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Category Archives: traveling with kids

Life Is An Icy Highway!

Traveling home from Buffalo with the kids a couple of weeks ago, we encountered a weather mass that was heading northeast from Texas. With it came an onslaught of snow and ice. As we headed south on I-71 and approached Cincinnati, the snow became increasingly heavy. The interstate eventually narrowed down to one lane going 25 mph as everyone followed a salt truck that was doing its best to keep the road open. During a span of an hour we witnessed no fewer than fifty cars, pickups and semi’s that had gone off the road and into the median or into a ditch. It was at that point that I had pretty much given up on attempting to make it all the way home to Nashville and began planning on stopping at Florence, KY for the night.

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Photo by my daughter Alex

Despite the storm, there were a surprising number of cars on the road and thanks to their treads maintaining a lane or two, we made our way through downtown Cincinnati. As we drove over the Ohio river, the snow suddenly let up and the roads appeared relatively clear. There was still a thin layer of snow on the roads, but there were three to four lanes open and things seemed to be picking up. With renewed faith I decided to forge forward while the kids slept.

There are moments in your life when you are thrust into a mode of intense focus and anxiety. During these moments our ability to maintain calm and reason are truly tested and we’re forced into a state of survival. As we approached the I-71 / I-75 split, we all encountered one such moment. Without any notice our Jeep began to slowly spin. As we became close to going horizontal in relation to the interstate, we began to slide over from the far right lane toward the center median eventually crossing all four lanes. The screams of the kids became muffled as I found myself immensely focused on the fact that I was slowly losing control of the Jeep. As I shifted down I recognized we were now traveling on a sheet of black ice which had been covered by a half inch layer of snow. Having lived a good deal of my life up north, I had a good sense of how to steer out of a spin in snow, but knew that when you’re on ice, nothing is guaranteed.

By the grace of God I was able to keep the Jeep from completely spinning out of control. I then slowly redirected us into a forward path and continued on doing my best to keep an eye out for other cars. Despite the rows of slushy yuck that divided the lanes, we were able to make our way back over toward the right hand lane. By the time I got to the third lane over, another car to our immediate left spun out of control and slid directly in front of us. As it glided by, I Our Jeep while visiting family near Rochester, NY.couldn’t help but think how much it resembled a figure skater eloquently making her way across the ice. It then careened off the right hand shoulder and into a field at which point I proclaimed, “Who’s up for a night in a hotel?!”

Once the kids got a hold of themselves and realized we were safe, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and headed for the nearest Holiday Inn.

Life can sometimes feel like a highway with an occasional sheet of ice. We’re traveling on at a nice little pace when suddenly we lose control and start to spin out. Like most drivers, we panic and overcompensate for the misdirection which only make things worse. Not unlike the steps you take to regain control of your vehicle, the best course of action is to not panic and keep yourself focused on where you want to go, slowly regaining traction until you’re back on a solid path. No matter how hard we work to have everything neatly planned out, we’re all going to hit an ice patch from time to time that sends us into a state of anxiety and panic. This is true whether you’re divorced, married, a veteran of life or just striking out on your own. Rarely if ever is overreacting the right thing to do. Slow, steady adjustments can typically help you regain traction and get back on track. It’s not always easy when you’ve got kids screaming in the background (whether in a car or a restaurant), but after navigating through a few patches of ice, you start to get the hang of it.

Easier said than done I know, but the reality is that life was never meant to be a smooth ride start to finish. We need to learn how to navigate through the ice, rain, mud, gravel and washouts. And the only way to do that is to just keep moving forward with a strong sense of direction and an ability to not overcompensate when we start to spin out of control.

So whether on the road home or the road of life, may the road always rise to meet you and may you find safe travels ahead!

 

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It’s All Downhill From Here

Being born in Western, NY, I grew up with snow. Hence, many of the stories I tell my kids about my childhood involve snow and lots of it. It’s something I think every kid should experience and something I want my kids to know. I want them to know what it feels like to fall face first in it or go, what feels like 120 mph, completely out of control down a hill with 30 mph winds blowing fresh powder in their face. I want them to have a memory ofchesnutridge6 rolling around in 18 inches of fresh pack powder and then defrosting in front of a warm fire, only to go back out into the frozen tundra for another round. I want them to feel huge snowflakes on their eyelashes as they walk up a hill listening to the crunch of the snow packing under their footsteps.

Unfortunately, being that we live in the south those are hard memories to come by.  So every year around this time my kids and I watch the weather forecast in Buffalo, NY very closely. And upon the first sign of a good lake effort storm we pack our bags, grab a new set of long johns, boots, gloves and anything else we may be missing and stay glued to the Weather Channel App. And when it hits, no matter when it is, we jump in the jeep and we head north.

It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part to make the trip work. Driving that many hours crammed in something other than a mini-van is not something I would recommend for anyone with a weak stomach. But having traveled as much as our kids have in their short lives, they’ve become pros. So they burry their heads in DVD’s, i-pod touches, and Nooks and buckle in for the long journey demanding I go through the drive thru to save 20 minutes. After twelve hours on the road, we usually commandeer an unsuspecting family member’s home. We then proceed to partake in winterpalooza and enjoy two or three days of non-stop sledding, snowman building, chestnutridge5chicken wing eating, snowball fighting and hot chocolate drinking. It’s become a tradition and this year was no different.

I won’t lie. It’s an effort. Twelve hours (both ways) in tight quarters all for the sake of a few hours of playing in the white fluffy stuff is a test for any family. But I’ll tell you. It’s worth it. To hear the first exclamation of “LOOK SNOW!” as we head into Ohio. The giggles of anticipation. To witness the first snowball thrown during a routine stop for fuel and bathroom breaks. And then to see them all bundled up in their snow pants, boots, gloves, scarves, hats and mittens. Ready to brave mother nature’s fury. It’s just amazing and worth every mile.

There was one point on the third day when we had stopped for our last day of sledding. Wind gusts were 50 mph off the lake and it was only about 20 degrees out. One of the kids refused to get out of the car. But I had promised the other two they could have one more day so I literally picked the disgruntled snow bunny out of the car and carried her to the lodge. Three hours later she was the one pleading for one more time down the hill. And that’s how it goes. Part of the trip isn’t just about the experience of the snow and the environment. It’s about continually demonstrating to the kids what happens when you push yourself a bit. When you go outsidechestnutridge4 your comfort zone and try something you otherwise would forgo in leu of sitting on the couch watching an episode of i-Carly.

To accomplish that, we as parents sometimes have to push ourselves as well and go outside our own comfort zones. In the process we ourselves gain experiences we otherwise would never know the joy of. If I’m thankful for anything, it’s not just the memories of playing in the snow. It’s about the experiences I’ve had because of the kids who pushed me to do things I myself would have never attempted. All for the sake of ensuring they themselves had the chance to try something different.

One thing my ex and I agree on is that memories and experiences far outshine things. It’s not always easy, especially when life gets crazy. But I think it’s important to make these kinds of events the highest priority. Jobs will come and go. Tests can be retaken. Bills will always be there waiting. But their seventh year will only happen once. And then they’ll be going off to college; eventually telling their own kids about their childhood memories. Today is the day to create those memories.

If there was ever anything worth the effort. It’s creating moments for your kids that will last a lifetime. For us one of those memories will be snow.

 

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Left Wing, Right Wing, Chicken Wing!

Congratulations. You made it through the holidays and 2012.

As many will attest, the holidays can be a stressful time. It’s perhaps one of the most stressful times of the year, particularly if you’re divorced with kids. As a single parent you wear the stress of many people, not just
end-of-2013-start-of-2013_shutterstockyour own. Along with the joy of dealing with the solitude when you don’t have the kids, carrying the full load when you do have them, finding time to shop for presents and then wrapping them, juggling schedules, school breaks, stretching finances; everyone around you is equally stressed out creating levels of anxiety you never dreamed existed.

The kids of course are experiencing a great deal of their own stress. In many cases it means the majority of their vacation is spent on the road, visiting more than one family, adjusting to a major holiday without mom and dad together and dividing what time they do have between both mom and dad. In some cases it also means trying to understand why mom and dad may be getting along but aren’t together as we do our best to create a harmonious environment to ensure their holiday memories are good ones.

There are family members who are stressed because they don’t understand your situation necessarily and don’t know how to act around you. There are others who; despite your reassurances that everything is fine; ask you 76 times if you’re “really” alright and worry about how you’re handling it all or how the kids are coping.

6a267e83118d66269156e45fd180e4b2-dog-feels-bad-for-knocking-over-christmas-treeAt work; staff and clients are stressed out as everyone is trying to get things done before the break and their moods are swinging back and forth as they deal with their own multitude of home holiday stresses which of course filters its way to your office.

The checkout girl at Kroger glares at you when you have the audacity to ask for paper instead of plastic because SHE’s stressed from all of the overtime hours, the kid who just dumped a dozed eggs all over aisle 9 and not being able to find the little bar thing that separates everyone’s groceries on the conveyer belt.

And let’s not forget the dogs who are picking up on everyone else’s stress and acting up because they’re level of anxiety is at an all time high with the damn tree and presents they’re not allowed to pee on or tear up; all the strangers who come by, having pictures taken with some stupid little elf on their back, the UPS guy ringing the doorbell every 30 minutes and having to spend more time outside or in their crate so that they’re not tripped over.

Then to top it all off the world was piling it on as well. You carried with you the stress of a potential fiscal cliff
and stared a fading NHL season square in the eye. (You may laugh, but NHL fans were struggling with both the nhl_lockout640_640lock out and the fact that people didn’t care.)

From right wing politicians to left wing hockey players and owners fighting, foreign nations in civil conflict, school shootings leaving us all emotionally drained and then of course people arguing over gun laws. I swear, just thinking about it makes me want to check some whiney congressman (or woman) into the boards with an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

But hey! You made it. It’s all history and somehow 2013 started off with some lights at the end of the tunnel. Despite a few bumps in the road and a few dollars missing from your paycheck, everyone made it to the other side. Family visits are over, presents are opened, lights are taken down (or at least turned off), hockey starts in two weeks and D.C. will live to fight another day.

So grab a Molson, order yourself a dozen chicken wings, put on a pair of underwear that Santa stuffed in your stocking and pat yourself on the back. As you do, look back at the past year and recognize all of your
accomplishments. Think about everything you experienced, everything you felt and everything you’ve learned.

Stop for a moment and consider how much stronger you are and how far you’ve come. You’ve answered a lot of questions and overcome a lot of issues. New ones will arise of course, but you’re better equipped to deal withPresident Obama Hosts Congressional Leaders To Discuss Fiscal Cliff them. You have a better sense of who you are and where your life is headed. This will be a year of continued growth and understanding; a year of discovering new strengths and abilities. You’ll learn a little more about who you are and what you’re capable of. Of what you’re deserving of and what you need to be happy. And come next Thanksgiving, you’ll find yourself even better equipped to navigate the stresses of another holiday season.

For now look at the new year as a fresh canvas. A chance to spread your wings just a little wider and let your breaths be just a little deeper. It’ll be tumultuous at times no doubt, but you have new tools and skills to carry you forward. Time to pick a new north star and start dreamin’.

In the words of Cakehole Presley, “Choose your spot, grab a rock and hold on.”

 

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I’m So BORED!!!

I recently reposted a newspaper clipping on the LAADD facebook page that spoke to a child’s inability to deal with boredom and not knowing what to do or where to go when they had down time. It seemed appropriate to me only because I had just endured a summer in which my kids required a lot of hands on management as my ex-wife and I juggled life and child care.

When you’re a parent I think it’s natural to feel like you need to provide your children with plenty of different experiences. I know my ex and I make a point of exposing our kids to a lot of different places and activities. Our first born was out of the house and introduced to the outdoors and the community no more than a week or so after being born. We’ve always done everything we can to give the kids a sense that the world is a place to explore and enjoy and make a point of providing them with opportunities to experience people, places and nature first hand. And yet, as freelancers, our lives and budgets sometimes dictate that responsibilities are what they are and the kids are required to entertain themselves.

And so comes summer. Life for a parent doesn’t stop when school lets out. We still have jobs and deadlines. There’s no final bell ringing and you never see staffs running out of the building throwing their employee manuals to the side dancing ala High School Musical. (Although that would be pretty awesome). But the reality for most people is, we have to figure out what to do with our kids for a span of 8-10 weeks. When I was a kid it meant playing with friends in the neighborhood, riding bikes, pick up baseball games and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. But that was 35 years ago. Our society today seems hell bent on making a parent feel guilty if their kid isn’t involved in at least 5 extra curricular activities at a time and playing soccer or in their first dance recital by age three. And of course for summer, there may be a plethora of camps to choose from that are supposed to help provide parents with child care while offering kids something fun do to. But the truth is they’re typically scheduled mid day requiring us to drop the kids off at 9 and pick them up at 1 or 2 which is REAL convenient when you have a real job, but then that’s a whole nother post.

Getting back to summer. As the summer was coming to a close, I myself marveled at all that the kids and we as a family had done. There were horse camps, fashion camps, soccer camps and school summer rec camps which included field trips to a water park, the zoo and public pools. We also made a few road trips to go tubing, fishing, swimming, and smoring, (um … it’s a word.) And yet, as the out of school fiasco came to a close, there were rumblings of discontent with summer being labeled as a boring uneventful 8-10 weeks.

Um, what?

My mental, emotional, financial and physical exhaustion would suggest otherwise. OK. So did we go to Disneyland? No. Did we take a 2 week road trip to Yosemite? No. Did we break bread with the Dalai Lama? Did we swim with dolphins? Nope. (A lot of Carp maybe, but sadly not dolphins). Regardless, from my perspective, all things considered it had been a pretty cool summer break filled with a lot of cool experiences, plenty of diverse activities and most of all a lot of family time. And to me that’s what was most important; especially now that we were fully entrenched in a two home family, the fact that the kids had a lot of time with both their mom and me.

I was so taken aback by some of it and the fact that, even after all of the efforts my ex-wife and I had put in to ensuring our kids had a great summer, there were still those who felt it wasn’t enough. My response? I suggested we all go out for dinner to celebrate the end of summer. But before we did, everyone had to write down their top 10 favorite moments of their vacation. We all then sat down together, including my ex-wife, at what has become our “celebratory restauran,” and recanted all of the events that shaped the summer.

My goal was to refresh everyone’s memories. By reminiscing and laughing as we thought about different things we did and reminding each other of certain moments many of us forgot about; perhaps we could refocus on all of the great family time we shared. We’d be able to recognize the efforts that went in to making sure everyone got to their camps on time and realize just how much was accomplished during the past few months. I also wanted to have a chance to remind the kids how fortunate they were to have the opportunities they were provided.

Once we’d gone through our lists and began remembering all of the events that had taken place in a the span of a couple of months, my ex then suggested the kids pick out one or two things that we’d like to try and do NEXT summer. So everyone thought a bit and wrote down a couple of summer vacation goals. So rather than them being things we didn’t get to do THIS year, they became things we’ll get to do NEXT year.

And it all seemed to work. As everyone read through their lists, it was obvious we had each forgotten about a few things. By the end of it our middle child had amended her own list which was now her top “25” favorite moments. Even our oldest, who came to the table with an attitude about the “lamest summer ever,” left laughing about some of her favorite moments from the summer and excited about next year’s break.

So let’s think a second about what it mean to entertain our kids. Do we hold some amount of responsibility to provide our kids with activities and experiences? I think to some extent we do. But I also think we have just as much of a responsibility to make them aware of what it takes to create those opportunities. That life isn’t just a
big carnival every day. As Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. writes in her book, “Introvert Power,” we as parents have just as much of responsibility to teach our kids how to enjoy solitude and down time. That we need to teach them the joy of quiet and the ability to sit alone in a room and read a book and feel as much enjoyment and
fulfillment as when they’re out on the lake tubing. I agree with that. Life is about balance and understanding that we work hard, play hard and should also relax hard.

Whether you’re married or divorced, you have a life. A life filled with responsibilities, pressures and deadlines. Keeping our kids entertained should not be one of those pressures. After all, we aren’t cruise directors. At the same time we should show our kids that despite the negative aspects of life, it can be fun and we owe it to them to show them the value of cutting loose once in a while. And of course we owe it to ourselves to take a
break and enjoy this time with them as well.

Is it easy to go overboard in our attempt to keep up with the Jones’s? Yup. Do we occasionally let guilt push us over the limit sometimes? U-huh. Do we suffer from our own peer pressure to entertain our kids with a trip to Disneyland? Sure. I think that’s a lesson for all parents. At some point, we need to recognize that it’s o.k. to say no and teach our kids the art of not only entertaining themselves but by making a point to add responsibilities to the list of summer “fun” things to do. Again, it’s about balance. Easier said than done sometimes, especially when your kid is proclaiming out of sheer agony how “BORED” they are. But that’s an opportunity for us to teach them how to become “UN-bored.” Give a man a fish, teach a man TO fish, yadda yadda yadda; Go mow the neighborhood lawns to help pay for our trip to Florida.

I can only hope that as they get back to school and share their summer experiences with their friends that they’ll realize even more just how amazing the past several weeks have been and be reminded of how fortunate  we are to, above all, still be a family.

 

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Cream and Sugar?

When you’re a lone wolf in-line ordering donuts and coffee, life is grand. “I’ll have two vanilla cream and a triple triple please.” Ah. Order to first sip in 30 seconds. That’s livin’ man. Those were good times. I almost remember them.

As a parent, we’ve all been there. In line with kids at a fast food restaurant attempting to make sense out of chaos. Who wants what, the toys, the drinks, everyone wants to sit somewhere else. All three want to eat somewhere different. And you can always count on at least one deciding they want to eat somewhere else out of a weak attempt to be in control. We forget that much of the public can’t relate and have no idea why we can’t control the situation better. They don’t understand that 9 times out of 10 it’s fine. They just happen to be witnessing that one day when the perfect storm is brewing. And even parents who CAN relate, enjoy watching someone else suffer for a change.

The drive-thru isn’t much better. Who hasn’t been in the car with hungry kids trying to determine who wants nuggets, burgers, Sprite, fries, sweet and sour, root beer, apples, smoothies, salad, lemonade, barbecue, six-piece, four-piece, wait I want nuggets, no fish, no, nuggets, wait, burger, hold on, no I want nuggets; just waiting for the Soup Nazi to bellow through the speaker; “NO FRIES FOR YOU!!!”

And so it was one recent morning that my son and I decided to go it alone to my favorite donut shop and pick up breakfast for about 8 people. Yes, on occasion my kids have donuts for breakfast. I know, I’m an awful dad. They eat their fair share of veggies, fruits and whole grains as well. So when you only get to Tim Horton’s twice a year, you splurge a little. But moving on.

Attempting to ensure I got what everyone likes I began the mental game of going person by person in my head as my son kept pointing to and interrupting me with his own choices which changed every 30
seconds. Behind me stood an older blue collar gentleman dressed for a day of hammering, sawing, and caulking. He stood there patiently as I got through the breakfast sandwich orders, drink orders, hash browns etc. He didn’t bat an eye as I attempted to remember who liked sausage and eggs, ham and
eggs, or bacon and eggs. Even smiled as I attempted to pick out all twelve donuts, changing my mind several times as I considered each shiny little face and whether they would want pink or blue sprinkles, strawberry, maple or chocolate icing, jelly or cream and if cream would they want vanilla, bavarian or boston cream, or just a plain old fashioned, no frills donut.

He then hummed a little impromptu ditty as I got through the 2 cream, 1 sugar, no wait, 3 creams, 2 sugars, or was it 1 cream, 2 sugar coffee orders, the almost forgotten muffin, yogurt, water, and milk. I was sure when I added one more hash brown to the order after everything was done I’d get him to at least offer a gentle cough of dis-approvement. (I know it’s not a word, but as the author I get creative license) But he just stood there. Calm as a cucumber.

By the time we were finished it had easily been about 15 minutes. And at no time did the man ever bat an eye. He just stood there waiting patiently, calmly and with a genuine air of understanding as my son tugged on my shirt desperate to ensure I got him a chocolate milk not white.

As the cashier was totaling everything up, I turned to the man and asked him politely what he was getting. “Just a coffee,” he said. I looked at the cashier and told her, “Whatever he wants it’s on me.” He initially refused, but I insisted, thanking him for his patience. Because, the way I see it, we reward our kids for good behavior, why not reward the village too?

 

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