KEEPING IT SIMPLE

There’s nothing quite like traveling to force a bit of introspection.

I’m not sure why. I can only guess that by removing the monotonous domestic duties of day-to-day life, one’s mind is left to reflect with the leftover brainpower.

On this trip, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the kids and our approach to our parenting.

This parenting focus could also be because we spent yesterday in and around Dutch Pennsylvania or Amish Country, where differences in parenting approaches are certainly pretty stark.

I mean, for a minute it seemed a bit like child labour was the theme of the day.

At the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery we learned that the family patriarch literally designed child-sized machinery so that his brood of children could join him working in his bakery as soon as their gross motor skills would allow.

Then we learned that Amish children only undertake formal schooling until eighth grade, and that there’s a distinct emphasis on discouraging anything that is considered ‘too worldly’.

Meanwhile we’re busting our guts to try to literally expose our four- and six-year-old to…the world.

More than that, we’re paving the way for them. While we’re doing this world-exposing, we’re making sure at all times that they’re comfortable – well fed, well rested, entertained and climate-controlled.

See, yesterday was not simply a day spent in and around Lancaster County. It was a meticulously planned and researched itinerary whereby I put a lot of thought into balancing activities in which I knew Hoff and I would be genuinely interested, but also those that I knew we could sell to the kids as well.

So we started at the Pretzel Bakery as noted. The thinking here was – Hoff and I like pretzels and food history, the kids like playdough. Pretzels have a rich history. Shaping pretzels is kind of like playing with playdough. And there you have it – balance.

Then we headed for an Amish buggy ride and visit to an Amish farm for some homemade cookies and lemonade. Hoff and I like beautiful rural scenery, the kids like animals and sugar-laden baked goods. Balance.

Then we threw caution to the wind and opted for proper a tour of an Amish home and farm. We figured the kids might be a bit ratty and disinterested, but it was only a thirty-minute tour so we screwed our courage to the sticking place and signed up. Hoping against hope that the kids would at least remain quiet-ish and not spill drink on any hand-sewn quilts, or knock over any gas lanterns and burn the place down in the process.

Which they didn’t. They were fine. A little wiggly, but fine. The tour guide took to pointing out to the Boy Child which pieces of furniture he could sit on and which were priceless historical artifacts and best avoided, so everyone was – by and large – pretty happy.

And by way of compromise, we ended our day with a ride on the Strasburg Railroad, the oldest continuing operating railroad in the US, because hey – kids love trains…don’t they?

Not necessarily, as it turns out. Or maybe they had train-fatigue after the 130-odd Subway trips we took in NYC.

Because it was at this unlikely point that the kids became particularly unruly. They didn’t really seem to care the President Abraham Lincoln had ridden this very railroad, and somehow seemed more content by putting their dirty feet on the meticulously maintained 100+ year old upholstered seating, despite the PA announcement imploring passengers to definitely not do that.

So, in an attempt to distract from the seat-wrecking and general close-proximity sibling-warfare, I improvised and proceeded to conduct a quiz, using the content of the Amish house and farm tour, to distract the kids.

This was partially to reinforce my own understanding of the material and partially out of morbid curiosity as to how much information they had actually absorbed – which I suspected was mainly only the fact that they don’t have electricity therefore NO NINTENDO. The end.

But not for the first time that day, I was wrong.

Do the Amish people go to church in a church?

No, they take turns to have everyone in their house.

Are the Amish people allowed to have power points in their homes?

No.

How about batteries?

Yes.

How do they power their lamps then?

Gas.

And on it went. Hoff and I looked at each other, dumbstruck. We could’ve sworn they weren’t listening, only surviving. As it turns out, they’d taken quite a lot in, you just couldn’t tell from their faces. I suspect there’ll be a lot of frustrated/pleasantly surprised educators in their futures.

The whole thing was really hammered home later that night, when we got back to the hotel and Hoff proceeded to ready the kids for a trip to the hotel pool, as promised.

The Boy Child was concerned that he should put some clothes on to go in the lifts to the pool, presumably because he hadn’t clocked any other half-dressed hotel guests on his travels thus far. I told him to put a t-shirt on with his board shorts if he was concerned.

“What about my bare feet though?” he queried.

But before I could answer, he appeared to appease himself.

“Maybe they’ll just think we’re Amish.”

Say what now?

“You know, because they don’t wear shoes in summer…? Because they’re feet are tough from all their hard work…? So they don’t need to….? Don’t you remember what the lady told us mum?”

It’s possible I need to stop over-thinking.

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THE 10 WORST THINGS ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH KIDS

If you missed my last post, it was (very originally) titled, “The 10 Best Things about Travelling with Kids”.

Pfft. Move along suck-arse me from yesterday. It’s time to get real. Welcome to the B-side.

1. You need superhuman hearing.

New York City is notoriously loud. There’s traffic, sirens, Subway announcements and not infrequent confrontational outbursts (often with only one visible side to the confrontation, if you catch my drift).

And with two kids aged 6 and 4, Hoff and I are already at a disadvantage given that their mouths are a good two feet below our ears.

Yet despite this ear to mouth deficit, the two of them still insist on choosing the noisiest moments to begin an earnest and apparently critical conversation, exploding with indignant rage and frustration should we struggle to hear. Even if the reason we can’t hear one of them is because it’s the other one responsible for the relentless cacophony.

What’s that? There a full scale emergency and fire, ambulance and police vehicles are roaring by, sirens blaring? Sure, choose now to regale me with a list of your top fifteen favourite Pokemon and justification for each.

Yep. Here we are. Standing on a Subway platform with trains roaring past simultaneously on either side, a garbled announcement banging on about goodness knows what and competing plastic bucket drummers at either end of the platform. But sure. Choose now to ask me who or what God is. And face away from me too when you ask. That’d be great.

2. They argue over the dumbest stuff.

If I never have another conversation about who is going to press the lift buttons it’ll be too soon.

Or who is going to hold whose hand.

Or who gets to put the key in the hotel room door.

Or who gets to sit next to whom.

Or who gets to hold the menu despite neither of them have the literacy skills to make head nor tails of it.

I managed diplomacy for about 2 days. Now I think I’m just going to let them fight to the death.

3. Their inability to take a normal photo.

Despite the fact that they both learned what a circle is at least two years ago, they still can’t quite seem to grasp the concept of both smiling and looking at the little black circle on the back of mummy’s phone.

I mean, it really is the world’s least complicated multitasking request – look at the camera, smile.

The Boy Child likes to dab, floss and generally look over his left shoulder in any and all photos.

The Girl Child likes not only to dial up the cuteness by doing her best Shirley Temple impression, but she likes to insist everyone else in the photo does it too. Which usually results not in the a photo of all of us looking like Shirley Temple, but in a photo of all of us arguing as to why we have no interest in doing that.

4. Tiny little hurricanes.

Not the cocktail – my children. (Though a cocktail might help me cope, to be fair).

These two can transform any given space – a hotel room, a restaurant table, the back of a hire car, a hotel lobby – into a filthy pig sty before you can even say, “so guys what would you like to eat?”

Straw wrappers/napkins/un-laminated menus? Ripped to a million pieces.

Hotel room doorways? That’s where you’ll find a shoe, hairbrush and half an outfit that was discarded the minute they walked through the door.

Airport transfer? Of course you thought it was a good idea to play Uno and scatter the cards all across the backseat including being wedged behind your car seats. How silly of me to assume you’d just…leave the car in the same state that you found it.

5. Tensa barriers.

Most commonly found in airport immigration, attraction queues and any and all stressful security-type situations.

Something about them makes the Boy Child think he’s a ping pong ball and he proceeds to bash them from side to side up and down the queue.

The Girl Child is still small enough to fit under them so she can make a quick getaway knowing that I can’t dash after her without zig-zagging around their formation.

And both of them can’t seem but help fiddling with the joins in them until they inevitably fly off the bollard, flicking up and almost blinding them in the process.

I wish I would’ve thought to condition them both to think that Tensa Barriers are like electric fences from when they were still young enough to believe me. I tried this trip but they weren’t buying it.

Worse than that, now when they run up and down the queue bashing into them, they make zapping sound effects to go with it. #winning

6. Random shoe removal.

The Girl Child takes her shoes off everywhere.

It’s like this deranged game whereby if you dare to remain in the same place for more than four minutes, she’s decided that this is home now and she’s making herself comfortable.

Restaurants, hotel lobbies, boats to the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, you name it. She’s made herself comfortable there.

Better yet, she hasn’t quite developed the motor skills (or motivation) to always put them back them back on again, which involves one of us putting down all of the many things we have in our hands, locating one if not both of said shoes, and my least favourite part – bending over.

7. Are we there yet?

A time-honoured travelling with kids cliché, sure, but super idiotic as well, no?

Surely if the vehicle is still moving then, no, we are not, in fact, there yet.

I’ve taken to just telling them that yes, we are there. Well done.

Why don’t you try exiting this express subway carriage and see what happens?

8. Their tiny bladders.

We started the road trip portion of our journey today. We’re driving from NYC to Niagara Falls and back again, via Lancaster, PA, Scranton, PA, Rochester NY, Niagara Falls, ON, Ithaca, NY, Sleepy Hollow, NY and Red Bank, NJ.

That’s a 9 day trip, 20-odd hours of driving, 5 overnight stops and a whole lot of “why don’t you just look out the window?” to get through.

Today we literally got ten minutes into the first hour of our first day of driving, when the Boy Child announced he had to pee.

Talk about road rage.

9. License Plate Game Uselessness

Now that we’re on the road – the game is back. Hoff and I have done this on our two US road trips so far and never got higher than 46.

But neither of the kids can read fast enough to help us track down all 50 states license plates.

Worse than that, they often demand things like food and water and attention, which costs us critical plate-scanning time.

To be fair, though, the Boy Child did ask what pictures are on some of the plates we need. I told him one has a rainbow, which is the license plate from Hawaii. Should keep him busy for a while.

10. The exhaustion.

The talk. All. day. long.

And this constant need to converse leaves you feeling literally exhausted.

Well, that along with the constant need to risk assess each and every environment we encounter and the multitude of ways in which they might put themselves in harms way therein.

Which is fine, but the exhaustion does tend to stunt the creative juices somewhat.

Like when you’re trying to think of a last item in a list for a blog that you’re writing while you sit in the hotel laundry waiting for the washing and drying to finish… Makes it kind of tricky to think of anything good actually…

(‘Night.)