Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 2: Ohio, PA, New York.

Day 2 - Wake up, swim, continental breakfast, load up the car (how in the hell do we have so much stuff?!) back on the road.  Ki is wondering why we aren't in "Mont" yet...

Pit stop - kettel corn makes everything better...

Another stop in Erie, PA - first at a playground...

And then a quick photo op on Lake Erie (where I again park illegally)

This day was pretty typical of all of our days - lots of laughing, silly songs, and fun; and also lots of whining, stupid fights, and a bit of yelling.  Ah well, all goes with the territory of little ones...  FINALLY - we make it to Syracuse, NY to our next stop.  We have a fantastic room - and it even overlooks the indoor pool!!

More swimming (and I even get to quickly enjoy the hot tub while I made the kids sit on the edge as they begged to come in - "sorry babes! sign says 17 and over..."!).  Then another hotel picnic, this time finishing up our hummus and pitas, and having some much needed veggies.

Then I decide we need some more fresh air, so we take off to find Onondaga Lake.  Thank you to my iPhone and google maps, we some how stumble upon the gorgeous lake, and the best playground EVER. At Liverpool, NY...

We spent an hour or so playing here before heading back to the hotel.

Went back to the hotel and enjoyed one of my favorite movies from my youth "8 Seconds" (which got me made fun of on facebook by my boyfriend and a college friend. boys just don't understand the attraction of "Dylan" riding horses...).

The boys and I cuddled on the comfy, king-sized bed - and we went to bed happy - me asleep between their warm, wiggly bodies.  Day 2 = success.

Day 1: Illinois to Indiana to Ohio!

I woke up early - too excited to sleep and lots to do.  But with no dogs or kids at home, all got done quickly - and somehow, I got the boys picked up and ready to go before our expected range (I had set our eta between 8:15-9am - traveling with little kids, flexibility is key!). 

We were all stoked to go to "Mont!" (as Ki calls it)

We started the drive to Indiana, but because we got started early, we hit Chicago rush hour traffic.  Fun.  So, there we are, sitting on the Express lanes, bumper to bumper traffic going about 5 miles an hour, when Ki says the words every mama on a road trip dreads, especially when stuck in traffic with no exit in sight...  "MAMA - I HAVE TO GO POTTY. REALLY BAD!"

Let me tell you, 25 mintues can seem like a lifetime when you have a 4 year old crying that he's about to pee his pants and you can't find your way to a bathroom.  If you have never driven on the Express lanes through Chicago during rush hour traffic, it may be hard to understand, but there are no easy ways off and it is SLOW going.  But finally - an EXIT! Hoorah, we are saved!  Oh, but wait....  we're in the middle of Chicago... The land of no street parking, too many cars, traffic moving at a snail's pace, and no easy gas stations...

But Ki is desperate.  And I am desperate to avoid a pee-soaked car seat less than an hour into the trip. So, I do what any mom would do - I park illegally in front of a diner, throw the hazard lights on, grab both boys as fast as I can (which, because of car seat straps, really isn't all that fast...), and run as fast as I can into the diner (which, again, carrying two boys on either hip isn't all that fast...).  I just pray that the odds are in my favor that whatever cop comes to ticket us has kids and can relate to the desperate potty pleas of a preschooler.  The waitress at the diner must have been a mom, because as soon as we burst threw the door, I barely had to mouth the word "bathroom", before she pointed to the end of the hall and gave me a smile.

5 minutes later, we're back on the road - dry pants, no tickets.  I feel like friggin' supermom.

We make it to our first stop - an adorable children's museum in NW Indiana called Bellaboo's, to have a playdate with an old college friend, Erika, and her 3 adorable kids.  The kids had a great time running and climbing around like monkeys - and we even met another Breckin (a first for us!)! Breckin's favorite was the ball pit, and Ki liked climbing up their huge play structure, with the airplane on top.

Back in the car for a road lunch of our pre-made sandwiches.  I can tell the kids are getting tired, and I am counting on naps to get a lot of undistracted driving done, so we make a pit stop for potty breaks and gas. But apparently Indiana rest stops are a lot more exciting to the kid set than to me, because we get back in the car and the kids are wide awake and wound up!  I spend the next 3ish hours, driving through my home state, continually handing back snacks and toys to keep the boys at least somewhat entertained.  Its getting close to dinner - and still they are both wide awake!  A few more stops, and then into Ohio.  Breckin finally conks out about 30 mins before our hotel...

Just in time for Ki to say... "MAMA - I have to go potty!" Hell no, am I waking Breckin up - so I just pull over at an "emergency stopping" place on the interstate, and have him pee beside the car.  Its nice having boys...

Finally, we make it to our first stop - Red Roof Inn in Elyria, OH.  There we meet 3 Australian guys on a road trip from the east coast to Chicago.  I jokingly say that we are also on a road trip, but ours is probably much different than theirs.  They laugh and say "not really..."

If you have kids, than you understand that the first thing you "must" apparently do the second you stop at a hotel (no matter if you've been up since 5 am and have driven 7 hours) is GO TO THE POOL!  The boys were so excited, and who was I to say no.  How cute are they?!!

The splashed, played, swam, and jumped - until it was time for dinner.  A pizza picnic on the hotel floor.

Then we just cuddled and watched "Marley and Me" (though stopped before "the sad part").  The boys fell asleep, and I lay there, exhausted, but sublimely happy at how wonderful our first day was....

Preparing for the trip!

Oddly enough seeing how "big" this trip was, it was one of the easiest to prepare for.  Mainly because I had been collecting ideas and thinking about it for so long, but also because the boys were with their dad the two nights prior to the trip, giving me tons of undistracted time to pack and get ready.  How much easier it is to get ready for a trip with kids when you don't have your kids under foot!!!

It's about 17 hours of driving to Vermont - we plan to do it in 2 1/2 days.  I plan to drive no more than 6-7 hrs in a day, and split that up into 1-3 hr increments, with kid-friendly stops along the day.  I really want to avoid fast food, so I'm packing pre-made sandwiches (PBJ, turkey, and pita/hummus), pre-sorted and washed fruit and veggies (blueberries, strawberries, snap peas, carrots, etc), and pre-poured sippy cups (watered down OJ, AJ, and for a special treat - chocolate milk!).  I want us to be able to do most of our eating in the car so that stops can just be focused on fun (the kids don't always eat well at restaurants if they are too excited).

So, the Jeep is packed full:

In the far back:
- our wagon (this may get left if I run out of room - its close...),
- some toys/activities/food I'm saving for Vermont,
- suitcase with our clothes for Vermont (and my yoga bag/mat)
- the box of "supplies" (plastic bags, disposable plates and utensils, wipes, diapers, etc.)
- the big cooler (with ice, frozen water, coke, kid drinks, mama drinks, yogurt, etc.).
- the bag of swim stuff (swimsuits, towels, lifejackets, etc.) for easy grabbing when we get to the hotels

The kids are in the middle row, with a container of small toys in between them(cars, Toy Story figures, little animals, books, etc.). They also each have a toy "laptop" computer and magna-doodle on the floor (where I can easily reach to give to them). There is also a small fabric box from the dollar store containing the movies we are bringing (15 I think?! Cars, Incredibles, Toy Story, Barney, Elmo, Dora, Diego, Blue's Clues, etc.)

In the front seat area:
- a soft back cooler filled with: bottles of frozen water (to keep everything else cool w/o having to use ice - this cooler leaks); coke; various sippy cups for the kids filled with OJ, AJ, and chocolate milk; cheese; tupperwares filled with strawberries, blueberries, and grapes; carrots and snap peas; and pre-made/pre-cut sandwiches for easy eating on the road (PBJ, Turkey, Hummus and Pitas).
- a huge bag of food: pre-sorted and bagged kid snacks (goldfish, booty, animal crackers, Annie's bunnies, Annie's fruit snacks, trix cereal, granola, raisins, etc); granola bars; cheez-it crackers; pretzel rods; bagels; m&m's; etc.
- a HUGE back of random toys and activities: dry erase boards, magnet books, magnets, coloring books, crayons, stickers, random toys, pipe cleaners, alum. foil, etc.
- a small suitcase with enough clothes/diapers/etc for our 2 nights of driving out there (so we don't have to cart everything into each new hotel on the way out there).

So - the plan is to pick the boys up in the morning, drive to Indiana to play at a children's museum with an old friend, and then drive to our first stop in Ohio!  I'm so so excited!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wanderlust or Bust - living a life from the heart, outtakes and all...

A 2,000 mile road trip from Illinois to Vermont.  With 2 active little boys (aged 4 and 2!).  And 1 mama.  To go to a 4 day yoga festival?  Sure, why not?! Its WANDERLUST, people!!

I can't quite explain why my heart got settled on going to Wanderlust.  I've been practicing yoga for, oh, about a minute and admit to total beginner status.  I've never taken a vacation alone with my children since becoming a single mom last year.  I recognize that 16 hours with a toddler and a preschooler stuck in a car, in carseats, can be hell (for the kids, too...).  But despite all of the logical reasons this trip seems crazy, my heart is set and this trip feels very, very right.  And over the last two years, I've learned to listen more to my heart than my worries and fears.  When I do, goodness and joy always follow.

I first heard of Wanderlust about 4 months ago, when I was searching for a summer music festival to go to (I've been to Bonnaroo five times).  My significant other, a total yogi, suggested Wanderlust.  I jokingly responded "too much yoga, not enough music."  Fast forward a few months.  I started doing yoga again and fell in love!  I still hadn't found a summer music festival that spoke to me.  Wanderlust was again suggested, so I finally really looked into it.  And was immediately blown away.  The gorgeous mountains of Vermont, somewhere I've always wanted to visit.  Deepak Chopra speaking.  Seane Corn, John Friend, Brian Kest? Hey, even I've heard of them!!  Kid-friendly activities.  Nature, yoga, music - what could be more perfect?  My heart was hooked.

And then of course, the doubts crept in.  As a single parent already overly concerned about finances, how would we afford this?  Could I really take the boys and still manage to have a great vacation with them, but also enjoy Wanderlust for myself?  Was this a good idea?  There were moments that I thought about scraping the whole idea as crazy - but my heart persisted.  Even amidst the challenges, something still felt very "right" about this choice.

Our first strike of luck came at my off chance entering the Wanderlust or Bust contest - and thus winning the sage pass.  What an amazing blessing!  And then the rest of the details started working themselves out - my significant other would be joining us for a few days with his kids, so we could share in the help of playing with kids while the other could go to classes.  Then my mother decided to fly up for the last half to help watch the kids, and assist with the road trip back home.  My village (some who were even strangers) was helping to make my dream a reality.

So now here we are - a day out from leaving.  My car resembles a cross between a Toys R'Us and a Vending machine - with what I hope will be more than enough toys, books, crayons, magna-doodles, movies, stickers, goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and chocolate milk to keep two little boys content for at least much of our drive.  I am looking forward to having lots of time with my sons (I always loved the family road trips of my youth) - and plan to enjoy the journey, our stops and detours along the way, rather than just the destination.   I can't wait to share in the wonder as we see the gorgeous Vermont mountains.  I am excited to introduce my sons to such a warm, loving community of interesting, soulful people - many of whom have already introduced themselves to me via Facebook and who I look forward to meeting in person.  I want to dance with my boys to the wonderful music of Andrew Bird, Michael Franti, and Krisha Das (and new artists I look forward to being introduced to).  I want to cuddle with my boys at night under the Vermont sky.  I am thrilled at the opportunity to be taught and inspired by such amazing leaders and visionaries. 

Tomorrow we leave for "Mont", as my 4 year old calls it.  And I am bursting with excitement and joy.  Safe travels to my fellow wanerlusters - see you on the mountain!


And, just to make you laugh, a few of our outtakes from the "photo shoot":

The first attempt:

Umm...  Right idea, but I kinda was hoping to show your faces...

 And then Breckin got angry and threw his sign to the ground in protest.  Trying to make the best of the situation, I decided to just lean the sign against him.  That pissed him off...  Trying to take pictures of a kid mid-meltdown isn't solving anything, so we take a break....

Happy kids, post break - but Breckin is now slap happy and would prefer to dance around then hold his sign up.

And then, Breckin just decides to run away...  Cute, but not quite what I was going for...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No, my hands aren't full. But I AM joyful...

The title of my blog probably needs a little explanation - as its grammatically awkward, and probably a little odd - but it meant something to me, so I went with it...

Being a single mom to two young boys (and two dogs), for some reason automatically means that I get a lot of comments from passers by.  The most common: "oh! looks like you've got your hands full!"

This comment always irks me.  It always feels somehow like an implication that because I am 1 woman, outnumbered by both boy people and dogs, that somehow I need help, or am falling short.  That I'm for some reason unable to do it on my own.  BS, I tell ya.

Yes, I am outnumbered.  And yes, there are definitely moments I'm overwhelmed by the amount on my plate.  My house is usually a mess.  I have yet to get the boys to preschool without forgetting at least one thing they were supposed to bring (but give me a break - the list of what I need to bring everyday is at 27 items! More on this to come!).  I am responsible for 2 kids preschool, medical, and activity schedules. I have two jobs.  So, yes, I guess you could say my hands are full....  but it doesn't feel like that.

My life doesn't feel like a constant overwhelming mess of wishing I had more help, or an extra set of hands.  I don't feel like my hands are full! My heart is, though. I feel like my life is just bursting with the seems with joy and happiness.  I would love nothing more than to some day welcome another child into our family (although, I'd like that to come after adding a second set of adult hands to the mix, but still...). 

When I get the dreaded "looks like you have your hands full" comment, I smile politely, of course, but I also try to say something to the effect of "not really, we're doing pretty well, actually."  Because its true.  Sure, I may literally have my hands full with a kid on either hip.  But usually, that's when we're dancing and being silly.  When my heart is full.  When we are joyful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The cast of characters...

Me: Shannon, 32, divorced, mama, happy.  I love all things outdoors, although I'm also allergic to most things outdoors (especially stinging insects - hence the epi-pen that must always be in my possession).  I like to hike, camp, and just be hanging out in nature, even if its just in my backyard.  I love animals, especially dogs and horses.  I have 2 dogs, but sold my horse last Oct (one of the saddest casualties of the divorce - more on that later).  I love playing - which is definitely an added bonus of having little kids - you can romp around a playground, or dance around like an idiot and no one things oddly of you; or at least, not as much...  I love to read and write (I was an English major in college, mainly because my ego needed the boost of getting easy A's after nearly flunking out of the PT program).  I like doing crafty things, like scrapbooking.  I'm getting into yoga, and I love learning about and practicing mindfulness, meditation, and buddhist/zen theory.  I am inspired and enlightened by Eve Ensler, Brene Brown, and Pema Chodron.  I am sensitive, introspective, loving, and tender-hearted. 

Ki: short for Killian.  Recently turned 4. Ki is one of those intense, perceptive, sensitive, shy, emotional kinds of kids.  Um, yea.  He takes after his mama...  He is sweet, affectionate, and the light of my life!!

Breckin: Just turned 2.  A total ham, a total flirt.  The kid already knows how to work his beautiful blue eyes and his perfect dimple.  Women fawn over the kid - and he knows how cute and hilarious he is! Full of spunk, always with a glimer of mischief in his eyes, and advanced verbal skills for his age, this kid keeps me laughing!!  He enters life at a full gallop, head first - literally evident by the perpetual forehead bruise he had for about 6 months.

The beginning...

I'll be honest, I've never really understood the purpose of blogs.... Always felt kinda odd to me.  But somehow, here I am.  I guess like everyone else, just wanting to have a place to write and chronicle my family's adventures!

My family is my two amazing, adorable sons - Ki (4) and Breckin (2).  And me.  And our two dogs, Layla (the Ausie Shepherd mix) and Mango (a poodle/bichon mix).  And some random fish.  I officially became a "single mom" in Dec '10, when the state "approved" the dissolution of my college sweetheart and I's 5 year marriage.  The reality is that, in many ways, I've been doing the single mom thing for a lot longer than Dec.  And in some ways, the transition has been easier than I thought it would be.  But clearly, no one ever gets married and brings children into the world hoping it would end this way...  But when it does, you just have to dust yourself off, get back on your feet, and find the joy that's all around you...  I'm digging the Conan O'Brien quote from his Dartmouth commencement address: "There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.... "but with disappointment comes clarity, conviction and true originality."  True enough, Conan...