Monday, July 30, 2012

Rolling With It--Planes and Automobiles

Waiting for Dad...
So, where were we?

The kids couldn’t wait to see their dad on Sunday. They waited in tense anticipation for his plane to land in the tiny airport. They waited while the airport rolled out the steps. They waited until they finally saw Dad walking to the terminal and then tackled him.

They spilled ten days’ worth of stories with the auto train prominently featured. They wanted to show him the train SOOOOO much…but then, Monday afternoon, our train was cancelled.

We explained that storm had blown trees across the track, the power was out, and the train couldn’t go. We looked at them. And then Little A. said,

“It should be the Dinosaur Train, so one of the dinosaurs could get off, scoop up the trees in his mouth, and move them.”

We exchanged smiles, then told the kids that we could take another train another time. And then S. said,

“To Europe?”

You have to love them. But they just rolled with it!

As if to reward their positive attitude toward the change, the trip home was, if possible, even better. Grandpa and Mimi (thank you, thank you) rushed around and got us an early dinner so we could drive a few hours Monday night, and we set off down the lower shore that night. That mean we got to see sunset from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Sunset at the Bay Bridge Tunnel
We didn’t know what to get most excited about—glorious natural beauty, really long bridge, underwater tunnel, watching a freight ship start going over the tunnel as we started going into it…. Fun, I tell you! After a while, the kids fell asleep (they swear they didn’t!) and we made it over the border, into North Carolina, before bed.

Tuesday was a taking-care-of-business day. We drove across three states in eight hours, with only one movie late in the day. The rest of the time we just hung out! To top off our excellent travel day, Big A. cashed in some hotel points, and we stayed at the harbor in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island--way cool.
Getting non-fried food on Amelia Island!

We could walk to dinner, get food other than the fried variety, walk to an ice cream shop, walk to the harbor and look at boats, and cap the evening with the traditionally awesome Swim After Road Trip.

Mammoth, anyone?

A good night’s sleep and we were ready to hit the road for the last five hours home. Of course, since we had to drive right through Gainesville, home of the Gators and the Florida Museum of Natural History, we stopped. Yes, we added butterflies, caves, native peoples, arrowheads, hands-on exhibits and DINOSAUR BONES to our trip of coolness.

We also got to see Daddy’s old apartment and Mommy’s old apartment, but somehow that just didn’t have the same cool factor.

A few hours later, we ambushed our house, spreading things out everywhere, reuniting with cherished toys, running the washer, flopping on the furniture, dodging the ecstatic, just-bathed dog and generally making ourselves at home.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rolling With It--Trains

For our great migration north this summer, the kids and I took the Amtrak AutoTrain from Florida to Virginia. ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

I have to say, it was…idyllic.

We had a nearly-three hour trip to the station in Sanford, but the morning drive with excited, happy kids just flew by. They laughed, chatted, colored, read books, and generally made me beam. We had time for a McDonald’s lunch—the ultimate reward—and then enjoyed hanging out together while we waited to board.

Our family cabin could not have been better—a “sofa” for me and a pull-down table with two seats, just right for little ones. And when the train started…well, I have video, but they seriously spent ten minutes at the window saying, “This is so cool.” “Yeah.” Over and over.


It didn’t hurt that the track next to ours was in the middle of being replaced, so we got a close-up view of a railroad construction site, complete with holes, mounds of dirt, workers, construction vehicles and “dumpster” train cars full of debris. Heaven on earth!

Every sight brought gasps—every railroad crossing and every bridge, but also the truly extraordinary, like a smoldering forest fire next to the track, or the astonishing sunrise that S. and I caught the next morning.


Just walking around the train brought its own adventures—the automatic doors between cars made S. nervous—she didn’t want them to close on her. But Little A. LOVED looking through the crack at the track moving by below. So he would rush into the space between cars, then brake hard, his eyes glued on the floor, while S., backed up behind him, started to whimper until I stepped in, holding the door open. But they loved cruising from car to car.

Mind the gap--the space between cars. Can you see the track two stories below?
Dinner and breakfast in the dining car delighted everyone--the novelty of the moving view, the chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese, plus the fun of trying to pour water, milk, juice, and coffee on a moving train. And they slept soundly in their upper bunks guarded only by cargo nets, all night long.

In the end, our three-hour drive from the station in Virginia to my hometown miraculously took far less than three hours, we avoided the Bay Bridge closing for the 178-foot freighter cargo passing underneath, and we got in one last travel lunch at McDonald’s. Time to vacation!

 Needless to say, the kids could not wait to share this experience with Dad on the way home. The minute he arrived Sunday, they started telling him all the cool things they wanted to show him when we got on the train Tuesday.

Well…Monday we got the call. Our train was cancelled due to all the freakishly severe storms in the mid-Atlantic. They could rebook us in five days or so.

Yipes. That wouldn’t work for our schedules, so we made a pretty quick decision to drive all seventeen hours (1,044 miles in the end). Then we had to tell the kids.

In the next installment, I am proud of how we roll…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bun Notice

My name is Rosanne Catalano. I used to have a life, until… 

“We’ve got a positive test on you. You’re pregnant.” 

When you’re a parent, you’ve got nothing: no cash, no time, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city you decided to get knocked up in. You clean whatever shit comes your way. You rely on anyone who’s still talking to you: your equally fried mom friends; an old friend who used to party with you; family, too—if you’re desperate. And the down and out spouse you married along the way. 

Bottom line: As long as you’re a parent, you’re not going anywhere.

When you’re a parent, even the simplest operations require detailed planning. A well-equipped go-bag can be a huge asset, but human variables can create insurmountable obstacles.

Little A., Human Variable
There are several options for dealing with the human variables: force, avoidance, and bribery. Force can be crude and isn’t the most reliable method. And you can only work the avoidance angle for so long, so it usually comes down to bribery.

The Bribe
In parenting, you often run into a mark who thinks she knows more than you. This can put a serious hitch in your operation unless you nip it in the bud.

Know-It-All Mark
Everyone has a favorite technique for nipping things in the bud, but it usually comes down to bribery.
Bribed Mark
New parents frequently attempt to plan escapes. More experienced parents realize these operations have a very low success rate. If you have to plan an escape—like, for example, when your sanity is absolutely on the line—the best option is to have a well-trained extraction team.

Well-Trained Extraction Team

You still may not get away clean, but that will give you your best chance.

Really, I’d like to give a shout-out to all my fellow parental operatives out there, especially all the awesome moms I know, who really keep me going. And I owe so much to all the extraction teams who offer us a chance to breathe—our great stake-out artists (sitters) and our family, whether or not we're desperate. Most of all, thanks to my husband, the best partner/arms dealer a girl could ask for.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Kids, the Space Geeks

What do you do with a lazy weekend morning?

My kids jump on Dad’s suggestion that we watch Nova. And, while they’re engrossed by the story of Einstein’s flexible model of space-time replacing Newton’s more solid concept, I marvel that I gave birth to these creatures.

For me, space and the stars just…well, they just are. I’ve enjoyed my times spent stargazing at camp, in Maine, on various beaches, but I’ve stuck to a romantic contemplation of the superficial beauties of space.

For the kids, it’s more about what exactly would happen to spaghetti in a black hole or how exactly our sun will end or whether there is gravity in your mouth. (Little A. concluded that he does, in fact, have gravity in his mouth.)

So today they spent an hour transfixed by the idea that all three-dimensional artifacts may be holograms of two-dimensional information on a plane somewhere (Don’t ask me! I don’t really get it!) and the coolest thing happened.

The NOVA episode included a lot of interviews with Peter Higgs, the physicist who (if I’m following correctly) posited the existence of the Higgs Field and the miniscule particles that confer mass on everything. Translation: he came up with the idea that there were little bitty particles that make EVERYTHING exist as matter. They give stuff its stuff-ness, aka matter.

As the episode originally aired in November 2011, many physicists commented that they believe the Higgs boson particle exists and it’s just a matter of time before it’s observed.

The really cool part? Just the day before we’d had the radio on in the car and heard an article about the discovery of the Higgs boson particle on July 4!

Even I couldn’t believe how exciting it was to hear all these scientist talking about how much proof of this particle’s existence would mean…if it happened…and to know that it just happened!

So I guess I’m a bit of a space geek, too. If you’re a dreamer, you kind of have to be, don’t you?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Explosive Humor

Disclaimer: I love my kids. I may possibly think they’re funnier than they actually are. Maybe not. You be the judge.

I do know this. Say what you will about infancy—and we had some magic moments—THIS is why I became a parent. Moments like this are my paycheck.

The other night at dinner, we were discussing one of the kids’ enduring fascinations, volcanoes. Unfortunately, Little A. still gets a few initial consonant sounds mixed up, so he was discussing “bolcanoes.”

Cut to scene.

S.: (seven-years-old, knows everything): “It’s not a BALL-cano; it’s a VOL-cano. I mean, if it were a ball-cano, it would shoot lots of different kinds of balls into the sky, and big piles of balls would slide down the side of the mountain…”

Little A. giggles.

“…and then the balls would scoop people up and slide them down the mountain and into a giant ball pit.”

Little A belly laughs.

Little A.: “Or a fall-cano!”

S: “Yeah, it could suck you in, so you go up the mountain and just fall in…”

Little A. (demonstrating with his hands): “Yeah, you could go <makes moving noise> up the mountain and then <makes crashing noise>.”

S. (remembering other family obsession): “It would be like a black hole!”

Mom: “Or it could just spray colorful fall leaves.”

Crickets. Mom’s not funny.

S: “What about a call-cano? It would be full of people going, ‘Hell-o-o-o-o! Hell-o-o-!’”

Dad: “And phones ringing.”

Everyone makes various phone ring noises. We’re all laughing our heads off by now.

S: “It could be a mall-cano, and be full of shoppers and clothes and pretzels…”

Dad: “Don’t forget cell phones and Starbucks!”

Kids giggle.

S.: “Or what if it was a Saul-cano? It would shoot Bible stories all over the place!”

Mom: (unable to resist) “But if a really bright light hit it, it would be a Paul-cano!”

S. giggles. Dad rolls eyes.

Then we all took a break to eat some more homemade pasta. Yep, I really wrote this whole post as an excuse to post a picture of our homemade spaghetti. After years of pasta failure, we got some right!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Camp: The Next Generation

I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things after our time away. Making my usual pancakes-sausage-eggs weekend breakfast today nearly gave me a hernia. It’s hard to believe that the habits of years can be monkeyed with by just two weeks away!

I have no regrets, though.

Among other It’s-SO-worth-it moments on our trip, I had the privilege of witnessing my daughter’s first week at summer camp. Not that I hovered over her all week like the helicopter parent I strive not to be, but I did drop her off, I didn’t get all the letters she had too much fun to send, and I did pick her up, letting two hours of “And, last week at camp, we…” wash over me as we drove home.

She has returned to the topic many times since, even after that first, epic two-hour gush!

I love Camp Arrowhead in Lewes, DE—my sisters were campers there, my sisters and I all worked there, and I wouldn’t send my seven-year-old anywhere else.

So, yes, S. got a little tense on the way there. I’ve learned that when S. feels nervous, she gets kind of tight and grey. She looks down and barely speaks. And that’s where things stood when we pulled onto the property. We drove along the shaded, shell drive at the mandatory 10 mph with our windows down, soaking up the smell of pines, only barely tainted by the old-marsh smell of the shells.

We ran into the property manager, who welcomed us, beginning a series of we’re-related-to-a-rock-star encounters. Everyone approached us with a smile and a huge welcome, but when they found out about my sister—we’ll call her Aunt C— who worked at Camp Arrowhead just last summer, they all went nuts! So S. began to look up out of the corner of her eyes. Her shoulders eased a bit, and a hint of color came into her face.

Halfway through luggage line, everyone saw our Florida plates and one super-excited CIT ran up, hollering, “Are you all from Florida? I’m from Tampa!” We had a great chat, and S. perked up a bit more. And so it went, all the way through the check in with the nurse, with the store manager, with everyone. By the time I took this picture S. had come almost all the way back to us.

Then we met her counselor. I’ve been in the counselor’s shoes a few times, and I can honestly say I hope I did as well as she did. She greeted me with a smile, politely and positively, but she connected with S. right away…perfection! I knew it was time to go, so we did. (Little A. did need the bathroom and, on the way back, we saw S. chatting so fast to her counselor that she didn’t even notice us!)

So I didn’t feel one iota nervous. I honestly didn’t, and that shocked me.

It did get a little hairy on the first full day of camp, when the teeny local papers started reporting a random storm with 65 mph winds had cut water and power to camp, dropped a massive tree across the road, and created a gas leak causing evacuations everywhere. Mostly, I worried that camp might need a few extra hands—I knew S. would be fine. But it turns out teeny local papers may exaggerate occasionally! Storm, yes, power and water out for a few hours, yes, but all else fine. And S. learned a whole slew of circle games that we have not even begun to explore!

She really didn’t write, and it really was because she had too much fun. That’s fine because, beyond the deluge of band camp Camp Arrowhead stories, three things really showed me that she got camp.

The first came when I wanted to go visit my old unit. A hundred years ago, my campers and I painted the inside of our outhouse pretty colors. (This may or may not have been an attempt to relocate the 8-inch wolf spider that lived between the studs RIGHT behind the seat.) Of course, the next year it became a boys’ unit. This makes me laugh.
The kids reacting to the alleged outhouse smell...
They don’t use the outhouses anymore (the spider has sole possession now), but it’s still there and I had to take a picture. Displaying all the profound wisdom expected from the mouths of babes, S. watched me photograph a 18+-year-old, decommissioned outhouse and said, “Mom, if this was anywhere but camp, people would think you’re nuts.”

I nearly burst into tears. Isn’t that the essence of camp in one sentence? Anywhere else, people think you’re nuts—but not here.

When we got home, we unpacked the car and I got my second surprise. I never would have asked S. to help me carry her trunk before, but it hit me that campers help each other with trunks all the time. So I said, “Hey, want to help?” And she settled right in, grabbing the front handle with both arms behind her and taking off toward the house. Just as I thought how many campers I’ve seen do that, she said, with far more pride than whine, “This is the way we carried the cooler to Outpost. We had to take turns because it was heavy.”

And camp grew my daughter up a few leaps and bounds.

The most bittersweet part came the next morning. In a quiet moment, I caught S. wiping tears from her eyes. She really didn’t want to tell me why, but eventually she said, “I know it’s silly, but I miss camp!”

Oh, sweet girl.

I said, “That’s not silly. I miss camp, too. But just think—you can go back next year.”

Now, I truly said that just to affirm her feelings. I wanted her to know it’s normal to miss things you like and that I got it. But she came back a couple hours later and floored me.

“Mom, I feel sorry for you. You’ve been missing camp for a really long time.”

Yes, sweet girl, I have. But I cannot think of anything better than watching you grow into your time there!

MUCH love to all the staff at Camp Arrowhead— past, present, and future!