Father Of The Blog

A Journey Through Fatherhood and Parenting

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Road Trip

Is it a bad omen that National Lampoon’s Vacation aired the night before our family road trip? Clark Griswold I am not and Wally World was not our destination but we did travel across the country to visit Kim’s family in Texas and we did have several mishaps of the mechanical, physical and emotional varieties which I will get too.

Elizabeth Rose in MemphisThe first point of interest on our trip was Memphis Tennessee. We stayed two nights at the Comfort Inn Downtown. A decent hotel for the AAA discounted rate. The only complaint was that the elevator doors closed faster than a spring loaded mousetrap. To avoid injury Olivia and Hailey would swiftly enter the elevator before the doors fully opened without regard for people exiting. One decent amenity is a roof top pool which we cooled off in immediately following our arrival.

Hailey at fountains in MemphisMemphis offered loads to do with the kiddos. Beginning our day with a complimentary intercontinental breakfast we were up early ready to explore an unfamiliar city. A block away from our hotel, surrounded by Memphis’s tallest buildings in the business district is a water feature with dozens of dancing fountains. Olivia and Hailey decided to run the gantlet of water geysers and Kim and I were in no hurry, we had an hour to waste before heading over to the Peabody so we let them run wild. Kim walked back to the hotel to get towels and dry clothes. I supervised the unplanned splash off while moving Elizabeth Rose’s stroller back and forth her eyes and attention focused on big sisters getting crazy soaked. My thoughts were on the desolateness of an apparently empty city. Where are all the people in this town at nine in the morning? Sleeping off a Beale street hangover? For fifteen or twenty minutes we were the only people around. Empty electric trolley cars of every color timely whizzed by on the ninety second mark. Thousands of dark reflective windows with no hint of life behind. No cars on the street. Caution tape and orange highway cones blocking traffic near the trolley depot. No sound of birds. The Rapture? That’s what I thought, until a trickle of life sleepily found its way back into the streets. By tenish, dressy business people were walking about, the street vendors appeared and store front owners opened up shop. Olivia, Hailey and I popped into a market for a snack. We got grapes and drinks for our ride over to the Peabody.

Peabody Ducks in MemphisThe Peabody Ducks. What a production. Every day at eleven o’clock lead by a duck trainer/entertainer a flock of ducks that live in a penthouse suite ride a reserved elevator to the first floor and march down a child lined red carpet to a lavish fountain in the middle of a packed to capacity lobby in the famous Peabody hotel where they swim all day. The kiddos loved it. We hung out for a while, watching the ducks, discussing the book “John Philip Duck” by Patricia Polacco that chronicles the history of the Peabody ducks and then it was off to see the panda bears.

Memphis Zoo was doable for an afternoon activity. The panda’s were great to see, a bit smaller than I expected. When you think panda you just assume giant, right? The Zoo map was legible enough for both Hailey and Olivia to understand and they decided which animals were top priorities. We saw the hippos, the apes and the monkeys, the cats, the big stuff, we had lunch, we rode the carrousel, the kiddos acted like apes on the playground, all within a few hours and it was hot that day too. We had Elizabeth Rose stripped down to a dipper, a liquid shirt of sunscreen and a wide brim sun hat. By three o’clock the kids needed a break. Kim needed a break. I need a bed. We headed back to the Comfort Inn for a rest but the view of Mud Island from the window of our fourteenth floor room beckoned us to keep exploring.

Mud Island in MemphisThe breeze and the view from the one third mile bridge over to Mud Island was spectacular. We opted out on the monorail and walked it. One awesome feature is a scale model of the Mississippi River, that winds a half mile or so down an educational walkway to a mini lake Pontchartrain and eventually to the mini gulf of Mexico where Kim and I had a disagreement and misunderstanding about whether it was safe or wise to take Elizabeth out on a paddle boat. I was the apprehensive one and Elizabeth and Kim ended up shorelined on their birthday’s Elizabeth Rose five months and Kim thirty five. Of course I was right because these paddle boats were horrible. In fact they should have been called paddle rafts, flat, no seats, the rudder to the rear and tiny pedals. Olivia and Hailey took turns steering and pedaling, we spun around the mini gulf and we struggled to get back to the dock. I was vindicated, Kim didn’t talk to me the two mile walk back to the hotel parking garage where we slumped into the van and hit Beale Street to have dinner and beverages.

Beale Street, a surging current of booze carried in big plastic cups by double fisting party goers was not the best atmosphere for the kiddos so we kept it simple, had dinner and got out of there well before the hard core partying began. Although after that day, doing all of Memphis (minus the Elvis scene) in a single day, a few more frosties were tempting.

We left Memphis the next morning, our destination, Texarkana for a one night stay and in reference to the opening paragraph, the first mechanical malfunction occurred here as we were preparing the van for departure. The little thirteen inch TV/ VCR that we brought along for the girls to watch movies on during the drive would not power on. We made do by occupying ourselves on the drive though Arkansas playing road trip games, I Spy, Animal Guessing Game, a couple of made up on the spot games, we sang songs, listened to the kids CDs, snacked, pointed out interesting scenery like the cityscape of Little Rock and napped. Elizabeth Rose played with dangly toys attached to her safety seat, talked to the family, listened to music and napped.

Hampton Inn Texarkana was a good place to stay before forging on to Galveston which was the longest most grueling day of driving the entire trip. State Highway 59 had many little towns that while nice to see doubled our drive time with all the stops and slowdowns. Another problem on 59 was the lack of rest stops, three hundred miles and only one rest stop with facilities. We ended up stopping for breaks at gas stations which is fine but no place to let the kiddos run and I solved the lack of entertainment problem by playing DVDs from my laptop which eased the little ladies discomfort from being confined in the van for almost eight hours.

Our stay in Galveston was shortened by a mix of incidents between our whole family and Aunt Linda which I will get too. It was six in the evening when we got to Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee’s house near west bay. Their place is nice, right on a channel with big deck and boat launch.  Friday night we toured the house, got settled in, setup the pack and play, I discovered that the canvas rooftop cargo carrier that I borrowed from my mom had shredded from the inside out, Kim made dinner, cleaned up, Olivia and Hailey scrubbed clean in a jacuzzi tub and we made ourselves comfortable.

Olivia, Hailey and Uncle Earl Lee on boatSaturday Uncle Earl Lee treated us to a boat ride and allowed Olivia and Hailey to take the wheel for a bit. It was both girls first experience on a boat, they were interested in all the water fowl and fish and buoys and markers and traps, they soaked it in. After a morning behind the house on the little dock by the water and a couple hours on the boat we rested up then I took Olivia and Hailey to the community pool. It was crowded with rowdies of all ages and Hailey inadvertently blew the roof off little cabana where the lifeguards slack with her genuine diving board performance. The girls like to jump off diving boards but I have to be relatively close and in the water to assist them if necessary. Hailey usually jumps off the board first and is always hesitant, “Count to three daddy!” I count to three. “No! Four! Count to four!” if the board is a spring board then this line continues to seven or eight. But in this instance it was not a spring board and Hailey inched toward the edge on four, when suddenly, every single pool attendee, little kids, big kids, women, teenagers, men, grandmas, the life guards, all joined together chanting “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Hailey momentarily admired the attention with a big smile then jumped in and surfaced to an eruption of applause.

Kayaking in West BaySunday, Father’s Day, Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee hosted a party for the family. Cousin Sheri and Michael, Cousin Morgan, Cousin Mikey, Great Uncle Robby and Aunt Lori. When everyone arrived Olivia and Hailey were running around showing off getting a smidge riled up. Aunt Linda told them to calm down and they blew her off. Aunt Linda remarked about the uncontrolled children and I discreetly said something to both Olivia and Hailey in private as not to embarrass them in front of the family. They eventually calmed down and followed Mikey around for a while. He tossed a baiter net into the channel and caught a few dozen little bait fish, the girls were delighted, they scooped ‘em up from the deck and put the little fish in a bucket of water. With the live lures Mikey caught a couple catfish in the channel. Then Uncle Earl Lee and Mikey launched the Kayak and Mikey gave Olivia and Hailey rides. I could not resist the kayak, I tried it and remaining afloat was easy so after acclimating myself in the boat I gave Olivia and Hailey each a turn riding with me.  That is what I will remember from this year’s Fathers Day, taking them out on the Kayak. That was a gift worth the nine hundred mile drive and worth all the trouble to come.

Something was stewing inside Aunt Linda. Being ignored by rambunctious preschoolers, combine that with Texas heat, the wine, the party commotion and house guests that come in and rearranged everything, by four o’clock Aunt Linda stumbled, knocking into the patio door and needed help to her room so she could lie down. This happened during the kayak rides. Later in the evening about six o’clock after all the guests had left, except for cousin Morgan who was planning to spend a couple days with us, Aunt Linda came out of her room in a bad mood. Uncle Earl Lee was in the guest bed room that Olivia and Hailey were staying in dolling out tickles and I think the noise may have roused Aunt Linda. She then made comments about how horribly behaved our children are and insulted Kim’s mothering abilities. Kim didn’t like it and got in Aunt Linda’s face defending herself and the children. Morgan sobbed, reliving some horrible memory and prayed for Aunt Linda to stop. Uncle Earl Lee escorted Aunt Linda out on the patio and verbally let her have it.

Cousin Morgan called her mom Sheri who told her to pack-up all our shit and get out now. I found later in the trip that Cousin Sheri is right 99.9% of the time. We should have taken the advice, instead we decided to forgo the hour and a half drive and stay the rest of the night then head to Sheri and Michael’s house the following day. That was a mistake. Because round two was a couple hours later when Aunt Linda who had already apologized and retired for the night woke back up. I was on the couch in the living room reading a book. Kim was in spare bedroom with Olivia reading Junie B. Jones. Hailey, Elizabeth, Uncle Earl Lee and Morgan were out on the deck saying good night. Aunt Linda informs me she is going to fix up the couch for Morgan to sleep on. I let her know that Morgan decided to sleep in the spare room with Olivia and Hailey, something that was discussed hours ago.  She started screaming about not knowing what’s going on in her own home and stormed off looking for Kim. A carpet of F bombs and other words not intended for children boomed from the spare room and I had to go intervene. Now Aunt Linda insinuating that Kim and the rest of us are being disrespectful ungrateful house guest unknowing that Kim and Morgan cleaned the kitchen from the party even scrubbed the floors. I told Aunt Linda to stop with Kim and asked her as politely as possible what she wanted us to do. She didn’t have an answer and responded with incoherent accusations of ungratefulness. My efforts distracted her long enough for Kim to round up Morgan, the kiddos, the baby and start packing for our immediate departure. But Aunt Linda wasn’t through, her and Kim squared off again by the back patio door. I wasn’t sure who I was going to have to hold back. Verbal jabs tree sawing back and forth, instead of a tree standing between them stood Hailey with a grin on her face enjoying the confrontation. Morgan pleaded with her Nana to stop, effectually dousing the fire. It was nine thirty and by nine forty five we had the van and Morgan’s truck packed and ready to go.

The kiddos were confused. Where are we going? What happened? Why was Mommy crying? Why is mommy driving with Cousin Morgan? Why did Aunt Linda yell at Mommy? I was waiting to hear; what’s #$%$ mean? Olivia kept repeating, “I didn’t even get to finish my Junie B. book.” It took me a minute to realize that is when Aunt Linda started picking on Kim. I told Olivia not to worry and that none of what happened was her fault. She seemed relieved and immediately asked why Aunt Linda yelled at mommy. Well Sweetie. I paused, I wanted to be honest. And then Hailey summed it up perfectly, “She was being mean spirited!”

We arrived at Sheri and Michael’s house around eleven thirty feeling like evacuated refugees’ but Sheri and Michael were inviting and made us feel welcome. Olivia and Hailey got to sleep in Cousin Morgan’s room which was the equivalent of bunking up with their favorite Disney princess. Elizabeth Rose, Kim and I shared a comfy guest room.

Monday we drove back to Galveston, this time to go to the beach. Kim’s dad and his sister Debbie came with us and we had a blast. Elizabeth Rose stayed behind under the watchful eyes of Morgan. It was Olivia and Hailey’s first time at a real beach. They body surfed and tasted the salty water. They built creative sand castles and worked the abundant sands. They beach combed for shells and stuff. A few hours on the beach made the girls hungry and cranky so Kim’s dad took us to a pizza place and then we headed back to Sheri and Michaels.

Houston Zoo - Kim and Elizabeth RoseTuesday, Sheri took the day off from work and accompanied us to the Houston Zoo. The koala bears were our big game, elusive but we caught a glimpse of one sleeping in a tree. Ya’ll, I need to tell ya, Houston is hawt! A couple hours of walking around in the sweltering heat and humidity and we were done. Hailey and I crashed the neighborhood pool immediately following our return from the zoo. Later that evening we all went to Kim’s favorite restaurant, Fajita Willies and it was good. Mickey won each of the girls a stuffed animal from the arcade which are now the new can’t go anywhere without favorites. Late night, Michael, Mickey and me stayed up watching Hogan’s Heroes.

Wednesday day we hung out playing Nintendo Wii, resupplying necessities at Wal-Mart for the trip home and rested. I think Kim was getting homesick because she morphed into the laundry fairy, washing any article of clothing inside the house. Wii sports is awesome. Olivia beat every opponent she faced in bowling, one game scored 150 and Hailey beat into submission anyone that opposed her in boxing. Our bout, Hailey and I, ended in a controversial 2-1 split decision in Hailey’s favor.

Grandpa and Elizabeth RoseWednesday night we visited Kim’s dad. He made dinner for us. The girls chased after Mocha Jean. Elizabeth rolled around on a bed sheet. And then, surprise gifts for the girls. Elizabeth Rose got much needed summer clothes. Olivia and Hailey got a portable dual screen DVD player and My Little Pony DVD and Barbie DVD. Touchdown! The perfect gift for our three day journey home.

Thursday morning we left for Baton Rouge. A one night stay at the Sheraton Convention Center and the first part of our journey home. The Sheraton was the least accommodating of all. The online reservation for a room with two beds that I booked was not held for us and we squeezed into a king at a discounted rate plus free buffet breakfast for family.

Friday we drove north through Mississippi stopping for the evening a couple miles from the State line between Tenn. And Miss. at the Drury Inn. I like anyplace that gives three free drinks upon checking in. Kim and I cashed in two each on the happy hour promotion. Olivia and Hailey loved the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, they stayed up late to watch Hanna Montana for the first time, Kim and I enjoyed the two room suite.

Saturday we drove home. Stopped for our final rest stop picnic, Olivia and Hailey gave their last rest stop picnic bench table top song and dance performances.  The road trip was complete with a visit to the pool once we got home. That was our routine, drive six or so hours, check in and go swim. So many other little things happened along the way on this trip. Elizabeth Rose now called Chewie has her first tooth and also had her first accident by rolling off the bed in of all places Baton Rouge. It made me sick to my stomach but she was ok. Olivia lost her second tooth at Cousin Sheri’s. Hailey started a new nickname for Cousin Sheri, Cousin Cherry. Cousin Cherry and Hailey started trouble with an eight year old in the video game room at Fajita Willies.  Many important milestones reached; first time to the beach, first time on a boat, first real road trip, we all gained new skills.

The road trip was almost two weeks long, five nights in four different hotel rooms and several days staying with relatives, five states and two thousand two hundred twenty two miles driven. We enjoyed our company and my family remained a cohesive group throughout the entire vacation, something I am proud of, Olivia, Hailey, Elizabeth Rose and Kim amazed me.

Thank You to family in Texas, Thank You Cousin Cherry, Michael, Morgan and Mikey, Thank You Aunt Linda and Uncle Earl Lee, Thank you Grandpa, we had a great trip.