant and preferably painful death? I think that this cognitive dissonance is what does your brain in. Is that woman a doting grandma or a grumpy crone? Is that man a dad or a douche? Is that teen girl going to roll her eyes or summon a surprising and creative skill from her nanny arsenal? Hard to know until your child throws a full-on tantrum over the macaroni noodle being "shaped wrong" (until you show him how it curves the other way when it flips over -- true story) but then the bystanders show their true colors. 

Few parents give up, although some of us have probably collapsed in a heap of sobs in the parking lot (just me?). In my case, however, my children's misbehavior caused me to grow a very hard shell on the outside--and a massive case of wanderlust on the inside. Parenthood, plus interactions with my fellow Americans, have convinced me that my children need to get out more, not less. Because when kids are physically penned in at home, they're like shaken sodas and instead of a cap, it's just me holding my thumb over the top trying to keep them from exploding. And doing this probably makes me need to pee.

But when the kids are out and about and exploring -- not whining about the concavity of a macaroni noodle -- they are delightful. Today in a supermarket we don't usually go to, they rapturously watched the bread machine that bakes fresh bread right there in the store. People came up to me and told me how wonderful my kids were. "So well behaved!" were one woman's actual words. Because kids discovering new things are wonderful. Kids exploring is what kids should be doing.

Of course, wanderlust as a parent of small children is not exactly a universal trait. Sure, there are those courageous families with their blogstagrams and facetweets who show off how they can live in a bus (or a tiny house) and see the world with seven kids and four dogs and probably a turtle, and my hat is off to them. Wow. You inspire me. But for most of my boys' infancies, I dreaded car rides the way they dreaded immunizations: painful, necessary. And it didn't help that C has the world's most sensitive stomach and can throw up after just thinking of throwing up -- or, as I suspect, throw up because I was thinking about him throwing up. Yet even when he was a baby in my arms, I dreamt of throwing away the house and just driving to see the wide world. And as he grew older and his stomach grew stronger, my imaginings started to include him and his brother. Even my husband.

So, like I said, parenting breaks your brain and makes you think thoughts you never would have, otherwise. Such as taking a road trip with your children. A long road trip. Say 2,000 miles. Or 22,000 miles. Or both! And we've done that first one and are going to do that second one! 

One of our goals is to take our kids to all the national parks in the lower 48 states (there are, as it happens, 48 in the lower 48, and 60 in total) and to all the states. But it's not just about exploring the wilderness (and indeed, a few national parks -- Gateway Arch and Hot Springs, for example, are quite urban); it's about seeing this vast, diverse country and meeting the people in it and trying to understand our history and our present.

And to scratch that wanderlust itch, and hopefully make it contagious and spread it to our children.