Day 3: Detour

Today began with a detour. Ken wanted to see a cave.

Yesterday, it was a meteor crater. Tomorrow, probably some rocks. I tolerate my husband’s little sideshows because they:

  1. get us out of the car
  2. make him happy
  3. give the kids something new to complain about.

Because unlike their father, our children seem only to want to see two things on this trip—Cheetos and Minecraft (ßwhich, for anyone fortunate enough not to know, is a game that will consume your child’s soul from about the age of 7 until, I dunno, maybe forever).

Thus, we plotted a course for Carlsbad Caverns, which sits—my apologies to the locals—deep in the corner pocket of nowhere.

Just after Albuquerque, we got separated. Ken, child-free in the big truck, was able to travel at roughly the speed of sound, whilst I, driving the minivan/clown car pulled off 14 different times for coffee, ice cream, hot dogs, apple juice, and then so various individuals could poop and/or pee. (Yeah, okay. I see now how those stops were probably related.)

And, of course, because I was playing a Math game with Katie while listening to Henry tell me how “that cloud looked like an alligator” and “that cloud looked like a meatball,” I missed the exit. Which would not have been that big a deal, until Ken called to say he was already at the caverns and where was I and could I please try not to be late?

Of course we were late.

Ken phoned every 10 minutes to check on our progress.  We skidded in shoeless and needing to pee (again!?) at 4:51 just in time for the final elevator of the day.

I learned no facts about the Carlsbad Caverns. How deep they were? Who found them? Why they were there? I intend to Wikipedia this info shortly.

But they were spectacular. Hundreds of feet underground, we emerged from the elevators, and turned to see enormous white caverns. Miles bigger than anything I had imagined. And rather than dark and dank, much of it was gently lit to reveal glowing structures. Vaulted cathedral ceilings dripping with piercing stalactites. Naves of calcified crystals and stalagmites. Glassy water ponds, and quiet stone seats for rest and reflection. Strategically placed lights gave the whole place a reverent glow. We spent over an hour wandering the caves, peering into seemingly bottomless pits, finding shapes in the stones. Katie saw the seven dwarves, Santa, and a Christmas tree. Henry found jellyfish and spaghetti, and Lizzie found a small theater populated by the tentacles of a giant squid. Rather than another one of our forced family marches, it felt like a religious pilgrimage. Everywhere I looked, I saw relics – statues of saints, a prayer nave, a series of benches that seemed ready for church. The cavern was even laid out in the shape of a cross.

It is a good thing that while I was down there, I did not know about the bats.

Nearly half a million bats sleep by day in a chamber deep within the Carlsbad Caverns. And most evenings, they emerge all at once to feed.

Of course, Ken needed to see this.

My husband does not know the meaning of enough is enough.


At 7pm, more than satisfied by our journey through the caverns, and on the cusp of hangry, I allowed myself to be ushered by Ken down to a stone amphitheater to meet Ranger Lacey.

At 7:30, she said it would be any minute now.

At 7:45, she mentioned that if they were coming, they usually would have emerged by now.

At 8, she said that occasionally, due to weather or circumstances beyond our understanding, the bats did not come out at all, and the park had to close, and yeah, that was a bummer, but you could always come back to the middle of nowhere New Mexico another time.

The kids were getting restless. Folks began to leave. Even Ken was ready to call it.

But at 8:07, the bats flew.

I expected to hear the swooshing and whooshing, screeching and maybe the scraping of claws (confession: most of what I know about bats is from cartoons). Instead, 400,000 animals formed tornado after bat tornado, dipped and circled soundlessly, before lifting to the sky in flight. I sat with hundreds of people in utter stillness. 500+ folks silent as a church. Cell phones strictly forbidden. Watches set not to beep. So we just sat there, strangers in the twilight, mystified and united by bats.

Well played, husband.  A pretty great day.

dadvmom.com_batintoheaven_smallaliencavern dadvmom.com_batintoheaven_aliencavern

Despite my hope to capture reverence and beauty, all of my photos of the caverns look like the mouths of aliens.  You can see way better images here.

Also, even though WE could not photograph the event, others have.  Do a quick Google search of “photos of bat flight Carlsbad Caverns” to see what I’m talking about.  Pretty rad.

Photo credit for the banner image on this page: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. © Chris Walters Photography

Eat Your Veggies

Macaroni and Sadness

We took the kids for dim sum last weekend. Lizzie said the restaurant reminded her of Mulan’s house. Katie practiced reading Chinese. Henry drummed on the table with chopsticks, and cried when there were no hot dogs.

My husband and I like to believe that we have become better parents over time. We are more patient and better listeners. We no longer get swept up in arguments about combing hair or whether wearing a princess dress to church is a sin. And neither of us has locked anyone in any room in a really long time. And yet, our son Henry subsists almost entirely on a diet of processed meat, mac and cheese, French Toast, and cucumbers.

Our oldest daughter has the palate of a 42-year-old. She eats bleu cheese, oysters, mussels, wasabi, Sriracha, and okra. She pickles her own root vegetables and blends her own curry paste. Her latest obsession is homemade lemon curd, which she likes to pair with a braided rosemary loaf. When we dine out, she frequently orders the bouillabaisse.

Our middle kiddo, while slightly less eclectic in her gastronomic enthusiasms, still enjoys a wide variety of foods. Some of her favorites include king crab, salmon sashimi, kale chips, chicken korma, raw spinach, and any variety of homemade pie. During dessert last week at the Pie Hole, she horked down a slice of pumpkin in under two minutes flat. She also polished off Katie’s apple, my chocolate, and Ken’s earl grey pie, and made a bit of a stink when I said we could not order any more.

Henry did not eat pie that day. He wanted a hot dog.


In his book, The Man Who Ate Everything, food critic Jeffrey Steingarten studied his own food aversions and concluded that most food “phobias” are simply learned behaviors. You catch a flu bug after eating noodles, and thereafter, lo mein is banished from your menu. The texture of tofu is initially off-putting, so you add it to your iffy list. However, Steingarten found that he was able to cleanse his taste buds. He conquered nearly all of his food fears, from kimchi to clams, simply through repeated exposure. The more often he made himself sample dreaded dishes, the more likely he was to tolerate, even enjoy them. He claimed the same was true for young people. “Most babies,” he wrote, “will accept nearly anything after eight or ten tries.

Which means that we only have to pile pork buns and radish cakes in front of Henry nine more times before we might actually get him to stomach them. Of course, multiply that across the three hundred other foods that he routinely eschews, and it looks like we will be resetting his taste buds — not to mention making embarrassing scenes in restaurants — for the rest of his childhood.

It is not just that I would like to see my son eat his vegetables. I want him to grow up and experience the world more fully. I want him to savor sushi in Tokyo. I want his first trip to Paris to include both pain au chocolat and escargot. And I fear that closed-mindedness towards food might cause him to overlook life’s other pleasures – wine, the opera, off beat travel, or even visionary ideas. Might not a love affair with hot dogs predestine an existence devoid of intellectual subtlety and nuance?

The only thing that gives me hope is that I was also a crummy eater. Peanut butter sandwiches nourished my childhood. I would never have consumed pie. Or cheese. Or mushrooms. Or cured meats. Or any of dozens of other foods that, as an adult, I now enjoy. Even as a teenager, I remember being afraid of typical teen fare: Cherry Coke, sweet and sour chicken, nachos. But after repeated exposure, even I evolved to enjoy those (admittedly terrible) foods.

So for now, we will keep plopping it all in front of him – the eggplant, the soybeans, the soup — in hopes that the scent, the memory, even just the essence of these flavors will be stored somewhere in his sausage-loving brain. And one day, maybe Henry will stop drumming his chopsticks long enough to be mildly intrigued by a dumpling or a rice ball, and take a big bite out of life.