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Adventure

Adventure

There Is No Such Thing as Lost

Sometimes the kids and I hop on a bus just to see where it goes.

I learned recently that most folks don’t do this.

Maybe it’s from a lifetime of ill-planning.

Maybe it’s because we have lived in so many places.

Maybe it’s because I am a discombobulated traveler.

I dunno.

But I am baffled by train schedules and bus routes, especially in foreign countries. And I have no patience for waiting at a stop while perfectly good vehicles unload and load, especially when my son is so enamored of things that Go! Go! Go!

Friends have pointed out that they prefer to know where their transport is heading before they climb aboard. They have concerns for my family’s hobo approach.

“What if you need a bathroom?”

We look for one.

“What if it takes you way out of town?”

It usually doesn’t.

“But what if it does?”

We hop off, cross the street, and wait for some form of conveyance heading back in the opposite direction.

What if? What if? What if?

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In college, I spent a summer semester in London. Except for a school trip to Canada, it was the first time I had ever left America, the first time I had ever lived in a foreign country or even a big city, the first time I had ever navigated public transportation on my own.

I was a student on a budget. I ate a lot of cereal that summer and ramen noodles. But I had a metro card for unlimited travel during the month of July. So I used it. After morning classes, I would often head to the nearest Underground station.

The London tube is pretty straightforward. Not complicated with numbers, letters, colors and the dreaded express vs. local decision demanded of subway travelers in New York City or Paris. In London, you just pick a colored train route and go. Sometimes, I would take the escalator to a line I had never ridden—the Jubilee or maybe Bakerloo—and ride it to a stop with a name that sounded just as interesting—Elephant and Castle, Piccadilly Circus, West Ham. Sometimes, I popped up in a flea market or in front of a theater. I browsed postcards or splurged on a ticket to a musical or play. Usually, I disembarked in a neighborhood. I walked along row houses with iron fences, or peered through hedges sheltering secret gardens. I crossed unfamiliar streets and made believe that they were mine.

I am not afraid to be lost. No matter where I go, somebody—most people, in fact—know exactly where we are. I just summon courage and ask. Or live in the not knowing. Which is another kind of gift.

Are we on the left bank of the river or the right? Are we heading towards town or away from it? There is something quite freeing about wandering a city and taking it all in. In Toronto, we found a restaurant serving homemade cinnamon rolls. In Paris, we discovered a jungle gym with a merry-go-round. In Germany, we stopped to feed goats.

I am a lousy tourist. If there is a long line at a major attraction or some tower to ascend, I would much rather linger in a café or stroll to a bakery and buy bread. When I travel, I want to feel what it is like to live in a place, not just visit for an hour or a day.

We caught a bus on my birthday that took over an hour to reach our destination. A subway train would have been faster, more direct. But we saw Oxford Street illuminated for the holidays and watched commuters scurrying beneath umbrellas. It was a dark and rainy night in London. And, accidentally on purpose, we breathed it all in.

Adventure

Tour-onto

We are in Canada for a few days.

We were not sure what to do here.

So we made a list.

Everyone got to pick something.

Henry wanted to ride a “train.” He had been watching streetcars rumble by from our third floor window.

Lizzie wanted to go swimming.

Katie wanted pizza.

I considered their typical kiddo ideas and thought maybe someone should choose something, anything, unique to this particular city. I scoured a web page of family-friendly sights and learned Toronto has a zoo, an aquarium, some nice beaches, and a tower. Since we have just moved away from Southern California, we recently experienced a zoo, aquarium, and beaches out there; that left us with the tower. So after breakfast—which we ate nearly at lunch time, since we had spent so much time making our list—we ambled over to the base of the CN Tower. Standing beneath it, the thing was impressive. Really. It dwarfs the surrounding buildings and high-fives the sky with its awesomeness. We were excited.

Except we probably should have ridden this wave of excitement somewhere else.

There was a 15-minute line to buy tickets. Which was nothing compared to what we were told would be a 2-hour wait to board the elevator. The kids nearly fell to pieces when they heard the words two and hours in the same sentence with the word wait. And really, they were the reasonable ones. I, on the other hand, was the nut job, the out-of-touch parent who intended to press on. To wait is good for children, I told myself. It teaches them attributes once celebrated in 1950s movies. Patience. Gentleness. And that thing about good things coming to those who. We would have a nice conversation. Maybe share a snack. Read all the interesting photo captions about the years 1973-1975, when the strong Canadian people constructed this tall tower to the sky.

And man, we made an effort. We looked at black and white photos of concrete being poured. We examined small models of the CN tower, which, while interesting, had nothing on the actual tower we had seen while walking in. We read about lightning, and how the whole place is grounded with copper wire. And all of that took about 17 minutes. Then Lizzie wanted me to hold her. Henry was hungry. And Katie wanted to blame me repeatedly for getting us into this stupid, touristy mess. But the more they complained, they more I dug in.

In high school, I had a driving instructor who talked to us about one-way streets. “One day, you may accidentally drive down a one-way street. Cars will head toward you. You will wonder what is happening. When you discover that you are driving the wrong way,” he said, “at that point, YOU SHOULD STOP AND TURN AROUND.” This wisdom seemed simple enough. If you realize you are heading in the incorrect direction, don’t keep going that same way. Then, one day, I did indeed find myself on a one-way street. It took at bit before I realized it. But when I did, I just kept on driving. It never occurred to me until afterwards that I should have stopped and turned around.

The same thing felt true yesterday. At any point, in the, say, 97 minutes before we reached the base of that elevator, I could have redirected us. I could have called it. I could have said, “Um, yeah, let’s go ride a train, swim, and order a pizza.” So what if those things weren’t very Toronto-y? Instead, we got in a line of people and the more the kids whined and complained, the more I insisted we stay there.

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Eventually, we made it up. And it was okay. Lizzie learned to take a panoramic picture with my phone. Katie studied the outline of lake Ontario. Henry counted skyscrapers. All three of them enjoyed a few minutes standing on the glass floor hundreds of feet in the air. But then we waited in line for the restaurant. And the bathroom. And the elevator to get back down.

Hundreds of (Canadian) dollars and nearly five hours later, we wandered through an outdoor exhibit at the Toronto Railway Museum on the way back to our hotel. The kids climbed in a caboose, sat in the cupola, and pretended they were railroad workers on the ladders and berths. They were curious and clambering and happy, and all ten minutes of it was free. This was how we should have experienced Toronto. Briefly, almost accidentally, and on the cheap.

I have made this same mistake before with our kids, dragging them into and across quintessential city sights. In San Francisco, I insisted that they walk with me down Lombard Street, and blocked out their voices when they complained along the Golden Gate Bridge. In Los Angeles, they were too hot at the Griffith Observatory and underwhelmed by the Hollywood sign. In New York City, they loathed Central Park. I have never had the opportunity to bring them overseas, but I envision my children equal parts bored and angry from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. I can just see myself shushing them in front of the Mona Lisa and dragging their tired feet along Venetian canals. As their mother, I feel this is my job. To introduce them to the great cities and wonders of the world, to plant the seeds, and assume that worldliness will sink in years later. Even though these sightseeing expeditions are a misery.

But after this week, I have begun to think differently. Love for a place can take many forms, and wonder is just as likely to flourish in an ordinary neighborhood as it is from atop the most celebrated sight. I learned to love London in its parks and theaters. My fondness for Paris was born in an afternoon of chocolate croissants and shopping for shoes. And Athens came alive to me in the music I heard in the taverns once the sun went down.

Today, because Henry wanted to, we hopped on a streetcar just to see where it would take us. We had no agenda, no sightseeing itinerary, no plan. We rode until we saw an interesting line of restaurants. We hopped off and ate pastries and ice cream, ambled along a cool row of eclectic shops. And when the first child started to complain, we hopped back on the streetcar and rode it back to the hotel to swim. Afterwards, we ordered pizza. And our love for this city was born.

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Adventure

Findings: Days 6-14

 

For the first few days of our cross-country trip, I was on a roll. We drove, ate candy, argued about the iPad, and just when we thought we could not stand one more moment traveling together, we arrived somewhere magical.

After that, the kids fell asleep and I wrote about it.

Then I fell asleep and we started all over the next day.

It was a pretty great routine, but like most charmed journeys, this one was unsustainable.

Somewhere around day 5 ½, instead of writing at night, I ate half a bag of Cheetos and went to bed. While this is not a dietary practice I can recommend, succumbing to semi-slothful behavior after several weeks of packing boxes, lugging furniture, and saying goodbyes . . . well, that’s something to which I can give my full stamp of approval. To everything there is a season — a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to pack, a time to move, a time to write cathartically about friendships and farewells, and a time to process all of that with junk food and sleep.

Thus, while I had hoped to amass two weeks of pithy truths and inspiring stories of my family triumphing in the face of roadside adversity, what follows, instead, are the briefest of highlights — some awesome, most ordinary — from the rest of our trip across America:

–We swam beneath a small waterfall. I fell into a muddy creek carrying our only towels. Ken and I argued about crossing other people’s rivers.

–Lizzie, Katie, and Henry rode horses. Ken and I did not.

–I grew tired of carrying Henry one morning, and accidentally set him down in a pile of red ants. The hundred or so crawling up and down his legs bit him/stung him (note to self: look up what it is ants do) at least a dozen times before I realized my mistake and swatted them off. Poor boy had legs like chicken pox. He could only be consoled with watermelon.

–When it comes to catching them, kids love fish. When it comes to eating them, not so much.

–There are good people living in San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. (There are good people living lots of other places, too. We just didn’t go there.) Without exception, even when we had to battle traffic, weather, or adjust our itinerary to make it work, visits with old friends were a delight. If you do nothing else today, look at a map, and scheme a trip to see a faraway friend. You won’t be disappointed.

–I am a mustard snob. I get a little judgy when restaurants only have yellow mustard and not stadium or Dijon.

–I had a grown-up, mostly civil, in-search-of-common-ground conversation with a gun owner and we parted, I believe, understanding one another better. I was reminded to seek out those with whom I disagree. How else will we change the world?

–Lizzie led a horse to water and it did, indeed, drink.

–When we waved goodbye to Texas, a scorpion scrambled beside our car and waved back.

–The closest I came to crashing in 3000+ miles of driving occurred an hour from our destination when the car in front of me slammed on his brakes because someone was weed-whacking fifty feet away. Prior to this, I had never considered gardeners a threat.

–We had Dairy Queen for dinner two days in a row. The food was not good. But I loved it both times.

–I have not been flossing.

For the many folks who have asked, we are safely in Ohio now. Staying with family and living out of suitcases while we search for a new home. Thanks for blanketing the road before us with warm thoughts. We are excited about this new chapter, and looking forward to the big things to come.

More on that next time . . .

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Adventure

Adventures Are Worth the Mishaps

After a series of decisions that, in retrospect, may have been unwise, I am driving from Los Angeles to San Antonio and back. Alone.

I will confess: until I looked at a map, I thought the two cities were closer together. But in order to save face, I left my husband with our three kids and embarked on this fool’s errand anyway.

Up until about an hour ago, the trip was going pretty well. The 1987 station wagon that I drove for the first 1400 miles was surprisingly reliable. It only stalled twice, and only once at high speed. When I hopped out the second time to push it through the Starbucks parking lot, passersby were super-chill. As though they saw women pushing cars and carrying cappuccinos all the time. I did not run out of gas this time, even after I forgot to fill up the tank and drove 19 ½ miles past empty. All in all, to quote the policeman who cordially ticketed me in Arizona: “I was surprised by how fast that car could drive.” The lack of air conditioning was a bummer, especially in the desert, but the radio worked, and when I finally figured out the cruise control near El Paso, it was smooth sailing from there.

The problems started when I picked up the other car, or truck rather, from my in-laws’ ranch north of San Antonio. First off, it is a stick-shift vehicle. Which was actually no trouble at all, because, unlike the babe in the movie version of this story, I can totally drive a standard. I’m only including this information because it reminds me what a badass I am. Which is important, given what just happened. I was towing a trailer. Which is also not a big deal, since I hauled a bunch of canoes around for a job after college. But I did misplace my sunglasses earlier today. Which prompted me to stop and buy new ones, along with a cable to plug in my phone, so I could listen to music and podcasts and audiobooks instead of annoying AM talk shows, which seemed to be all I could get on the truck’s radio. I was listening to an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab (don’t worry Jad and Robert, I don’t blame you) when the trailer tire pretty much exploded. I pulled over on a desolate strip of I-10 and thought about what to do next.

This is the point in my story where I feel like readers might be tempted to insert a lesson: You see girls, that is why we don’t drive across the country alone.

Except I went into this trip knowing there might be trouble. In anticipation of 2800 miles of mountains and desert, I took precautions. Both vehicles had tune-ups. New tires, new brakes, topped off fluids—the works. I brought tools and spare parts for fixing the kinds of things that usually go wrong. I had a spare tire for the car, a spare tire for the truck, and a spare rim for the trailer. I had 2 emergency bags with water, flares, and a tire-patch kit.

But none of those safeguards prevented the blowout and ensuing (small) fire after I drove twenty miles to the nearest town on the rim.

So now I am sitting in a Burger King in Fort Stockton, TX (population: friendly), listening to an audiobook, eating the first Whopper, Jr. I have had since college, and waiting for a mechanic that the nice cashier Maribel called to see if we can fix any of this.

Maybe we can. Maybe it will be 20 minutes and some lug nuts. Hopefully, 75 bucks from now, I’ll be on my way.

Maybe it will be trickier. There is a pretty big hole where the fender used to be. The brake rotor looks melted, too. My choice to drive for help might have messed up the axle. It’s possible the trailer will live out its days here in west Texas, while I head out with the pickup truck, my Radiolab podcasts, a little less dignity, and this novel I’m listening to about women of the French Resistance in WWII.

But here’s the thing: I am a grownup girl and perfectly capable of navigating all this. While the breakdown has been inconvenient, it is not a catastrophe. If I am to raise my own daughters to be independent and brave, to demonstrate chutzpah and panache, I need to blaze some trails, even occasionally on one wheel. Adventures are worth the mishaps. I want my kids to live in possibility, not fear, and to know that surmounting an obstacle or eight makes a person stronger, smarter, and more comfortable in her own skin.

In The Nightingale, one woman risks her life to transport Allied soldiers across the border into Spain. Another forges identity papers and hides Jewish children. We all like to believe that—in the face of danger or injustice—we, too, would do the courageous thing. But how will we ever act with valiance in the face of peril if we don’t occasionally practice a little everyday pluck?

I may have sacrificed some time today, some nutrition, and maybe even a whole trailer, but for me, the message is clear: You see girls, this is why we drive across the country alone.

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New DadvMom.com on NY Observer today.

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Adventure

Kids in Canaan

We camped Joshua Tree over spring break.

Hiking the mile or so to our wilderness site, Henry tripped over a pricker bush and skinned his knee. Katie bumped her head on a tree branch and somehow got burrs in her hair. When we made camp, Lizzie knocked over our flaming stove during dinner.

It was my first time at the park. One cannot help but notice the Joshua trees, with their hardened and mangled trunks, flourishing despite the heat and lack of water, pushing up resolutely from the sandy soil like arthritic hands defying the surrounding landscape. But just as astonishing, perhaps even more so, are the miles of volcanic rocks throughout the park, ancient upwellings of magma near the San Andreas fault, forced to the surface as the ground shifted and millions of years of overlayers eroded around them. Though they came from beneath the earth, these stones appeared to have been dropped from the heavens, littering the terrain like remnants of a giant’s set of toy blocks. Boulders twenty feet high tottered on slabs fifteen feet across, with more rocks crammed in between.

dadvmom.com_letthemplay_KatiecrawlingOur children, like most children I suppose, held the trees in low esteem. The rocks, however…they beckoned. Our hike the next morning found Lizzie, Henry, and Katie scrambling up the boulders’ faces, jumping from ledges, squeezing through crevasses, and climbing to new heights.

In the beginning, Ken and I tried to keep up. He clambered behind, while I shadowed the kids from below, ready to catch the first one who missed a step, or at least break a fall as a child slid from a rocky shelf. But soon the heat and our aging ankle joints got the better of us. We sat on an outcropping while the children continued their games alone. Up, around, over, and through. The three-year-old combat-crawled through a narrow cave. The six-year-old surveyed miles of wilderness from a rocky perch. Even the eleven-year-old shook off her tween-ness to scurry, summit, and conquer.

Severed from gadgets and electronics, iPads and phones, our children could have been any children, from any land and any time. They did what young people do—they challenged themselves and found strength from the earth. At one point, I counted nineteen things that could have harmed them–spiny cactuses, crumbling rocks, a drop to a hole that was surely a snake den. But resting on my old bones, on an even older rock, I realized that the one thing that could have harmed them most was the insistence of my protection.

I’m not sure how long the kids carried on like that while Ken and I reclined in the shade. It seemed a moment frozen in time. We put our cameras away and basked in the beauty of the land around us, the wide open space, and the strength of our children’s joy. We watched them grow like trees from rock.

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Adventure

A Partial List of What We Found When We Cleaned out the Minivan for the Back-to-School Carpool

Cheerios

A dead scorpion

Seventeen empty water bottles

Five rolls of Scotch tape

Half a bag of melted gummy bears

Cheese

 

Markers without lids, lids without markers, none that matched

Two remotes to two different broken DVD players

Diapers, new and used

Kleenex, new and used

Bubble gum, new and used

Six tubs of baby wipes, none of which can ever be located when changing an actual baby

Half a sandwich

 

Stickers on the windows

Handprints on the windows

Footprints on the windows

Tongue prints on the windows

Enough preschool artwork to fill an exhibit entitled: “How My Parents Did Not Love Me Enough to Keep My Preschool Artwork”

 

One explosively rancid applesauce pouch

One tooth, probably human, unlikely ours

One baby seat completely unanchored to its adult host seat

A pickle

 

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