Friday, July 17, 2015

The Move Southwest: Finishing the Big Drive

The next morning, none of the kids slept in nearly as late as I hoped they would.  Paxton was the first one up, which wasn't a surprise, a little before 8am, and even from another room, the others followed about an hour later.  But, they were all certainly cheerful and still excited about being in a hotel, so I went with it.

The hotel we stayed at had a free breakfast, so I had the older two put on their shoes, strapped the babies into the double stroller, and we rolled over to the breakfast room.

Now is just as convenient time as any to note that ANY time during the ENTIRE trip that we were not in the van or a hotel room, I had the babies strapped into the double stroller.  It made getting in and out of the van take almost 10 minutes longer.  It made getting through any closed manual door a big hassle.  But it was a HUGE sanity saver to have them strapped into place any time I was physically vulnerable.  Paxton, while dear to my heart, is a flight risk.  Kendra needs little direction in public and Elliot needs a bit but is very good about following it...but Paxton is pretty content to go where ever he wants when ever he wants and you really have to stop what you're doing and physically direct him because he's two and even the best and brightest two-year-olds struggle with following verbal cues when they're in new and thus exciting places.  And at 14 months and tenaciously walking, Bridget also needed to be strapped into a seat.

So, we took a look at the breakfast options and then I parked the stroller at a table in the line of sight of the food.  I helped the older kids get their food first, then I made a trip for the babies, and then finally got something for myself.

And again, the kids all handled themselves beautifully in public, doing nothing but charming the other guests around us.  They all ate surprisingly well, too, so I felt really good about the start of our day.  With that, I filled up the milk cups and we headed back to the room to get dressed and ready for our day.

The rest of the morning was a little hairy.  The kids were all still SO enthralled with being in a hotel, but enthralled kids tend to be quite active, and I was trying to get myself and them ready, while also preparing for another day of travel.  I asked my mom to call the room because a huge selling point was the novelty of the phone.  They did enjoy it, but it didn't provide as much distraction as I was hoping it would, but we got out the door and to the lobby desk to check out.

Only when I turned away from the desk to grab my keys, I couldn't find them.  They weren't in my purse.  So I started searching through the bags I'd put on the luggage cart and no luck.  It took almost half an hour and two trips back to the room to find them--in my desperation to keep the kids entertained while I got everything ready for the day, I'd handed them to Bridget and they'd wound up in one of the drawers of one of the dressers in the room.  It was a rough experience because I was flustered that it delayed the start of our traveling for the day and I actually go a little nuts when I can't find something I have recently had in my hands.  I'm pretty sure it's part of some undiagnosed neurosis, but it doesn't pop up very often and doesn't last long when it does, so I try to handle it by taking good care of my keys.

Keys finally in hand, I took the kids out to the van and buckled them up and then pulled up to the lobby door, where I left our things on a luggage cart.  Then I took some time to clean out the mess from the day before and get situated for this day before heading out.

Being in a van, there was a bit of a logistical situation with how to effectively meet the needs of all the kids while still trying to make good time.  The first thing to address was Bridget, as she'd proven to be difficult to care for even with an extra pair of hands in the vehicle to take care of her while I drove.  I decided to put her in a front-facing seat.  I know that the current recommendation is to keep kids rear-facing until at least two and as long as physically possible after that.  I know that many parents have kids Elliot's age who are rear-facing.  But the legal requirement is 1 year, and Bridget's birthday was 2 months before our trip and after a lot of very careful deliberation, I decided to put her in a front-facing seat so that she would be able to see more (and be more entertained) and so that I would be able to hand her things from the front seat.  I also brought the rear-facing carrier with us in case I changed my mind.  Paxton is already front facing on the passenger side of the middle row in the van, but I could reach him very easily, too, so the babies were good.

For the older kids, I decided to give them most of a days worth of snacks at the beginning and let them choose when to eat it.  I had other things I could distribute when we loaded up after stops, and I did but I started each day with giving them both a full water bottle, a full snack cup, and a loaded "lunch bag".

About a month before we left, my mom sent us these, preloaded with treats she knows the kids like.  I knew when saw them that I wanted to use them for the road trip, but I was having a hard time figuring out how.  Then a day or two before we left, I came up with the idea of not worrying about letting all the kids benefit from the bag and just giving them to the older two, who would be able to open both the bags and the containers in them without help.  And voila!  The problem of passing snacks to the older kids was solved!  I filled the cups with things each kid prefers and packed a bag of chips and two bags of fruit snacks in each one and handed them to Kendra and Elliot.  Elliot was so attached to his that he had to bring it with him EVERYWHERE.  The whole trip.

And so, though getting off much later than I wanted to, we finally pulled out of the hotel parking lot at noon with yet more rain drizzling down on us.  Though when I opened my email to get the address of the hotel I'd picked for that night to plug into the GPS, I realized that I never got a confirmation email for that hotel stay, which probably meant that my reservation didn't go through.  Since we were going to be on I-70 all day and I didn't immediately need directions to the city where we'd be staying, I went ahead and decided to call someone for help than try to handle it myself.

My sister-in-law Debbie, whom I'd just seen the day before, was very happy to sit at her computer at home and figure it all out for me, and we got another suite confirmed at the same hotel I'd chosen in Columbia, Missouri, though not without me needing to pull into a gas station parking lot to fish out my credit card to read to her.

I hoped that the stop was just a fluke and that we'd be able to easily cross the rest of Indiana without needing another one.  Oh, how I hoped.

Not long after stopping for the credit card, Bridget suddenly got unusually fussy.  I tried handing her several different things, but it was obvious that whatever was bothering her, the things I was passing her were not cutting it, so I listened to her and found another gas station, less than an hour's drive from where we'd started that day and stopped for the second time.

And it's a good thing I didn't just let her cry it out and chalk it up to a sleepy baby, because there was a real problem.  I'd given her a pouch of yogurt and instead of eating it...she had doused herself in it.  When I opened the door, I found a ridiculously sticky baby!  So I stripped her down, grabbed a clean outfit out of my easily accessible stash of extra clothes, and wiped down her carseat before unloading everybody else and heading into another gas station.  I ended up giving her an all-out bath in the sink of the bathroom, and doing my best to rinse off her dirty clothes.  Once she was situated, I had us all take a potty break for good measure because even though we hadn't covered much ground to show for it, it had been a couple of hours since we last went at the hotel.  I decided to splurge and let the kids pick out drinks--I could definitely use a Diet Coke at this point!  I felt like such a rock star...

...until we had to stop less than an hour later due to overfull bladders.  Kendra had chosen a 24oz bottle of Gatorade and she drained the whole thing immediately.  Things got really urgent right after we had passed Indianapolis and it took us a while to find a place to stop, but we got it taken care of.

I wish I could say that was the last stop in Indiana...but it totally wasn't.  In fact, our next stop was so long that we all got out and use the bathrooms, came back and filled up the car, and then had to go in and use the bathrooms again!

We only needed one more potty break in Indiana...but then we had to stop again at the first rest stop across Illinois border.  So, it should be no surprise for me to report that we needed 5 hours to travel just over 150 miles.  But, I had my brain firmly wrapped around the fact that traveling with kids meant I'd need to stop a lot and I was crossing into a new time zone and gaining an hour on the clock, so it was all good.

And, because I fueled up at a couple of these stops, (ever optimistic that this time we'd be able to cover significant ground before needing to stop again) we zipped right through Illinois and well into Missouri, only stopping again less than an hour from the hotel!  I saw a Wal-Mart and decided to grab stuff to feed the kids at the hotel that evening since we'd be getting in significantly earlier than we did the night before.

There were even still a few rays of light in the sky when we got there!  The kids were squirrelly again and this room was significantly smaller, and without an actual door to separate the rooms, which was suboptimal, and we were all pretty cranky.  And when I told Kendra that Paxton and I were sleeping in the big bed and she and Elliot were sleeping on the sofa, there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth...poor thing was the only one who hadn't napped in the car (not that others weren't still pretty beat).  Luckily the sofa had a chaise lounge along with the pull-out bed, so I put her on the pull-out and separated Elliot onto the chaise lounge so they wouldn't disturb each other in the significantly smaller pull-out bed.

We slept in a little, but didn't have as good luck at the breakfast serving lots of things the kids were willing to eat, but luckily I had options that I'd brought in that case so this time I just loaded up with things and brought stuff back to the room and fed them there.  And I had the good sense to turn on the dang TV while I got everybody ready for the day and packed up our stuff so they weren't so wild (packing up wasn't tooooo crazy because I put everybody's clothes for the trip in a large laundry basket in the back of the van, and then I pulled out what I'd need for the next day when we arrived at the hotels and put them into a small carry-on bag, so even though I was dealing with five people's worth of clothes, I was only dealing with 1 day's worth at a time).

Our departure from the second hotel went much more smoothly, in part because I kept very close watch on my keys, and in part because I'd figured a few things out from the day before.  And we were off significantly earlier in the day than we were the day before.  I did need to stop for gas, but I just paid at the pump and left the kids in the van and we made the rest of our drive without potty breaks--we'd stopped in Columbia, Missouri which is about an hour and a half outside Kansas City, and our final destination was less than hour outside KC.

Driving through Kansas City is always a thrilling experience for me because it was a very common destination as my paternal grandmother lived there, and it is very much like coming Home.  In fact, my grandmother's backyard faced I-70, and we drove right past it.  And then going through downtown Kansas City and hearing Elliot call my favorite skyscraper there a castle was pretty fun.  Paxton noted that, "Oooooh, it's dark in here!" and "Mommy, look!  It's tunnels!" when we were going through sections with lots of overpasses, which I remembered thinking similar things when I was driven through them.  And then outside the city, the kids started spotting signs with Jayhawks on them, the mascot of the University of Kansas with which I affiliate even though I haven't graduated (YET), so they all know what Jayhawks are.  I loved it!  Sharing my own childhood with my was awesome.

We got to Lawrence, where we'd be staying, just in time for lunch so we met my Mom at a McDonald's with an indoor playground.  We arrived the first day of a major heat wave, and while it had been a pleasant 68 degree when we got into the van in Columbia, when we got out in Lawrence, it was 100 degrees.  And plenty humid.  As we got out of the van, Kendra announced, "Mom, it is HOT here.  Like...REALLY, really hot."  And she repeated similar observations the whole time I got her siblings unloaded.  All I could think was that we were heading a LOT further south where we'd experience a lot more of this level of heat...the poor thing.

 I took this after the peak heat of the day, it really was 100 degrees when we got there!

Mom showed up at the restaurant while we were finishing up our potty break in the bathroom, and we had our meal before showing them the playground.  I'm not entirely sure who had more fun...the kids getting a chance to really run around and play, or Mom watching and hanging out with her grandchildren.  Both of my parents just light up around our kids in a way I've never seen them before, and it's really, really satisfying to observe.

We stayed at McDonald's a really, really long time.  I figured that the kids had spent the two previous days mostly cooped up in a car, they could use the exercise.  When we'd had our fill, we went over to Mom's place to hang out for a while before heading to where we were staying to get the kids tucked in for some good sleep (hopefully).

And!  We did it!  The bigger part of driving was OVER.  Now we could settle in and start making our rounds...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Move Southwest: Hitting the road

I've been wanting to record our travels for quite a while, and I feel like I'm never going to have the time unless I sit down and make it.  So even though it's late, and I really should be in bed...I'm going to try to get this up tonight.

Warning: this post is going to be heavy on text and light on pictures, which is pretty opposite of how I typically like to blog our family.  But I want to remember the details and the best way to do it is write them down.

Our plans for this move changed SO.  Many.  Times.  It was sooo stressful!  Just thinking about it makes me feel stress and the moving part is all behind us now!  But what we ended up doing was hiring a moving company to pack and load us up (that part never changed), which they scheduled with us to do on June 18th.  We decided that I would pack up the van and head out with the kids that day and take them to make loooong overdue trips to visit so many people who have never met them and who I haven't seen in far too many years in Kansas (and the surrounding areas) while our things made their way down for Fort Worth.  Grant would stay behind to direct the movers, clean the apartment, and go straight to the house in our beloved little Aveo, and be there to get a few things set up (like beds), before we arrived.

So, that morning, I loaded the kids up and we left the apartment...and went to the gym.  Yes, I started my cross country trek with a very hard and long workout, and I would totally do it again.  I actually ended up forgetting a couple of things at the apartment, so it worked well that we didn't leave town straight away.  We crossed back to the place and grabbed the things I'd forgotten and then I took the kids to say a couple of last goodbyes, including one last stop at the other Farnsworths' house in town.  That was pretty hard for me, I've REALLY loved being in the same town as these guys.  I love them an awful, awful lot.

With a very active morning under our belts, we headed out of town the exact same way we'd driven into it almost five years earlier--as the other Farnsworths' house was the first place we went when we arrived.

During the years we've been here, the most common trip we've taken has been to see another of Grant's brothers and his family, who lived a 6 hour drive away.  So when I planned out my trip to Kansas, I decided to plan it with a little more driving than that per day, which was going to put us just across the Ohio/Indiana border that first day.

I was really surprised by how smoothly the first leg of the trip went.  Before I left our extended family's driveway, I popped a movie into the on-board DVD system and we drove straight through Pennsylvania and into Ohio with no stops, though going through Appalachia on a rainy day meant I had to slow down over parts of the biggest mountain because it got quite heavy.  Bridget had fallen asleep soon after we hit the road and stayed that way until we stopped, so although the older kids noticed the heavy rain, it didn't affect our journey.

We hit Akron just in time for dinner, so we stopped at a McDonald's there.  We all went potty/changed diapers, ate, and then there wasn't a PlayPlace, so I had the kids spend 10 minutes "walking" laps around the dining room to get a little movement going.  Even though this is rather disruptive, there were only a couple of other patrons there, and the kids were being extremely well-behaved--the other customers all smiled and were clearly not annoyed by them walking around, so it worked extremely well.

It's a super backlit photo, but I had to capture the moment because these kids were knocking my socks off with how easy they were making this trip for me.

As I loaded them back up into the van, it started to sprinkle.  By the time I'd taken a few minutes to arrange things inside the van, start a new movie, and we got back on the highway, we were in the middle of a CRAZY storm, exponentially worse than what we'd driven through over the mountains.  And it all happened in a place where there weren't a lot of exits around.  In fact, we were caught in flash flooding several times, where all the traffic bottle necked over the least-flooded-looking bits of the highway.  It was rather intense, but I'd actually driven through much worse and in the much smaller Aveo, so I stayed pretty calm.

Getting out of Akron took a while, but we made it.  The skies cleared and I even made a phone call to a friend to pass the time because that stretch of interstate on I-71 between I-76 and Columbus is the most boring piece of road I've ever driven, and I've driven it quite a few times.  Our next break was at a rest stop just outside of Columbus, which was a little disappointing because I was hoping to make it past the city before stopping because I knew we wouldn't make it the whole way without getting gas but our bladders just couldn't wait...but I forgot about our disappointment when we stepped out of the rest stop building and saw fireflies twinkling around the trees.  Even though it was late (I was originally hoping to be in the hotel by this point), it was a no brainer to extend our stop and enjoy the fireflies for a while.  The kids were delighted to chase them and I was delighted to witness it.

The Firefly Friends were a real treat, but we did need to get back on the road.  So we loaded back up and continued on our way.  One of the reasons I've driven that horribly boring section of I-71 is because it's part of the route to that other extended family we visited while we lived in Pennsylvania.  When I planned taking the same route to Kansas, I just thought about making things easy for me by taking a familiar path.  However, I had a surprisingly strong emotional moment as we drove past the exit that would have taken us to their house--we weren't taking it to stay with them for the night because they were traveling themselves.  We'd visited them a few weeks earlier and said our goodbyes because as we were moving to Texas, they were about to relocate to Japan for a military assignment and I'm going to miss them very much.  I'm going to miss not having access to their family like we did when we lived driving distance from each other.

But I kept driving.  As nice as it would have been to keep going until we crossed the border and got to our exit at the hotel, we needed gas.  So, we fueled up and went potty again for good turns out when one passenger is a 4-year-old boy and another is a 20-weeks-pregnant woman...lots of potty breaks are needed.

At long last, we crossed the border and arrived at our hotel.  It was lightly raining again, but we made it inside.  I booked a suite so I could separate out the children and let the deep sleepers (Kendra, Elliot and Bridget) sleep deeply away from the Wild Card who gets up a lot (Paxton).  I really thought that getting into the room after 11pm would have surely meant the kids would want to just collapse into bed.

Y'know, I feel like most of the time I have this Mommy Gig down...and then I have moments that humble me and remind me that I way, way, way do NOT know it all about raising children.

Like the moment about 40 minutes after I opened the door to the hotel room and the kids were still bouncing off the walls, even though it was now nearing MIDNIGHT.

But.  We did get everyone wrestled into jammies and down for the night...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The long, long, long, REALLY long winter

This winter was a humdinger.  It was so, so, long--like, school was still getting cancelled and delayed well into March, long.  And it was so, so, hard--like, we'd had more accumulation of ice and snow before Christmas than I remember getting most winters of my whole life.  And I've lived in Chicago.  And it was so, so, COLD--there is usually a hard, deep freeze in January any place that has a winter when the temperatures dip and stay well below freezing for a week or two, but this year we not only got our scheduled one in January, we spent the entire second half of February and part of March in one as well.  And besides all was so, so lonely--Grant was on the job market, and traveled so much, which is great because it meant he had a lot of interviews...but was a big ball of suck logistically.

But!  We made it!  I honestly wasn't sure there for a while because at several points I gave myself a marker, "We just have to hold on until..." and have three blizzards in a row hit or something similar.  I'm really not exaggerating when I say, "big ball of suck".

Christmas loot gave plenty of distraction, and the biggest hit by far was this awesome track set my Dad sent one of the boys.  It's seriously amazing because you can easily shape into any formation you want and since there are no grooves in the tracks, you can drive anything on them, so while the monster trucks that came with the set got plenty of miles in, our extensive train collections finally had tracks to ride.

But, infinite possible configurations of track...and their favorite was a straight line.

Having 3 babies in less than 3 years means life often looks like this.  Which is awesome and exhausting and overstimulating and wonderful somehow all at once.

Pig Piles remain a favorite pastime amongst our children--there is actually someone under that blanket calling out, "Pig Pile on ME!"

And I wanted to capture the boys in their coats and hats--we got smiles and reactions every where we went, so I wanted to remember.  Note that Paxton's is EXTREMELY bright.  I did that on purpose because he's the flight risk.

We also went to Wegman's a few times--this particular store is a problem because they changed the type of car carts they have and I can only seat two children at a time in them, or put two children in the basket of a regular cart to put the baby in the seat up front, which is risky because the main things I buy at this store are produce and fresh bread and...little boys tend to squash things that can be squashed.  And Elliot was just still too young to walk with us.  But it was still a good outing from time to time, because we'd only buy our treats (though there are a LOT of treats available at Wegman's...seriously, I'm going to miss this store so much) and since we were only buying treats, the actual shopping only takes a few minutes, which leaves plenty of time to stand and watching the model train that goes around tracks hanging from the ceiling.   We seriously spend over 75% of every trip to Wegman's watching the train.

 When Grant travels, I like to keep my life as simple as possible, because I've found that keeping things low key while he's gone means I'm not crazy frazzled when he gets back.  At least not too crazy frazzled.  But one way I do that is I buy 2 dinners while he's gone--we get pizza once and McDonald's once.  They'll definitely eat both of them, and it's brainless with no prep and little clean up for me, which is by definition a Win.  I typically hit the drive through and bring the food home, but I went the bold and daring route and took them into the restaurant a couple of times as well.  And they'd blow my mind being such awesome kids that it was manageable to do on my own with four of them before the oldest was even six years old.

Bridget went through a short but adorable tongue-sticking-out phase.  Luckily, we caught it. And when I went through the winter pictures, I couldn't help but notice how many more pictures there were of her than her siblings.  This fourth baby has no shortage of captured moments of her infancy...

Finger painting is a highly recommended Sensory Play activity.  Paxton likes to do it in ketchup and syrup, which as far as I'm concerned is a Win because that's two activities with one mess.

And the box our Amazon Subscriptions come in every month continues to be a favorite toy.  While at first it was more of a house-type structure, this winter, it was usually an "egg".

Elliot spent most of his time at home in the Fall going completely naked, which...whatever, as long as he's using the toilet and letting me wipe him, I don't care.  But when Winter settled in, finally started wearing underpants, albeit backwards more often than not.

And Bridget found the one cabinet I purposefully do not baby-proof, the one where I keep the tupperware.

Kendra decided to make all her Valentines this year--so for every single one of her 22 classmates, her teacher and the 2 aides, she came up with something like this:

She was even able to sneak in a visit to Daddy's school, which is a special treat she really treasures.

And, looking back on all these pictures, the thing that really comes to mind is the little "We Did It!" song at the end of every episode of Dora the Explorer.  Because we did.  Sometimes just barely by the skin of our teeth...but we did it!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fall Photo Dump

 Someone found an Oreo..

Our standard fresh-out-of-the-bath series we like to do at about six months:


Poppa came to keep us company while Daddy was at a conference.

I was able to attend Kendra's Halloween party at school.  She was one of only 3 Elsas in her class, but they all had different dresses, so it totally worked out.

And Elliot was a fire fighter--he was pretty excited about that indestructible helmet.

Ready to storm the complex!  Our kids still get more out of making the rounds than they do actually eating the candy.

My mom sent a pack of cookies to decorate, and they had a ball.

Bridget's development actually slowed down quite a bit after rolling and crawling so early, but it still happened pretty dang fast.  When she became aware of that window outside, she often tried sooo hard to peek through it!

I found a couple of Paw Patrol costumes on clearance after Halloween to add to the dress-up box.  They were pretty happy campers about it.

Usually Elliot is the one to join a photo op but this time Paxton cozied himself in.

Such a great kid.

She just needed the right motivation to pull up--such a Daddy's girl!

I had lots of mornings like this with the boys this year--Kendra at school, Bridget down for her morning nap, and we got to play.  I super love staying home with them...

Kendra was sent home with a bear to assemble and dress.  She chose for hers to be a rainbow ballerina bear, she did the coloring and chose the other materials and I helped her place them.

This kid can rock a fedora, even when eating lunch.

We don't do Santa.  The kids have seen enough holiday specials from our childhood that they know the story of Santa, but we've never had presents come from him, or written him letters, or taken any of the kids to get pictures taken with him.  But this year a local store had an event with Elsa and Anna, and Santa happened to be there as well, so I made an exception.

And when Kendra was preparing to leave for our outing dressed in costume, Elliot decided that he needed one as well.

Kendra thought it was pretty fun.

And Elliot was pretty shy, which is pretty typical for him around new people.  It always throws me off guard because he's so outgoing at home, but he really freezes up in new surroundings.  Everyone loved the firefighter, though.  I can't say I blame them...

While Paxton doesn't have any official issues and no doctors have ever expressed concern, we really got worried about him this year.  He was born much longer and leaner than any of our other children but he just got so, so skinny.  I started doing some research and kept finding suggestions about using Sensory Play to help kids with this type of issue.  "Sensory Play" basically means activities that make a mess.  The only problem is that I discovered all this right before Paxton broke his arm, so while I wanted very much to start incorporating some things into his days, it had to be dry because of his cast.  So I started with some shredded foil for gifts since it was the holiday season, and it was a pretty big hit.

I tried to put away the Bumbo once Bridget outgrew it...but it somehow keeps getting back out.

Merry Christmas!

One Date Night, I got a text from the babysitter saying that Paxton had locked himself in his room and that cereal was flowing out the door.  I was a little confused by what she was talking about, and we laughed hysterically when I unlocked the door and we found this:
I had purchased a double box of Fruit Loops from Sam's Club, and apparently left the second bag on too low of a shelf in his room (where you can see, he shares his bed with shelving units) and he took it, opened it, and...had some Sensory Play.

Photo Dumps are lazy blogging, it's a fact.  But it sure does cover a lot of ground when you're as backlogged as I am...