This Blog Is Awesome

Child free people are constantly bombarded with questions about when they will create their own genetic masterpieces and comments about how very wonderful children are and what amazing joy they bring to your life simply by being born. Then, in the very same breath, the questions and comments turn bitter. “How can you afford to fly to Vegas/go out drinking/go shoe shopping so often?” and “You’re so luck you get to do so many awesome things.” A friend of mine, faced with this phenomenon recently, posted on Facebook, “No, it’s not “lucky” that I get to go do awesome things…It’s because I chose not to have kids.”

Of course parents, including myself, jumped on that immediately, but I understand it in the spirit it was intended. It subtly (unintentionally) implied that being a parent somehow made life less awesome, but he only meant to defend his own awesomeness. It is easy for him to do the things he enjoys because having children is not on that list right now. And that’s cool, too. We seriously need to lay off people who do not want kids, whether they just aren’t ready yet or don’t plan to ever be ready. It’s not like we have a human shortage. There are plenty of people mass producing children. No one should have to defend their choice or how much they enjoy their child free lifestyle

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What kind of marketing tactic is it to tell someone how beautiful and amazing an experience is while simultaneously blaming it for sucking the fun out of your life, anyway?

I’ve been a parent my entire adult life. I have wondered from time to time over the last 18 years how my life would have been different if had not had children. (You know those people at the bar that are always there, usually a hot buttered mess slipping off their bar stool and slurring in your ear? I sort of fear I might be one of those without kids.) I’ve never wondered if my life would be better. I have an awesome life. I’ve gone to many of my dream concerts and I plan to go to more and dream up even more. I take the kids to some of them, but prefer to go to most of them alone or with friends. We travel with the kids because it’s something we both enjoy. I went on a road trip across the southwest with my family and can’t wait for the next one. We also travel alone and with friends. And more than once I have stood in a room full of my favorite musicians, both “famous” and local, and experienced a spine tingling performance, the kind that makes you close your eyes and listen, thankful to be there for that spontaneous moment and realize, “my life is awesome.”

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On A Pale Horse at Wooly’s

Maybe that’s not your thing. Maybe you’re thinking, “Meh, music. The southwest is hot. Boo roadtrips.” One man’s trash is another’s treasure. One man’s hobby is another man’s hell. You’d rather fly to Italy or get your master’s degree. I know those parents, too.  I’m not wealthy, I have a small home daycare. My friends aren’t loaded, either. We’re just normal people with normal jobs who choose to continue being awesome, even with children.

Parenthood gets a bad reputation because it is exhausting, expensive and time consuming. So is anything else worth doing! Immersing yourself in your hobbies, pursuing your career, following your dreams, all of it is mind boggling difficult if you are doing it right.  If you commit yourself to one thing it will make the other things more complicated, but not impossible. I have a friend going back to school right now so he doesn’t have much money left for going out as much as he used to and often doesn’t feel like it after hours of studying complex math. (I’m so with him on that.) That doesn’t make continuing education less worthwhile and it doesn’t have to make his life less awesome. If you are doing what you want to be doing then your life is awesome. If you are measuring your life against someone else’s idea of awesome it will never be awesome.

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My awesome family (before Little S) at the Grand Canyon

If you feel like having kids has made your life less enjoyable you may need to shift your priorities before you lecture your friends on all the reasons they, too, should reproduce. Logically you know your kids aren’t the problem, or you wouldn’t be trying to get others to join you in parenthood. The problem is that you are not doing the things that excite you and make you feel fulfilled. Don’t blame your kids for that and don’t be jealous of your child free friends. Find a way to make it happen. Create your own awesome.

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On The Road Again

I wanted to write a couple of informative and useful pieces about surviving our road trip and camping with small children but I have been kind of busy preparing for and cleaning up after each trip so it probably isn’t going to happen. I never claimed to be responsible or informative. Look anywhere on any bio I have written, you’ll see.

We did survive both trips but possibly only because they were short. We stopped at the biggest truck stop in the world and posed for pictures in semi trucks, mostly for Sharkboy’s benefit.  Little S had his first of many outdoor, roadside diaper changes. We saw the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile as we crossed the state line and a quick Facebook poll confirmed that was, in fact, a fortunate sign. My cousin’s wedding was beautiful. It was outside on a perfect day at a ski resort. The boys displayed excellent behavior right up until dinner time when they started getting hungry and restless. Note to self: Bring more snacks. Little S heaved milk all over The Barkeep so we left shortly after the cutting of the cake. We went back to our hotel, changed into pajamas and comfortable, non-barfed on clothes, and went out for ice cream.

Seeing the Wienermobile as you cross the state line is either a sign of good fortune or that the Wienermobile is just leaving the state you are entering.

In the morning we visited local caves, which amused my mom since she clearly remembered my intense hatred of caves. I did not remember until we were about to start our journey into the earth and then it came rushing back that I was terrified of cramped, dark spaces and slippery stairs over hot lava. She swears she did not take me in a hot lava cave, ever, but I still see it in my mind and I was suddenly positive we would have to carry the boys over hot lava on slippery steps so I started getting a little sick. Then I realized getting the boys over hot lava would be nothing compared to trying to drag Beauty over it. We might have to sedate her. My children are amazingly strong willed. It will fare well for them in many situations, but not all.

the reality of co-sleeping in a hotel

There was no hot lava, though, just a lot of cave bacon and humidity. It was a good time right up until it wasn’t anymore, which was right about the time Sharkboy pooped. There is nowhere to change a diaper in a well preserved cave and this one was awful. It was obviously painful and he was getting more and more agitated as we walked. The last 5 minutes before being released into daylight he just cried. We changed him immediately and his mood changed just as quickly. Everyone had fun excavating rocks and fossils in the giant sandboxes outside of the cave, especially the girls, and Little S showed his first signs of being a collector. He found a crystal and held on to it almost the entire time we were there. When he did drop it he would dig until he found the right one again. I ended up buying it for him because I’m a sucker.

You know how you look back on a trip and remember one defining moment? I will always remember this trip as “the time Sharkboy started yelling in the restaurant that his butt hurt” and I will laugh every single time even though the poor kid was definitely in pain. My kids almost never get diaper rash and when they do I just use coconut oil and it clears right up, but this one was terrible. We went to Wal Mart and investigated every single kind of ointment and cream. They were pretty much all variations of the same thing. Zinc Oxide in varying percentages. I finally settled on Desitin Maximum Strength because it was 40%, the highest by far. I can’t stand the smell of Desitin but I also can’t stand my baby boy crying and being miserable, especially on vacation. The girls helped me change diapers and we were on the road again in no time.

I will probably always remember this camping trip as “the time Grandma drank vodka lemonade straight from the jug” but our camping trips tend to blend together because they are always in the exact same spot, usually on the exact same weekend, Father’s Day. I suppose it might also be recalled as Little S’ first camping trip, but no, Grandma drank vodka lemonade straight from a jug. You don’t forget that.

My whole family camps together one weekend every summer. We take over a big oval of land right by a small playground with our tents and kids and coolers. Friends are welcome to join us and they do. The lake has paddle boats, a beach and a skating rink. We have been camping there since I was a kid, before they had showers and toilets that flush. Maybe that is why I am so good at peeing outside. (Not to brag but my sister in law and I have shirts that say, “been there, done that, peed on it”.) There are still only 2 modern bathrooms in central areas so I still do a lot of peeing outdoors. I am not a fan of outhouses. We missed the rain and brought the sunshine this year. No one cried that their butt hurt, no one threw up watermelon and no one got a fish hook in their foot. I call that a successful trip. My brothers and their friends took the older kids skating after drinking all day, the grown ups, not the big kids, and there was a lot of good material there if you want to hear about straight, grown men holding hands or falling on their asses. No? Okay, just know that it was funny. Goldilocks got pretty far in the limbo considering she was skating under with her 6 year old cousin. Little S found another treasure he couldn’t let go of, this time it was a shell in the rocks at the playground. I saved it for him. A hoard has been born. Two, probably.

The Barkeep did not get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card for Father’s Day, unfortunately. We had a lot of teardown to do before we could go boating and play at the beach. He did get the Bear Grylls ultimate survivor knife that he hinted he wanted by saying, “I really want this,” and ladies, learn from that. men don’t use hints because they don’t get them. (That’s a generalization and I know it, so no angry messages, boys.) He also got a whole lot of ethically and locally grown pork. Noms.

Because we have enough steak.

I do have some advice. You know that wonderful campfire smell? It turns nasty the minute you get home. Be prepared to do laundry before you even sit down. That and a general  “be prepared” are my only nuggets of wisdom to pass on, though no matter how prepared you are something will happen you could never predict. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, raging diaper rash or heaved milk.

Aside

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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