'Can we go home now?" Four-year-old Brigit whined from the back seat. Her voice had that "I'm ready for a meltdown" sound.
Meanwhile, her brother, Peter, had his books and toys spread out on the seat between them, but he preferred to lean over and pull off his sister's shoe. She screamed. My husband nearly jerked the car into a ditch in reaction.
These scenes of back-seat chaos were beginning to turn our family outings into ordeals not worth repeating.
Some friends resorted to buying a car with a built-in DVD player as their answer to the problem. But that wasn't for us. We have made a decision to minimize the electronic intrusions into our children's lives.
Still, I felt at a loss about how to tame the "screaming squirrels" who had taken over our car.
On this occasion, I said, "No more fighting. It's time to look out the window. Was that a red-tailed hawk diving down to get a piece of carrion?"
"Where? I don't see it," Brigit responded. "Mom! Peter is hitting me with a sock."
That's when I remembered something my brother's children used to do. When Elizabeth and Christopher were ages 5 and 9, they made up a game called KARZ Radio for road trips. I decided the time was right for Peter and Brigit to learn about this game.
I picked up a flashlight from under the front seat and held it up to my mouth. It made a perfect makeshift microphone.
"This is station KARZ, and I am reporting to you live from the highway outside of Estancia, N.M.," I called out in my best disc jockey voice.
"On the road today there are no other cars in sight. It's a shame that you folks out there in our listening audience are missing this beautiful day. In the distance, you would see a series of purple-blue mountains, dusted with last week's snow. They form a decorative belt joining sky and earth.
"Coming up on this road trip we see an old barn leaning so far to the left the next wind will surely blow it into a pile of rubble," I continued. "Once upon a time, some hardy folks raised their animals and children on this lonely wind-swept plain.
"And now dear listeners, we have an exciting special report just coming in from our two reporters in the field," I said as I began to wind up my spiel.
"First we'll hear from Peter, who reports to us live from his special vantage point. Then we'll hear from reporter Brigit sharing the view from the left. Over to you now, reporter Peter. What's the view from the right?"
I handed Peter the "microphone," and the game began in earnest. Suddenly Peter found that just outside his window there was a world of mystery waiting to be discovered - and shared with "listeners."
He spotted a field of antelope blending into the dusty plain. The graceful animals would have been missed by all of us if KARZ hadn't been turned on.
Brigit noticed a cow skull hanging from a fence post and an unusual green building made from the typical mud bricks of New Mexico. The building looked like a two-story structure except it was too short. We envisioned it as an elf house. KARZ was the first station to report on this unique roadside attraction.
By the time we got to our destination, the kids were in a great mood and their minds and imaginations were turned on.
They weren't wild when released from the "prison" of the car. Instead they were thoughtful and creative. They explored the ruins of an old mission church by looking at each room carefully.
"This is where the monks slept. It would be fun to live here," called out Brigit, who was looking at a stone-enclosed patch of dirt. "All it needs is a roof, and we can move in."
As we drove home, KARZ Radio came on again and revealed the great wonders of our ever-unfolding universe. And there were no more fights.