Leaving an Impression
Yesterday we said goodbye to my grandfather. My Papa. He was 96 years old. He was my last grandparent.
It has been a while since I saw Papa in person. I think he only met Lilly once. It kind of pains me to think that I deprived my children of the chance to know their one and only great-grandparent. But I didn’t want them to know or remember a very old man, incapable of getting down on his knees and playing with them, incapable of laughing with them because he can’t hear what they’re saying. That’s not Papa. That’s not the grandfather I know.
My grandfather never stopped. He was an early-adopter before everyone threw around phrases like “early adopter.” He was the first person I ever knew to have a computer. He had a laptop-type-device long before Apple was a household word and he was programming video games for his grandkids to play before most people knew what programming was. He kept physically fit every day of his life. When I was a kid, he was an avid boater and water-skier and tennis player. In his later years, he kept busy playing tennis (less often), surfing, ballroom dancing, swimming, bicycling.
One of the traits I admire most about him is his dedication to lifelong learning. Not necessarily from books, but from life. He was still taking up new hobbies, like surfing and playing the organ, into his seventies and beyond. He kept an active mind as well as an active body.
In the end, Papa didn’t lose a battle to any disease. He did not die of any illness. His body simply could not go on anymore. It kept him fit and active well into his senior years. In the end, he succumbed to a life well-lived; a body used to its fullest.
But who wants to be remembered for what they were “in the end.” It’s the life that comes before “the end” that is important. So I guess the best thing I can offer my children to feel connected to that man is the lessons I learned from him and my other grandparents.
I feel supremely thankful to have had the opportunity to know my grandparents, primarily my father’s father and my mother’s mother, as an adult. Not only do I have many more years of memories to cherish than if I had lost them early in life, but I have some more perspective when reflecting on their lives and what really is important even after they’ve left us. Intentional or not, they taught me many life lessons. These lessons may not be the things that made their lives meaningful to them, but they are the things that I hold dear when I remember them. They are the things that made them meaningful to me.
1. Laugh often. Despite the amount of time I spent with my grandparents, I sometimes struggle to recall the things we talked about or even what their faces looked like day to day. But I do remember the sound of their laughter. I can hear my Nana and Papa laughing so clearly in my head, it is as if they are sitting right next to me. Laugh hard. Laugh often. Share your laughter with everyone. If your children and grandchildren only remember one thing about you, let it be laughter.
2. Make a good first impression every time. When years have passed and memories get fuzzy, the reason for a particular visit or what was discussed doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. It’s the feeling you took away from those collective experiences when they all blend together. I remember with clarity the big smile on my grandfather’s face and the way he would cross a room with his arms wide open for a hug and kiss each and every time I walked through the door to his house after hours and hours of driving to visit him. And I remember how tightly my grandmother would hug me and how she would look at me — really look at me — each time I walked through the door of her apartment. Really, it doesn’t matter what happened after that. Those greetings told me how much I was loved and that is what I carry with me today. So don’t let a first impression be just one time, make it every time. Greet everyone you love with a smile and a heartfelt welcome.
3. Share stories. The conversations I remember most clearly from my grandparents are the ones that weren’t so mundane. The conversations that stay with me are the ones when I learned something about them or about our family. My grandmother enjoyed telling stories of her past and I always loved to hear them again and again. Toward the end of her life, I think she was not telling me the stories as much as teaching them to me, so that I could continue to tell them when she was gone. And I do. My grandfather was more reserved with his stories. I had to ask many questions and I still wish I knew more about his family (our family) history. But, in both scenarios, those conversations are some of my most cherished memories. Share the stories of your life. They will last more than a lifetime.
4. Share what you know. My grandfather taught me to waterski when I was 5 years old. He taught me how to surf about a decade after that. We practiced tennis together and he was the first person to show me around a computer. Those are hobbies I still have today and I think of him often when enjoying them. Whenever I think it’s too late for me to study a language or get better at piano, I remember how old my grandfather was when he started some of his hobbies and realize it’s only my fear holding me back, not age. My grandmother was great at teaching life skills in just a few words, a look or a reaction. Once my grandmother and I were trailing behind my aunt and mother during an afternoon of shopping. My mom and aunt were getting worked up about some retail injustice that we were heading to rectify. My grandmother made me run ahead to remind them that “you catch more bees with honey.” It’s a simple, common phrase that wasn’t intended for me that day, but I hear her saying it in my head often and adjust my actions accordingly. She taught me by example not to sweat the small stuff and to make family a priority. I try hard to practice those lessons everyday and think of her often when I do.
I suppose these may seem more like lessons for being remembered than lessons for living a good life. I prefer to think of them as lessons for living a positive life that leaves a positive impression. That is something I will strive to do. Thanks to my grandparents, I have a pretty good blueprint to follow.
Guilty As Charged
I am the third born in my family. I have an older brother and older sister and numerous older cousins on both sides of my family. I am not the first anything. I have no baby book. I have long berated (in the most loving way) my parents for failing to give me the same attention given to my brother, the first born, and my sister, the first girl. My baby photos are few and far between. The details of my birth (weight, length) are up for debate. Nothing is written down. My brother’s photos, on the other hand, fill no fewer than 3 photo albums. And I never let my mom forget it. Turns out I’ve been unwittingly setting a trap for 30 something years, and I just walked right into it.
Henry is 14 months old now. What? Henry who, you ask? Right. You hardly know him! Because unlike Lilly, who could hardly have a bowel movement without me blogging about it, Henry has lived a more private existence. I basically announced his birth and then disappeared from the blogosphere. He may actually thank me for that one day, but I just keep hearing my own voice guilting my parents about the fact that they hardly have any photos of me before age 2. My mom always responds, “You were the third! I was tired! I didn’t have time!” To which, I tended to reply with a persuasive and articulate argument that goes something like this: “But Ma-aaaa!!”
Now, two kids into my own family: guilty as charged. Lilly was our first-born, Elliott’s parents’ first grandchild, and my parents’ 8th grandchild, but first granddaughter. Her life is exceedingly well-documented. She was always surrounded by paparazzi. There are pictures galore of Lilly and more hours of video than anyone (other than me) would be willing to sit through. She has two years of milestone calendars, a journal of letters from me to her, a birth announcement cross-stitch — stretched, framed and hung — and, of course, three years of fairly regular posts on MushBrain documenting her daily life.
Poor Henry, not so much. I do actually have a hefty quantity of photos and videos of Henry. But thanks to chronic multitasking, most of them are poorly aimed and out of focus. I did also manage to complete a first year calendar for him. But this is his cross-stitch:
It hasn’t changed much since I was pregnant. I was originally aiming to finish it by his first birthday. Looks like that may have to get pushed to his second.
I eked out one letter to Henry just before his first birthday. I’m already a month behind on his second year calendar and struggling to keep track of the significant milestones of the last month in my mind. And, well, you know how MushBrain has been going. Not well.
Turns out there is something to my mom’s defense. God knows I’m tired. And busy. And I only have two kids. I’m also 10 years older than my mom was when I was Henry’s age, for what that’s worth.
In short, I’m sorry, Henry. I feel your pain. You may feel that you were not given as much attention as Lilly when you look back in my archaic digital photo storage systems and find fewer photos of yourself. But I promise that the reason I did not have the time to take as many photos of you is because you were getting so much attention. And so was Lilly. That leaves little time to take pictures. Or, more specifically, little time to organize the house so that I can find my camera when there is a picture to take. And even less time for blogging. But I’m working on it. All of it.
The sad part of this for me is that Henry is a really cute kid with a fun personality and some of the anecdotes from the first year are already lost in my mushed brain. So before too much more time slips away here are some fun facts about Henry and his 1st year:
- Despite starting out small, by 6 months Henry had grown into a very chunky baby boy, earning himself the nickname “Hank the Tank.” At one point I pulled out a tape measure and confirmed that Henry’s thighs at approximately 7 months had the exact same circumference as Lilly at age 4.
- Henry picked up sign language even quicker than Lilly, starting with “milk” at 10 months. However, in the following two months, his only sign was “dog” which he used to refer to both The Nut and Elliott.
- Henry enjoys a mostly vegetarian diet by his own choice. His guilty pleasures include paper, leaves and dog food.
- One of his favorite pastimes is moving furniture, especially chairs of all types, earning him another nickname: “The Moving Man.”
- Other hobbies include opening/closing drawers and doors, playing peek-a-boo, asking where the dog is, and climbing anything and everything.
- Favorite catch-phrase: “doo”
- Henry gives the best hugs of any baby ever. (Sorry, Lilly.) These are not limp, snuggle-me hugs. These are throw-his-arms-around-your-neck-and-squeeze bear hugs. And he has done this for as long as I can remember. Absolutely precious.
I suppose you can’t take a picture of a how a hug feels anyway.
What Year Is It Again?
Happy New Year! Where the heck did this year go? I certainly didn’t lose it to blogging! Sorry about that.
I don’t exactly know how I spent this year. Elliott’s cousin describes the early years with her twin sons (and an older son) as “the lost years.” I can totally relate. Since Henry was born, life has been a blur. If I had to guess how I spent 2012 – because remembering is out of the question – I’d say I spent it thusly:
60% preparing food for others (including breastfeeding)
20% supervising, observing and/or participating in kids’ activities (other than eating and sleeping)
9% assisting others in sleeping
3% taking photos or video
2% lying on the couch exhausted
1% complaining about not eating, sleeping or taking enough photos
0.7% stressing about choosing a kindergarten
0.5% checking facebook and email
0.3% wondering why I still bother with facebook
(Don’t check my math. It’s right. Trust me.)
What is not indicated in those very scientifically calculated statistics is the amount of time I spent laughing with (or gently at) my kids and time I spent in awe of my amazing children. With the recent tragic events in Connecticut, it’s been hard not to remind myself every minute how lucky I am to have this life, this time with these children. And that’s a good thing. We should all be so lucky.
So, as I kick off 2013, let me share with you some of my favorite highlights (and lowlights) from 2012, about which I completely and utterly failed to blog.
Favorite quote from Lilly: “Mom! Did you know there’s a new way to make cupcakes? It’s called Presto and it’s dishwasher safe.” [And then we turned off The Hub network.]
Favorite quote from Henry: “Ma-ma-ma-ma”
Favorite sibling photo:
Most redneck moment:
Most awkward family photo:
Favorite bad-ass princess:
Favorite camouflaged baby photo:
Favorite puppy love moment:
Most intense game of Go Fish:
Most disturbing artwork: “Mommy Screaming” by Lilly
Most successful sewing craft: Little Mermaid Sundress (Those in the know will laugh at how ridiculously easy this kind of dress is, but it’s all I had time for this year!)
Most peaceful moment: Watching Lilly watching Henry sleeping
Least Successful Elf on a Shelf presentation: He started out climbing the Gingerbread house. He ended up “doing yoga.”
Happy New Year to you and yours! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, family-filled 2013!
You Can Take the Girl Out of New York . . .
So yesterday I was lamenting the fact that my family is losing yet another connection to our New York roots now that my sister has also relocated to Louisville. Well, right on cue, Lilly has set my mind at ease. In addition to the fact that her cousins’ New York accents seem to be rubbing off on her more than the Kentucky accent is rubbing off on them, she really drove home the fact that being a New Yorker is in the blood today.
I heated up some pizza for lunch this afternoon. (Sadly, it was plain, old, supermarket frozen pizza.) I sat down with Lilly to eat it and, with no prompting whatsoever, Lilly picked up her slice, folded it, held it up to me and said, “This is the way I eat my pizza.” I laughed out loud, recalling the post that I wrote just yesterday on this very topic.
“That’s very good! That’s how I eat pizza too!”
Then she melted my heart. She proudly took a bite of her folded pizza, smiled and said, “This is how Fanellis eat pizza.”
I smiled proudly and said, “Yup. Because that’s how New Yorkers eat pizza.”
She’s doing just fine. I’ll sleep well tonight.
A New Kentucky Home
Sometimes life takes some really unexpected turns. If you had told me 15 years ago that I would move to Kentucky and raise my family there, I would have laughed my ass off. But here I am.
The decision to move to Kentucky was a pretty difficult one for us. It was one of many options and I was not at all certain that I wanted to do it. For the first five years we were here I absolutely refused to believe that this was a permanent arrangement. In the back of my head, I always looked forward to the day when we would move back to New York. I still kind of do, but now I envision us doing it as retirees instead of thirty-somethings. Turns out, once you’ve started raising your kids in a house in Kentucky, the thought of schlepping two kids, groceries and a 15 lb. diaper-/hand-bag up the steps of a third-story walk-up in Manhattan no longer seems all that appealing. So, I resigned myself to living this life and, really, it wasn’t hard. It’s kind of awesome.
The hard part was accepting that I would always be that far-flung aunt that my nephews only got to see a few times a year, realizing I would have an almost exclusively phone-based relationship with everyone from my previous life, including my immediate family, and knowing my kids would never have cousins nearby. I grew up with some of my cousins very nearby and wished the same for my kids. But you take the good with the bad, and overall our life in Louisville is very good. I found comfort in the fact that Lilly was truly bonding with her cousins during our visits to NY even if she only saw them a handful of times a year.
Then, as winter was turning to spring, my sister sprung some unexpected news on me. She and her husband were considering moving their family to Kentucky! I would say it was shocking except that all I could really think was, I’ll believe it when I see it. And rightly so. After a few weeks of debating it and a visit over Easter, my sister called to tell me it was most likely going to happen, and then she called the next week: it was decided — they were not coming. Then another week went by and my sister called again to say they were coming. Needless to say, I was still skeptical.
But things moved very quickly after that. I registered her kids in school here. She came down for some whirlwind househunting, followed by some whirlwind job interviews. Before we knew it — literally only about 3-4 weeks time — their house in NY was under contract, they’d made an offer on a house here and my brother-in-law accepted a job in Louisville. This was actually happening!
And now it has! My sister lives in Louisville! It’s strange and exciting all at the same time. It’s absolutely wonderful that Lilly and Henry will now grow up with 2 cousins fairly close in age (to Lilly, at least) living about 5 minutes away. And it’s so great that I have my sister right here in town to go shopping with, to hang out with, to spend family time with, to be my emergency contact person/babysitter/wardrobe consultant. Frankly, it’s just something that I had given up the notion of having years ago.
To be honest, I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my brain around it all. I find I have to remind myself on almost a daily basis that she lives here. It strikes me as odd every time I mention a person or local store or road to her and not have to then go into further explanation about who or what that is.
A week after she moved here Henry and I were shopping at Target, and as I was engaged in the riveting act of choosing adhesive hooks I found myself noticing one of the many kid voices chatting up preoccupied moms as they do at Target on a Saturday shopping trip. I was thinking “that kid sounds like [my nephew] Colin.” It took 30 seconds or so before it hit me, “that might actually be Colin.” I took a few steps back out of the row and there was my sister and Colin! That might sound like your run-of-the-mill coincidence, but I don’t think I’ve ever run into a family member anywhere in my life simply because we just have not lived in the same places.
The last time my sister and I lived anywhere near each other I was in my early twenties living in NYC and she was living 40+ miles away in Suffolk County on Long Island. That was 10 years ago. And our relationship was such that we still mostly saw each other on holidays and occasional family gatherings. Now she lives 4 miles away and we bump into each other at Target. You just never know what life will bring your way.
In a few short months I went from having no idea when I’d see my family next to dropping by my sister’s house for coffee while Lilly’s at school; from worrying about my kids not seeing my side of the family enough, to planning weekly playdates with my sister; from stressing over holidays without my family to stressing over who will host my parents for their extended stays in Kentucky.
The flip side is that I do still have a brother and his family in NY and seeing him will be harder now. There are fewer reasons to get to NY, one less place to stay, and likely fewer holidays celebrated there. And I find myself mourning the loss of our NY roots. We’ve been New Yorkers since our family migrated here from Ireland and Italy generations ago. It was bad enough when I moved away and lost my accent. Now a full half of my immediate family lives outside NY. Two-thirds of the next generation is being raised in Louisville — kids who will grow up saying “you all” instead of “you guys,” never fully understanding the meaning or versatility of phrases like “not for nuthin'” or “fuhgeddaboudit”, thinking Papa Johns is good pizza, and eating that pizza flat instead of folded, or god forbid, with a fork. In short, not New Yorkers.
But, in the grand scheme, these are of course silly drawbacks to having immediate family a stone’s throw away. I suppose the best solution is to take lots and lots of family trips to NY. And when my kids and nephews laugh as hard as I do every time I watch this old clip from The Daily Show, which is my absolute favorite cure to a really bad day, I’ll know we did all we could do.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Me Lover’s Pizza with Crazy Broad|
Are We There Yet?
Ok, this family vacation thing has gone on long enough. Let’s do this! Here’s how the rest of the trip went.
We woke up in Lancaster, PA and decided to just go for it: wear the kids out one more time with a third amusement park in 2 weeks. We had the hotel for one more night anyway, so there was no reason not to just take our time, have a good time, then get a fresh start the next day heading home. Off to Dutch Wonderland we went.
The morning started off good. Dutch Wonderland is royalty themed and the entrance is through a castle, so Lilly was pretty excited to be there.
We were impressed with Dutch Wonderland. It is a really nice park. It is very clean, good rides, family friendly — kind of a newer-looking Idlewild. We broke in the day with a few easy-going rides and storytime with a princess. But Lilly had a mission: face-painting.
Earlier in the trip, at Idlewild, there had been a bit of drama over face-painting. We let Lilly get her face-painted at Idlewild, but following the day at the park Lilly fell into a deep sleep in the car on the way to dinner. She actually slept through being carried in and out of a restaurant. By the time she woke up in the hotel, she was impossible to talk to, much less reason with about anything. We fed her and got her in the bath and then it hit her. “You washed my face!! I thought I was going to wake up with it! I never got to see my butterfly!!” She was horribly disappointed and nothing would console her. Elliott felt terrible, but what was done, was done.
So, first order of business at Dutch Wonderland for Lilly was face-painting. Elliott and I exchanged a knowing glance that this would have to last ALL day and she’d have to have a chance to get a good, long look before bed. What we didn’t consider was that it was already about 100 degrees and it was 11 a.m.
Anyway, Lilly got her face paint while Henry took his first carousel ride and life was good. And, really, the face-paint kind of made my favorite part of the day – these awesome photos:
I love those pictures. They crack me up every time I look at them. Look how much fun everyone was having! Then. Right then. It was all downhill from there.
About an hour into our day at the park, it became clear that the heat was wearing on the kids and they were losing interest in the rides. It seemed like a good time to segue into the water park.
Three problems with that plan: (1) face-paint; (2) none of the water rides were appropriate for Henry; (3) by the time we reached that side of the park, both kids were absolutely screeching balls of tears.
We decided it was maybe time to leave the park, get some lunch, maybe a nap and come back later in the day. In the approximately .2 miles back to our hotel, we decided fast food would be best and opted for the Wendy’s right next to our hotel. By the time we got out of the car at Wendy’s, all childhood tantrum hell had broken lose and without batting an eye Elliott and I made a decision: This vacation is over. We packed the screaming kids right back into their carseats, grabbed lunch at the drive-thru and headed back to the hotel with a new mission: Get out of our second night at the hotel hopefully with our money refunded and get on the road.
Mission: Accomplished. With one caveat – we had 15 minutes to get our shit and go.
The next 15 minutes are a blur. Elliott ran around like a madman grabbing all our belongings and throwing them into anything that would hold them and then haphazardly into our trunk, while I got the kids back to the room, changed out of sweaty bathing suits, fed, calmed down and back into the car.
Within mere minutes in the car, Henry was asleep. Lilly was happily entranced by Rapunzel on the iPad. Elliott and I were relieved to have some quiet and utterly convinced that this was the right choice. This is what the kids wanted all morning: sleep and a movie. It was a no-brainer. Let them do that for a while as we shave 2-3 hours off the 10 hour trip home; find a hotel.
When Rapunzel ended, Henry was still sleeping and Lilly was happy to jump right into Happy Feet 2, so what the heck, let’s get another 2 hours under our belt. If Henry wakes up cranky, we’ll feed him and play it by ear. We already saved ourselves a few hours of driving tomorrow. We felt good.
But Henry didn’t wake up cranky. He woke up calm as Lilly finished her movie. We took a potty break for Lilly and fed Henry and figured we’ll just drive until we find a place for dinner and then find a hotel. But then this happened.
An hour or so later, everyone was awake and getting hungry so we stopped for a leisurely, kid-friendly dinner. Getting back in the car, Elliott and I were feeling good. We’d drive until we found a hotel. We’d already gotten about halfway home and we had only planned to go 2-3 hours; the kids were obviously happy having a down day. Things had gone well. Let’s call it a day.
But before we could find a hotel, Lilly was sleeping again and Henry was happily cooing, so we drove on.
It was already 8 p.m. and we were already through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and into Ohio. We knew we were beginning to push our luck. There had been a lot of napping today and bedtime would not go well if we let it continue. We decided to call it quits at the next populated area: Zanesville, Ohio. We’ll let the kids stay up, burn off some energy. We made such good time, it would be no problem to take some time in the morning to do something fun then get back to driving and finish this thing off.
What’s in Zanesville, Ohio, you ask? I have no idea. But it must be really freakin’ awesome. Because on this random Friday in July every single hotel was booked. Not cool, Zanesville. Not cool.
Lilly was stirring once again and she does not do well with late naps. Henry was also stirring on and off, but thus far had mostly been returning to sleep with little fussing. Our next hope for a hotel was Columbus, but that was another hour away and we were getting worried. This could get ugly fast. It was time to be a little more proactive.
I started calling hotels in Columbus as we drove through Zanesville. All. Booked. Up. Are you kidding me?! This possibility had never even entered into our thought process, but here we were: 3 hours from home at 9:30 p.m. Push through to Cincinnati almost 2 hours away? Try every little town in between looking for a hotel? There would be no sleeping in a hotel if the kids slept much more. No sense in trying. Louisville or bust!
We thanked our lucky stars that we have the 2 most awesome kids in the world — who still after 7ish hours in the car were not complaining — checked that Henry was still sleeping soundly, and turned to Lilly.
“Want to watch Toy Story 3?”
And we were off.
Just outside Cincinnati, it happened. We had to stop for gas and the blinding light of the gas station woke up the kids And they’d had enough.
We found a sleepy McDonald’s nearby with a play place. Perfect. Alas, the play place was locked. I wish we had checked that before promising Lilly a chance to run around, because very suddenly our screeching, pink face-paint streaked tornado of a child was back. Elliott tamed that wild beast by letting her run around the car in the empty parking lot while I sat nursing Henry in the car.
Lilly was not happy to get back in the car, but thankfully I still had another trick up my sleeve. We pulled a new My Little Pony out of the trunk and we were off. But within minutes, Henry lost it. The poor kid had been sleeping ALL DAY. He was awesome, but he wanted out now. He screamed through Cincinnati. On the other side of the city, we stopped long enough for me to cram myself between the car seats. For the next 30 minutes, I sang every lullaby I could think of to Henry and both kids drifted off to sleep one more time.
We got home by 12:30 a.m. and amazingly transitioned both kids into their beds and dropped. It was done. The long, crazy trip was over 2 days early. It was an awesome trip. Awesome to go. Awesome to come home. We’ll do it again. A long, long time from now.
Over the River and Through New Jersey
Destination: Aunt Elaine’s house, NJ
Driving Time to Dest: 2 hrs 25 min
On the road again for the first time in 5 days. We did take a short and close by excursion to the Branford trolley museum – a worthwhile trip despite Henry screaming to and fro. I admit that screamfest did give us some pause about starting to make our way back to Louisville (and starting our most rigorous driving schedule yet). But we got on the road on schedule with Henry sound asleep and Lilly content to color her new My Little Pony coloring book. I’ll take it.
Once again we are breaking up the day to avoid a 5+ hours stretch of all driving. So we’ve left a houseful of Elliott’s relations to visit with my aunt and her family in New Jersey — conveniently located dead center between the house in CT and today’s final destination: Lancaster, PA.
Tomorrow we’ll spend the day there – our last day of car-free vacation. We’ve yet to decide whether we will be going to our third amusement park of the trip – Dutch Wonderland – or some other attraction. In this heat the waterpark Is tempting, but it doesn’t exactly scream “Amish country!”
Destination: Lancaster, PA
Driving Time to Dest: 2 hrs 25 min
Just wrapped up a lovely visit with my aunt, uncle and cousin in NJ.* It was a perfect way to beak up the day — a bite to eat, a dip in the pool, good conversation, and ultimately two sleepy kiddos.
So here we are 1+ hrs into this leg. Henry is asleep and Lilly is thoroughly engrossed in Tangled. Smooth sailing. Though I do wish we had left this stowaway fly circling my head in NJ.
Passing through the Kutztown vicinity of PA now, near Reading, and it is some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen yet. Farmland and old, beautiful farmhouses as far as the eye can see.
Arrived in Lancaster, PA in good time, but perhaps a touch too late for Henry. He was screaming for dinner as we attempted to stop for some authentic “Dutch” cuisine (whatever that is). We tried three places. First: Long wait. Second: Closed. Third: Too fancy for kids. At that point we couldn’t take the screaming anymore, grabbed some fast food and headed to the hotel.
Both kids were absolutely pooped. Henry fell asleep with little fanfare. And before long we had this snug little bug.
Tomorrow’s plans are completely up in the air at this point. The kids are wiped out and it’s about 1000 degrees outside. We seem to have 3 options: 1) stick to Plan A – Dutch Wonderland; 2) Do something a little more low key that will give the kids some downtime before heading home; or 3) scrap all other plans and get on the road. We’ll see how things look in the morning.
*Forgive my descent into succinct, subject noun-less sentences. Typing on an iPhone is really getting to me and my apparently gargantuan thumbs.
By the time we got to Elliott’s family’s home in Connecticut it was past Henry’s dinnertime, nearing his bedtime, and he’d been screaming for at least a half hour. We were all very happy to get out of the car and settle into our next stop quickly. I was aware, however, that the first order of business was to get Henry to sleep, and the first night of sleep in any new location is a challenge.
At least, I thought, he’ll stop screaming once we’re out of this car! And he did. But 1 minute later I carried him into a room of unfamiliar faces and his lip curled under and the tears started streaming.
Henry has one of those perfect crying baby faces that is so textbook — lip quivers, curls under, tears well up, then stream one drip at a time down his chubby cheeks — you don’t know if you want to laugh or cry when you see it emerge. This time I knew I wanted to cry. Actually this time I wanted to lock myself in a soundproof room and sleep for 12 hours. Hell, even a solid, uninterrupted 6 or 7 would be heaven. I got 2 hours that night.
We’ve been to this house many times. This is Elliott’s Lake Wallenpaupack. But in his case the roots go even deeper because his mother’s generation and that of his grandmother, and great-grandmother also spent many a summer day on this very shoreline. And now, once again, we are introducing our children to this place near and dear to the heart.
Lilly has been here many times now and loves coming here. So it was obvious that the trip was taking its toll on the kids when Lilly quarantined herself in her room and was begging and crying to go home. This was an exhausted child. Turns out keeping a 3 year old up til 10 p.m. every night for a week is not a good idea. Go figure.
We knew we wouldn’t be leaving before the 4th of July so we’d have to get through at least 48 hours here and hope the kids would recover enough for the long drive home to be tolerable. Our plans to stop at another amusement park, Dutch Wonderland, on the way home were demoted to “we’ll see” status.
One word has been key to planning this whole trip: downtime. The plan has always been: driving, fun, downtime, repeat. So Day 2 in Connecticut was all about downtime. By the next day, July 3rd, we seemed to be mostly back on track. The kids were still tired, but they had warmed to the less familiar relatives and were not as quick to whine or fuss as they had been. The problem now was boredom. After being constantly entertained in a house full of active children, Lilly, in particular, was having a tough time transitioning to a house full of adults and much older kids. Time for an excursion.
We found an activity with just the right level of excitement and activity for everyone at The Shore Line Trolley Museum in Branford, CT. A small, but well-run, operation that celebrates old trolleys and utilizes a remnant track from the trolley days in that area to run a restored trolley to entertain the young and old. Grammy (Elliott’s mom), Elliott, the kids and I had a great personal tour since no one else was there when we arrived. Lilly was delighted to collect and punch tickets and ring the bell each time the trolley started up. I really enjoyed the breeze from the windows and a relatively quiet outing.
And what boy doesn’t love a trolley ride?
Now if we were smart we would have said, “Wow! That was great fun! Let’s go home and give the kids a chance to relax before the lobster bake tonight.” But we didn’t. Instead what we said was, “That was fun. The kids look like they’re getting a little tired. Let’s go for ice cream!” And we did. And Henry screamed the whole way there and the whole way back. Thankfully there was a hiatus from the the screaming while he tasted his first Italian ice. Needless to say, he’s a fan.
The lobster bake is a staple activity in Connecticut and we love it. Lilly was particularly excited. We discovered a few months ago on a random and extremely rare visit to Red Lobster that she loves lobster. We were not sure, however, how she would deal with seeing her food alive and then on her plate.
This apparently was not a problem for her. She loved playing with the live lobster.
But I think she loved it even more once it was on her plate.
The next day was the Fourth and it was all it should be. Family, barbecue, fun in the sun, a movie about a few brave individuals fighting their hardest to return to the land they love (Madagascar 3) and, of course, fireworks.
The day – and our visit to Connecticut – ended as well as we could have asked. Henry went to sleep relatively easily, we had a nice family dinner followed by fireworks on the water. From this particular point in Connecticut, you can see Fourth of July fireworks unlike anywhere else I’ve been. With a terrific view of the Connecticut shoreline and Long Island’s north shore and our own personal fireworks display, we were completely surrounded by bursts of color and pops of sound. This was Lilly’s first experience with large fireworks. I was a little afraid she’d end up with her ears covered, complaining about the noise. It was needless worrying (again). Instead she was jumping up and down, waving a small American flag, and screaming at the top of her lungs, “America!! Wooooo! America!!”
The only problem was that Lilly was once again up until 10 p.m. We were playing with fire in more ways than one.
Lake to Ocean
We’re getting back on the road today after four days at my parents’ beautiful lake house in the Poconos. Before this we spent a day at Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, PA – a 5 hour drive from here. I really hate to say this when I know we still have 3 hours to go in the car today and quite a bit more after that to get home . . . but things are going great. The kids have really been troupers in the car.
We’ll see how it goes today though. Lilly has begun feigning an acute, nonspecific tummy ache every time we even mention getting in the car. I would consider the possibility that she gets motion sick in the car, except that just a few days ago she was happy to go on every single spinny ride at Idlewild. And her distress seems to be quickly cured with the offer of a sweet snack or one of the many “surprises” I’ve been doling out here and there to appease her when it seems a meltdown could be on the horizon.
For now, a Toy Story seek and find book seems to have done trick.
I knew it. I spoke too soon. The relatively short drive between the lake house and Connecticut has been the worst so far. Not terrible, but not good either. We got off on the wrong foot, breaking from our strategy of traveling first during Henry’s morning nap. Instead we planned to hang out in PA for a little while in the morning, have lunch with my family, then get on the road in time for afternoon nap. This was supposed to work since we’re only driving 3 hours today instead of 5, so there’s no need for a side trip to break up the day.
But the morning was a little more stressful than we intended and, due to circumstances beyond our control, lunch got started an hour late, which means we had bored, stressed-out, hungry kids going into lunch, which meant for distracted kids during lunch who hardly eat and take forever when they do. In other words, we got on the road late for nap time with 2 hungry and tired kids and 2 stressed out parents. Now the tears are flowing more than I would like, we’re stuck in our first traffic of the trip, and we’d really like to get to our destination of the day: Elliott’s family’s summer home on the shore in Connecticut.
The Lake House
What do you get when you take a 4 bedroom lake house in Pennsylvania and add 16 people, including 9 kids, and a dog?
Also, the next stop on our road trip.
And a whole lot of fun.
Since the words “amusement park” and “Great Wolf Lodge” really meant nothing to Lilly before we left for this trip, she has been fixated on one destination: Grandma and Papa’s house on the lake. To Lilly, this house is “Pennsylvania.” Even during our time around Idlewild in Western Pennsylvania, Lilly would routinely and excitedly ask, “Are we going to Pennsylvania today??” She’s only been to this house one other time. She was just about to turn 2 then so her memory is a bit fuzzy. But she remembers playing with her cousins and her grandparents and that is what she is most excited about now.
The drive here was good. It was another 5 hour leg. As is our strategy for all drives of that length, we did the first 2.5 hrs during Henry’s morning nap. We broke up the day with lunch and a tour of a simulated chocolate factory at Chocolate World in Hershey, PA – the exact same tour I did with my family 25+ years ago. We also paid $15 for the privilege of owning this advertisement – oops! I mean, souvenir photo:
Anyway, it was a good way to break up the day and we arrived at Lake Wallenpaupack in time for dinner, ie. ahead of schedule, and with no crying. So that was pretty awesome.
Lake Wallenpaupack is a beautiful, 13-mile long, lake in The Poconos. Three fun facts about Lake Wallenpaupack: 1) Most people have never heard of it. Those who have, know it from the episode of The Office when the Dunder Mifflin staff takes a booze cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack; 2) That episode was not filmed on Lake Wallenpaupack. It is much prettier than whatever lake they were on; 3) There are no booze cruises on Lake Wallenpaupack.
I love this lake. I grew up with this lake. I learned to water-ski here when I was 5. For as long as I can remember we have camped alongside this lake. Some of my best memories – fun times, family times, peaceful alone times – took place right here on this lake. After about 20+ years of casually house shopping on each trip up here, my parents finally bought a house on the lake about 10 or so years ago. Unfortunately that was right around the time Elliott and I moved out of New York, so I haven’t had a chance to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. But the thought of Lilly and Henry getting a chance to know this lake and have fun here is so heart-warming to me.
So, at first, I was a little dismayed when we pulled up to the house and told Lilly that we were finally here, expecting an excited “Woo Hoo!” Instead she looked up from her movie on the iPad, looked out her window at the view…
…and with pretty much no expression whatsoever, she calmly said, “Mom. Let me tell you something.”
“This,” she said. “is awesome.” And we all had a good laugh. With that, the grandparents descended on our car and the fun began. There was a little bit of a hiccup once all the excitement of saying hello was over when Lilly, staring at the lake from the house, looked at me and said, “but where’s the lake?” I was confused.
“Where’s the lake?”
“It’s right there. You’re looking at it!”
“No, not that lake. The lake the house is on.”
“It’s right there! There’s the house. There’s the lake. This is it, Lil!”
“No. You said the house is ON a lake. The lake is over there!”
And once again I was reminded just how literal a 3-year old brain is. Thankfully, Lilly agreed that staying in a house that’s 50 feet from a lake is also pretty cool.
The first day and a half was fun, just us and my parents. Lilly got to go fishing for the first time – something she has been SO excited to do for months.
Henry had his first boat ride. And, just like Lilly did during her first boat ride (in this boat, on this lake), fell quickly to sleep.
We had lunch on the water, fed some bread to the circling ducks, and the next morning Lilly had a blast tubing.
Although, at the speed Lilly was comfortable going, it was less “tubing” and more “floating with a gentle breeze.”
The next day these quaint and peaceful outings became a bit more raucous as both of my siblings and their families showed up. But this was exactly what Lilly had been waiting for and, boy, has she enjoyed running around with the pack for the last 3 days!
For three days, Lilly has been keeping up with her older, boy cousins, her dad, her uncle and grandfather. (The moms were mostly constant lifeguards and drink runners.) They’ve fished. They’ve thrown rocks. They’ve gone boating. They’ve played every game under the sun. They’ve swam. They’ve searched for kindling and helped build a fire. But if Lilly had to pick just one thing that she loved the most during this visit, I think it would have to be the nightly bonfires and roasting marshmallows for the first time. It might, in fact, be a highlight of her entire life so far!
I lost count of how many times Lilly told me, “I never want to go home! I want to stay here forever!” Music to my ears! I love that she is loving her time at this lake as much as I always have. It’s exactly what I hoped for when we added this stop to the trip.
[Note: I apologize for the long gap before this posted. Apparently the WordPress App for iPhone and I do not see eye to eye. I think we’re back on schedule now.]
Location: Donegal, PA (near Idlewild & SoakZone a/k/a The Middle of Nowhere, Western Pennsylvania)
I’m not going to lie. Last night was rough. We didn’t get into the hotel until about 8 pm — 2 hrs past Henry’s bedtime. Fortunately there was a lot of sleeping in the car, which made for relatively painless travel. Unfortunately, all that sleeping in the car translated into terrible nightsleep. Henry simply would not go to sleep. And since he was sharing a room with Lilly that meant she was up late waiting for a calm room to sleep in. Then much later, once everyone was ready to sleep, Henry was up again. And then pretty much every 2 hours thereafter.
Needless to say, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Since we are spending much of this vacation in family homes, we decided to splurge on our few nights in hotels. Elliott and I agree that one of the worst things about having kids is staying in hotels as a parent because after you finally settle the kids into an unfamiliar bed/crib, all that’s left to do is sit there. In a dark room. Perfectly quiet. God forbid you have to whisper something or *gasp* flush a toilet, a little head is sure to pop up and the process begins again.
So we booked our room in Donegal before we left Louisville. It was our most luxurious hotel stay — a 2 room suite. This seemed like a brilliant idea: grown up space and kid space. Yet, for some reason about which I am very unclear, all 4 of us slept in the same room last night. Correction: All 4 of us spent the duration of the night hours in the same room last night. For a brief time, 3 of us slept. I lay there in bed listening to 3 separate snores. I think my longest stretch of sleep was about 45 minutes. How refreshing.
Once properly caffeinated, we’re off to spend the day walking around Idlewild. We’ve never been. I’ll report back.
Idlewild was great. Lilly continutes to surprise us – or at least me – with her sense of adventure. She didn’t decline any ride that she was tall enough to ride (and there were many). The Caterpillar was the only ride that she disembarked wearily mumbling, “That was too fast for me. I don’t like that one.”
We all had a pretty good time, I think. Of course, there’s not much for an 8 month old to do at an amusement park, so one of us was always waiting in the wings with Henry, but the lines were short; the weather was perfect and both kids were in good spirits. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Once again we were pleased with the family-friendliness of our choice of destination. Of course, this is the reason why these stops were added to our road trip, but since we hadn’t actually been to either GWL or Idlewild, you never know for sure. Now we do.
Idlewild is a great little amusement park for young kids. I think kids older than about 10 would have been bored (although we skipped SoakZone because it was probably more for bigger kids). But for under 10, it’s great. Even Henry, now 8 months, was able to enjoy a little bit of Story Book Forest, aimed at the littlest of kids, and a train ride. He might have also noticed that he attended a Thomas the Train show. He certainly didn’t object. Lilly loved it. She apparently bum rushed the stage to join in the show while I was in the restroom.
Basically, it’s the kind of quaint and fun-filled amusement park that your parents or grandparents took you to back in the day. Exactly.
It has not changed since then. Mostly for the best.
Although I admit the constant bragging about being named Best Family Park in the World was really grating on me as I sat breastfeeding Henry in a public, albeit empty, pavilion for lack of any place more private (and sanitary) to nurse. Just a little improvement would be appreciated. Otherwise, it was a perfect day of family fun.
After wearing everyone out with a half day at Great Wolf Lodge, we’re back in the car for our first long leg of the trip.
No major events today just getting ourselves set up for a day at Idlewild & SoakZone tomorrow.
In the meantime, we’re taking a break in WV to grab some grub and letting Henry take the wheel for a while.
Destination: Great Wolf Lodge
Destination: Great Wolf Lodge
Time to Dest.: 2 hrs 10 min
Arrived: On Time
This is day 1 of our first family road trip. That’s right – a road trip with a 3 year old and an 8 month old. Maybe we’re adventurous, maybe we’re nuts. We’ll find out soon enough. The good news is I actually have time to write now. Even if it is only thumb-typing on my iPhone.
By the end of this trip, we’ll have driven a minimum of 52 hours, according to google. And since there’s no google setting that factors in potty breaks, nursing sessions and child and/or adult meltdowns, it will most certainly be many more. How that translates into grey hairs and stress levels has yet to be seen.
So far, so good. We’re 1.5 hours into a slightly more than 2 hour drive – one of our shortest stretches. We’ve been listening to Mr. John Gage, a big celeb on the Louisville preschool circuit, nonstop. His album is only about 30 minutes long so we’re onto Round 3. Sometime during Round 2, Henry stopped screaming and Lilly stopped kicking Elliott’s seat. Now Elliott and I are driving nose down, fingers-crossed, hoping not to disturb the equilibrium.
Next stop: Great Wolf Lodge.
I’d never been to GWL before today. But we’ve been here about 6 hrs now and I’m a big fan. I never felt like it was a good match for us because Lilly is not particularly adventurous, especially when it comes to water, and I just didn’t think it would be our cup of tea. But I was wrong.
Lilly, who typically runs away from even the lightest spritz of water from a sprinkler, actually went on a pretty major waterslide today and got off begging for more. And, as for us, we’re converts. Family-friendly, self-contained (i.e. no driving and no in and out of carseats), surprisingly good food, beer, these magic wristband things (i.e. no keys or wallet to lug around) lots of activities to wear out the kids and separate sleeping space for them when they do drop (we’re in a Kid Kamp room). I gotta tell you, it’s pretty awesome. Now if the waterplay followed by arcade games followed by 8pm pajama storytime has the desired sedative effect, I will definitely become a regular here. [Update: It did!]
So no humorous crazy family vacation antics so far. There was a beer that Henry managed to pull over, which missed my lap by about a millimeter and the prune juice we’ve been pumping into Henry for 3 days did finally take effect just as we were leaving home, forcing Elliott to change shirts last minute. But really, those were near-misses. A pretty darn good day by my standards.
In summary, here’s how I’d rate things on a scale of 1-10:
Car-related anguish: 2
Child-related drama: 1
Today’s fun factor: 10
Update: Henry refused to sleep from 3 am to 5 am, which means I didn’t either. I also had to routinely apologize to Lilly for waking her since she and Henry were sharing a room. And i had to field absurd suggestions from a sleep-starved Elliott like “just put the pack and play outside”. Outside! Mind you, not on some private balcony outside; but just outside on the ground floor about 25 feet from a parking lot. No, thank you!
One good thing to come from that sleepless night, however, was overhearing some adorable comments from Lilly. During a brief let-him-cry-it-out interval, there came a cute, sleepy voice:
“It’s ok, Henry. I’m here right next to you. I’m your big sister and I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to cry. I’ll take care of you.”
Brings tears of joy to my eyes.
So does the fact that GWL has a Starbucks.
The World According to Lilly
Believe it or not, I’ve been writing a lot lately. I have a series of posts queued up to publish on future dates for your reading pleasure. But since I don’t like posting certain things in real time, today I’ll give you a short list of recent (and random) Lilly-isms to read for now:
1. [in the car] “Watch out for deer. You shouldn’t hurt deer because they’re really cute and gentle. Not like bees. They never bite or sting. They just smile.” (And we won’t be watching Bambi anytime soon…)
2. [In the car, with training from Elliott] “Hold on! Mommy’s driving crazy again!” (I promise, I was not.)
3. “I call Henry ‘buddy’ because he’s my buddy. And also a butt.” (She’s growing into her role as big sister nicely.)
4. [Feeding Henry] “Vrooom! Here comes the plane. Open your hole!”
5. [Upon trying her new My Little Pony toothpaste for the first time]: “Mmmm! Tastes like ponies!”
Lullabies and Magic
If there’s one thing that everyone seems to know about babies it’s that they like to be soothed with singing. Babies (and kids too) love being sung to. For those of us with only mediocre singing voices it is a bit daunting at first, but I found that once I got over the oh-my-god-someone-might-actually-hear-me-sing mindset, it was quite soothing for me too. It is peaceful to sing quietly in a dark room; and it’s comforting to know that this little being is quite possibly the only being on Earth who enjoys hearing my voice. The simple act of singing is just magic between parent and child.
If there is anything that makes a woman feel more like a mother than having the power to calm her crying baby with only her voice, I don’t know what it is. To this day one of my favorite television scenes ever is when tough-as-tacks TV journalist Murphy Brown weeps with joy when she realizes that singing Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” to her newborn son could stop his crying. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. has blocked every link to it on the internet, so I can’t share it with you. But believe me if you saw it, you would weep too. There’s something about a mother (or father) singing to her child that is so simple and so sweet.
Still I found it a bit shocking when two days ago, Lilly acknowledged that she still likes my lullabies. We were eating lunch out when we heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on the radio. It immediately caught Lilly’s attention because Adele’s “21” is the only album she and I can agree on in the car. (In related news, I have come to loathe the soundtracks to Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.) After informing me that Adele was my favorite singer, Lilly asked me what other singers I like. I rattled off a few singers that she might recognize from CDs in the car and asked her the same question. In an adorably coy manner, she replied, “You.”
I was honestly stunned, and immediately asked, “Me?!” Then she told me I have “a really pretty voice” when I sing “Beautiful Girl” (my adapted version of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”). It was so sweet I couldn’t help but tear up because I so do not have a “really pretty voice” no matter what song I’m singing. But apparently to my little girl, I do. I felt just like Murphy Brown. (Seriously, track down that episode if you haven’t seen it.)
So I write this list in honor of my babies, the only people in the world who like to hear me sing, and for the sake of other sleep-deprived parents who can barely think of their name, much less a new song to sing, in the wee hours of the morning when they need to calm a baby with song.
My Top 20 Hits:
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
- ABCs (in English and auf Deutsch)
- Baa, Baa Black Sheep
- Itsy, Bitsy Spider
- Rock-a-Bye Baby
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
- Beautiful Boy – John Lennon
- May All Children – Music Together
- I’m a Little Teapot
- How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?
- My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music)
- Do-Re-Mi (from The Sound of Music)
- One and Twenty (Girl Scout Song, in English and auf Deutsch)
- When I Get Up – Tegan and Sara
- You Are My Sunshine
- This Little Light of Mine
- Sun and Moon (from Miss Saigon)
- The Earth is Our Mother – Music Together
- Make New Friends (Girl Scout Song)
- My Darling Child – Sinead O’Connor
- Canoe Song – Music Together
- The Music and the Mirror (from A Chorus Line)
- Hush, Little Baby
- Lullaby – Jack Johnson
- All Apologies – Nirvana (Think Sinead O’Connor, not Kurt Cobain)
- Two Little Kitty Cats – Music Together
- I’m a Bell – Music Together
- Apples and Cherries – Music Together
- No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley
- On Top of Spaghetti
- Part of Your World (from The Little Mermaid)
- Kiss the Girl (from The Little Mermaid)
- She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
- Yankee Doodle
- A Whole New World (from Aladdin)