Sunday, December 23, 2007

Over The River and Through The Skies

As my family prepares for yet another holiday excursion, this time a flight from Providence to Phoenix, I’m reminded of the last trip I took alone with the kids. Traveling with my family is a bit like childbirth; I always forget the pain and tribulations involved until I'm experiencing it again and the guy from the V-8 commercials pops me in the head and I realize, “Oh yeah, this is why I swore never to do this again.”

Anyone who has ever traveled with children—especially on an airplane—knows what a harrowing and exhausting experience it can be. Even when your children are fairly well behaved. In fact, I think I’d rather get paper cuts underneath all my fingernails than to take my five and seven-year-old on a cross country trip again. They have been traveling on planes since they were very small, so I figured I was getting seasoned enough to know how to do it right. I always try to come armed with paraphernalia to keep an entire troop of children happily entertained for hours, but somehow 10 minutes into the flight the floor beneath our seats is littered with food wrappers, crayon shavings, shoes, a few socks, empty Capri sun packages and the children are, well, bored.

I have flown enough to know that the key to surviving an airplane trip with your children—at any time really, but especially when you are sans husband—is to keep the carry-on mess to a minimum. Each child has their own backpack, which contains: their music players, gameboys, crayons, coloring book, plain notebook, a pen and pencil, perhaps two small travel games or a deck of cards, a bag of their own personal snacks, a small pillow, and their “pet” stuffed animal. Theoretically, individual bags will alleviate the fighting, bickering and general upheaval that is typical of siblings, especially when those siblings are crammed together in airplane seats sized for your basic Oz Munchkin. I say theoretically because my children can always find something to fight about. “Your arm is on MY part of the arm rest… SO?…SO get it off it’s been there the whole time and I’m uncomfortable and it’s my turn to use the armrest…FINE have the armrest I didn’t want it anyway…THUNK…OWWW! MOM he pulled my pillow out from under my head…I’m going to rest now and I NEED a pillow…I was USING that pillow…SO?…SO it’s not fair…Well you CAN’T use the pillow AND the armrest at the SAME TIME…

It’s at this point I stand up and ask if anyone would like to switch seats with me, an LDS mom perhaps, who is used to dealing with 8 or 9 kids at the same time, which would make my two seem like a vacation, but alas, there are no takers. Quite a lot of people are whispering to each other however, which I don’t think is a good sign.

I sit down and wedge myself in the seat between them hoping my presence will make a difference. However, by the time our flight arrived in Boston—12 hours after leaving Phoenix—I was spent. My husband met us with a shiny smile and open arms, while all I could do was hold back the sob that wanted to escape. You’d think that the drive home at 10:45 at night would put the kids into some type of sleep, or at least quiet respite, but of course the adrenaline was still coursing through the veins, and the yelling and fighting, wrestling, singing, guffawing laughter and all around vocal upheaval was still alive and well. My husband said, “You’re quiet tonite. Are you tired?”

I’m sorry. Did he just ask me if I was tired?
Seriously. Is that what he just said?
I stared ahead and bit my tongue. Any sound that would have come from my mouth would have been a total verbal freak out and I was trying to stay pleasant. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks after all.
But tired? TIRED?? Tired doesn’t even begin to touch the depth to where my fatigue had fallen. Lower than smashed gum on the sidewalk, I tell you. But tired as I was, truth be told, I just wanted them to shut up. I had been the only adult to shield the barrage of questions and comments that shot from their gun-fire mouths since 10:00 a.m. And every one of those questions and comments was preceded with, “Can I ask you a question” or “Mom, I have something to tell you.” By the time those wheels touched down on my Bean Town black top, I was neck deep in words, question marks, complaints, exclamations; just sitting there drowning in black, bold letters and onomatopoeias. They were sucking the very life out of me to the point where all my answers were, “I don’t know.”
“When are we landing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will Dad be there to pick us up?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is the green light on above the bathroom signal?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do we do if only two masks come down from the top?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mom, do you love me?”
“I don’t know.”

I just wanted them to shut up. Shut up shut up shut up. I needed the ride home to be peaceful and quiet for five minutes. Tired? Yeah, I was tired. Tired of noise emanating from their messy squishy faces. By the time we were finally home and the children were in bed my ears were aching, the cartilage throbbing to the memory of their constant cacophonous clatter.

Now after writing this, tell me again why it’s a good idea to take this trip once more, adding a 7 month old baby to the mix? At least my husband will be along for the ride, which gives us a 4:3 parent-hand to loud-child-mouth ratio. It’s do-able. I’ve packed enough crap to keep them entertained for hours you know, and it is wonderful fodder for a blog. Blog fodder. Ha.
Here is wishing all my loyal and faithful readers (yes, you mom) a very merry Christmas. May you all have safe travels and the batteries on your movie players and gameboys not die half way to your destination.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

I decided that I’ve waited long enough. The five of you that read this blog have been just begging me to tell you about this Thanksgiving. Details of the festivities. The humor in everyday events. It puts your own life in perspective you say. Well, glad I could be of help.

This year I figured that with new baby in tow, we should go visit my in-laws for Turkey Day, since my husband's grandparents aren’t able to travel very well. Now, being an inhabitant of Eastern Massachusetts and considering that the in-laws live in West Virginia, this means a 10+ hour drive to visit. I really wanted to fly, but my husband informed me that if we wanted to provide something besides oranges and sticks of gum in our children’s stockings this year, we would need to drive. Deep sigh.

Preparing for a trip of this proportion is no small feat. The thought of driving with my two fighting-aged children as well as a baby that is prone to scream if in her seat longer than 15 minutes was enough to give me a migraine, let alone trying to cram 2 tons of family paraphernalia into a 1 pound space. If there is anything that sets off my internal anxiety switch, it’s being ass-to-elbow with crap and not being able to move. I’d like to interject at this point, that I did request that my husband borrow one of those roof-rack-luggage-holding-shell things. Knowing how I am, I warned him I was feeling anxious about the amount of stuff we would need to bring (pack-and-play, stroller, luggage, toy bags, etc). And you’d think that after living with me for 9 years, he’d be jumping at the chance to avoid having to deal with me in high anxiety flip-out. I put my request in early, like all good customers, allowing him plenty of time to secure said traveling device. I also followed that request up with daily inquiries about whether or not he had located the object. Two days from lift-off, we still had no roof rack, so he decides we might as well buy one, they are only a couple hundred dollars after all. Sears has them on sale, wouldn’t you know, and I’ll go down there today and pick one up.

I knew we were in trouble when he hit me up with, “So how much stuff are you talking about? Are you sure it won’t fit in the van?” Sears was out of stock. Shocking.

My husband vows that it’s all going to be alright, he’ll load the van, and assures me plenty of move-about space, don’t worry, pat-pat. Now, for my part I manage to pack everyone in their own small duffel bag and decide that to minimize my stress, I will be in charge of the children’s to-do bags and all snacks. I will hand them one thing at a time, and will not let them play with anything until I get the first item back. I have all the headphones, gameboys, music players and all cords neatly tucked into a small metal lunch box. A small whiteboard with dry erase markers in ziplock bag (labeled with number of markers.) Coloring books, with crayons in plastic school-desk organizer. A container of Wet Ones, a pump bottle of hand sanitizer, and a small arsenal of movies to watch on their (newly-purchased-just-for-this-trip) video players. Each child has their own individual small pillow and blanket, and with every thing loaded into the car, there is still floor space. We just might make it after all.

I’ll fast forward the trip. We left after dinner at around 7:30. Being so dark, all the kids slept the entire 10 hour ride to West Virginia. Anyone who questions the existence of God, need only look at this small miracle to become a believer. We pulled into my in-laws house at 5 a.m. and the Thanksgiving holiday was underway.

We had a great visit, everyone oohed and ahhed at the baby, and the kids were able to spend quality time with all the Nana’s and the Papa’s. (Historical note: When my husband was little he called his grandparents Nana and Papa, so when our kids were born that’s what they call my in-laws. The problem is that since my husband’s Nana and Papa are still alive and living four blocks away, we have two set’s of Nana’s and Papa’s. This is a tad confusing for the kids who are always asking, “Which Nana and Papa” so we have been saying things like, “Regular Nana and Papa, coupled with Great Nana and Papa.” Old Nana and Papa and Younger Nana and Papa didn’t sound quite right, neither did First Nana and Papa, and Second Nana and Papa. So Regular and Great (respectively) were what stuck. If you are confused, don’t feel bad. So are the kids.)

Thanksgiving Day arrived and the meal was delicious. On the menu for the day; stuffed rigatoni, sausage and spaghetti sauce, meatbulbs, homemade bread, green salad, mashed potatoes, gravy and a boil-in-the-bag pre-cooked turkey breast. (If you’re wondering about the menu, see blog titled “A Regular Thanksgiving.”) We ate, had dessert, and stayed a few more days.

I really love traveling. Honestly. My least favorite things about it however, are packing to get there and packing to go home. It’s inevitable that you are going to come home with more stuff than when you started. Because that way, no one has to ship anything and therefore people feel very generous in the gift and thing-giving arena. Keeping in mind that we were already stuffed like sausage in van-casing, here is the list of what new items found a ride back to MA:

  1. A singing rock and roll bass that mounts to the wall, for my son who will get a kick out of it, complements of Great Papa.
  2. A very large digital clock, for my husband who will really enjoy it, complements of Great Papa.
  3. A hand carved authentic replica Native American bow (which is very cool) complements of a friend of Regular Papa.
  4. A green stuffed bunny for the baby, complements of Great Nana.
  5. A wooden snowman decoration for me, (which I love) complements of Regular Nana.
  6. A plastic bag of cut fresh pineapple and sliced chocolate chip pumpkin bread in case we get hungry.
  7. Two new pairs of shoes for my husband, from underneath Regular Papa’s bed.
  8. And, last but certainly not least, a four quart jar of fresh homemade sauerkraut (which must stay upright) a container of salt and an opened bottle of hot sauce my husband loves.

We were also supposed to take a game chair for my son, but alas, it wouldn’t fit. Now I’m shooting my husband the “Gee-wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-we-had-a-roof-rack-Don’t-tell-me-we-are-seriously-taking-that-sauerkraut-look” and he’s a tad quiet because he knows I’m right, and we manage to smash the kids in between the extra items leaving them approximately 10 hours of breathing space, get in the van and start off down the road.

Now, there is a reason that our trip there was so successful. It’s because if our trip there had been one-tenth as hellish as the trip home, I would have turned the van around and never left MA.

It’s raining on the trip home. A downpour so heavy that the fastest cycle on the wipers is not doing much for visibility. It’s also foggy. So foggy that it’s difficult to see the cars in front of you. There are about a million truckers on the road barreling down the highways, spraying the van with water from tire spin off. I’m not sure if it’s more dangerous to travel behind them and not see, or to speed to about 100 and try and pass them. My husband is driving. I’m holding the baby in the backseat—yes holding her—because she is screaming at the top of her lungs and has been for about forty-five minutes, Frick and Frack are in the backseat complaining that they are hungry, and he’s kicking me, no I’m not, yes you are, well you’re taking up the whole back seat, no I’m not, yes you are, well there’s a big box back here in my way (the singing bass), you’re sitting on my blanket, then give me my pillow….and I’m jiggle jiggle jiggling the baby who is still screaming, there is a jar of sauerkraut at my feet and a computer bag in my way, it’s raining, there’s fog, and now the fact that I didn’t get much sleep the entire vacation is really catching up with me. I feel the mercury in my body rising…and this whole experience is starting to feel like a horror movie, and now the anxious neurotic part of me is sure we are going to slip on the road, roll the van and all die in a fiery inferno. I can see the clips on the news, see the headlines “Family of Five Perishes on Interstate 78; Singing Bass Escapes.

Then it happens. Something gets thrown from the backseat. I hear markers hitting the floor, stuff being kicked onto already crammed foot space. The natives are about to lose it, but not before mom’s thermometer explodes.
(Those with a weak stomach or a tendency towards child advocacy may want to skip the next part.)

At this point I officially lose it. I slam on the overhead light, screaming, “WHO IS THROWING THINGS? WHO IS THROWING THINGS!! WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THROWING THINGS…” And I’m in the process of yelling, and the kids are bug-eyed and cowering in the backseat, the baby is still at full blare, my husband is trying to navigate us through a watery hell and now he’s yelling at me to CALM DOWN and QUIT THROWING THINGS and DO I WANT TO DRIVE? NO! I scream. I DO NOT WANT TO DRIVE because if I were driving right now I’d pull over and wait for the damned storm to pass, I’d rather just wait for us to die, not actually be in charge of us dying, and now every one is strangely quiet. I think about five minutes ago there was a line I crossed. I’m pretty sure there is no going back…chalk up one more issue for childhood counseling. I’m sobbing and the kids in the backseat are now sleeping just where they lay for fear of rustling up more Scary Mom. The baby has fallen asleep too, because even a 6 month old can only cry so long before passing out.

I’m really not proud to admit all this. Of course we made it home safely, didn’t roll the van, didn’t spin off the road and all die in a fiery inferno. We were fine, just like my husband said, pat-pat. Even if whoever counsels my children in the future is going to make a mint. In fact, the trip was so successful, we are starting to make our Easter plans to travel to Washington DC. In the van. Only a 7 hour drive this time. Cake.