Friday, August 21, 2009

Hitting the Road (Babble)

Road trip!

Every summer I make a trip to Michigan and/or Ohio to visit family, usually while Ian is off doing Army Reserve duty.  It’s a journey I’m used to making without him, but with his impending deployment it was hard not to think about how every trip for awhile will be without him.  Seemed like a good time to start learning how to use the GPS.

The first thing I discovered about traveling with the GPS is that my two-year-old son loves to listen to it.  He now wakes up some mornings talking to himself in bed saying, “Turn Left.  Then Take The Third Right.”  He got very excited the first time it said we had reached our destination and then asked what that meant.  I told him it meant “We’re here,” and now when we arrive anyplace he tells me proudly, “You Have Reached Your Destination.  That means we’re here!”  Mona also does a good imitation of the GPS voice, and Aden can’t stand the thing.  She says she doesn’t like how it’s always interrupting (which has a very ‘pot calling the kettle black’ sound to it, but I understand what she means).

The next thing I learned about the GPS is that road construction is not its friend.  Indiana is always under construction (can’t wait to see what it’s like when it’s done) and I’m not clever enough yet to calm down the GPS about my use of detours.  But we got to Ohio eventually despite my hopeless sense of direction, so it’s a start.

We went to Columbus primarily for my grandmother’s birthday.  Usually when I’m in Ohio it’s for a family related function and I don’t get much opportunity to visit with my friends and their kids.  I decided this year I would set aside a few days just for catching up with friends and I regret that I haven’t done this before.  Making time for friends once you start having children is difficult, but I do what I can.  All my friends who still live near Ohio State have interesting lives and children and to watch them play together is fascinating and wonderful.

For the first time in all my years of visiting Ohio I didn’t stay with a relative.  I love spending time with my family there and I’m lucky to have my pick of cousins who volunteer to put us up, but the focus of this trip was intended to be different.  I have a friend with a house not far from where my grandmother lives now, and she invited us to take over the basement.  I think her home has been the most accommodating place I’ve ever stayed overnight with the kids.  The basement has a bedroom, a playroom, a bathroom, and a family room area set up to watch movies.  It’s always less stressful to stay at a house that is already set up for kids, but to have a whole level of the house to ourselves so we didn’t feel like we were intruding was great.  Normally wherever we travel I feel like we’re nothing but a hurricane of stuffed animals and cereal bar wrappers.   Trying to be a good guest anywhere with small children can be draining.  This time was not.

My kids are actually very nice to travel with.  We try to make the drive part of the vacation instead of a necessary evil.  The night before a big trip we go out and get some new something that they can only use in the car–a new drawing pad or special toy.  This time it was a glow-doodle thing that you can write on with your finger and lights up.  We also finally invested in a little DVD player that they can watch in the back seat and that made them very happy.  My girls like to sing, so there was a lot of rewinding their favorite parts of movies with songs they could accompany.  Quinn would prefer I sing to him, but he only knows how to request songs based on the color button he uses to make them play on his toy floor piano at home.  He’ll say brightly, “Mama!  Sing the blue one!” and I’ll try a bar of everything from  ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ to ‘London Bridge’ to ‘Clementine’ before he finally smiles and says, “Yes, THAT’s the blue one!”  I really should write them down before we get in the car for over ten hours again.

The most fascinating part of this trip to me was watching kids interact that my friends and I have only described to each other.  Aden got to play with a younger girl that I figured she would either hate or adore since their personalities sounded so similar.  They were thick as thieves, and even created an ‘orphanarium’ for the smaller kids and fed them cucumbers from the garden as they awaited adoption.  Mona got to drive a new friend around in a pink toy jeep which provided me with a frightening preview of what to expect when she hits driver’s ed.

The biggest challenges involved my kids adjusting to our host’s son who as an only child doesn’t have as much practice sharing his toys.  Sharing is always an interesting issue.  I think you either have a natural inclination for it or you don’t.  I’m still not good at sharing so I know how uncomfortable it can make you feel, but it’s a necessary skill whether it comes naturally or not.  My friend’s son is almost exactly the same age as Quinn but with very different life experience.  Quinn arrived in a world dominated by sisters and other people’s things.  He looks out at a world of toys that he has no exclusive claim to.  The few items in his life that he might object to sharing no one else is interested in.  His new friend, however, lives in a space where sharing is not an ever present fact of life.  Their first day together was difficult because everything Quinn touched was quickly reclaimed by its owner to the point where he was even discouraged from poking certain piles of sand on the ground.  Quinn eventually retreated to my side saying sadly that the other boy “was rude to me.”  After nearly a week of having us around, however, you could see the boy’s defenses coming down as he realized it was more interesting to be involved with all these kids who had invaded his home than to alienate them over his toys.

There is so much to learn while parenting, and there is so much variation in children and lifestyles that I find it endlessly interesting.  Getting the chance to see how my old friends operate as parents and to meet their kids was especially so.  There is a trust and a comfort in being with people who know and share your history that I don’t experience much in Milwaukee.  Most of the parents I know I met through my children, so those relationships are as new as they are.  Nearly all the people who knew me prior to having kids are out of state.  I’m grateful to my kids for finding friends with such wonderful parents, but not having to explain every reference from my past during a play date was such a relief and one I didn’t realize I needed.  I loved getting together with the same women I used to hang out with on campus, but this time at the zoo or the park.  It was helpful to get some perspective on what things change and what things don’t.  The demands of parenting can be isolating sometimes, and this trip was a good reminder to me of how much it helps to laugh and to make time for people who can relate.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s visit.

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