Archive for the 'Travel with babies' Category

JT, iCarly, Overboard, Patience

April 6, 2011

Andrew Hicks

SUNDAY
11 am

We drive down to St. Louis for the day, Tiffany and the babies and I. It’s a peaceful drive, even though it’s cold and cloudy, and we left about an hour late per usual. Our entertainment for the trip is provided by my wife’s new phone, a Samsung Somethinerother that has a 4G connection. We’ve got Pandora Radio opened up, and we both think the Steely Dan channel is a great idea for about the first three minutes. We spend the rest of the drive listening to Justin Timberlake Radio.

A lot of people discount Timberlake’s talent or straight out can’t stand him. When he dumped the boy band and went solo, I wanted not to like him, but he hired The Neptunes and put out some perfectly good pop songs. Then he did “Dick in a Box” on SNL with Andy Samberg, and I couldn’t not like him. On top of it, for probably the first six months I knew Tiffany, Timberlake’s FutureSexLoveSound was the only CD she would play in her car. We got to know that album very well as we were falling in love and doing crazy shit like getting married and moving away after knowing each other for 11 weeks.

"Every single holiday, a dick in a box..."

When you create a station on Pandora based around an artist, only every third or fourth song is by that artist. The rest is matched up on an eHarmony-esque compatibility scale that encompasses similar artists and styles. So the JT channel had some good R+B I’d never heard and equal parts unabashed Britney/Christina-type stuff. During a family drive, when everyone’s in a good mood, I don’t mind that sort of music at all. My wife’s kept up on music and celebrity gossip over the years, too, so each song generally sparks a different mini-conversation.

1 pm

Eleven people sit down to our family dinner, which includes a hard- and soft-shell taco bar with chips and a vat of chili con queso. But attendance comes in two waves. The first group includes me, my two spawn, Tiffany’s parents, and my brother- and sister-in-law.

Sarah uses the occasion to bond extensively for the first time with her Uncle Tom*. Which means, in so many words, that Sarah’s seat is next to Tom’s, so she’s going to spend the duration of the dinner making sure Tom sees everything that Sarah sees. (“Tom, look, chips!” “Tom, you see a ceiling?” And so on.)

The second group includes Tiffany, my stepson Josh and two daughters of Tiffany’s best friend, who attend so many of our family dinners they should consider changing their last names. By the time they all get back, I’ve had a couple pounds of Mexican food and am finishing dessert.

Once Sarah lies down for her nap and Silas falls asleep in his car carrier, I stretch across the upstairs sofa. Fall almost instantly into a half-consciousness where I can still mostly hear what’s being said. Then fall completely asleep. I don’t often get the chance, but I love taking naps in unusual yet safe places. I end up on the couch for well over two hours.

8 pm

Tiffany and Josh leave to drive the older daughter back home so she can get some overnight stuff, and meanwhile I’m downstairs watching the younger daughter and my two kids. This little girl, who’s 6, has come across as bashful over almost four years’ worth of holiday gatherings. Tonight, she wants to talk.

Specifically, she wants to talk about “iCarly,” which is on the TV right now. She has complete vocal mastery of this episode’s plot points and how they fit into the bigger story arc of the “iCarly” canon. She also knows what on the show is funny.

[Teenage boy character’s elevator dumbwaiter door thingie opens. There’s a giant mound of pillows.]
“He ordered two pillows. They sent him 200 pillows. That’s funny.”
[Teenage boy character somehow gets stuck and immersed in the pillows.]
“Look, he can’t get out. That’s funny. The door’s about to fall on his back. That’s hilarious!”
[Sure enough, the door falls on the kid’s back, and he reacts with an overdrawn comic expression of pain, as the 6 year old and laugh track issue forth a cacaphony of mirth.]

To me, “iCarly” seems like it’s written on the second grade level. This kid’s going into first grade in the fall. She knows what’s up.

Midnight

Apparently, there's a soundtrack and everything.

We’re barely across the Illinois state line, headed home. Silas is asleep, Sarah’s quietly eating a snack, and on the three-inch iPod screen, propped up against the car’s radio and cassette deck**, the 1987 Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn softball romance comedy Overboard is just getting to the fun parts. I’m ready to conclude it a peaceful ending to a peaceful day.

Then Sarah bites one of her fingers while eating. She starts crying and screaming, waking up her little brother, who starts crying and screaming, and the next hour or so is one tense ordeal. I’d describe it further, but I’ve already done an awful lot of mental work to dominate and subdue all memories of Midnight Overboard Road Trip Screamfest 2011. It sucked for everyone, let’s just say.

2 am

This is the peaceful ending I was waiting for. Everyone’s asleep but me and Silas, who is barely awake by the time I pick him up and hold him close while swaying us back and forth softly under the ceiling fan in the living room. It’s dark, save the light over the kitchen sink, and the iPod plays softly on random in the background. As I’m alone with my baby boy, having a daddy-son dance, on comes “Patience” by Guns-N-Roses. Normally, I’d skip it. Tonight, it seems so perfectly appropriate as to be completely contrived. Which somehow makes it even more appropriate. Silas falls asleep, a Bob Marley song comes on, then Daddy’s ready for bed, too.

*Yes, I’ve already mentioned in this blog that my kids have an actual Uncle Tom, and that I think that’s funny, and now I’m repeating that sentiment because I still think it’s funny. Uncle Tom. Tee hee.

**Yes, cassette deck.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sarah's Silly Spider costume, the first time around.

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Free vacuum!

March 13, 2011

Andrew Hicks

We did not end up going to the Magic House today. The drive in and the trip to the zoo wore me out more than I’d anticipated, and then I still went out for awhile last night. Just over to a really good old friend’s house. Sat outside for a little bit and talked about people I haven’t seen in months or years, then we went inside and watched the new SNL with her boyfriend. Also caught an end-of-season highlights episode of “An Idiot Abroad,” the show Ricky Gervais produces that features Karl Pilkington, who is a true reality-comedy personality. I’ll be watching more of that show soon.

On top of it, last night was the night you push your clocks ahead an hour. So it became 3 am pretty quickly, and aside from a couple wakeups from baby Silas, I stayed in bed far past the Saturday morning cartoons. Lazy stay-in-bed catchup sleep happens sometimes, and Magic Houses go unvisited. The zoo felt like plenty, though. None of this is the buildup to a joke, either. This is one of those paragraphs that looks like a nice, full-bodied chunk of writing until you get deep enough into it to realize nothing of substance is actually being said.

I spent some time today rooting through my old supply of floppy disks. I have backup disks that go fifteen years or more into the past, and nowhere along the line did I convert it to CDR or ZIP or any form of storage technology popularized in the new millennium. I have a laptop new enough that there’s no A drive, so I haven’t been able to get to that stuff. Now it’s on my in-laws’ hard drive and I’ve beamed it up and back down onto my hard drive. I’ll be combing the archives. From now until May, I may be slipping in jokes from 1997. Beware any forced reference to Chumbawamba.

This afternoon, Tiffany and I drove to a popular landmark in St. Louis — the gas station/car wash that has like 8 free vacuum stations. We’ve been there a few times and have always had to wait for a spot. Access to a free vacuum for your car is perennially in high demand. In-laws were watching the kids, so this was our most thorough visit yet. I was pulling stuff out of the trunk that I haven’t seen since George W was in office. A Six Flags Season Pass coupon book from 2007 and sheet.

Walked over to Lion’s Choice for a bathroom break during all this suction, and I spotted a seed spreader garden implement emblazoned with the brand name “Viagara.” One letter off from Viagra, and it made me wonder if anyone’s ever misspelled the name of the popular ED treatment pill and ended up ordering a garden tool by mistake. Then I Googled Viagara and got nothing but Viagra matches, so that thought was thereby scratched.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY


Magic zoo

March 12, 2011

Andrew Hicks

This morning, bright and early, with the sun shining and everybody in a great mood, Tiffany and I started talking about taking Sarah and Silas to the Magic House.

For people in their thirties who grew up in St. Louis, the Magic House is frozen in time somewhere up in their cerebral cortex. I haven’t been since junior high probably — the place is synonymous with school field trips and time-killing day camp visits. It would be weird for me to travel to the Magic House any way other than yellow school bus, with a turkey sandwich sogging itself up in the Peanuts lunchbox resting in my lap.

If you’ve never been to the Magic House, it’s basically like a Science Center in your grandma’s house, if your grandma’s house was three times its current size and had a curly slide behind Plexiglass that extended from the fourth floor down to the basement. We’d all go to grandma’s house more often if that was the case.

So at 9:30 or so, we made impulse plans to drive down to St. Louis and take the kids to the Magic House. At 12 or so, we finally left the house. Had to stop to get gas. Had to stop to get ice. Had to pull over so we could get baby supplies out of the trunk. It was 2:30 when we got into town, and we had one baby crying and one without a nap.

Time for a change of plans. Time to go to the St. Louis Zoo. See, we live in Springfield, where the zoo costs $4.50 a person and doesn’t actually have any animals. It reminds me of Noah trying to half-ass his way onto the ark. (“Well, God, I know you told me to get two of everything, but that’s a lotta work. So I got you one apiece of some animals, cool? Over here is our endangered red wolf… What’s that? Okay, you got me, it’s just a stray dog.”)

We drove around Forest Park a couple times, finally vulturing our way into a decent parking spot next to a couple dozen empty picnic benches. Ate a picnic lunch, took Sarah on a short walk, got our stroller supplies packed up, started walking toward the zoo, realized we’d forgotten something, walked back to the car, then back to the zoo.

The best thing about the St. Louis Zoo is, admission is free. It’s second nationally to San Diego’s zoo in awesome freebieness. So despite it being late afternoon with a no-nap toddler, it didn’t seem like a gamble. Say we had 15 awful minutes at the zoo. We still weren’t out any money. We could still go to the Magic House in the morning and pay to put our hands on the giant electric ball.

When you’re out with one kid, stuff takes twice as long. With two kids, you can double that figure again. Every five minutes, we were stopping to change a diaper, to put the little monkey leash thing on Sarah, to calm down Silas’s crying or to put Sarah back in the stroller. Two hours we were there, and I think we saw about as much stuff as a childless couple sees in a half-hour.

This was the second time in a row we hit the zoo at late afternoon. Half the animals were off napping or devouring caribou out of sight. Sarah enjoyed checking out the tiger and the exotic birds* and particularly the monkeys. Two of the monkeys were walking around while having sex, forming a two-backed beast with poor posture**. Also, the burrowing owl was nowhere to be seen, but that’s a no-brainer***.

Anyway, it was a very laborious form of relaxation. Our “packing up the kids and going to see some sights” routine is not as streamlined and efficient as it could be. The fact that we don’t often pack up the kids to see sights — usually, it’s just a short trip to the park or the store or a restaurant — has a little something to do with that.

*Which all had hilarious, bottle-of-wine-sounding names. Picture the middle shelves of your supermarket stocked with affordably priced White Ibis Chablis, Ruddy Duck Cabernet and Black Crowned Night Heron Merlot.

**For those of you marveling at yet another immature, needlessly included detail that has nothing to do with my family or kids, I should add that all my wife, stepson and I all giggled at the informational sign pointing out the “Somali Wild Ass” exhibit. I’ve got this whole idea now of a person of Somali descent being trapped outdoors in a zoo exhibit and doing wild-ass things. You know, binge drinking, flashing for beads, cutting tags off of mattresses. That kinda stuff.

***I stole those last five words from one of my absolute favorite SNL cold opens, in which Will Ferrell as George W. Bush explains who all is in the Axis of Evil. (“Evil Kneaval’s in the Axis of Evil, but that’s a no-brainer. But Dr. Evil, no, he makes me laugh, so he’s out.”)

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Smiley Silas

Neighborless

March 8, 2011

Andrew Hicks

On several occasions previously, I’ve mentioned my next-door neighbor, the single mom with the four kids. They came over for Sarah’s birthday, and we came over for Super Bowl, but more than that, Miranda and I have been smoke break buddies for three years. I was never much of a smoker, but when I got to drinking, I liked to have a cigarette here and there. Now I don’t drink, and I still have a cigarette here and there. But Miranda just moved away, so the smoke breaks are suddenly a lot quieter.

Miranda knew she was moving a few weeks in advance, but there were never plans for a going-away party. Rather, after her place was cleaned out and her van loaded one last time with stuff, we had one final smoke break in the driveway. I’m a sucker for occasions like this. I use them to rhapsodize and reminisce and express appreciation. In this case, it’s a double rhapsody, because I get to rhapsodize during the final smoke break, then turn around and rhapsodize again when Miranda has her housewarming party at the new place*.

Our ceremonious final smoke break was doomed from the get-go. It was after dark, her four kids were exhausted yet wound up from the big freakin’ deal that is moving out of one house and into another, and no one wanted to just get in the van and let Mommy have a few minutes of grown folks’ time. There was one kid running around the van, one kid honking the horn, one kid climbing, one kid pinching another kid, the other kid screaming about it, at least one kid in a constant state of crying, and one single mother simultaneously trying to manage it yet let it be so she could have a damn cigarette.

Me, I’ve got the failsafe of a wife and co-parent to let me off the Baby-Rearing Express for a morning or evening when I feel burnt out. I only have two kids. Miranda has four kids, and she has them all to herself. At that moment, trying to be the happy but aloof bystander-friend, I got a capsule glimpse into my neighbor’s world. There was frustration and resignation, a feeling of no escape. I know Miranda loves her kids more than anything, but watching her plead for five quick minutes of peace made me wish for a cosmic remote control that could put the offspring on pause just for the length of a cigarette.

Miranda ended up having to intervene with the kids, and that’s when her oldest daughter, who is 8, slid in and took her place.

“Do you see that?” the daughter asked me, pointing at the slow-moving lights of a twin-engine plane in the night sky above. “That’s a UFO.”

“It’s flying pretty low,” I said. “They’re usually not so obvious about showing themselves.”

“I see UFOs every night. One night I saw sixteen.” She pointed to another plane excitedly. “Look, there’s another one.”

“How about that,” I said, not condescending in the least. “They might just be traveling, you know, just taking the spaceship out for a spin after dinner like some people walk their dog.”

“The first UFO is over the high school now.”
“Maybe they need a football field to land in.”
“It’s not landing, it’s still going past the high school. Look, another UFO! Three UFOs!”

I don’t know, it was a simple little moment in the middle of all this chaos, and it made me think, It’s all worth it. When you have kids, there’s lot of stuff you give up, little and big stuff that hits on an everyday basis. But there’s this cute, living, breathing, thinking, talking extension of you that you get to build a family life around, and it’s all worth it.

Miranda drove off a few minutes later, her empty apartment darkened, and I walked back home. Saw my wife and announced, “It’s nice and quiet over here.” Not really, said my wife, and within two minutes, both of my kids were crying and needing parental attention. Full circle, as it were.

*This is why I ate it all up when Conan signed off his NBC late-night show, debuted his “Tonight Show,” signed off the “Tonight Show” and debuted his TBS show all in the span of like 18 months. That’s four different legitimate occasions to wax rhapsodic over the same dude’s body of work. I loved it.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Thanksgiving at home

November 26, 2010

Andrew Hicks

When my wife’s sister got married in April of ’08, Tiffany and I were told the wedding would start at 11 am. Neither of us was actually in the wedding, and we didn’t have babies back then. All Tiffany and I had to do was to drive the 100+ miles and, somewhere along the way, buy some kind of card or present. I think Tiffany also needed a new shirt, and I needed a belt. We left home late, did some stress-speeding down the highway, and did our best to zoom through Gordman’s or wherever.

We arrived at the wedding at like 11:35, already self-conscious before we had to change our clothes in the parking lot. A few other people were trickling into the church, none of them apparently as worried about being more than a half-hour late. We filled out the card and walked into the building sheepishly, and we soon learned the wedding was actually going to start at noon. Tiffany’s sister and parents had told us the wrong time on purpose so we’d do that last-minute Procrastination Shuffle straight into actually somehow being early. It was a shrewd little trick that, in the end, worked out in everyone’s favor. For once, Tiffany and I didn’t have to be Photoshopped into the family pictures after the fact.

This Thanksgiving reminded me a lot of the morning of Tiffany’s sister’s wedding. We weren’t up and moving in time, and we had twice as many bodies to get dressed and pack for. It was a no-win scenario that had our scheduled departure time arriving and vanishing with us still nowhere near ready to go. And we were still looking ahead at the process of wrestling everyone into the car and driving almost two hours while the rest of the family waited for us to arrive so they could finally eat. The mood in our house was one of terse, annoyed futility and led to a few rare moments of marital discord. That idealized list of things I was thankful for got shoved way onto the back burner, obscured by a raging grease fire.

Somewhere between us being half-packed and all the way pissed, Tiffany somehow earned us a reprieve. It was decided that the family dinner in the next state over would proceed without us, and we would come into town on Saturday so everyone could still see everyone. Suddenly, our holiday seemed like a holiday again. We got Sarah and Silas both down for naps, we cleaned the kitchen and started some Crock Pot barbecue, and we had some relaxing moments of togetherness with the Wii. It was uneventful and imminently memorable all at once.

So now it’s past sundown on Black Friday*, and I still have yet to take a bite of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, et al. Today, though, is shaping up to be like yesterday. I got up, made breakfast for me and Sarah, fed and held Silas, took an epic nap, took my little girl outside, cleaned up some, wrote some emails, wrote this blog and still have many good domestic hours ahead of me. In a year when I am more grateful than ever for my family and friends and have assumed the duties of being home instead of at work all the time, this housebound Thanksgiving break seems more than appropriate. And the grandparents still get their hug time and photo shoots tomorrow, and Tiffany and I will get some baby-free time to meet up with friends. Win, win, win.

Getting married and having kids has given me more to enjoy and be proud of in life, but it seems like my actual appreciation level for the large and small things has climbed over the past year. I also, as of today, have gone longer without having a drink than any time since 1997. I don’t think quitting drinking is something I could or would have done on my own. My mom would refer to it as a God thing, and I think she’s right. Even more to be thankful for.

*I was up with Silas from 3:15 to 5:30 this morning, and I managed to convince a couple of Facebook rubes** that I’d been camped out in front of Dollar Tree since 7 pm in the hopes of saving up to 27 cents per item on selected doorbusters. Then, off to Shop-N-Save to fight for one of a dozen Black Friday 30-cent loaves of wheat sandwich bread.

**I don’t think anyone bought my assertion that, every year on the day after Thanksgiving, my wife breaks out her special VHS collection of “Saved By the Bell” episodes with everyone but Mark Paul Gosselaar edited out. She refers to the entire affair as ZACH FRIDAY.

Ambien and physical therapy

September 16, 2010

One thing about having little babies bouncing about – any kind of travel activity becomes a bigger burden. Trips to see family and friends in St. Louis are a big production, and now they usually only occur on major holidays. For everything Tiffany and I pack for our kids, there’s something basic that gets underrepresented or completely forgotten.

Well, this time around, we had planned to leave Saturday and return Sunday. Thanks to the compound ankle fracture, surgery and hospitalization, we didn’t make it back to Springfield until tonight. That’s an extra three-day stay on one day’s supplies. My in-laws’ washer, dryer and dishwasher got a workout. For my part, I wore the same clothes for 95% of what was a 75%-immobile visit.* I did finally strap a black trash bag and ample masking tape around my leg cast and take a shower today. Despite awkward accessibility issues, it was the most satisfying shower of my life.

My contribution to the Getting Out Of Town effort today consisted of feeding, burping and holding Silas while sitting up in bed. Oh, and moral support. Lots of moral support. I’d like to think, in this dark hour, the quality and quantity of my moral support makes me positively undivorceable. So what if Tiffany’s doing 9/10ths of the work and making 100% of the money these next two months? I’m heaping on that moral support! With a thickness!

I’m here to say, my wife is an all-star. She has earned a great big Thank You gift. I just need to have her help me into the car, drive me to the Hallmark store or wherever, get out my walker for me, carry around whatever I decide to buy, figure out how we’re going to pay for it, help me back into the car and probably wrap the gift for me, too. I’m a horrible gift wrapper.

I stayed adequately doped up throughout my hospital stay. They’ll just keep offering drugs to you left and right, as long as you’re able to tell them your name and birth date. That knowledge is what separates the casual bedridden hospital doper from the hopeless junkie inpatient.

All I wanted to do was sleep. I attributed that to the fact that my brain and bloodstream were drowning in morphine, Vicodin, Cephalexin, Warfarin, stool softener**, Citalopram, Lisinopril and whatever crazy chemicals are in Diet Sierra Mist.

And, knowing I wasn’t moving from that Craftmatic adjustable bed for a couple days, I took whatever pharmaceutical suggestions the nurse offered. NURSE: Want some Ambien?  ME: Um, yeah. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

The Ambien decision turned to regret as my inner audio feed played back the list of announcer-read side effects from the TV commercial. Particularly the one about, “Episodes of walking, eating and driving have been reported with no recollection of the event.”

The eating and driving weren’t of much relevance, but suppose I ended up in some hyper-unconscious stupor, dreaming I was the lead in Chariots of Fire 2010, and decided to act it out in a darkened hospital room on my freshly operated-upon ankle? Tiffany instantly dismissed this as comically paranoid but asked the nurse to keep an eye on me.

The nurse popped into my doorway seconds later. “Seriously?” she asked.

I said, “What, the TV announcer’s a liar?”

“Okay, here’s what I’ll do.” The nurse pulled the chair up to my bed. I looked at her, rapt with attention. “I’ll sit right here until you fall asleep, and I’ll hold your hand the entire time.”

Sarcasm might not win the war, but it won this battle hands down. Well played, smartass overnight nurse. Turned out the Ambien put me into about three hours of restful slumber and left me wide awake at two or so in the morning. I asked for more the next night. It had a nice side effect where you have semi-vivid dreams while you’re still awake. That, to me, is better than watching TV.

The nurses and doctors all seemed astonished at how I was handling the pain. I only rated myself over a 2 out of 10 a couple times. They warned me, though – you’ve got physical therapy coming. That’s when it’ll hurt. Well, Day One of physical therapy*** consisted of me moving from the bed out to the hallway and back to the bathroom via walker.

I discovered that, sure, having a couple people supervise you while you maneuver yourself onto the toilet to pee sitting down is a minor convenience. But being able to pee into a plastic jug directly from your bed? That’s a freaking godsend. I plan to pee into the plastic jug indefinitely. At least until the cast comes off, if not until the day I die.

Day Two of physical therapy involved teaching me to climb a few very short stairs that were nothing like the stairs I will encounter in day to day activity. I did great on those low-impact mock stairs. In real life, I was doing this ridiculous upward butt-scoot move that resembled really, really bad rap girl audition dancing.

Now we’re home, and the real fun is set to begin. These meds are still making me sleep too much, and my recovery efforts are making me feel I have way too little to contribute. But this ordeal has reinforced my belief that family is my greatest asset in life, that the grace of God is real, and that I couldn’t make it a day without my sometimes bizarre and childish sense of humor.

* = The bloody sock that was at Ground Zero of the ankle break did not make the trip back. I’m sure the Smithsonian of the future will be downright devastated I didn’t save that historical gem.

** = I still haven’t pooped. Glad you asked?

*** = Simple irony: My physical therapist needed a speech therapist.