2,776 miles, 40+ hours and 3 small kids

Leg 1 of our trip  Leg 2 of our trip  Leg 3 of our trip

I absolutely must be crazy.

In two days I will begin a week long trip with my mother, my aunt and my three small kids. We are going to Chicago and Washington DC…and we are driving. My husband will not be joining us as he has to work. (Is anyone who has read my blog before surprised?)

According to Google Maps the entire trip (Tampa to Chicago to DC and back) will take us 2,776 miles and 41 hours. Of course, Google Maps doesn’t take into account stops for gas, meals, feeding the baby, diaper changes, freak outs, melt downs, potty breaks for a fairly recently potty trained 3-year-old and any other unforeseen issue. Those things could add significant time to our little journey. Regardless, I’m trying to stay positive as our departure approaches.

I have done this type of thing before. Last summer we drove from Fort Myers to Chicago in a rental van that held 5 adults and 4 kids, including myself at 7-months-pregnant. We drove our oldest to see my husband’s family in Syracuse, NY when she was 5-months-old and again when she was 15-months-old. Our girls have also flown to Chicago, DC and Syracuse several times. I would definitely call any one of us seasoned travelers. None of the previously mentioned facts translates to this being an easy adventure. Factor in my mild need for control and a small touch of OCD-like tendencies and this adventure could be a recipe for stress and disaster. The amount of stuff, planning and patience needed to make a trip like this seem effortless is anything but effortless. So here is one mama’s seven part guide road trips with small kids.

1. Lists.  Do you find any irony in the fact that my list of travel tips starts with lists??? I do. Anyway, I digress. Lists are key for me. I know that in those last frantic hours before actually leaving, important items are easily forgotten, especially things that couldn’t be packed in advance because they are still needed right before leaving. We recently took our crazy crew for an afternoon at Busch Gardens and I forgot the baby’s formula. That’s right my lovely readers… I forgot my child’s FOOD! Lucky for me it was only a couple of hours and he was satisfied with a jar of baby food and water but I had a real garbage mommy moment over the whole episode.  Things such as a blow dryer, the baby’s open can of formula, or the camera charger are so easy to forget and can be expensive to replace during your trip. I start making my lists days (even a week or so) in advance of packing and/or leaving. Anything I use or need during that time which I know I could easily forget is added to the list. I work with three lists: things to buy, things to remember and things to do. The usefulness of my lists are obvious so I won’t go into crazy detail but I will say this: Your lists are useless if you don’t add to them when the thought pops into your brain, look at the list and actually check things off as they are completed, and double check the lists as you are ready to walk out the door.

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare…in advance. I am a terrible procrastinator in 95% of my life. My husband had pick date for the delivery of our daughter’s big girl furniture to force me to begin painting the room. Her baby book stops at about 3-months-old. She’s 5. Our other two children’s baby book are purchased but empty. They’re 3 and almost 1. It’s a real problem in my life. (Inspiration for a future blog post maybe???) But when it comes to traveling, I begin preparing well in advance of leaving. Important errands like getting medication refills are done days before packing. Laundry is done two days before we leave. Packing is done the day before. Clothes to wear during the journey are laid out the night before we leave and anything that can be set aside is piled up before we go to bed. Cameras, phones, tablets are all charged before they are packed. Advance preparation is key to making sure you have everything necessary. Forgetting something important can really put a dark cloud over a fun trip. Does anyone really want to spend a day of their vacation calling pharmacies and doctors to try to obtain a forgotten medication?

3. I pull and pack everything for everyone…except my husband.  Let’s be honest ladies (and maybe some gentlemen). I know many of you pack your husband’s stuff when going on a trip. Not me. He’s a grown man and he needs to do certain things himself. The reality is, I don’t know what he needs on a daily basis and I don’t want to be the one responsible for remembering everything needed to keep him comfortable and in his own routine. Be a big boy and pull your own stuff. I’ll put it in a bag but he has to get it all out and make a pile. As for the kids, I attempted to let my 5 and 3 year olds pull their own clothes the last time we went to Fort Myers for a four day weekend. My oldest chose an inappropriate number of dresses and nothing she could really wear to play. My other daughter basically just brought a pile of random items. She also had 5 pairs of pajama pants and only 2 pajama shirts. Nobody pulled out socks or panties. What?! How do you plan to cover your butts and feet?! I pull and pack everything for myself and all of the kids. I am the one who manages 95% of their lives. I know what they need, want and use everyday. I’m the right person for this job. In the case of this trip, the hubs isn’t going. He will be working, saving me from dealing with his belongings at all.

4. Entertainment.  Everyone knows that kids, especially small kids, will go completely bananas when stuck in a car for a long stretch. My 5-year-old started the “Are we almost there?” nagging ten minutes into our last long drive and we still had nearly 2 hours to go! The key to controlling the madness: keeping growing brains busy. Usually I’m not a fan of using TV, movies and video games as a primary way to entertain kids but in this case I make an exception. My daughters each have a Kindle Fire, but they don’t know that they do. I got one for myself as a 30th birthday gift and my mom had one for herself. We have both bought tablet computers recently so now the girls have the Kindles but we’ve never told them that. I retain full possession of both devices. They have to ask permission to use “my” Kindles and their time with them is both monitored and limited. We also have a portable DVD player which is put in the car only for long trips. I actually don’t even use it for the 2 hour trip to Fort Myers which we do about once each month. I think I can handle annoyed, bored, whiney kids for 2 hours so they can find entertainment some way other than staring blankly at a screen. I also buy them games, flashcards and other activities from the dollar store days before we leave and sneak them into their backpacks. They are surprised with new and exciting items and are entertained for longer stretches than they would be with items they’ve had for months. Also, nothing will keep kids happy like a conversation. I turn off the radio and talk to them about whatever they want to discuss. These conversations are usually silly and a bit confusing.

5. Comfort.  Long car trips are not a fashion show. My girls will not be dressed in their usual fancy tutu skirts and dresses. They LOVE to wear outlandish, girly and fancy clothes. I like dressing my son in cute onesies with collars and little shorts. But to drive across the country? No! A plain and boring comfy dress for the girls and a boring standard onesie for the little man. I don’t want the girls in any skirt or shorts that will be on the ground of whatever random public restroom we find and I don’t want the baby twisted in his clothes while buckled into his car seat. The girls hair is pulled up and out of their faces and they don’t wear any of their costume jewelry. My mom and I also made travel pillows for them last year then attach to the seatbelt to give them something to sleep on because we don’t stop in a hotel for the night. We are a drive straight through family. Everyone has a blanket of their own and the car is kept fairly cold.

6. Stops.  I would rather avoid stopping if at all possible. When we drive the 130 miles from our house to my mom’s I don’t plan to stop at all. My three-year-old’s bladder usually ruins my plan. When making the trip we’ll make this week, we’ll be stopping many times. My goal is to stop only when necessary and to keep each stop short but productive. Everyone wears flip flops so they are comfortable in the car but can put shoes on quickly and easily. If we stop for anything everyone goes potty. Period. I don’t care if you don’t have to go. Get out and try. This does two things: potentially prevents another stop in the very near future and gets everyone out, stretched, rejuvenated and moving. Just to be safe, Peyton will be wearing a pull-up during this trip but since she hasn’t worn one  in a while (even at night!!!!), I’m not going to be encouraging her to use it for anything except accident prevention. Unless we’ve filled the gas tank pretty recently, I want to top it off whenever we stop as well.

7. Food.  Stopping to eat inside a restaurant takes time and costs more money. I avoid it like the plague. When we leave this week my kids will have already eaten lunch. I’ll pack their dinners. This saves time, money and allows me to have more control over what they eat for one additional meal. I’m not a crazy control freak mom. My kids aren’t vegetarians, they don’t eat all organic, they aren’t gluten free.  They’ve had junk. I just try to minimize the junk. When traveling in the car, I keep all meals simple, light and easy to clean. No one, not even a preschooler, wants to feel full and weighed down while stuck in a car. We have an abundance of wipes, napkins and patience on hand and we make it work. I got the girls little plastic baskets that fit in their laps to hold the food so they have more control and to maybe prevent some messes. These baskets live in a storage compartment hidden in the floor of my trunk so they’re always on hand. After this one meal, we’ll have to find food on the road. I still try to minimize junk but I recognize that fast food is easiest. I accept that they’re on vacation and following the normal standards we have at home isn’t always possible. (This is me letting go of my controlling tendencies. *applause for me*) My son is the exception for my “no stopping to eat” rule. He needs to get out of his car seat to eat, have a bottle and be burped. I will not, for any reason, drive a car with a child out of a car seat. We must stop to feed the baby. I accept that…but he should eat quickly.

So, there it is. My OCD way of making a crazy trip like this doable. I know there is more I could add but I was once told by a lovely college professor that I can be a bit verbose. (uh…ya think?!) I try to keep his critique in mind so, for now, I’ll stop there. Wish me luck as I finish our final preparations for the first leg of the big road trip later this week. Think of me when you realize that you have instant access to things like a fridge and a restroom. I’ll need all the positive thoughts possible as I take my crazy crew on the road without my husband. I want my kids to have amazing memories and experiences. So I continue to take on these challenges even though I live my life as a semi-single parent.

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At home in two citites

I came to live here totally against my will. I did everything short of kicking and screaming to avoid moving our family away from Fort Myers. I cried while I packed. I cried while we drove and I cried for days after arriving here in Tampa, only 2 hours from the place I consider my home. I still have days, 6-months post move, on which I’d do anything to go home. My husband gets a bit offended when I talk about going “home” in reference to Fort Myers. He wants me to come to accept that this is “home” now.

I was born in Fort Myers and lived there for most of my life. Until I was 21 years old I had lived in that area for all but one year of my life and that one year was kindergarten. Who really remembers kindergarten that well anyway?! My dad was a firefighter and a general contractor when I was growing up. His two jobs meant that we couldn’t leave the area because he was committed to the local fire department but we still moved countless times as he built and sold houses. I can’t point to a single house as my childhood home but I have a fondness for the area as a whole. To this day I still think of how lucky I am to have been raised in this place when we drive over the Caloosahatchee River on one of the numerous bridges that connects Cape Coral and Fort Myers. I moved away at 21 to go to college. I met the man I would marry while attending the University of South Florida in Tampa but my husband and I moved back to the area I love before we were married. That is where we started our family and that is where I planned to stay. I’m the type of person who really likes a solid plan. In this case, my plan had to change.

2013 - July 20          2013 - July 20 (2)

With my husband still working crazy hours, a 3-month-old baby and a lot of help from the my girls, we moved our family to Tampa to follow my husband’s career. In this economy I know I should be thankful that he has a job at all but I definitely get bitter about that job taking us from the place where I wanted to raise our children. After a year of living apart a truly am grateful to have our family together again but I miss my home a great deal. In Fort Myers we have wonderful friends who are always ready to schedule a last minute play date. My mom, sister and aunt are there and always available to help me get through the long days when the hubs has been working his usual crazy hours. We had people, wonderful people. For me, it is the people who make a place into a home.

We have found our way here in Tampa. Both of our girls have activities they enjoy and friends they have met along the way. We have found schools that we love. We have some old friends from when we were in this area before with whom we are happily reunited. My in-laws are here and they have been incredibly excited to have us closer. I have even met a few new friends during my limited interactions with adults.

I find that loneliness and feelings of being homesick creep into me on occasion. I miss sitting on my mom’s couch with she makes dinner for my kids and I. I miss having my aunt volunteer to take my girls for the day so they can have a break from me and I from them. I miss watching my niece and nephew at their sports and chatting with the other kids’ moms about the craziness that is raising kids. I miss laughing with my friend while sitting in camp chairs in her garage while our kids ride bikes and scooters up and down her street. I miss marveling at the beauty of that same river I’ve crossed a million times from birth into adulthood and thinking of how fortunate I am to live in such an amazing place.

Home for me has always been more about the people than the actual, physical place. Although many of my most favorite people are not here I have begun to accept that my life is not in Fort Myers anymore. I always told my husband that I’d live anywhere as long as our family is together. It is time to live that sentiment completely. I am learning to stop longing for the place I can’t rightfully call “home” anymore and beginning to make this place “home” for our family. I still try to go back for Fort Myers once each month for a weekend with friends and family. My mom cooks our dinners, my aunt usually takes the girls for a sleep over, I catch up with the softball team and we always plan a garage play date of bikes and scooters. On our most recent trip I was a bit surprised when I was getting excited to head back to our little rental house in Tampa to reunite the kids with their daddy and spend some time with my little family at “home.”

*This post was inspired by a WordPress Daily Prompt

Your job makes me insane.

“What? You have to go into work on your one day off this week? Of course that is totally cool with us! What is important to you is important to us.”

Ok, so that’s a total lie. I didn’t say or think anything close to that.

Maybe that is what I should have said when my wonderful husband called me from work at 10:30pm to tell me that he is the only person available to deliver a catering order tomorrow. I probably should have been more supportive of his situation. This is the off season after all. As anyone with experience in the Florida restaurant industry can attest, business can be painfully slow during the summer months when the snowbirds go flying back to their natural summer habitats. I know that every bit of sales is important, especially right now and especially a large order from  repeat client. I honestly do understand that paying someone to come into work just to deliver this food would cost his restaurant more money than he’d like to spend. But, hey, what about your family?!?!?!

I try to take full advantage of every day off he gets. When he only gets 4 days off of work each month, those days are extra vital to making happy memories for our children. I save fun activities for those days. Day trips and special dinners and big events are all planned around those 4 precious days each month. I was planning to take the kids to a local children’s museum tomorrow and maybe make a batch of Christmas Crack. A catering order that has to be delivered at 12:30 in the afternoon and is a 20 minute drive from the restaurant is going to explode my plans for the whole day. In total, I’m guessing this one catering order will take him out of this house for at least 2 hours of the day.

“No. Hell no! Fuck that! Your family has sacrificed time and time again. Tomorrow is about us.”

Ok, so that’s a lie too. I didn’t say that either. But I REALLY wanted to.

I have learned by now that when dealing with a workaholic this type of answer will get you nowhere. I have come to accept that pleading, bitching, whining, complaining and fighting are not going to change anything. I will likely never change this man of mine and (most days) I don’t want to. The only person in this marriage that I can control is me. The only attitude I can influence is my own. Do I wish that he would see all of the sacrifices made by his children and myself? Obviously! But his point of view is different. In his mind, he is working this hard FOR US. I can’t blame him for that. So, what was my real reaction to this (not so) surprising revelation that he will be spending some of his day off working?

I laughed.

That’s the truth. I laughed at the irony of (again) working on his day off. I laughed because this is not the first time and won’t be the last time I find myself in this position. I laughed and began formulating a new plan for how our family would spend the day. I laughed because the real truth is that even on his days off I am still a semi-single parent.

Superpower

Update: At 11:45am my workaholic hubby kissed everyone goodbye with a very cheerful and hopeful, “I’ll be back in an hour.” Two hours later I received a text saying that he was leaving work and headed home. This made me giggle a bit at his total predictability. Total time devoted to a single catering order on his day off: 2.5 hours. (I always include commutes because it is time away from his family.)

Also, in an unexpected twist… Due to a large thunderstorm in the area tonight, the restaurant lost power right before the dinner rush. Awesome! Shockingly, he didn’t rush back to work. But he did spend most of the evening, including right now while I update this post, on the phone dealing with the numerous issues the power outage caused. It just is what it is, right?

The blog begins…

“Do you blog? You should write a blog about all of this.”  With those words an idea I couldn’t shake was planted in my head. My lovely midwife said this at a prenatal appointment while I was pregnant with our third baby. She was fascinated with the life that my husband and I had worked out for our family. At that time we were essentially living completely separate lives in cities 130 miles apart. My husband was working as the general manager of a restaurant in Clearwater, FL and I was living with our two daughters in Fort Myers, FL. He works such long hours that he would go to his mother’s house to sleep and come home to us on his one day off each week. We lived this arrangement for 364 days. During that time I had no choice but to figure it all out on my own. I had two young daughters and was progressing through my pregnancy with our son and I was, essentially, a single parent for a large majority of that time.

Now, let me insert one point here. I’m not complaining about any of this. I’m simply stating the facts of how our life was at that time. We decided that the kids and I would stay in the home we were in before my husband started at this job. We chose this because we lived in an otherwise vacant home owned by a family member and, in exchange for caring for the home, we paid no rent. In place of rent we were paying over $1100 each month for the health insurance that was covering our family including this third pregnancy. We did what was necessary for our family to stay afloat.

For a year I did everything needed to run our household 6 days each week and some weeks more than that. My husband has often gone long stretches without a day off for various reasons. I believe the longest we went without seeing him was 19 days. I made every meal, ran every errand, wiped every runny nose, woke every time child had a late night need. Our middle child, at three years-old, still doesn’t sleep through the night. But I’ll explain that in a future post. The point here is that I did it all.

After the birth of our son, my husband was given 5 days off to be with us before he left for work again. Lucky for me, he was able to take our oldest to school before leaving town and my mom brought her home so I had no need to leave home right away. I was 5 days into this adventure as a mother of three and I was alone for middle of the night feedings, diaper changes, circumcision care (a totally new and scary thing for me) as well as 100% of the care of our two older children. When he was eight days old I had to pack up my little man, get myself human looking again, dress both of my girls and get everyone out the door in time for school drop-off. This is the day I realized that I am a semi-single parent. The reality is, my husband sees his children for the same amount of time each week, on average, as a single dad who gets his children every other weekend.

So, the question I would get most often during this time was, “How do you do it?!” The answer is simple: You just do it. I was fortunate to live about a 20 minute drive from my mom and aunt. They were there to help as frequently as they could be and usually when I was about to go completely bananas. But for the most part my life was about never stopping for too long. I just always kept going.

Our situation has improved somewhat now. When our son was 3-months-old we cancelled the ridiculously expensive insurance and moved into a rental house in the Tampa Bay area. We live about 20 minutes from the restaurant so the hubs can come home every night. But that doesn’t mean his schedule has changed. He still works 85+ hours each week spread over six days. He sees our children for about two hours each morning before reminding them all to behave and kissing everyone goodbye. Have you ever heard the term “golf widow”? It refers to a woman whose husband has retired but spends his life golfing, leaving her alone. I am a restaurant widow.

I plan to write about my experiences parenting three children and this crazy life we are living primarily without the help of one important person. I hope you find this blog intriguing, enlightening, comical and maybe even a little bit nutty. Mostly, I just want to share my experience in hopes that you can find a little something similar to yours.

~The Restaurant Widow.Wilde Quote