Have Children, Will Travel, Part I: Are you not entertained?

I can understand why some parents choose not to travel with young children. I could write here about the pros and cons as I’ve experienced them. I could expound at length upon my opinions about new stimuli for neural development, character building, and fostering resilience and open-mindedness. But it’s easy to get preachy and to feel superior about myself as a traveling mom when I go that direction. Something that is sure to smack me back down to Earth? These two stories that I am about to share. Now, bear in mind, although one story is set domestically and one internationally, they could happen anywhere, anytime. When you are a parent, nothing is safe….

July 2014: Domestic Travel – America’s Favorite Summer Past-time

Friends of ours were getting married in Southern Vermont, and the reception was at a state park. Way ahead of time I reserved a shelter at the park for two nights so we could leave the reception whenever we wanted to and walk five minutes to our beds. I envisioned a relaxing family vacation amidst a hectic summer schedule. True to form our schedules filled up. I canceled one of the nights at the park. And we left for Vermont the day before the wedding, then woke up early and headed down south.

The wedding itself was lovely, and James was moderately well-behaved. Lytle had just had her heart surgery and was still working towards full energy and strength. So we took it easy at the reception, hanging out on a blanket, enjoying good food, chatting with friends we hadn’t seen in awhile.

It didn’t occur to either of us to keep a close eye on James, who was going from table to table, eating peaches and watermelon slices, then watermelon slices and peaches.

Now, with all the travel, James hadn’t really pooped in a couple of days. Suddenly, he looked at me, eyes urgent, and said, “I have to poop.” We walked to the bathrooms and the big pottys. Still in the throes of potty training, he said NO. We found a couple of more prepared parents who had a kiddo potty they kindly offered us. We set him up on the fringe of the woods with some privacy and let him go. Whew. Crisis averted.

Half an hour later. James: “I have to poop. Now.” We raced to the bathroom, and he was sufficiently ready that pooping on the big potty was acceptable. Whew. Crisis averted.

By now, it was 7:30 in the evening and we were done. We said our good-byes and headed to our campsite. “Camp” was roughly set up. We were seriously off our game when it came to camping, and although Travis had managed to buy firewood at the gate, we didn’t have matches or a lighter. Or paper scraps or kindling. We had managed to get the tent set up in the shelter, laid out with sleeping bags and pillows. But we didn’t have a headlamp or flashlight, just the tiny penlight on my key chain so Travis borrowed a lighter from a neighboring campsite and started working on the fire immediately. James: “I HAVE to poop.” Me (in my head): “I don’t know where the bathrooms are. I didn’t pack toilet paper. Um… dig a hole, dig a hole. Dig a hole! Do we even have a trowel?” I went scrambling through the car until I found the windshield scraper, and I used the handle to scrape out a hole of sorts. Then I held James over it. Then I wiped him off with Lytle wipes. Then I tried to use the windshield scraper to scoop loose dirt and leaves over the “hole.” Okay. Crisis… managed.

I set about puttering, getting toys for Lytle and digging around for pjs and toothbrushes. Suddenly I heard Travis say, “Wow, I’m glad I’m not you and don’t have to clean that up.”

Huh?

I walked around the shelter and there was James, squatting on the bench and pooping in his shorts. He looked up at me with total alarm. “YOU. HAVE. TO GO. AWAY.” Speechless, I did as asked and walked off. Next thing I knew, he was running around the camp with poop dripping out of his shorts. Night was falling as I ran frantically around camp with wipes, scooping up what poop I could by firelight and throwing it into the fire, begging him to stand still for 30 seconds already!

The night calmed down after this. We wandered and found the bathroom, rinsed off poopy shorts and put on clean pjs. We laid in our tents with the flaps wide open, watching the stars come out as the fire flickered. Travis and I laughed at our incompetence. And I thought about what I would pack on the next camping trip.

March 2015: International Travel – A Bus Ride, a Plane Ride, a Train Ride, and a Taxi

The alarm went off early. We had to catch the Sky Bus from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa by 5:30 a.m.. From there we would go to a hotel room until 10:30 p.m. or so, when we would head to Bole Airport to catch our 2 a.m. flight to Rome, via Istanbul. This was an ambitious plan to begin with, but it sure didn’t start out well when James said he was feeling sick during the bus ride. He hadn’t felt great on the twisty parts of the roads on the last ride and we’d weathered it fine, so I told him to take some deep breaths, look out the window…. and nope, there was the puke. I didn’t respond well. I’m as intrepid as the next girl, but when I haven’t had caffeine, I’m holding a sleeping one year old, and trying to get a distraught 4-year old to puke into a plastic bag that I’m futilely waving in his face, well, it doesn’t bring out the best in me. When he puked again a half hour later, in large part out of his nose, Travis switched seats with me. He claimed that my responses were making it worse. This was fair. James continued to puke four more times, two more of them out of his nose as he tried to resist the inevitable. Most of this did not go nicely into bags. Then he peed his pants.

I was completely demoralized by the time we hit Addis. I did a quick wash of his shirt and pants in the sink of the hotel room and put him in his clean pjs for the plane ride. We all rested or snoozed, then got up at 10:30 p.m. and headed out.

The nice thing about 2 a.m. flights is that the kids sleep. You may or may not sleep, but at least the incessant wriggling and questions stop for a while. Our middle of the night “breakfasts” arrived (quick confession: I ADORE international flights with their full meals, free booze, bottomless coffee and tea, and kiddo swag…) and I ordered cherry juice in case James woke up. He was stretched out across the two seats next to me, Lytle was stirring in my arms, and Travis was just across the aisle. I was tired but all was well. And then Ly woke up. She squirmed. And she kicked. With one little foot she managed to completely dump the full glass of cherry juice all over a sleeping James. He screamed. I can only imagine he thought he was being water-boarded or something. I just about threw Lytle across the aisle to Travis and tried to do damage control. He lay there screaming, “What is it, Mama? What is it?” unable to open his eyes because cherry juice was pooled in the sockets. It looked like blood, like he needed an exorcism. I cleaned up his face and sat him up to realize the back of his shirt was drenched with juice, and so was his hair. Then we started our initial descent, and he threw up all over the front of the shirt and his pj pants.

Having tried to pack lightly for all of our travels, I got him into his last clean pants and another shirt, and we made our way onto the next flight. We took off. We enjoyed our meals (without the cherry juice). We started our initial descent. He threw up on another shirt. And then he peed in his last pair of clean pants. At this point, I was collecting the air sickness bags from every seat in our aisle and stashing them in my carry-on, and trying to breathe through my mouth.

We managed to make it out of the airport, onto the shuttle train into Rome, and to a cafe at the Termini train station that offered awesome sandwiches and espressos. James managed to fall asleep on the train to Naples, basically transitioning from a state of complete distress to a coma-like sleep. We got to Centrale station in Naples, caught a taxi, and finally found the apartment we’d rented. James got out of the taxi and threw up on the side of a building that was probably 600 years old.

At this point, nothing was clean. I loaded up the washing machine and then got into the shower with James. He smelled like a combination of an outhouse and puke, and his hair was dried into stiff, crusty curls where the juice had soaked him. Gross.

His pants still smelled like pee, but there was nothing dry (Italy, like Ethiopia, doesn’t do the whole dryer thing). We walked around the Naples evening and sat down (outdoors, hoping the breeze would waft urine scents away from the restaurant) to enjoy very necessary glasses of wine and appetizers. That was about all any of us wanted so we made our way back, grabbing our first gelato of the trip as we walked. James and Ly both fell asleep, and Travis and I tried to catch up on the things adults catch up on at night. At last Travis crawled into bed and I rearranged wet laundry closer to the radiator in the hopes that we could go sight-seeing tomorrow smelling so fresh, so clean. I went upstairs, shifted James to one side…. and he puked that damn gelato all over the clean sheets. It’s a testament to how tired I was that I neither laughed nor cried. I just sort of nodded my head in resignation and went downstairs for clean towels, already dreaming of the morning’s cappuccino.

To Sum Up

We all have our stories. Ours just happen to come from ill-planned camping trips and developing country bus rides, snowy drives to and from the farm in Vermont, or red-eye flights back from Seattle. And just when I think I’ve had enough travel with children, I remember standing in front of the Coliseum in Rome watching James on Travis’ shoulders hold out his arms and say loudly to all within earshot, “Are you not entertained?!” Well, yes. Yes, I am.

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