Parental Pickle

Posted in books, Current Events on June 10th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Have you heard about the controversy of Lenore Skenazy?  She is the New York mom who is under fire for letting her 10-year-old son ride the subway alone.  I would not put my kids on a subway alone, but us here (taking on a sudden  hickish accent…) are country folk, after all, and even I didn’t ride the subway when I was in New York three months ago.  But I trust that Ms. Skenazy made the right decision for her child…  why?  Because I think that parents these days NEED to be trusted to make the right decisions for their children!  I believe that we are in the midst of an age where we are much too over-protective of our young-uns.  And those parents who aren’t utterly over-protective are left to a cruel and unusual punishment of media scrutiny…  If you follow and/or agree with what I’m saying, you will enjoy the writing of Lenore Skenazy:

The last word: Advice from ‘America’s worst mom’

A year ago, journalist Lenore Skenazy caused a media sensation when she let her 9-year-old ride New York City’s subway by himself. In a new book, she explains why she has no regrets.

About a year ago, I let my 9-year-old ride the New York subway alone for the first time. I didn’t do it because I was brave or reckless or seeking a book contract. I did it because I know my son the way you know your kids. I knew he was ready, so I let him go. Then I wrote a column about it for The New York Sun. Big deal, right?

Well, the night the column ran, someone from the Today show called me at home to ask, Did I really let my son take the subway by himself?

Yes.

Just abandoned him in the middle of the city and told him to find his way home?

Well, abandoned is kind of a strong word, but … yes, I did leave him at Bloomingdale’s.

In this day and age?

No, in Ladies’ Handbags.

Oh, she loved that. Would I be willing to come on the air and talk about it?

Sure, why not?

I had no idea what was about to hit me.

A day later, there across from me was Ann Curry looking outrageously pretty and slightly alarmed, because her next guest (the one right before George Clooney) just might be criminally insane. By way of introduction, she turned to the camera and asked, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”

The shot widened to reveal … me. And my son Izzy. And some “parenting expert” perched on that famous couch right next to us, who, I soon learned, was there to Teach Us a Lesson.

I quickly told the story about how Izzy, the 9-year-old, had been begging me to let him try to find his way home on his own from someplace, anyplace, by subway.

I know that may sound a little scary, but it’s not. Here in New York, families are on the subway all the time. It’s extremely, even statistically, safe. Whatever subterranean terror you see Will Smith battling in the movies goes home when the filming stops—probably to New Jersey. Our city’s murder rate is back to where it was in 1963. And, by the way, it’s probably down wherever you live, too.

That’s why letting Izzy find his way home alone seemed like a fine idea. Not dangerous. Not crazy. Not even very hard. My husband and I talked about it and agreed that our boy was ready. So on that sunny Sunday when I took him to that big, bright store, I said those words we don’t say much anymore.

“Bye-bye! Have fun!”

I didn’t leave him defenseless, of course. I gave him a subway map, a transit card, $20 in case of emergencies, and some quarters to make a call. But, no, I did not give him a cell phone. Because although I very much trusted him to get himself home, I was a lot less sure he’d get the phone there.

And remember: He had quarters.

Anyway, it all turned out fine. One subway ride, one bus ride, and one hour or so later, my son was back home, proud as a peacock (who happens to take public transportation). I only wrote about his little adventure because when I told the other fourth-grade moms at the schoolyard about it, they all said the same thing.

You let him WHAT?

The more polite said things like, “Well that’s fine, and I’ll let my son do that, too … when he’s in college.”

So—back to the Today show. After Izzy tells Ann how easy the whole thing was, she turns to the Parenting Expert—a breed that seems to exist only to tell us parents what we’re doing wrong and why this will warp our kids forever.

This one is appalled at what I’ve done. She looks like I just asked her to smell my socks. She says that I could have given my son the exact same experience of independence, but in a much “safer” way—if only I had followed him or insisted he ride with a group of friends.

“Well, how is that the ‘exact same experience’ if it’s different?” I demanded. “Besides, he was safe! That’s why I let him go, you fear-mongering hypocrite, preaching independence while warning against it!”

Well, I didn’t get all of that out, exactly, but I did get out a very cogent, “Gee, um … ” Anyway, it didn’t even matter, because as soon as we left the set, my phone rang. It was MSNBC. Could I be there in an hour?

Then Fox News called. Could I be there with Izzy that afternoon? MSNBC called back: If I did the show today, would I still promise to come back with Izzy to do it again over the weekend, same place, same story?

And suddenly, weirdly, I found myself in that place you always hear about: the center of a media storm. It was kind of fun, but also kind of terrifying—because everyone was weighing in on my parenting skills. Reporters queried from China, Israel, Australia, Malta. The English wanted to know, “Are we wrapping our children in cotton wool?” To which I boldly replied, “What the heck is cotton wool?” (Turns out to be the kind of cotton in cotton balls.)

The media dubbed me “America’s Worst Mom.” (Go ahead—Google it.) But that’s not what I am.

I really think I’m a parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). But mostly I’m afraid that I, too, have been swept up in the impossible obsession of our era: total safety for our children every second of every day. The idea that we should provide it and actually could provide it. It’s as if we don’t believe in fate anymore, or good luck or bad luck. No, it’s all up to us.

Childhood really has changed since today’s parents were kids, and not just in the United States. Australian children get stared at when they ride the bus alone. Canadian kids stay inside playing video­games. After I started a blog called Free Range Kids, I heard from a dad in Ireland who lets his 11-year-old play in the local park, unsupervised, and now a mom down the street won’t let her son go to their house. She thinks the dad is reckless.

What has changed in the English-speaking world that has made childhood independence taboo? The ground has not gradually gotten harder under the jungle gym. The bus stops have not crept farther from home. Crime is actually lower than it was when most of us were growing up. So there is no reality-based reason that children today should be treated as more helpless and vulnerable than we were when we were young.

If parents all around us are clutching their children close, it’s easy to understand why: It’s what pop culture is telling us to do. Stories of kidnappings swamp the news. Go online, and you can find a map of local sex offenders as easily as the local Victoria’s Secret (possibly in the same place). Meantime, if you do summon the courage to put your kids on a bus or a bench or a bike, other parents keep butting in: An unwatched child is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Here’s a typical letter addressed to me at Free Range Kids:

“I understand that you probably don’t want your children to grow up afraid and not able to survive as independent adults,” she wrote. “On the other hand, I think you’re also teaching them that there is nothing to fear, and that isn’t correct. It’s survival of the fittest, and if they don’t know who/what the enemy is, how will they avoid it? There are many, many dangers to protect them from, and it does take work—that’s what parenting is. If you want them to run wild and stay out of your hair, you shouldn’t have had them.”

I agree that it makes sense to teach your kids about danger and how best to avoid it. Just like you want to teach them to stop, drop, and roll if they’re ever in a fire. But then? Then you have to let them out again, because the writer is wrong when she says, “There are many, many dangers to protect them from.”

There are not. Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world.

Like the housewives of the 1950s, today’s children need to be liberated. Unlike the housewives of the ’50s, the children can’t do it themselves. Though I’d love to see hordes of kids gathering for meetings, staging protests, and burning their baby kneepads—and maybe they will—it is really up to us parents to start re-normalizing childhood. That begins with us realizing how scared we’ve gotten, even of ridiculously remote dangers.

We have to be less afraid of nature and more willing to embrace the idea that some rashes and bites are a fair price to pay in exchange for appreciating the wonder of a cool-looking rock or an unforgettable fern.

When we watch TV, we have to remind ourselves that its job is to terrify and disgust us so that we’ll keep watching in horror. It is doing an excellent job on both fronts.

We have to learn to remind the other parents who think we’re being careless when we loosen our grip that we are actually trying to teach our children how to get along in the world, and that we believe this is our job. A child who can fend for himself is a lot safer than one forever coddled, because the coddled child will not have Mom or Dad around all the time. Adults once knew what we have forgotten today. Kids are competent. Kids are capable. Kids deserve freedom, responsibility, and a chance to be part of the world.

I have to be honest, though: I write all this in a kind of shaky mood because I just got a call from the police. This morning, I put Izzy, now 10, on a half-hour train ride out to his friend’s house. It sounds like I’m a recidivist, but really: His friend’s family was waiting at the other end to pick him up, and he’s done this a dozen times already. It is a straight shot on a commuter railroad. This particular time, however, the conductor found it outrageous that a 10-year-old should be traveling alone, and summoned the police, who arrived as my son disembarked.

When the officer phoned me at home, I told him the truth (while my heart stood still): We had actually inquired of the railroad what age a child can travel alone and were told there was no specific regulation about this.

Later I looked up the official rules: A child only has to be 8 to ride alone on the railroad or subway. Good rule.

(From the book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. © 2009 by Lenore Skenazy. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

To Hellinois…

Posted in Travel on May 3rd, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m not a big fan of the place and try to avoid it like the plague for the most part, but there are about two times a year I am willing to travel to the place of my birth which I lovingly refer to as “Hellinois”, a nickname for Chicagoland, with its insane traffic patterns and millions of unfriendly citizens: around April for my nephews’ birthdays and also around Christmastime.  Making the 4-hour trek across two states twice a year is doable and definitely worth it so that my kids can have fun and get to know their relatives.  So Friday afternoon, we took off and headed over to the Land of Lincoln.  I don’t understand why it took me two hours to pack our family of 6 for a one day trip, especially because there were plenty of things that were forgotten, but more on that later.  We arrived outside the Loop right about 6:30 on a Friday evening local time, but much to our surprise, we barely hit any backup.  What the?  Unheard of for a Friday night!  But on our way past the Chicago skyline, we did have fun trying to find the new Trump Tower and comparing it to the John Hancock and also to the other new skyscrapers that have sprung up, seemingly over night.  I have to admit that Chicago’s skyline is more impressive than that of New York, at least in my opinion – just for the heck of it, I played tourist and actually took a picture of the Sears Tower.  While I was there, I heard that they’re going to build balconies on the observation deck of the Sears Tower with glass floors.  They got the idea after watching all the tourists bump their foreheads on the windows while trying to look straight down.  I have to admit, I’ve done that myself a few times.  Wonder if I could keep my new-found vertigo in check enough to give the new balconies a try when they’re complete?

We arrived at our hotel and got the kids ready to go down to the pool, and that’s when we realized that we forgot my son’s bathing suit, as well as ALL of my husband’s clothes that had been put in the dryer before we left and forgotten.  So we all had to sacrifice – I had to sleep in my clothes and give my pajamas (sweat pants and a t-shirt) to my husband to wear to the birthday party the following day.  He had to wear pajamas to the party and also roast inside a sweatshirt all day since the t-shirt was ripped.  My son went swimming in his pants – luckily I had learned a little something from the New York trip and brought plenty of extra baby clothes with me.

We were only down at the pool for about 30 minutes, but the kids had fun – my son kept clapping.  We had called fellow blogger Derek to join us, but we kicked him out soon after we got back from the pool since the room was very crowded and the kids needed to settle down for their big day ahead.  We ordered pizza (MMMmmm, Chicago-style pizza!) and tried to get the kids to settle down, but it took a long time.  We got so tired that we forgot to close the drapes, which led to everyone rising bright and early in the morning – big oops.  Our almost 5-year-old Sammie, the handful (putting it mildly) of the bunch, decided to draw a bunch of block letter T’s all over her cousins’ birthday cards.  No problem, until she ran out of room for any more T’s and threw a 2-hour tantrum about it – I am not even exaggerating.  By the time we checked out of the hotel, so many people had walked by glaring at our family; it was not a good way to start the day.  We were so not in Kansas (err, Ohio) anymore.  I  have trouble getting used to that every time I visit other places.  It feels weird to not say hi to everyone I pass, or worse yet, to say hi and get a weird stare in return.

We had decided that my husband was going to take Sammie somewhere else rather than for us to subject my elderly grandparents to her screaming, but luckily she calmed down on the way over to their house.  We had a nice visit, and as usual, my grandma made too much food.  What was supposed to be a light lunch (so we could fit in as many other samples of fine Chicago dining as possible during our short stay) turned out to be a buffet spread of strawberries, black raspberries, cheese, smokies in biscuits, deviled eggs, pickles, cheese spread and crackers, not to mention 3 kinds of dessert!  So anyway, we had a really nice visit with my grandparents, although we were walking on eggshells with Sammie, who got an early birthday present from them, which was nice.  But then fights broke out over the birthday present, and rather than stress my grandparents, we beat a hasty retreat.  My grandpa did manage to make a joke, despite all of his discomfort from the Parkinson’s and who knows what else.  He asked how our 10th Anniversary vow renewal ceremony went, and we said great!  So then he said, “You made the same mistake twice, huh?”  Obviously, I don’t feel I made a mistake once (or twice) marrying my husband, but it was funny  anyway and so  great to see the old tease that is my grandpa back in action.  So we left their house in Schaumburg and headed to Aurora to see the rest of the fam.  After little sleep the night before and the 2 hour tantrum in the morning, I offered to drive so my husband could take some much needed rest.  Wanting to think as little as possible, I turned on Jill the GPS and sat back and let her lead me through the tangle of expressways that is Chicagoland.  Except that Jill had apparently had one too many morning cocktails.  She directed me to stay on I-290 rather than to merge onto I-355.  I knew better than that – I had made that trek many a time when my husband and I were dating.  But my brain was fried, so I lemmingly went along with Jill’s directions, and next thing I know, we’re traveling east TOWARD the city, instead of west toward Aurora!  Finally I saw the toll road we needed – I-88, and now we were finally headed in the right direction, after going 10 miles out of the way!  Oh, well, at least we were running early since my kids had decided to get up at the crack of dawn!

Just writing about this makes me tired.  I think I’ll take a break here, unpack a little and save the rest of this huge weekend for another post!

New York Trip Diary – Volume 7… Nah, Forget It

Posted in Travel on April 24th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I forgot to mention something in my New York Trip Diary, but it’s just a little thing – no need to make an entire volume of it.  I was just going to talk about how much my husband and I enjoyed seeing the Empire State Building.  We didn’t go up into it, but we passed by right next to it while riding a bus, and of course we also saw it looming over the NY skyline since it is once again New York’s tallest building after the collapse of the World Trade Center.  The Empire State Building actually wasn’t quite as tall as I would have thought, but the architecture is what I noticed.  The building has limestone panels on the outside, and it looked much different than the steel skyscrapers (like the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building) I am used to being a native Chicagoan.  The Empire State Building was completed in 1931 after only 410 days of construction.  It was finished during the worst of the Great Depression, and as a result, no one wanted to rent office space for its first few years of existence – leading to its nickname, “The Empty State Building”.  Five people were killed in its construction; including a worker who committed suicide because he was laid off.  In a macabre example of foreshadowing for the city of New York, the Empire State Building was hit by an airplane in 1945.  The crash happened between the 79th and 80th floors and killed 14 people.  One of the plane’s engines shot through the building and out the other side, where it landed a block away on the roof of a building and started a fire.  The Empire State Building’s elevator operator survived a fall of 75 stories inside the elevator and her record for ‘longest survived fall in an elevator’ still exists today.  Here is a picture of the accident:

empire-state-building

So anyway, fascinating building with a lot of history.  I just found it really cool to see an old-school skyscraper up close!

And since we were on the subject of the Sears Tower earlier, here is a video of lightning striking it – which I understand happens pretty often.  If only they could harness that energy for human consumption…

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New York Trip Diary Volume 6 – The World Trade Center Chapter

Posted in Current Events on March 30th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Sunday, March 22 – I already blogged about this day, but I had skipped the part about us visiting the World Trade Center site (aka Ground Zero) because it just didn’t seem to belong in a happy family’s trip diary.  So consider this your warning; the following post will be emotionally heavy!

On the way there, I was just in visitor mode – on a mission to just get there.  I didn’t really stop to think about how emotional and how gut-wrenching the experience would be.  I’m very glad we went, but man, was it emotionally taxing, to say the least.  The site itself is a pit in the earth – not even a hole, they’re already begun building new buildings, so really it just looks like a construction site, though if you look carefully, you can see that one piece of equipment has a hook painted like an American flag (click on the pic to make it bigger – actually I don’t know that you can see the flag-painted hook in this one, sorry!):

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There are fences all around, and it’s difficult to even see past them until you go into the World Financial Center and look out a window and down into the site (click on any of my pics to make them bigger):

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-070

On the way to the site, we passed (yet another) street vendor, and this time, they were selling commemorative books about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  We flipped through the books, and they actually seemed  interesting, so we bit and we bought.  Those ended up being a great purchase though, because they contain some pictures of the catastrophe that I haven’t even seen on the internet.  One of the pictures in the books is of  a cemetery located only a block or two from Ground Zero.  The picture was taken on September 11, 2001, and the cemetery is covered in an inches-thick layer of ash and debris.  We passed that same cemetery on our way to Ground Zero, and it was eerie to see what it looked like on that day.  Across the street from Ground Zero, there is a statue of a business man with a briefcase; I guess it’s supposed to symb0lize the “every man” quality of the victims, I don’t know, but there it was and here it is:

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Also across the street from the site is a fire station, Ladder 10, which was heavily damaged by the attacks and collapsing skyscrapers – it actually served as a rest station for many wounded firefighters that fateful day, I later found out.  The station has a memorial on the side, but we (regretfully) didn’t stop long enough to take a picture.  But the garage was open, and there was a firefighter who was more than happy to let our kids climb up on the fire engine, and he graciously posed with a picture of them – what a great guy!  I wonder if he was with Ladder 10 during 2001 and how many of his friends were lost?

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And then there was the museum.  I was worried the kids would be bored, but they said it would only take 30-45 minutes to get through, and I can’t be happier we went.  First of all, the kids were not bored in  the slightest.  They enjoyed looking at the memorabilia: the damaged items, the kids drawings of support, and even the wall of “Missing” posters that victims’ loved ones had posted after the attacks.  I figured September 11, 2001 is a day my kids should learn about, so why not start now?  We did spare a few details, though, like the one about how people were responsible for all of it.  If they had asked, I wouldn’t have lied, but we just told them that planes crashed into the buildings.  After we were almost through the museum, our almost 5-year-old asked me a question I’ll never forget.  She said, “Mom, can God put people back together?”  I hugged her and explained that sometimes people get to go live with God, and that was good enough for her at that moment.

At least one thing I found cool about the museum is that they had a section about what Muslim-Americans went through after 9/11: the discrimination, the victimization, and the violence. 

One thing I somehow didn’t get a picture of from the museum was some silverware from the restaurant at the top of one of the towers – the spoon had a hole burned directly through it.

Here are some pictures of other things they had in the museum:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-063Above is a picture of an airplane window from one of the planes that hit the twin towers.  Below is a picture of what was once an elevator plate labeling a floor in the Trade Center:

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-065And below is a picture of some items that they found in the debris pile,a stuffed lamb they used to sell in the Trade Center – searchers who found him said “If he could be spared, why couldn’t the people?”  Also pictured are someone’s car keys, IDs, and most eerie, a brochure from a meeting being held in the “Windows on the World” restaurant in the top of the building – note the dates say September 9-11, 2001.  The thing on the right is just a melted mass of metal, concrete, and whatever else:

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If you’re going to New York, I highly recommend visiting the Ground Zero museum.  I don’t know the exact name of it, but it’s on Liberty Street across from Ground Zero.  Bring tissues, but if you forget, they have some on the walls, and I was grateful for that.  It was a very emotional experience, but I was fine until I saw a letter in a child’s scrawl dated 4/2000, before the attacks.  The letter began, “My hero is my daddy because he is a fireman…”  The letter was written by a kid who lost his dad on 9/11, and that’s when I lost it.

I can’t imagine what those people went through, especially after seeing what happened to some of the objects that were once a part of the World Trade Center.  A very humbling experience; one I will never forget…

God Bless the victims of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and their families left behind…

New York Trip Diary Volume 5

Posted in Travel on March 28th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Monday, March 23 – We left the hotel for the Pittsburgh Zoo and promptly got lost.  Many cities are situated on just one river, but some bank alongside 2 or 3 rivers, and that’s where Pittsburgh lost me and we, in turn, got lost.  Multiple rivers and all those hills – I have lots of trouble navigating my way through hills and mountains for some reason – probably because if you miss a turn, you can’t just go a block and correct yourself because there’s hills in the way.  And Pittsburgh was also not lacking in what had become our nemesis (besides the ever-elusive Waterways bus) on this trip – construction zones.  And we already talked about how Jill the GPS doesn’t do detours.  Lost as we were, we again got lucky and didn’t wind up in any bad neighborhoods, but we did have to go without breakfast and almost without lunch.  We stopped at a random police station for directions, and they were very nice (though they have some of the funkiest accents I’ve ever heard there in Pittsburgh – what IS that?), but the directions were very complicated, probably because of the rivers and hills to drive around, and we got lost again.  Finally we found the zoo, and we picked up lunch at a little food stand on the river across from the zoo, and we refrained from making good on our threats to throw Jill the GPS in the river.  Except now we were down to only getting to spend 2 hours at the zoo before they closed.

The Pittsburgh Zoo is nestled within some steep hills – like all the zoos we visited on this trip – and you had to take an elevator to get up the main hill and into the zoo.  Once inside, we were very impressed.  I’m having trouble deciding which zoo I like better between Pittsburgh and Akron – Cleveland is not even on the same level as the other two.  Pittsburgh has a thriving elephant herd – 2 calves born just weeks apart last July!  Baby elephants are somewhat rare and difficult to come by in zoos – if a zoo can actually get elephants to breed (and I know the baby in Toledo was conceived via artificial insemination, so breeding might be somewhat difficult), they still have to  wait through an extremely long gestation period (almost 2 years!) before seeing if they have a healthy calf.  So the fact that Pittsburgh has 2 elephant calves that were born in the same month last year (also the same month as our baby boy!) is nothing short of amazing.

The Pittsburgh Zoo has an awesome aquarium with 3 types of penguin and a huge seahorse tank – next to manatees, seahorses are my favorite animal, and I have never before seen such a nice habitat for them or such huge seahorses!  Also in the aquarium is an area where you can pet stingrays, and there’s even a tunnel that runs underneath their pool that kids can crawl through and come up in the middle of the pool.  Here is a picture of my daughter after she crawled through the tunnel:

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And speaking of tunnels, Pittsburgh Zoo has a tunnel that goes under their polar bear pool!  How cool is that?  We didn’t actually see it because we were there near closing time, and the bears were pacing by the door to go in for the night – we knew they wouldn’t be swimming any more that day, so we skipped the tunnel.  But I must go back some day to see that, and also to spend more time in this awesome zoo – ok, I guess I just decided that I like Pittsburgh just a little bit more than Akron, but it was a tough call!  Too bad Pittsburgh is almost 5 hours away, or I’d return in a heartbeat!  And I forgot to mention how many fun things they have to kids to do, even beyond seeing the animals.  They had a totally awesome looking playground, but we didn’t go on that one because we weren’t sure we’d have enough time.  When we got to the end of the zoo, there was another playground, so we let them play on that until closing time.  Our 2-year-old got “stuck” at the top of the playground – she was too scared to go down the slide and refused to come back out through the tunnels.  I was worried that we’d get locked in the zoo like a couple of college kids I read about in Jack Hanna’s hilarious book, My Wild Life – they got locked in the dark reptile house, where they could hear things splashing around all night!  After we got my daughter to come down off the playground (thanks to her big sister who lured her away), the sea lions were putting on a little show right in the front of the underwater viewing window – which reminds me, we had also gotten to see an impromptu sea lion show earlier in the day – the zookeepers were training them and rewarding them with fish, it was really  cool to watch!

On the way home, we stopped in Elyria, Ohio for dinner at a Golden Corral (always delicious) where my husband was a victim of racial discrimination by the steak griller, and we found what must be the last non-Super Walmart left in the world.  Trying to save room in the car, we had neglected to pack enough diapers for our two children who still wear them, and we had to break into the new packs of diapers right there in the Walmart to change a double poopie from the baby and his big sister!  It was interesting to be in a Walmart without groceries where the employees were actually preparing to close the store for the night – almost like time travel, but if I  traveled in time, the last place I’d go is Walmart!

So anyway, now we had only 2 hours left of the drive home, and it passed uneventfully – the kids slept.  We got home sweet home at about midnight, and the kids were really excited to see their pets and their room – they had trouble getting back to sleep.  The pets were happy to see us, and my thanks goes to our great friend Carol who kept the pets healthy and happy during our absence.  I was really surprised to see how big the rats got in just a few days though, Carol, what did you feed them?!?  🙂

So, I had an amazing adventure with wonderful people.  And this is the end of my diary.  Well, not really, I will have one more entry to go back to the World Trade Center site visit, but I’m waiting for the right time to blog about that – it was a very moving experience.  So thanks for reading, and I hope you had fun and maybe even learned a little something about places you may or may not want to visit some day!

New York Trip Diary Volume 4

Posted in Travel on March 27th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Sunday, March 22 – Learning from our mistake the previous day, we decided to eat breakfast in the room, and it was much less expensive, we had plenty of room, and we didn’t have to worry about the kids disturbing anyone.  After breakfast, we headed to the city again, even though we were all kind of sick of it at that point.  But when I had heard that we’d be going to New York, the top site to see on my list was the World Trade Center site.  So even though we were sick of the commute to the city and searching for buses, we headed out to see Ground Zero.  We caught another bus tour, but this one was “hop on, hop off”, meaning you could get off at any of the stops, unlike the bus tour we had taken the night before.  But in New York city traffic, we still ended up being on the bus for about an hour, much to the kids’ dismay since they were starting to find the bus tours boring.  But 3/4 of the kids took a nap (and hubby too!), which left me and Jamy to listen (and giggle) at the tour guide – a very hyper Asian woman with a very thick accent.  She was very informative (when we could understand her, of course), but she would interject between her touring tidbits with concerns she had about the traffic – at one point she talked (nicely) to another bus, telling it we were there first and not to hit us.  Another time, a man boarded the bus who was selling water and popcorn, and she felt the need to tell us, “this is not a movie theater”.  Duh.

Anyway, we arrived at Ground Zero, but I think I’m going to do a separate post on that experience – it really was mind-blowing.

We left the Trade Center site and went into the World Financial Center – a beautiful building where people were very nice and gave us detailed directions about how to get to the ferry without using the famous New York grunt n’ gesture.  The best news is that we weren’t going to have to take a Waterways bus!  Seems the ferry came right over to the financial district – YAY!  On the way to the river, we found some gelato to buy in the financial center.  Gelato is a type of Italian ice cream handmade on the spot, and it is incredible.  I had trouble deciding on just 3 flavors, but I chose well: cookie dough, pistachio, and raspberry.  They were all delicious, but the raspberry was especially amazing.  For those of you who know me, you will be shocked to learn that I like gelato even more than I like Dippin’ Dots – that is how good it is!

So we made our way to the riverfront, and when we got to the ferry station, it was closed.  Honestly, you’d think that at least 1 of the 5 or more people who had given us directions would have known this, but I guess not.  And I don’t think they were playing a trick on us because unlike the grunt n’ gesture-ers, they were really nice – I think they just genuinely didn’t know.  So here we were again.  Stuck in New York with no Waterways bus to be found.  My husband was very smart when he read the fine print on the Waterways card we had that said Waterways buses would stop at any city bus stop on a Waterways route, so all we had to do was find one of those.  We asked some not-so-friendly construction workers, who  said that there were NO city bus stops on the entire street we were on.  So we used the map on the Waterways card, and we went a few blocks this way and a few blocks that way, and we found a city bus stop which we thought was on a Waterways route…  Unfortunately the only way to check if we were right was to sit and wait for a bus that might never come, but lo and behold, there was another Waterways bus, and my husband again jumped in front of it while we quickly scooped up all the kids before the driver changed his mind.  We were really getting the hang of this now, but that was our last Waterways bus, thank goodness!  Here is a picture of our 8-month-old’s ET impression – Manny Jamy was the lucky baby-wearer since my back never would have tolerated it all day and we wanted to leave my husband open for our clingy 2-year-old:

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We got back to the hotel which is where we had left our car, and my husband used their Wi-Fi to find us a hotel in Pittsburgh.  We were having such a good time that we figured we’d extend the trip a little and make one more zoo stop.  The only problem is, we didn’t make it to our Pittsburgh hotel until 3 in the morning due to a 2 hour stop at Houlihan’s for dinner!  Why diid it take so long?  We were kind of a large party, and the place was mobbed.  Add in 2 poopie diapers and a bathroom full of drunks, and well, you do the math.  Some guy stopped on his way to the bar to gush over the baby, and while he was doing that, his girlfriend took a nasty spill up the bar stairs, glass (already empty, of course) flying out of her hand and everything.  Instead of trying to get up, she just lay there, probably because she was so drunk (she wasn’t hurt; I saw her later and she was fine), and her equally drunk boyfriend didn’t even notice all of this.  So I said, “Is she ok?” and when he turned to look, I fled with the baby.  Interesting experience, but one that makes me even more thankful for home sweet home  – we never have those kinds of crowds in our restaurants!  Like I said, we got to our Pittsburgh hotel about 3 in the morning, and we had kids who didn’t want to go back to sleep.  But we finally got them down, and we got a few hours of shut-eye before it was time to get up and add a new zoo to my list!

New York Trip Diary Volume 3

Posted in Travel on March 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Saturday, March 21 – We awoke about 8:30, which seemed early since we had arrived at our hotel late the night before and the kids stayed up for a little bit even after we arrived.  So we went down to the hotel’s restaurant to get breakfast, which was a mistake.  I had thought it’d be cheaper to eat in the restaurant rather than get room service, and I had also thought we’d be cramped trying to eat in the room.  But down at the restaurant, our kids went nuts, and continued to do so while it took about an hour for the food to come.  And this was a nice restaurant – not a friendly mom n pop place where they actually like and tolerate kids like we’re used to back home.  They did have pretty good hollandaise sauce for their eggs benedict, but my enjoyment of it was severely compromised due to the stress of the kids.  Our server kept walking by and mumbling things, and I’ll admit that our 8 month old son does make a mess when he eats, but don’t they all?  We cleaned up the best we could, but that didn’t stop the server from “stealing” our change.  That’s right, when we paid the bill, the included 14% gratuity apparently wasn’t enough for him because he failed to bring the change back.  Rather than try to track down Mr. Rude (we are SO not in Kansas anymore!), my husband took up the issue with the front desk.

Next it was time for the business meeting (the reason we came, I guess), and so Manny Jamy took the kids down to the pool while hubby and I met with the clients.  Except they were late, and while we were waiting, I began to have doubts about the baby and I being disruptive to the meeting, so I took him back to our room to put on his bathing suit so he could join his sisters in  the pool.  Just as I arrived, so did Manny Jamy with the rest of the kids, and we decided to take them for a walk outside instead.  Our hotel was on the New Jersey side, and offered a postcard view of the New York skyline:

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Even though I had never been there before, it seemed to me that there was indeed a gaping hole where the twin towers used to stand, and Jamy who had been there before confirmed this.  We watched many a garbage barge sail by, and I was surprised to find that the sea gulls in New York are quite bashful – I guess I’m used to the ones at Sea World and Marineland Canada where they’ll just swoop down and swipe the fish you buy to feed the dolphins and whales.  But it was a nice day, and our hotel offered a nice little pocket of solstice tucked away from the frenzied traffic of the city.  I wanted to kill as much time down there as possible since we were short on room in the car and my packing of toys for the hotel room had to be limited.  But my oldest was tired – she fell asleep on a bench outside – and her little brother started losing it because he also needed a nap so badly.  So we went back up to the room to wait for my husband’s meeting to be over.  Manny Jamy was nice enough to watch  the two middle girls so  that I could catch a nap with my oldest and the baby, and it was MUCH needed and MUCH appreciated.  Our 2 year old fell asleep as well, which was a good thing, but I was disappointed I couldn’t take her to be shown off to the clients when my husband called – she is awfully cute!  So anyway, I went down to meet the clients, and they were extremely nice.    They have a baby who was born just 9 days before my son, and she was really adorable!  I was disappointed – if I had known they had brought the baby, I would have stayed at the meeting and let the babies play together!  Oh, well, at this point, I was just glad to be done with work and ecstatic to be well-rested so that we could go to the city and have SOME FUN!

Because we were on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, every time we wanted to go into the city, we had to wait for our hotel shuttle to take us to the ferry station, then wait for the ferry to take us across the river, and then board a Waterway bus (different from a city bus, as we later learned) to take us to our destination in the city.  Not a big deal, but by the end of the trip, it had gotten a little tiresome to add that much traveling time to get where we wanted to go.  So anyway, Saturday night, we ventured into the city to take a bus tour on one of those double-decker, open-topped buses.  On the way to the tour bus stop, we weaved our way through the massive crowd that is the Manhattan theater district on a Saturday night.  We did have a few celebrity sightings; including the actor Morgan Freeman:

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though Mr. Freeman did have the personality of a candle, as Jamy pointed out.  We also saw multiple Statues of Liberty walking around, but a few of them were getting into trouble with the police.  Now that’s something you don’t see everyday – a Statue of Liberty getting arrested – too bad I didn’t get my camera ready in time to take a picture, that would have been one for the scrapbook!  We also saw Bugs Bunny, Elmo, 2 Cookie Monsters, a walking sandwich, a naked cowboy (don’t ask), and Batman.  Except I don’t think it was the real Batman unless he’s always been African American – besides, the real Batman would have been fighting crime in Gotham City, not posing for pictures on the streets of New York.  Here is one of the Cookie Monsters – look carefully and you can see Elmo to the right:

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We got suckered by some street vendors and sampled their wares of smoked meat, hot dogs, and art.  My husband bought a caricature of our oldest daughter and a sign with our youngest daughter’s name in caligraphy, but walking around with those souvenirs was like writing “suckers” on our foreheads – we got hit up for everything after that, from purses to sunglasses to comedy show tickets.  Actually, we kind of got “had” again- when my husband bought the $5 sign for our daughter, the artist started putting a frame on it, which would have upped the price to $20.  My husband kept saying, “no frame, no frame!” but all of a sudden, the artist no longer spoke English, so he went ahead and framed it and charged us $20.  My husband did not pay him the full $20, but I know it was still more than the $5 it was supposed to have cost – oh well, you only visit New York once, at least in our case – I won’t go back, at least not with little kids!

So then we boarded our tour bus, and that was really neat, informative, and offered gorgeous views of the city at night.

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Ok, the picture obviously doesn’t do it justice, but here is my 2-year-old daughter seeing her first skyscraper:

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It was kind of chilly, and we tried moving down to the first floor of the bus, but the view did not compare with what we could see on the top, so we ended up moving upstairs again.  The city was gorgeous at night, but when we went over the Manhattan Bridge, it was so high up, it was kind of freaky!  Being on the top of the bus and looking down, you couldn’t even see the road, just the water below, and I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to just leap over the side…  not that I would do that of course, I’m just saying.

After the bus tour, we tried to find the Waterways bus – the one that would go back to the ferry station, but we had some trouble.  We ended up sitting on  a street corner for about two hours.  We stopped a passing taxi, figuring we’d just pay the expense just to get us and the kids off the streets of New York, but we couldn’t even all fit in one taxi.  I was strongly against the idea of splitting up in any way, shape or form, so our next idea was to stop a passing horse and carriage.  While asking the very friendly Irish driver directions to the ferry bus, his horse took a gi-normous leak right there on the street, but at least the girls were momentarily entertained.  We declined the $70 horse and buggy ride, and finally the Waterways bus arrived – my husband practically jumped in front of it to stop it since the previous one had passed us by, but it worked – the bus actually picked us up!

Overall, an interesting night in New York.  And it’s not like I expected people to be overly nice.  I certainly didn’t expect it to be like my hometown, where you can’t walk down the street without strangers saying hi and you can’t walk around with kids at night without people offering you a lift.  But it was still an adjustment – every time we’d ask how to get to the Waterways bus, people would just point off in a general direction and grunt, even police.  And it was amazing to me how a family with 4 small children could set up camp on a street corner for 2 hours without one soul taking notice – I swear, we could have moved there and no one would have known nor cared.  By the end of it all, I can’t believe how sick of Times Square I was…  Oh, and I forgot to mention, while we were searching for the Waterways bus, we came across a small deli that was actually recommended  to us by our tour bus driver – Z Deli.  The place had amazing falafel and gyro sandwiches!  And their prices were reasonable, especially for New York City – no, reasonable is not even the word for them.  I’m talking $.99 slices of pizza, and the huge gyro sandwich was only $3.99!  Its only shortcoming was the lack of places to sit, but the guys who run the place went out of their way to accommodate us (in anti-New York style, it seems), letting us dine at their “internet cafe” area.

So after the “miracle bus” picked us up, took us to the ferry station, and we rode the ferry and picked up the hotel shuttle, it was very late and we were exhausted.  It exhausts me just to type out the story, as it probably exhausts the reader to absorb my excruciating details, so now’s a good time to cut this volume short – more later…

New York Trip Diary Volume 2

Posted in Travel on March 25th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from a previous post)

Friday March 20 (cont’d) – We arrived at the Akron Zoo about 2pm, which was right on schedule pretty much, although it would have been nice to have more time to explore the wonderful zoo that awaited us.  From what I saw, Akron looked like a dumpy little city with a beautiful little zoo.  All of the exhibits seemed to be of newer construction, and the animals seemed really active and happy.  The Akron Zoo has many unique animals in their collection; including the super rare Sumatran Tiger, (most people are used to seeing Bengals, also called Siberian tigers as those are the ones frequently exhibited at zoos) and the Sumatran tiger was roaring when we saw him.  They also have 2 types of animals that I was looking forward to seeing – the hyacinth macaw and the capybara (largest rodent on earth) – but both species were off exhibit waiting for warmer weather.  No problem, we had seen capybaras at the Cleveland Zoo earlier in the day, and I have a macaw at home, not a rare hyacinth, but a macaw just the same.  Akron has a Malayan sun bear, the type of bear that was the inspiration to A. A. Milne for his Winnie the Pooh stories, and these are also not commonly on exhibit in zoos.  When we stopped for lunch, we were pleased to find that the cafe is attached to a building with a Galapagos tortoise habitat, a komodo dragon exhibit, a really cool marmoset environment (a little marmoset – it’s a small primate, if you don’t know – came running up to the glass when he saw us with our nacho container and started licking the glass!), and an awesome jellyfish exhibit.  Before Friday I had only seen one type of jellyfish – moon jellies – but the Akron Zoo has several different kinds on display.  My  favorite were the bulbous blue blubber jellies.  Here is the marmoset trying to taste our nachos through the glass while my daughter is in the middle of a blink:

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And next is a picture of the komodo dragon; I couldn’t resist posting it.  These things are incredibly ferocious and huge.  Once they claw (and look at those claws!) or bite their prey (and I’m talking prey as large as water buffalo), they hang around until the animal succumbs to the 28 varieties of deadly bacteria the komodo has in its saliva and then devour it.  Sharon Stone and her husband Phil Bronstein have something to say about the danger of komodos after one bit off his toes during a behind the scenes visit.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but this thing was almost 10 feet long!

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The Akron Zoo is a place for great family fun.  The girls got to be penguins:

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and measure their wing spans:

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Even though their baby brother didn’t quite make it long enough to see all of the animals and activities Akron had to offer:

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Another cool experience we had at Akron was hearing the bald eagles chirping.  I always kind of assumed they would have big voices to match their size, but their tweeting was really cute!  Overall, we had a wonderful day zoo-hopping.  After our visit to Akron, it was time to head for our hotel in New Jersey.  The ride was uneventful; the kids got some sleep and so did I.  The traffic in New Jersey was absolutely horrible, which we totally expected, but what we didn’t expect was all the detours.  There were police and road construction everywhere, which amounted to a ton of traffic, especially for one in the morning.  It was a bit stressful, but we did it, and kudos to my wonderful husband who kept his cool and guided us through the many detours for which Jill the GPS couldn’t compensate.  But who needs Jill?  We made it without getting lost!  And as we were walking down the hall to room 913 to turn in for the evening, I turned to Jamy our great friend and traveling Manny (man who’s a nanny in case you missed my first diary installment) and said, “At least we’re not staying in room 911 for our trip to New York.”  He showed me his key, which did say 911 – oops.  Thankfully it was just a coincidence, not an omen:

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And here is a parting shot of our family outside the Akron Zoo from earlier in the day – stayed tuned for Trip Diary Volume 3!

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New York Trip Diary Volume 1

Posted in animals, Travel on March 24th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When my family travels, I like to take notes and make a diary of our activities.  I figure it will be fun to read later when the kids are grown up and will also bring back many memories that might otherwise be forgotten.  Now that I’m keeping a blog, I decided to just keep the trip diaries in my blog; that way I don’t have to write them twice and they’re automatically saved for us in cyberspace.  Last weekend, my husband had to go to New York on business, so we decided to make it a family trip and take the kids along.  Here is a log of our activities:

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

Friday, March 20 – We left the house bright and early, only twenty minutes past our goal of 8 am.  Disney and Christopher had kept us up until 2:30 in the morning the night before, so we were dragging a little, but they slept in so at least we could tie up loose ends without them.  Sammie and Taylor were big helps in the morning!  The kids were very good in the car even though Christopher got a little crabby toward the end of the first leg.
We arrived at the Cleveland Zoo 11ish – not my favorite zoo.  I’m not one to complain about any zoo, but Cleveland had lots of walking to see a small amount of animals.  I think part of the problem was that they were undergoing a lot of construction, so that made for more walking around the construction areas and also to some animals being off exhibit.  They have koalas, but one was sick and the other was sleeping.  I’m glad I got to see it anyway though since seeing koalas is a rare experience at zoos, but now I know why many zoos don’t have them – they sleep 20 hours per day!  Cleveland Zoo also has lots of steep hills, which was a “bear” (pun intended, wink wink) when pushing a double stroller, but luckily for me, that was my husband’s problem.  As we were walking past the zoo’s hospital, an employee told us to come inside because a baboon was about to have a physical.  This is a really cool feature of this zoo – they have glass walls in their examination rooms so that zoo visitors can watch animals’ procedures.  Unfortunately, the baboon was not cooperative, and they couldn’t get it sedated so we didn’t get to see it.  We waited for about an hour, but we really wanted to fit in Akron Zoo in the same day as well, so we decided not to wait any longer.  Here are my girls waiting for the baboon’s physical:

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Cleveland Zoo also has a cool rainforest exhibit which normally costs extra admission, but our Toledo Zoo membership got us into ALL THREE zoos we visited on this trip for FREE!!!  What a bargain AND an extra special Valentine’s Day gift from my husband that keeps on giving!  The rainforest exhibit had a cool 2-story monkey/squirrel exhibit, and a really nice view of a swimming gharial (a crocodillian with a long slender snout).  But overall, the animal habitats were lacking.  Thank goodness they are building new ones, but I wish they were building one for the giraffes.  There were probably more than 10 giraffes confined to a tiny indoor room – at least it was only their winter quarters, so once it gets warm, they can go back outside and have room to roam.  Hmmm…  maybe when I’m done with this trip diary, I’ll have to  develop a zoo rating system – that would be fun.  Then I’d have an excuse to visit even more zoos, and re-visit some of the old ones!

ny-trip-march-20-23-2009-001Here are the kids in front of the lion exhibit at Cleveland – then it was on to the Akron Zoo.

“Just Akron, cold beer, and poor poor thing for 2 weeks?”  you ask?  Well, not for two weeks, we were only there for about 2 hours, but I wanted to throw in that line from the stage play Harvey (and later, the movie starring James Stewart) that was running through my head for the two hours.  Stay tuned for Akron!

New Jersey Is Lovely This Time Of Year, I Hear

Posted in Travel on March 20th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Right now, I’m in the car with my husband, our 4 kids, and our volunteer “Manny” (a man who’s a nanny – thanks Jamiahsh!); we’re on the way to the New Jersey / New York City area!  How did I manage to make a blog post, you ask?  Well, I’ve actually typed this out days ahead of time and then used the brilliant tangents.org feature “schedule a post”, choosing the exact date and time for which my post will automatically publish itself!  I love technology AND tangents.org!

So I think we’re probably between zoos right now; the itinerary had us stopping at both the Cleveland and Akron Zoos in Ohio on the way to New Jersey.  Two zoos only 20 minutes apart?  How could I resist?  And why can’t my utopia of a hometown be located within a 20-minute vicinity of two zoos?!?

I hope we made it to both zoos without being too pressed for time, and I also hope the kids are being good on the long car ride.  I hope our business meeting goes well tomorrow and that we have a lot of fun before making it home safely.  Until I return…