You know how I asked a few weeks ago if it was crazy to consider driving halfway across the country with three kids under five?
Yes. Yes it is.
We just got back from Wisconsin the other day and are just beat. We broke up the trip in more days than usual. The way there was one day to Sandusky, one day from there to Chicago, and one day from Chicago to Wausau -- between four and six hours drive time each day. The way back we did faster (skipped visiting John's grandma) and did Wausau to near Toledo and then from Toledo to home, seven to eight hours a day. Of course each trip involved lots of time at grody rest stops. Also there was a little detour in Gary, Indiana, looking for a place to use the bathroom. It was one of the more depressing places I've ever been, and also somewhat short of bathrooms.
Keeping the kids happy in the back was exhausting. We had a whole bag of tricks, which they went through much faster than expected. Food, books, markers (which they used to decorate themselves and the interior of the car), stuffed animals, cars, audio books. Marko was good except for when he was picking on Michael for entertainment. Michael was not very good; he whined a lot and sometimes made loud noises when the baby was sleeping. And Miriam gave a good deal of trouble. We put her in the way back so I could sit by her, but really, if she wasn't sleeping, she was mostly crying. She did sleep a lot, luckily, but when she didn't she just sucked my finger for awhile and then got bored and cried. We could stop and take her out for awhile, but as soon as she was buckled back in it was straight back to crying. I guess Marko was an extra special baby -- we used to do twelve hours of driving a day and he pretty much only cried if he was hungry.
Along with all this was having to sleep in a hotel -- five in one room, with the boys not able to sleep with each other because they kicked each other. We made one very smart choice, to bring the old Moses basket from when Marko was a newborn. It made a nice portable bed for Miriam, who is still just barely small enough to fit. She slept about as well on the road as at home, without taking any notice of the variety of places we stayed because her bed was always the same. But Michael ... well, he's been a horrid sleeper from day one and this trip just accentuated that. And gave him the opportunity to wake up the whole family at 4:30 in the morning. Thank goodness for 24-hour cartoon channels.
But aside from the misery of getting there, it was a good trip. I like my in-laws, and they LOVE the kids. One aunt per kid means everyone's happy and I'm free! Well, okay, Michael wasn't so agreeable to this. Last trip he slept on Auntie Brigid the whole time, but this time he was suspicious of everyone and wanted only me. It's weird because I don't remember him being shy when we visited my family last year -- but then, two and a half seems to be the shyest age. When I traveled with Marko at two and a half, he seemed to think my family was a tribe of ax murderers. Whereas this time, Marko was the one most obsessed with being with everyone. And when we went home, he cried and cried and said he didn't ever want to be home ever again, he wanted to live with Grandma.
Miriam, though, was the World's Friendliest Baby and was all smiles, all the time, allowing herself to be handed around freely. She is like a human antidepressant. You just can't be sad around this kid. And her only fault -- not going down for naps -- isn't really a fault when people are clamoring for a chance to hold her sleepy self.
John taught some of his siblings to play Dungeons and Dragons, which was fun. (This is one of those "unexpected things" people are surprised to find out about me, that I love this game -- well, why wouldn't I? Elves and dragons and such, of COURSE I like it!) His brother came from out of town for a couple of the days, and I got to meet my new sister-in-law. Didn't get much of a read on her in so short a time, except that apparently she's a goddess in the kitchen -- those brownie balls dipped in white chocolate were THE BEST. As in, I ate about a million of them and made myself sick.
We're all feeling a bit of guilt for living where we do. We don't want to live in Wisconsin, we like Virginia, but we do like being with our families. And it's been coming clear to me in a lot of ways lately that community requires sacrifice. Maybe the main reason community is so fragmented these days is because no one wants to sacrifice. We all want what we want, to live where we choose, and most of all not to have to adapt to people who aren't perfectly sympatico. Do we imagine that people in past generations who lived with their ageing parents actually got along all the time? Probably not, but the benefits outweighed the disadvantages. They knew they couldn't have the joys of a close family without putting up with some sacrifice.
Nothing to be done about it right now, not with John finally having a good job and of course in town council, and anyway I am still very set on the idea of putting down roots where we are. But it does make us wonder, both of us. Most of all, listening to Marko sob and sob the night we got home. I pointed out he could call Grandma, but he doesn't think that's the same, and I don't blame him.
It was a bit of a struggle for my sensitive brain. That is, there was a lot of chaos and noise and adjustment, and I felt very overstimulated the first few days especially. I wish there were something I could do about this. I don't like sleeping in strange places, I don't like people talking over each other, and I don't like my clothes not smelling like my clothes. (Am I the only one addicted to a single brand of laundry soap? No?) The first day was the worst. I felt kind of like an idiot, arriving there almost incapable of speech. After three days of travel, I was so tired and discombobulated I couldn't form sentences. "Are you hungry?" "Um. Am I. Maybe . . . sandwich? Don't, um, know. Tea. Please tea thank you."
After tea and snacks I was able to remember my kids' names again, what a relief.
The other tough point was Christmas itself, when the noise of present unwrapping and kids running around got to be too much and I snuck upstairs for a nap. And actually took one! *angels sing* Yeah, every single kid was happy with somebody else. That never happens at home.
I wish I could tell you my secret tips for surviving travel as a highly sensitive person, but sadly my only secrets are to make travel as unstressful and low-key as possible (which, when you have kids, is not very) and, when that fails, try to make your inevitable meltdown of the harmless variety. My main tactic is to put John in charge of everything, because I can't think or communicate well when I'm very stressed, while he is GREAT at decisionmaking under pressure. (He is terrible at empathy under pressure, which is why he's driving and I'm in the backseat comforting weepy kiddos.) And, of course, when the traveling is done, I've learned to rest up as thoroughly as possible so I'm not carrying general crabbiness through the whole visit.
Marko's favorite part of the trip was when he was exploring Grandma's model village and found the miniature TARDIS. My in-laws are the ones I picked up Whovianism from, so everyone was pretty thrilled at Marko zooming the TARDIS around. He basically held onto that thing for about three days without playing with anything else. Grandma even let us take it home.
Michael's favorite thing was the puppies. The dog had had puppies about a week before, so they were all cute and snuggly and had their eyes and ears still shut. Michael had to be closely supervised with them, but he did fine. Sometimes as well one of his aunties (generally Mary) managed to lure him into playing instead of giving her the constant side-eye.
Miriam loved getting held nonstop. Anytime someone caught her eye, she giggled at them. That's a quick way to become everyone's favorite person.
My favorite part was probably the Doctor Who marathon we did after the kids were in bed. They had bought all of season eight on Amazon, Christmas special included, and we managed to jam it all in. So now I am Officially Caught Up. Not super keen on the Twelfth Doctor still. He's not bad, just ... well, one gets attached to previous incarnations. Also, one never buttons a shirt all the way to the top unless one has a tie. Bugs me.
Right after Christmas we all started getting sick, one after another. We dropped like flies. There was a sore throat and a fever and quite a lot of snot -- each of us getting our own version of it. John and I each spent about half a day in bed (hooray for enough help that each of us could AFFORD to!). Marko spent about two and a half days feverish, sitting on the couch watching movies. (He got a good dose of some of the best kids' movies out there, so at least he won't grow up uncultured like me.) Michael was a whiny, clingy crab for days and days. And Miriam was horribly snotty, ran a fever for a day, and wasn't better when we had to drive home .... which was awful for everyone in the car.
On the one hand, I'm very sorry to the family that we had to waste half of our precious time with them on being sick. But on the other, I am so glad that I didn't have to deal with all that alone. Normally a sick baby consumes everything, but this time she just slept on various relatives while I dealt with Mr. Must-Be-On-Mama-At-All-Times, aka Michael. The nights were still bad, though. Michael was up pretty much all night for several nights, meaning John was too.
Grandma got better fast, luckily, and I take all the credit because I made her soup. Sure, she was also taking Airborne and naps, but I think it was the soup. Here is my recipe:
1 qt chicken stock, the real kind not cubes
1 chopped onion
vegetables, as available (this time, carrots, celery, parsnip, green beans, and corn)
lots of garlic -- ideally several fresh cloves, or the jarred or dry equivalent
about a tablespoon of ginger
salt and pepper to taste
Then if you like you do an egg drop: two eggs, two Tbs of lemon juice, beaten together. Mix in some hot broth to warm up the egg, and then slowly pour the whole mess into the pot, stirring so you don't just get a poached egg. If you don't like eggs in your soup (though it's barely noticeable) just do the lemon juice.
Well, that's how it went. Do I feel like ever doing this again? No. Am I almost certainly going to do it again? Yep. We love our family, even when it's one of the labors of Hercules to get us out there and back.
Maybe we should start saving money for plane tickets, though. 'Cause this. was. rough.