Ashley Okland Star Playground – Real Reviews For Real Families

Ashley Okland Star Playground

5300 Indianola Ave.
Des Moines, Iowa

April 21, 2015

The Ashley Okland Star Playground is a park on the southeast side of Des Moines with equipment for all children. including those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Ashley Okland was a realtor that also did volunteer work with Variety before she was murdered in 2011. The park was created in her honor for the children she enjoyed working with and it is a park to be proud of. Goldy and I took four boys on this sunny but windy day and got four stellar reviews.

The playground is large and spread out with different and interesting equipment. It has a clean, rubberized surface, which I appreciate on muddy days like today. The kids can play with little concern of getting dirty. (You know this is not normally a concern of mine, but we have plans tonight!) There are also wide open grassy spaces and a lot of trees for us to check out another day. There is plenty of parking close to the playground and a bathroom up the hill. The women’s restroom smelled recently cleaned and looked tidy. This is a vast improvement over most area parks. There were even real toilets! I might be a little too excited about that, but have you ever tried to get a newly potty trained child to hover over an open hole? It’s frightening for everyone involved. There were two stalls but no changing station. (That’s what blankets on the grass are for, right?) If you want snacks or water bottles be sure to bring them with you. I packed a lunch and we stopped at a convenience store on the way. It’s not too far off of E. 14th, so there are plenty of places to stop, but I realize not everyone has a handy helper to wait in the car.

Here are some photos of Sharkboy, Little S and their play school friends enjoying Ashley Okland Star Playground. There is a lot more to see!

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We had a great time and I hope you do, too.

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Fakebook Confessions

Recently, this blog by Sarah Tuttle-Singer implored parents to stop telling lies on the internet and sparked  conversations all over the web. I love it. Not because I think we are lying to our friends, but because I love the reality of our lives. I want to see the reality of your day and I want to show you mine. We relate to each other and bond over our imperfections. I like to think I keep it pretty real online. I wrote a whole blog about feeding my kids macaroni for dinner. But, like everyone else, I also polish and sugarcoat quite a bit, too.

  • I was around in the days of MySpace and I have teenager daughters. I know about angles and I use them to create the perfect profile picture. I’m also proficient as using the crop feature to “clean the house” or chop off ten pounds. And my roots are so bad even Sharkboy knows they are tacky. He said, “Mommy, why is your hair all black up there and red and yellow down here? You can wear my hat outside.” That can be cropped off in pictures, too! If cropping doesn’t clean the house or hide my roots well enough I can use Instagram to hide the mess in the shadows.
  • Speaking of pictures, I take about one hundred pictures hoping to get one decent shot of my kids. I have begged them and bribed them to just please stand still for one minute. I used to hit myself over the head with things to make Sharkboy look at me. Little S will give me a model smile just long enough to get my hopes up and then dash away. For every picture I upload I have a dozen more of them running the other direction or clawing each other’s eyes out.

    A typical photo shoot with Sharkboy and Little S

    A typical photo shoot with Sharkboy and Little S

  • I love to brag about cute things the boys do to show each other love but I rarely mention that long before Sharkboy asked if he could sing Little S a lullaby he also asked if I would please put him to bed so he could do his puzzle alone.
  • I almost never discuss what it is like to live with two teenage girls, other than to say how lovely it is to have help with the boys since The Barkeep is gone so much. Do you know what it is like to live with two teenage girls when you are not a teenage girl? So. Much. Snark.
  • I blocked all of my friends’ friends that pissed me off during election season.
  • I hid a few of my own friends… they probably hid me, too.
  • I set all my app activity to private, hoping no one would notice I play SimCity Social.
  • I like bacon and Nutella… but not together and not as much as the internet wants me to. I really do love that maple bacon donut as much as I said I did, though.
  • For every one post you can see on my main newsfeed there are probably five others posted in private groups.
An evening out with The Barkeep according to Facebook

An evening out with The Barkeep according to Facebook

How it really went down ;)

How it really went down 😉

What are YOUR Facebook confessions? Post them on my Facebook page or find me on Twitter. Use the hashtag #nomorefakebook and be sure to stop be Kveller.com where it all started.

Never Work A Day In Your Life

When Goldy and Beauty were just bitsy little girls, bursting with imagination and melodrama, I was lucky enough to stay home with them and witness all the fun. I loved it then and I love it now. There isn’t anything else I’d rather do. Of course, I had kids before I had any sort of career, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I’ve had jobs, sometimes two at a time, but the only career I’ve ever had was teaching preschool. I think it is safe to say I’m doing what I am meant to be doing.

The unfortunate thing about loving your job is that it leads to the misunderstanding that you must not be working, especially by those that are less than happy with their own careers. I was blissfully ignorant to this fact when the girls were little. My (ex)husband would come home on lunch break from his office supply delivery job if he was in the neighborhood and ask how the morning was. “Great, we played outside.” What are you doing now? “Folding laundry, watching One Life To Live. We’re probably going to use sidewalk chalk in the afternoon.”  Then he’d come home and the house would still be torn up from Beauty and her own personal civil unrest.  She was a one baby crusade against order. Dinner might be cooking but it wasn’t anything fancy. Not only was I exhausted but we were not wealthy. I was a stay at home mom, he delivered paper. Do the math. Sometimes dinner wasn’t cooking. Sometimes my ass was planted on the couch watching Friends. In fact, just assume that was every Thursday for the run of the show. (I always fed the kids, I’m not against  macaroni for dinner every so often.)

This inevitably lead to discussions about my responsibilities and priorities. The house should be clean. Dinner should be made and edible. I should probably get dressed. Some people are so particular. I made myself a sandwich and he knew his way to the kitchen. And seriously, pants are overrated.

All the stay at home moms are nodding right now and all the working parents are raising their eyebrows. Am I right?

It took me a long time to understand the real source of our issue. My friend once told him if he wanted a housewife he probably shouldn’t have married someone who lists “sparkly” as her favorite color, but that was not the real problem. If you want to get specific, the real problem was respect, but we won’t go there today. Today we’ll explore the misunderstanding of the work that is done as a stay at home parent. He thought I was playing outside, watching my stories and doing crafts, so he couldn’t comprehend why there was no time or energy to clean. And the sad truth is, I didn’t understand, either, not when the girls were young. I did clean, but I always felt like it should be easier, like taking care of the house should be a snap for a stay at home mom, so between my own ideas and his words, I felt like a failure.

Today, sitting in the sunshine, enjoying my children and my job, I remembered that feeling all too clearly and see the error of my ways. If you asked me about my day I would tell you we played outside all morning, we ate a delicious lunch and then while the kids napped I took some time for myself to write a blog. Later we will do some crafts. Then I will make dinner, watch TV and go to bed. If you have never done my job this probably sounds like a cakewalk to you. You probably wonder why making dinner is such an ordeal if all I did was play outside and color all day. You worked all day, right? I get why you are tired. Your job is called work. It probably sounds dreadful to me. Unless you are an event coordinator or a road manager for a cool band or something. I can completely understand why you are exhausted and would rather order pizza.

The problem is in the communication, a problem I never expected I would have. When someone asks me about my day I rarely think to say, “Little S  took off his diaper and pooped all over his bed during the morning nap he had to take because he was biting me and literally crying over spilled milk. While I was downstairs cleaning it up he and his friend took everything out of the “no no drawer” and spread it all over the living room.” When I talk about our lovely time outside in the sunshine I don’t bother to mention the main reason my presence is required is to keep four kids hellbent on breaking at least one bone from accomplishing their goal. Not one grain of sand gets eaten on my watch. Okay, that’s a lie, but not much.

I rarely mention how hard it is to cook lunch while keeping those same hellbent bone breakers from jumping off the table and wrestling. The two smallest boys are all teeth and nails, lately. They’re just playing but it’s still dangerous and has to be dealt with, not ignored. On a good day Little S just shakes the gate and cries until I put him in his chair. I don’t talk about cleaning squash out of the carpet or scraping dishes while kids tumble around the toys we seriously just cleaned up. I don’t explain the level of patience it takes to do crafts with toddlers or the amount of cleaning to be done afterwards while those toddlers are once again attempting to maim themselves.

http://mommyofamonster.com/2010/08/baby-jail.html

Baby Jail from “Mommy Of A Monster”

All my Ex  ever saw of my job was naptime. Sometimes I would fold laundry or load the dishwasher but the rest of our messes from the day had to be cleaned as we went or it would be total chaos. More often than not I was watching TV or reading, a well deserved break. On the weekend I still handled most of the parenting but it is simpler with a partner and we didn’t usually complicate it with crafts and activities. Of course he did occasionally stay home alone with the kids, as well, but he never attempted to make a job of it. He didn’t do crafts or, if we’re being honest, bother to clean up after lunch.

“If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” I have seen that attributed to Confucius but I’m giving my Ex all the credit for it.  I loved what I did so he assumed I never worked a day in my life. I’m not claiming I worked harder than him or trying to say, “poor me, being a stay at home mom is hard.” I’m simply explaining, I work, too.  Just because I like what I do doesn’t mean it doesn’t take energy and patience and skills beyond those of a trained monkey. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should do it. If you think it’s easy or that I’m sitting on my ass all day this is not the job for you. It’s still a job.

The kids are stirring. I have crafts to do.

Parents Are People, Too (aka A Good Ol’ Fashioned Guilt Trip)

Every so often I check my site stats to see which blogs are being read and shared and what search terms lead people to my blog. (I think a lot of lonely young men attempting to buy their own batsmoke leave my page disappointed.) I can see at a glance which blogs are the most popular and which blogs you are sharing with friends.

Most of my blogs are about parenting and all of the wonderful things that go along with that like cleaning the house, cooking dinner and trying to explain why I don’t have a penis. Those blogs are, by far, the most popular. I also write about movies I like or do not like and I suppose eventually I will write about books again and there will be a lot of blogs about The Bar and live music. Those blogs do not get read as often or shared as much but I will continue writing them. I write for me but I also write for you and I think you need the blogs about music and movies and drinking as much as I do.

Becoming a parent changes everything. It’s a cliche because it’s true. Humans, in general, are self centered. That’s not mean or a negative outlook on humanity, it’s just common sense. All of your most basic instincts are cleverly designed to protect you. Until you have a child. Between your biological urge to protect your child and society’s pressure to do so and do so better than anyone else, it is very easy to forget that you still have needs of your own. When taking a shower becomes a task you have to schedule, finding time to nurture your talents and explore hobbies can seem like a luxury.

Some time after Goldy and Beauty were born, but before my divorce, I discovered that I was boring. I didn’t do anything worth talking about and I didn’t have anyone to tell even if I did do something noteworthy. It would be easy to blame my ex-husband because he did instigate my isolation but it wasn’t intentional and I let it happen even though I know better. Lucky for me, he still had friends and one of his friends was still into girls (that is a whole different blog for another day) and he brought over my future best friend, H-Bomb.

It’s amazing what one person listening can do for your self esteem. My Ex had forgotten who I was before I became overwhelmed with parenting and house work. It wasn’t entirely his fault, though, I stopped reminding him. I suddenly understood all possible meanings of the phrase, “I need to find myself,” which I had always thought was complete hocum. How do you lose yourself? Now I know how very easy it is to lose track of yourself. Hint: You will not find yourself at the bottom of a pile of laundry.

No matter how deep the pile, you will not find yourself at the bottom.

Having someone to listen again made me want something to talk about. I didn’t want all of my fun stories to be about the past. I wanted to read books that weren’t by Mercer Mayer and go places that weren’t family friendly. I wanted to put on lipstick, not chapstick and paint my own nails, not my daughters’. I wanted my own life.

If any of this sounds familiar or you are nodding your head then you are the one I’m writing for. You need support. You need a friend to listen. And you need to know that it is okay to be a parent and your own person. It’s not only okay to have a life outside of your children, it is necessary to be a good a parent. You cannot be your best self if you are only focused on your children. You need a hobby. You need a night out. You need a shower. No really, you need a shower.

I often hear new moms say, “I don’t even have time for a shower!” I feel your pain, I do. Put the baby down and go take a quick shower. Yes, he might cry and you might feel guilty but when you are done you are going to feel so good.  Babies sense your stress and discomfort. They also sense your peace and happiness. Be at peace, be happy. It will be easier to get him to latch on or fall asleep if you are not a sweaty ball of nerves. This gets harder as the kids get older. Cages are frowned upon so you will need a good support system, but you not only deserve it, you need it.

These are not my kids. Do not call CPS.

We went out last weekend on Little S’ birthday. Without him. We spent all day with the kids and then took him to Grandma’s house after dinner. We have karaoke every Saturday at The Bar and our karaoke jockey was having a birthday party. We’ve only owned The New Bar for 6 months so it is important to be present, to meet people, to interact. We also had friends playing in bands on the other side of town. The Barkeep helped set up one of our friends, an old local music connection of mine,  on the bill at the last minute, so we wanted to see the show. I met a fellow at The Bar that night that asked about my kids. When I told him it was my youngest baby’s first birthday he told me I should be at home. Now, you might agree, but I want you to flip the phrase around in your head awhile and ask yourself why I needed to be home with a sleeping baby on a Saturday night when I had so many other options and a trusted babysitter. In case he wakes up and wonders why his Mommy went out on his birthday? This is your first baby, isn’t it?

People might make you feel guilty about pursuing your own interests. You might make yourself feel guilty. Consider this, it is our job to model the behavior we want to see in our children. We cannot raise well rounded people if we feel like half the person we used to be. We cannot encourage them to cultivate their talents and nurture their ideas if we are ignoring our own. We can’t teach them to explore hobbies if we don’t have any of our own. Humans have an actual need to share and enjoy themselves.Why do you think Sims have a social meter and an aspirations meter? They are based on us! (And now you know one of my hobbies…) Our children need us to remember that we are all people, too. Our children deserve to be raised by well rounded individuals.

If none of this convinces you then I have one last thought, a question actually. Think of your child’s favorite activity. Goldy likes writing. Beauty likes fashion. Sharkboy likes constructing. The jury is still out on Little S, he seems to enjoy dancing and eating. What does your child enjoy? Do you do your best to encourage that hobby, take her to lessons, buy the necessary tools and praise liberally? Do you want him to give it up for anyone, ever? Or do you want him to continue building on that interest and learning new ones as he grows?

At the core of everything we want for our children is the same basic premise. We want them to be happy. Se ta good example for your children and remember, your parents wanted you to be happy. Don’t let them down.

My Mind May Wander But My Values Remain

I’m  in the middle of planning my Fourth And Final First Birthday Party for Little S on Sunday. Page Six predicts it to be a spectacular gathering of our city’s most beautiful and dazzling… no wait, that was Pamela Anderson’s party, her birthday is the same weekend. As far as I know our city has no equivalent to Page Six and if it does I prefer to remain unaware. Little S will celebrate his Seuss themed party at our bar, hopefully on the patio, but who knows in the ridiculous humidity.

In the midst of this I am also feeling some pressure about how I raise my teenage daughters. It may be unintentional, but it is still stressful. No matter how confident you feel as a parent any indication that you may be doing something wrong can make you question yourself. Being bluntly told that you are a bad parent feels like a punch in the stomach. I had never experienced it until a few years ago but I will never forget that feeling and now even less harsh criticisms sting like salt on a wound.

As I paint, cook and craft in preparation for the party I have too much time to think. I’m not used to this anymore and my mind wanders easily. I have never been a typical parent and that only becomes more obvious as my kids get older and more numerous. My goal has never been to raise the best behaved children, but rather, I choose to raise decent and loving people. Their good behavior seems to be a side effect of that goal. My kids are normal kids. They throw fits, roll their eyes and talk back. Sometimes they fall down begging for shoes that they never wear after the first day or haircuts that they hate within a week. I’ve walked out of stores in the middle of tantrums and thrown my hands up in exasperation. I’m not trying to claim a Mother of The Year Award of portray my children as angels, but honestly, they really are good kids. They do normal kid things, appropriate for their age, but they also do  exceptional and amazing things that make my heart swell and fill me with pride.

Every parent has different goals for their children. That is why we parent so differently and judge each other so harshly.  My goal is to raise people that do what is right, not out of fear of punishment or repercussion, but because they know it is right. I want them to be open minded and tolerant but not so tolerant they accept situations they know are wrong.

Like all parents, I also want to protect them from danger, Again, we all have different ideas about what is dangerous and how to protect them. I don’t want to shelter my children because I feel that can be as dangerous as not protecting them at all. Just as exposure to illnesses builds our immune system and exposure to the cold builds our tolerance, exposure to life builds our strength to endure and thrive. It’s difficult to find the balance between allowing them to experience a full life and protecting them from serious harm.

Not one of us will get it right. Not one of us will be the perfect parent. And even when you come as close to your goals as you possibly can someone else who does not understand your viewpoint will judge the situation from their own.

This isn’t how the thought process plays out in mind, for the record. I bandy about the phrases “judgmental pricks” and “just wait until their kids get older” quite a bit. That is one thing people never seem to understand when they do not have children or their own children are still very young. My teenagers are my babies. I feel just as fiercely protective and loving of my 17 year old as I do my tiny almost one year old baby. My 13 year old daughter is not one speck less important to me than my toddler. When I consider my parenting choices I am fully aware that they are teenagers but you must also realize that  not so long ago they were not the young ladies that roll their eyes and stomp away, they were tiny babies learning to walk and precious toddlers saying silly things that I wrote down so I would never forget.

Our children learn and grow and become new people everyday. Every phase, every moment, has its ups and downs, but inevitably every phase ends. It’s a somber thought, as you consider your baby or toddler, laughing and hugging and loving with abandon the way only the very young can. But this phase, no matter how much you love it, must end in order for your preschool child to amaze you with her many talents that you did not recognize in a younger child or for your pre-teen to impress you with how he handled a bully at school or for your teenager to blow you away with her understanding of humanity. And someday your children will be adults, and maybe have children of their own, but they will never stop being the baby you rocked to sleep, the toddler who’s owies you kissed, the child that said “I love you, too” for the first time.

How can we be expected to stop baby proofing their world?

But we must. We must allow them to live and learn and grow from their experiences. Just as I joked that I skipped the foam rubber padding on our coffee table and let Goldy learn the hard way not to run around the furniture, I must also let them learn to navigate outside our home and outside the somewhat controlled confines of the school.

That doesn’t mean I have to do it your way.

My daughters are still young but they are old enough for me to know that for all of my questions and all of my mistakes I must be doing a pretty damn good job. I won’t do everything the same with my sons. I’m at a different phase in my life, too. The world is already a different place. The only thing I can say for certain that I will do the same is to parent according to my own beliefs and my own goals.

I’m going to have my baby’s first birthday in a bar. I’m sure people will talk. I want them to know this is my Fourth And Final First Birthday Party. “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” I have my own set of values, my own set of goals. I don’t need yours.

Let’s Go To The Mall

I took the kids to the mall last night. It was an accident. Beauty wanted to meet some friends there and Sharkboy needed a haircut and I needed to pick some things up on that side of town, so, I temporarily lost my sensibility and got excited about a trip to the mall. The Barkeep and I take the boys to “our mall” a lot. Our mall is on this side of town and hosts several inexpensive children’s clothing stores, as well as Target, which is where most of my money goes. There are 3 malls within 15 minutes of my house in any direction, but this mall is almost 30 minutes away in the subbiest of suburbs, our old stomping grounds, where their dad still lives and they still go to school. It’s new and big and shiny and it’s where all the cool kids hang out. There are two Abercrombie stores. I think they are designed to suck people in with their giant half naked men posters and perfumed, controlled temperature air but it does not have that effect on me. I actually repel just a little from the doorway. It’s that kind of mall and I’m not that kind of mom.

www.bodybuilding.com

Exactly what item of Abercrombie are these models showing off? The perfumed air? The guy you can get if you wear their jeans?

Plans got rearranged before the boys and I made it to that side of town and somehow I ended up picking Goldy up at her dad’s house and leaving Beauty. We drove by our old neighborhood to pick up diaper pail liners I had bought from a friend online but she wasn’t home yet so the four of us headed to the mall to get Sharkboy a haircut and shop for things I don’t need. Even though I attempted to leave immediately after work at 5:30 it was 6:45 by the time we actually walked into the salon. (Remember, when travelling with rockstars, one can never just walk out the door empty handed.) There was only one person working and she said it would be 30 minutes, around 7:30. I didn’t bother to correct her math. Maybe she lives on bar time.

We shopped at Crazy 8, where Gymboree clothes meet Target prices and rode the big, glass elevator. I managed to avoid the play area by buying a ride on the mechanical fire truck and we walked back into the salon at 7:25, just in time to hear her tell a woman at the counter she could get her in next. I, being naïve and ridiculous, really thought she meant after us, but no, the woman was seated immediately. Again, naïve and ridiculous, I think, “this will be quick, the boys will be fine.”

I know, at least half of you snorted at my silliness or let out an audible, “ha” at that.  My kids are reasonably well behaved in public but even in the best of circumstances most kids do not behave the way most people without kids would like them to. This was not the best of circumstances. The waiting area was tiny and there was already a rather snooty looking, terribly dressed woman with a well dressed, unattractive teenage(?) boy. He may have been in his twenties but I think he was with his mom. It was an odd pair and their behavior was similar. Odd. There were four of us and Little S was in a stroller, at least it was his umbrella stroller, though. I gave him a wonderful book to read, Baby Mix Me A Drink, and he immediately threw it on the floor, starting a fun game with Goldy where she would pick up the book and he would throw it again. Good times. Sharkboy was hanging out under the chairs, which I would normally discourage in an area that small but I honestly just wanted to keep it peaceful as long as possible. Little S threw his book near Mean Boy’s feet and Mean Boy kindly picked it up for him, or so I thought, but instead he gave me a disgusted look and stuck it in our diaper bag, thus beginning our fued. I get it, not everyone is a fan of “Drop The Book” but it wasn’t hurting anyone and it was keeping the baby quiet and happy. Why be a fun hater?

I’m not making this up.

I wish I could have recorded the tongue lashing that baby gave him. He furrowed his little brow and let loose with an angry string of babble that any sailor would be proud of. High five, Little S. Goldy and I both laughed inappropriately and she offered to take him for a walk around the mall while we waited. Sharkboy’s behavior deteriorated quickly after that and he mostly laid on the floor saying it was cold or stood next to a rack of things I told him not to touch, just barely not touching it. Mean Pair sighed a lot and acted irritated but I could see that Snooty Mom was mildly amused.

I know what you’re thinking. We should have left, and we should have. But you should also know two important things about me. I can be extremely lazy and highly vindictive. I was angry that Hairdresser let someone go ahead of us and I was pleased that our presence rattled her and I didn’t mind the side effect of making the Mean Pair uncomfortable. Also, there was nowhere else in the mall I was willing to pay for a 2 year old’s haircut and we were there and he had clean hair, which only lasts so long with a little boy who loves the sandbox. So, we waited.

Hairdresser did a great job on Sharkboy’s hair but she could not get him to cooperate. He would not look anywhere she told him to look, which is odd because he usually loves hair cuts and does what he is asked, but it had been a long night. I got him to cooperate by holding a hand mirror where she wanted him to look. This is why she cuts hair and I watch kids. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still tipped her.

“I’m so ready to go home.” I know you know exactly what I mean. Goal, accomplished. Feet, ache. Mood, shot. But I had this idea of a night at the mall with my kids, ya know, and it involved the play place and a pretzel and lemonade and good times, maybe even some new shoes. Sharkboy found the play place with his sense of hearing, because in this kind of mall there are only two noise centers, the play place for preschoolers and the food court, where the teenagers hang out. These teenagers are not the mallrats of our generation, though. If your children are still young you may not have noticed this. The kids hanging out at the mall now actually shop there. They wear Hollister and jewelry I can’t afford. Even in the mall in our own neighborhood the kids can outspend me. Where are they getting this money?

I didn’t expect the play place to be too crowded on a Monday at 8pm, especially since it’s huge, but it was surprisingly chaotic still. Little S was satisfied crawling in and out of log tunnels like he was doing laps and Sharkboy just wanted to climb so they were mostly safe from the inevitable game of murder-death-kill-tag being played by unattended kids, many much too big to be in there. There were at least 20 kids, two other parents and one grandma that was sound asleep. This is always the situation in mall play places unless you are able to go during the day. (I desperately miss being mobile during the day.) During the day there are usually tons of adorable toddlers and preschool kids with a rational amount of parents and plenty of awkward encounters when one kid hits another or knocks a baby over. Parents gasp and feel terrible, other parents brush it off. Kids, ya know. This is not like that. These are unsupervised, unruly kids. It’s a play place, though, you’re going to have that. I don’t worry much about Sharkboy, if he gets knocked down he just gets back up again and if kids try to bully him… it’s the only time I’m pleased with his self defense skills. Go ahead, back my kid into a corner, I dare you. We don’t call him Sharkboy for nothin’. Goldy and I switched on and off following the boys this way and that, attempting to keep them alive. It’s like a life size video game.

Buried With Children

I stole this photo from a cute blog about making friends at the play area. She is nicer than me. http://www.buriedwithchildren.com/how-to-make-friends-at-the-mall-play-area/

Then I saw Goldy talking to an old friend and overheard bits and pieces of her conversation. By old friend maybe I mean frienemy, I can’t be sure. She’s a girl I remember from junior high because her mother was unable to drive and I was more than happy to give her rides home, rides to hang out, rides wherever and she thanked me by telling me my car was a piece of junk. Not in those exact words, hers were actually worse. She said, “this reminds me of those cars that you see squeaking and bumping down the street to a stop sign and wonder if the owner is embarrassed.” It wasn’t the first time she had a made a remark but it was the last. I offered to let her out if she was uncomfortable being seen in my car and let her know that generally a simple “thank you” was all that was required when given a ride. That was junior high, though, most girls are a little snotty in junior high. Last night I heard Goldy telling her about the boys, she pointed out her brothers and you could see she was having fun playing with them. (And thank goodness for that because I needed the help.) They talked a few more minutes and then she was gone. Goldy rolled her eyes at me and shook her head. Apparantly after she told her what she was doing in the play place her friend sneered and said, “I can only imagine how much bacteria and germs and stuff are in there so I’m going to go now.” Still a snot. And her butt is getting big, so there’s that.

Why are people such jerks to each other? How hard is it to just be nice? I think many unpleasant things throughout the day and generally just bite my tongue. Like, “Wow, your butt has really gotten big since the last time I saw you.” I just hold that in. It’s bad karma to put that much negativity into the universe. Half a dozen people made me angry yesterday and I managed to swallow down my mean thoughts with a delicious buttery pretzel while laughing and playing with my kids. I wash it all down with that perfect pretzel stand lemonade and seriously, how can you not be happy when you’re drinking that stuff?

I guess that would make the moral of this story “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” but I’m not into clichés so let’s go throw them at things and pretend it’s Big Butt, The Hairdresser and Mean Pair.

Then we’ll make margaritas.

How To Survive A Road Trip With Your Kids

Drink.

I’m kidding. I don’t drink nearly as much as I write about it. Shhh… that’s our secret.

Kids are portable. Never use them as an excuse not to go to the places you’ve pinned on Pinterest. That being said, hitting the road with a little one on board can be an overwhelming idea. We have not been out of town since Sharkboy was a Sharkbaby so Little S is about due for a trip. When SB was 4 months old we took a road trip across the southwest to visit my Grandma and attend The Barkeep’s friend’s wedding. We saw 10 states in 10 days. We could have flown but I am so glad we didn’t. In case my love of the movie Cars didn’t give it away, I love road trips. I don’t want to fly over anything, not even flyover states. I want to see everything that every state has to offer, from mountains and cactuses to lakes and fields to skylines and a Starbucks on every corner, and more importantly, I want my kids to see it all. Obviously, at 4 months old Sharkbaby didn’t retain much of what he saw but he can say he got his first tooth on the road and celebrated hisfirst St. Patrick’s Day by the mountains. Beauty and Goldy can tell stories about the creepy late night restaurant we stopped at the night we discovered SB’s tooth, the friendly gentleman in the Oklahoma gas station, the cow concert in Texas and their first trip to Vegas. We saw the Hoover dam but it was the middle of the night and there was construction holding up traffic. We witnessed nearly every way to pee in a desperate situation that you can imagine and one member of our group even had to pee in a plastic cup from a convenience store and dump it out, so we experienced a true road trip.

(Photo By Flickr user Idiolector)

We are scheduled to hit the road again next weekend, just a short drive to the next state over, but like I said, we haven’t been out of  state since the spring of 2010 because every single penny we make is going into the addition on our house and keeping our kids alive. That being said, we recently sold “The First Bar” in favor of one that actually generates an income, and I have been watching the Monster Princess for extra money, too. We have a wedding to attend and plan to turn it into a short weekend getaway for the family.

I can’t write about road trips, especially not this one, without telling you about a very special group of women who will, coincidentally, also be hitting the road next weekend. My love of road trips led me to a book that led me to a forum that led me to belonging to something special. I think everybody craves belonging, but maybe it is just me because I am a little weird and never seem to fit in any one group very well. This group, the Swirl, was almost entirely female, other than that we spanned every variety of everything; every political belief, every religious background, every sexual orientation, every stage of relationships, every level of education. Gay, straight, atheist, Jewish, Catholic, polygamist, happily married with children, childfree, socialist, right wing republican, slutty, prude… I can’t stress enough how diverse we are! The only thing we have in common is attitude, strong opinions with a strong desire to share them. That, and possibly a love of the open road, wanderlust, a desire to keep going. The Swirlers will be hitting the road by car, train and plane next weekend to meet up inWashington and I am insanely jealous but pleased that I will be travelling with my own family to enjoy a family celebration. I will be with my friends in spirit and can’t wait to hear about their trip.

On With The Planning!

First, and this is very important, own a Dodge Caravan with stow and go. Okay, it doesn’t have to be a Dodge Caravan, I hear there are other vehicles with stow and go, but the Caravan has the added benefit of a high safety rating, 7 seats, ease of moving around inside and doors that open and close with the key fob. If you are not familiar with stow and go you should check it out. There is space in the floor of the vehicle to stow the seat when you need to haul something, or, if you are hauling a whole family, there is space in the floor to stow your luggage. This frees the rest of the space in the car up for people, stuff to do and a cooler. Ours is also equipped with a DVD player, which I do not allow except on trips lasting more than an hour, and even then I’d prefer they just look out the damn window, but sometimes it comes in handy. I know a lot of people are like, “Minivans are for squares and parents,” but we are kind of squares because we don’t care if we look like parents. We are parents. I picked a vehicle that fit my needs and I will rave about it whenever I get a chance. We love it.

Packing The Van

Your overnight luggage goes in first, we keep ours in the floor compartment. For a long trip I would suggest packing a lot of items that can be mixed and matched to wear together so you can pack less. Bring layers that go nicely over all your outfits in case of bad weather. (I am working under the assumption, like me, you will never purposely travel to somewhere colder than where you already are. Because, why?) Don’t forget the BabyLegs! Not only are they great layers for the little ones but the whole family can use them as arm warmers.  I swear I’m not on their payroll. Remember to pack for comfort during drives. I understand you want to look good in vacation photos but no one looks good miserable. Comfort, then vanity. When I pack I make a list from head to toe. It looks something like this:

  • hair  products, blow dryer (the hotel dryers don’t cut it), comb, brush, hair bands
  • make up, face cleanser, eye makeup remover
  • toothbrush, paste, etc.
  • jewelry
  • body lotion, body wash
  • feminine hygiene products (even if it’s not expected, just in case)
  • clothes
  • shoes, walking shoes
  • plastic bags to store clothese once they are too dirty to rewear

Obviously this is an oversimplified list but you get the idea. I then repeat the process for the kids. Older kids like my teenagers can pack their own bag but I give them a list and ask  them to the point smart-mouthiness if they have certain items we can’t just purchase on the road, like their glasses.

Another item that gets packed first is the pack and play. If you are bringing a baby then definitely bring this staple. Some hotels claim they have portable cribs but they are often 20 years old and I wouldn’t even put my dog in one, if I had a dog. If it’s not good enough for my hypothetical dog it’s not good enough for your baby. Don’t forget Baby’s special blanket, stuffed animal or other lovey. We have a “ba” and two Scout puppies, one for each boy. Ba is Sharkboy’s blanket and he can sleep without it but he loves it.  The puppies say their names and sing lullabies we custom downloaded from the LeapFrog website. We play them every night and I think it is best to stick with a bedtime routine as much as possible on the road. After you have packed your luggage into the van and anything else you need for the overnight portion of your trip it is time to load up for the actual driving portion of your road trip.

Eating (and drinking!) On The Road

Reuse empty cartons of milk or juice as water bottles. You will need a lot of water, especially if you have a bottle fed baby on board. Bring them already full and remember to refill them any time you stop somewhere with water that you know is clean. Also refill your cooler with ice at these stops.

A few ideas for packing the cooler:

  • berries and grapes are already bite size,
  • raw veggies for dipping, we like sugar snap peas and carrots because they hold up longer
  • veggie dip
  • diced chicken breast and/or turkey breast
  • cheese cubes (obviously, always bring cheese)
  • squeezable yogurt – These can be frozen treats, too, as long as your cooler allows. Check the label, some of these are almost all sugar, no one wants that on a car trip.
  • Bacardi

That list is far from all inclusive, I just covered the basic food groups like protein, fruits, veggies and rum.

Other food to pack:

  • trail mix – Don’t buy it, customize your own with your family’s favorite stuff. Some possibilities are nuts (packed with good fat, protein and fiber!), whole grain cereals and dried fruits. You may want to put a little container of chocolate chips in the cooler to throw in the mix right before you eat it. Don’t store them in there or you will have chocolate covered nuts and berries. Yummy but messy.
  • squeezable fruits and vegetables – These are often found in the baby aisle and you have to check the labels to make sure you are getting the good ones, but when you find them you have hit the convenience food jackpot.
  • baked crackers – Goldfish come in a variety of flavors and they smile back.

Bring inexpensive containers to use as dishes, the kind you buy to send leftover holiday food home. You can also find inexpensive take and toss dishes in the children’s food aisle at most stores. This way you can wash and reuse it (not just on this trip, but in the future, too) and you won’t miss it if it gets lost or too soiled to pleasantly continue the trip with you. I pack our dishes with the non-perishable food items and reuse a plastic bag from the grocery store to hold the used ones. They can be washed in any sink if you also pack a travel size dish soap.

You will want to try to keep the kids drinking as much water as possible but when that fails dilute their juice. Sharkboy has only had “straight” juice a few times at restaurants and he looks like he just snorted a line of Pixie sticks afterwards.

Assuming you are not driving for awhile you’re going to need to dilute your rum, too. I recommend Diet Pepsi even though this poses one major problem. You’re going to need to pee. A lot. So don’t forget to pack toilet paper in your emergency kit. (More on that soon.) It is very likely that you will need to pee more than anyone else if you’re drinking. That is the great thing about bringing kids, they need to get out of their seats often so you always have an excuse to stop and pee.

**I recommend researching your route before you leave. Find cool, offbeat restaurants for the nights you choose to stop and eat. Map out interesting local attractions for short breaks. Have a picnic at a local park. I want my family to experience the culture of the area we are visiting, not just drive past unaware of the difference. Every stop should reflect that desire, even a quick bathroom break, if possible. If you must pee on the side of the road use it as a teaching opportunity for your children. There is an art to peeing while standing if you are a female and it’s about time your daughter’s learned about it. Speaking of bathroom breaks… **

Adventures In Diaper Changing

When Sharkboy was just a Sharkbaby I changed his diaper on the bathroom floor of a dirty roadside convenience store. Now that I have to drag so many little ones outside to play everyday it has occurred to me it is much nicer to lay down a blanket and change them in the grass. You might get strange looks from other customers but its better than laying your baby down next to a dead cockroach. I always carry anti-bac in case we need to make a change or use the restroom somewhere that does not provide soap or running water. If you are near a town or city and are not planning a fun roadside stop at an attraction, restaurant or museum then look for Target or another family friendly store that will have clean, well supplied restrooms with a changing table.

Sharkbaby showing off his roadtrip outfit during a quick bathroom floor diaper change at Casey’s General Store

For older kids that can read and write start a journal. On each page ask a question about the trip and let each child answer it themselves when they get bored of looking out the window or if they start to fight. Ask about the weather, the most interesting thing they have seen so far or what they are looking forward to. Write down any memorable quotes from your trip and later add photos of silly things you saw and did on the road.  Encourage everyone to be part of journaling.

We play two different alphabet games, depending on what kind of road we are on. In town we like to search for the letters of the alphabet in order. Whoever gets to Z first wins. We just shout out A in Wal-Mart, B in Dress Barn, etc. On the interstate where signs are sparse we play as a group and search for things around us that start with each letter. A for airplane, B for birds, sometimes you have to get really creative. We do allow the use of actual letters for some of the trickier ones, like the X in an exit sign.

Another fun game is the scavenger hunt. Write (or draw for little ones) a list of things to find on your trip and check them off as you go. For example, on our trip across the SW some of the things we searched for included a cactus, an Elvis impersonator, and a pink semi. This can be fun if you include some socializing possibilities, such as, an “authentic” farmer. Dare your kid to ask the guy in bib overalls if he does, in fact, work on a farm. Be polite and have fun meeting people on the road. Be safe, obviously.

I recommend bring a wrap, slung or other carrier for your trip, as well. We first used an inexpensive Snugli and jeep brand carrier. Both work well for us but I was later told they’re not the best for little boys and legs. I just ordered a mei tai for Little S that I can’t wait to try out.  Sharkboy is just under the weight limit if he needs a rest. We have a wonderful double stroller but it is bulky. An umberella stroller is an alternative if you’re not into babywearing, but give it a try, you might be!

My whole family, pre-Little S, perched on the chasm of doom known as The Grand Canyon. The Barkeep is wearing Sharkbaby in a carrier.

**Pick up a map at a rest stop and teach your children how to use it. Talk about the symbols, show them the legend, teach them how to calculate distance. Encourage them, to help watch for your next turn. These skills are becoming obsolete in the era of GPS and smart phones but education trumps technology. Your mind never runs out of batteries or gets lost at a rest stop, not literally anyway.**

Timing Is Everything

If possible, start your trip in the evening so the kids can sleep through their own state that they are already familiar with. Try to plan stops at attractions and parks for the time that little ones are usually awake and let them sleep during their normal naptime. (This may be a good time for a movie?) Try to keep meals at their routine times. This will help eliminate a lot of crankiness.

Links 

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/

http://www.roadtripamerica.com/

http://www.sillyamerica.com/index.html

And Don’t Forget

  • Your  badass hat and sunglasses! No matter how greasy your hair gets gets and no matter how dark the circles under your eyes are you can still look      fabulous in your Supermom disguise!
  • A camera. Maybe one for the kids.
  • Your  towel.

A very special thank you to all the Swirlers but especially these few for helping me with this blog: Exclamation, GypsySpice, Roxeigh, TIGRRRSEYE

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