Aug 072013
 

Hell on wheels: The family road trip.

It’s August. That means summer vacation is drawing to a close soon. With that in mind, you may be tempted to take one more vacation with your kids, perhaps a road trip.

Road trips with the kids are great because they are usually cheaper than flying. Road trips with the kids are not so great because your kids are in the car with you—presumably, at least, unless you left them at a mini golf spot somewhere outside of Omaha.

Now, I have some experience in this area, so I’m here to help you out. Just follow these handy tips, and you’ll be enjoying the open road in all its freewheelin’ glory.

The Dad’s Tips for Family Road Trip Success

1. Feed. Bring snacks. I like beef jerky and trail mix, because for some reason I insist on protein loading like I’m backpacking up a mountain, not sitting on my ass steering a large metal box down a strip of asphalt at 75 miles per hour. Oh, and you should probably bring something for the kids to nibble on as well. I suggest bite-size morsels that aren’t small enough to fit into a smaller sibling’s nose. You could also do like my sister-in-law does; when the natives start getting restless in the back of her mini van, she grabs a handful of Cheerios and throws them over her shoulder. That quiets them down for a while as they scurry around to retrieve the snacks. Brilliant.

2. Incentivize. The idea here is to offer a reward for good behavior, which, in turn, promotes the general peace in the vehicle. For example, my wife promises me one stiff drink for every hour of driving that I don’t pitch a fit and threaten to toss one of the kids from the moving vehicle. Like the snacks, you can also apply this technique to the kids, though I wouldn’t suggest rewarding them with tall glasses of whiskey. Or, well, I usually wouldn’t suggest that.

3. Distract. If you get stuck in traffic, the wildlings in the back seat will get antsy really quickly. So distract them. Play a game. Maybe “I spy.” Just don’t make the mistake of playing that game if the source of the traffic jam happens to be a wicked car accident six cars up from you. Believe me, you can’t make up answers fast enough to respond to questions like, “Daddy, why are they zipping that guy into a bag?”

4. Sleep. Ideally, this shouldn’t apply to the driver. But for all the small humans in the car, naptime can be a great time to start a trip. Or nighttime if you’re one of those vampiric dusk-til-dawn types. You know how you always think your kids are so sweet and perfect and lovable when they’re asleep? Yeah, that applies to road trips tenfold.

5. Pray. When all else fails, seek help from the almighty. Or just skip suggestions 1 through 4 and go straight to the big guy. I don’t care if you’re religious or not; you spend 5 hours in the car with enough small children and you’ll be begging for strength, asking for forgiveness, quoting the Old Testament, and speaking in tongues, all at the same time. One way or another, you’ll ultimately need to surrender to a higher power. Because if you’re the driver on a family road trip, everything else is a higher power.

Alright! Sufficiently inspired? Now get out there and hit the highway!

 

276840_28544809180_485537547_qOne more week to vote for Dad on Arrival in Red Tricyle’s “Most Awesome Mom and Dad Blogs.” Just think, if I win, I could quit my day job and just fill the Internets with DOA posts. Or maybe not, since there’s not a cash prize. But still, it’d be cool, so please vote. 

 

Jul 152013
 

How I barely survived flying with three small kids

Everyone knows that traveling with small kids is a challenge on a good day, a total nightmare on a bad one. I was reminded just how much of a nightmare it could be during a recent trip to see my wife’s family in Ohio. We had a fine visit and the kids loved staying at of grandma and grandpa’s. All was well until we attempted to fly back home to Colorado.

To protect the not-so-innocent, I won’t use the real name of the airline. Instead, let’s call it “Smelta Airlines,” because that, uh, sounds nothing like the real name. That’s Smelta, as in, “When I approached the customer service counter, I smelta putrid stench of sweaty, wool-encased flesh mixed with a hint of fear and an overwhelming aroma of broken dreams.”

The drama started a few days ago, when we were supposed to fly from Cleveland to Denver, via a connection in Detroit. When we went online to check into the flight, we got an error message saying that our first flight was delayed, which would cause us to miss our connection. We called Smelta’s customer support line, only to be told that everything looked fine, and we should proceed to the airport.

So we did.

And the flight was, in fact, delayed.

And we would miss our connection, and so had to be rebooked … on the next available flight, which didn’t leave until the following day.

The next day, when checking in for the flight online, we got the same delayed flight error message. That led to this conversation:

Smelta Support Person: Hello. Smelta support. How can I help you?

Me: Hi. When I went online to check into my flight, there was an error message saying that our flight has been delayed, meaning we would miss our connection and would need to be rebooked.

Smelta Support Person: No, I’m showing everything on time. Go ahead and proceed to the airport.

Me: Really? Because you told me that exact same thing yesterday, and when we got to the airport, it turned out that our flight was delayed, so we would have missed our connection, and we had to be rebooked on this flight today.

Smelta Support Person: No, I’m showing everything on time. Go ahead and proceed to the airport.

Me: Are you reading from a script?

Smelta Support Person: Sir?

Me: Wait? Is this a real person or am I speaking to a computer? AGENT. SPEAK TO AN AGENT. COMPUTER, CONNECT ME TO A LIVE PERSON.

Smelta Support Person: Sir, I am a live person.

Me: Oh. Okay. So what’s the deal with my flight?

Smelta Support Person: I am showing everything on time. Go ahead and proceed to the airport.

Me: [Sigh] Where are you showing this?

Smelta Support Person: Sir?

Me: How are you checking this? How are you verifying our flight status? I have three small kids—a three-year-old who likes to throw a tantrum if you look at him funny, a terrible two-year-old who we’ve nicknamed Godzilla for reasons that everyone will understand when she’s confined in a small space for more than 12 minutes, and an eight-month-old baby who thinks he’s Curious George. So packing up all of our shit and making useless trips to the airport isn’t high on my list of activities two days in a row. You’ll pardon me if I want some clarification about the accuracy of your information.

Smelta Support Person: I’m looking it up on Smelta.com.

Me: Smelta.com? Are you serious? I can do that. Don’t you have some internal system to communicate flight delays or updates your staff about potential problems?

Smelta Support Person: Well, um, the website says everything is okay.

Me: THE WEBSITE ALSO SAYS THAT MY FLIGHT IS DELAYED! Which one is correct?

Smelta Support Person: Huh. I see your point. I’m going to need to refer you to technical support.

Variations of that conversation went on for another hour until some upper-tier tech support management type assured me that there was just a system error on the website indicating a flight delay, so I should proceed to the airport.

So we did.

And the flight was, in fact, delayed.

And we would miss our connection, and so had to be rebooked.

This is when my wife started vomiting hellfire on the Smelta agents unfortunate enough to be working at the check-in desk that day. I have to say, I was impressed. When I get pissed off, I’m all sound and fury, signifying nothing, and people can tell it instantly. My wife, on the other hand, starts taking down people’s names in a way that makes you feel like, best case scenario, she might just put out a hit on you. Before I knew it, she had four different agents simultaneously working on rerouting us.

Their ace solution? They would route us through New York, because flying straight east makes sense when you’re traveling from Ohio to Colorado. But they assured us that was our best option because all their other connections were affected by severe weather, and there were no more direct flights that day.

So we hopped a tiny plane, about the size of a Mini Cooper with wings, to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where we flew right into a set of massive, severe thunderstorms.

Upon arriving at the airport, we did a dead sprint from our arrival gate to make a tight connection, diving onto the plane and tossing children into their seats just as the gate agents were closing the doors. Phew! The plane to pulled back from the gate …

and then promptly stopped on the tarmac for the next two hours because severe weather was blocking our takeoff route.

That’s two hours in 90-degree heat with no substantial air conditioning because “it would use too much fuel and jeopardize a quick departure.” That’s two hours with the seat belt sign on, because “we could depart at any moment.” That’s two hours with the flight attendants reminding us every two minutes not to turn on our electronic devices because “departure is imminent.” That’s two hours with three kids aged three and under, all complaining of thirst and needing to use the bathroom.

At one point, I just stripped down my two-year-old daughter right there in her seat to change her diaper, and then nonchalantly handed the soiled butt pad to a flight attendant as she walked through the cabin to make sure everyone still had their seat belt fastened.

“Just so you know, there’s a lot more where that came from,” I said to her with a little wink. I don’t think she was amused, but she took the diaper.

If you’ve read any of my other travel stories, you can pretty much guess how the flight went, once we finally took off. There was random crying, throwing of food, frantic climbing in and out of the seat, multiple temper tantrums, and other unruly behavior resulting from being trapped in a hot metal box for multiple hours. And then there was all the kids’ crazy behavior to deal with.

Anyway, six-and-a-half hours later, we finally got off the plane in Denver. We’d been traveling for a total of 13 hours—37 if you count the original flight rebooking and extra overnight stay in Ohio. I was bone tired, nerves frayed, and just praying for bed. When we arrived at our house, and I was tucking the kids into bed, my son’s last question before he drifted of to sleep was, you guessed it, “When are we going back to Grandma and Grandpa’s?”

“When you are old enough to drive us,” I said, and turned out the light.

The Dad Flies Solo, Part II

 Traveling with Kids  Comments Off on The Dad Flies Solo, Part II
Jan 312013
 

As a sequel to last week’s post, The Dad Flies Solo, here are more notes from my recent trip from Denver to Atlanta, and back again:

One of the greatest advantages of flying without the family is the opportunity to soak in all the insanity that is air travel. I mean, really soak it in, without stressing about losing a child in the x-ray machine or leaving a pair of toddler shoes behind on the concourse tram. And what better place to soak in the insanity than the Atlanta airport?

Dear lawd, I love Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. Denver is okay. It’s very clean and white and orderly, like most of the people who live in the city. But Atlanta—ohhhhh, no. That airport has some flava. As one of the biggest, busiest airports in the world (if not the biggest and busiest), it attracts all kinds of travelers, from the seasoned, million-mile flyers to clueless hayseeds who’ve never seen a commercial jet before. The people-watching is second to none.

I got some additional, involuntary people-watching on my recent trip while spending about an hour in security lines at the Atlanta airport. That’s right, I said lines, as in multiple lines, as in I waited in not one, not two, but three different security lines before gaining access to the concourses. This wasn’t because there was a big crowd or anything. Nope, this was due to the TSA agents repeatedly rerouting me and a group of other travelers to different security checkpoints.

From the main checkpoint, where I’d been waiting in line for about 15 minutes, an agent ushered a big group of us down a hallway to an auxiliary checkpoint. I got in line with my fellow rejects from the main line, waited a handful of minutes, and then another TSA agent blocked our line from moving forward, saying, “No, no, no. We don’t have enough lanes open. Y’all need to go to the north security checkpoint.”

So we trudged clear across the airport to that checkpoint, got in line, and waited a few more minutes. Then another agent pulled one of those little zip lines right in front of me, and then told our line that we were SOL.

“We’re all full here,” he said.

“What do you mean, ‘You’re full?’” I asked him from behind the two-inch-thick nylon barrier.

“All full up. We can’t process you.”

“Look, we’re not waiting in line for concert tickets. You can’t just get full,” I said, doing my best not to clock him upside the head with my one allotted carry-on bag. “This is the third security line I’ve been sent to. I’m just going to stay here.”

He looked at me a moment, as if he was weighing his various airport expulsion options, and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay. But you should really go to the main checkpoint. They’re less busy there.”

That’s where I came from,” I said. “They sent us here, by way of the south checkpoint.”

“Next time, you just tell them that you’re not moving,” he told me with a completely straight face. “You’re allowed to do that, you know.”

“I’m allowed to tell one of you TSA guys to shove it?” I asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that, but yeah.”

“You mean the guys with the badges who decide whether or not I board my plane home?” I inquired again.

“Yeah-huh.”

“Okay, thanks for the tip [idiot].”

So that delay was annoying, but I can’t really complain because the timing worked out perfectly. When I got through security, I hopped on to escalator right behind the most entertaining family of hillbillies I’ve ever encountered. This family of five was clearly on one of their first, if not their very first, trips to the airport. As we proceeded through the airport, they waved their IDs (from Alabama) and tickets frantically at every TSA agent, airline employee, and uniformed custodian who happened to pass by. I found myself inadvertently following them, just for entertainment.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, they were on my plane! I made sure to sidle up behind them in the boarding line, at which point I was treated to a fascinating discussion about which bags they would stow underneath their seats versus in the overhead compartment. Actually, the conversation got pretty heated, and ultimately devolved into a full-on argument. At one point, after the teenage boy stated that he was keeping all of his carry-ons in his lap, the teenage girl called him a “know-nuthin’ rube,” which seemed more than a little ironic.

“Yeah? Well I know enough not to pack a bag full of toilet paper from Alabama to Colorado,” he replied. “What, you think they don’t wipe their ass in Denver?”

Awesome. Just awesome.

Later, in flight, the girl waited until we hit a patch of pretty rough turbulence to get up and waddle to the bathroom, carrying—you guessed it—a roll of her ‘Bama TP. Unfortunately, this travel novice didn’t quite understand the latch mechanism on the bathroom door, which flew open on her when we hit a particularly big air pocket. There was a scream, an embarrassed call for help, and some shuffling by the flight attendants. I looked over to see her brother shaking his head in disgust. I felt bad for her, because she was definitely going to hear about that move once she got back to her seat.

But I laughed like hell anyway.

Gotta love flying.

Jan 242013
 

I recently took a solo trip down to Atlanta, mostly for business, partially to see some friends and family. Now, I love traveling, and I even love traveling with my kids. They’re entertaining, and they make flights zip by—if you can get over being repeatedly kicked in the crotch and generally treated like a jungle gym for an entire flight. However, I can’t deny that traveling solo has its advantages. Here are just a few of the things that I enjoy most about flying solo:

Sleeping on the plane. My flight from Denver to Atlanta left at the crack of dawn. It was a full plane, but somehow I scored a row with two empty seats next to me. I kept looking around for some last-minute addition to the flight, which would undoubtedly be a morbidly obese couple with plans to eat Indian food leftovers all the way to Atlanta. But no. No one. No one even tried to move into one of the empty seats next to me. So the second the wheels went up, I went down—laid flat across the seats like I was on a plush mattress at the Four Seasons. It was divine. I slept for two-and-a-half hours straight. No children screaming me awake. No dog deciding to puke up an old bone in the corner of the bedroom. No death stares from my wife boring a hole in the back of my head because I pretended to be asleep instead of changing the baby. Only some light turbulence and sweet, sweet sleep.

Engaging in adult conversations. At home, my conversations tend to go something like this:

Me: So how was your day?

Wife: It was … Hey! Do not pour milk down your sister’s back! … okay. I had a call with work that … I said not to feed the dog yogurt … what was I saying?

Me: You had a work call … Damnit! Get out of the fireplace! How’d you even climb in there? … Yeah, something about a work … Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Do not wipe soot on the baby’s head. Get those grubby paws over here … Yeah, so a work call.

Wife: Oh, yeah. You won’t believe this. It was absolutely hilarious. I mean, you’re going to love this … Hey! Where on earth did you get a can of motor oil? Put it down. No, no, no, not upside down! Ahhhhhh.

Me: I’ll get the HAZMAT clean-up kit.

Yep, that’s pretty much the new normal at our house. But when I fly solo for a work trip, it’s all grown-up talk and no chasing a toddler who’s somehow wrapped herself in Christmas lights and is trying to roll down the stairs. It’s all coffee and lunches and drinks with old friends and colleagues, and almost no one spits up spontaneously or pees their pants at the table. Or at least it’s very rare.

Sleeping through the night. The first night I was gone, I got in bed, closed my eyes, and woke up eight hours later when my alarm went off. Eight hours! And you know what I did when that alarm buzzed? I hit snooze, not because I was tired but because I could. I felt like I was living some decadent lifestyle, like I was royalty in one of those lost Biblical kingdoms that got turned to salt or sand or otherwise destroyed for all their debauchery. Still, I had this weird guilty feeling like I needed to hop out of bed and do something to help with something. But I pushed that way down and snoozed some more. Man, it was good.

Coming home. It’s nice to get away from the domestic insanity, even if it’s for work. But despite all the sleep, the adult time, and the easy traveling, there’s nothing like coming home. Not much warms my heart like my kids running to meet me at the door, the faithful family dog close behind (assuming she’s not about to puke up an old bone on me). And if things weren’t a total disaster while I was gone, my wife might not even bother pretending that she didn’t miss me. There’ll be just a hint of a smile, maybe even a kiss.

Then she’ll hand me the baby and say, “He’s got a dirty diaper. Welcome home.”

How to Alienate Your In-Laws (or any Other Hosts) while Staying in their Home

 Traveling with Kids  Comments Off on How to Alienate Your In-Laws (or any Other Hosts) while Staying in their Home
Jan 182013
 

The Dad recently returned from a nearly three-week exile in Northeast Ohio. Flew out there with the family for the holidays and we … just … stayed … and stayed … and stayed. More than two-and-a-half weeks in my in-laws house outside of Cleveland.

Now, I love my in-laws. They are kind, welcoming people who always open their home to us without conditions. They don’t judge or indict any of our parenting techniques (at least to our face), and they genuinely seem to like me (at least to my face).

Unfortunately, any affection the in-laws may have had for me or my family has likely waned quite a bit after our last visit. If guests, like fish, start to smell after three days, then we were a rancid bunch of fishy disgustingness after nearly three weeks. That’s just an awfully long time to spend in someone else’s home, regardless of how much they like you, and especially if you show up with a full traveling circus of wild children.

When we arrived on Christmas Eve, my wife’s parents were bursting with excitement, saying things like, “I hope you didn’t buy us any Christmas gifts; you being here is a better gift than we could ever dream of.” We thanked them for the sweet sentiment as I subtly slipped their presents into a “to-be-returned-for-cash-refund” pile.

After about two weeks, however, their commentary changed quite a bit. They started asking questions like, “What day is your flight home again?” and “So, are you excited to get back to Colorado?” and “Is it really necessary for your daughter to ‘water’ the Christmas tree with milk from her sippy cup every day?”

I get it. Five people descending on your home and invading your personal space Is a lot to handle for a few hours, much less a few weeks. Still, it got me thinking. What if I actually wanted to alienate my hosts? As I mentioned above, I dig my in-laws, and I always enjoy fleeing to the Cleve. But what if I didn’t? I bet I could use the insanity of my brood to ensure that we’re never invited back. You could do this, too. All you need is a couple kids and the willingness to act like an ass for a few days.

Don’t like your in-laws? Want to stay home next holiday season instead of trucking cross-country to see family? Try these five easy steps for alienating anyone foolish enough to host you as a house guest.

Step 1: Show up with over-tired, over-sugared children.  We rolled in on Christmas Eve after flying straight through the kids’ naps, which they declined to take on the plane. And, being Christmastime and all, everyone was offering the kids cookies and sweet treats. When we set them loose in my in-laws house, it was like opening Pandora’s Box. You could see the panic in our hosts’ eyes within seconds. “Oh, my god. What have we gotten ourselves into?” they surely thought. Good luck getting those pests back in the box.

Step 2: Make yourself at home. People always say, “Make yourself at home.” I’m not sure if they really mean it or are just being polite. In any case, if you want to ensure that you’re not invited back, I suggest taking them up on the offer. Walk around in your underwear. Let your kids use the potted plants as a sandbox. Reconfigure their DVR recording schedule to include Swamp People and various B-rate zombie movies. Basically, be the same asshole you are at home. They asked for it.

Step 3: Bring the snowballs. My father-in-law calls the kids’ used diapers “snow balls” because of the resemblance of a wrapped-up white diaper to a large snow ball. With two kids in diapers, we were producing snow balls like a Pacific storm hitting the Rocky Mountains. As parents of little ones, we’ve built up a tolerance to these putrid little balls of nastiness, but most normal humans can’t deal with these things strewn about the house. My wife’s technique was to leave these on the back steps to the garage, so she wouldn’t have to tip-toe through the cold to the outdoor trash can, thus creating a mine field for anyone passing in and out of the house. A brilliant move if you’re trying to get black-balled from a place.

Step 4: Get in an awkward fight with your spouse on the baby monitor. Nothing makes hosts feel more uncomfortable than being forced to listen to a husband and wife engaging in a ridiculous argument when they don’t know that their entire conversation is being broadcast over a baby monitor to a room full of people. Great way to avoid ever getting invited back.

Step 5: Remind them that they’ll get to experience all the insanity again next year. When you see your hosts really starting to wear down, that’s the time to start saying things like, “You think it’s crazy this year? Just wait until next Christmas when the baby is walking!” or “I was thinking that a couple of the kids could sleep in your room next year.” Your hosts will have tickets booked for a holiday jaunt to Jamaica next year—without you—before they even drop you off at the airport.

There you have it. An easy, five-step plan to ensure that you’re never invited back as a house guest again. Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section below. Happy alienating!