In a darkened Tennessee motel room, just a mile from the Virginia border, my children are sleeping, each splayed across a double bed. At some point I will have to squeeze in beside one of them so I can sleep. It will most likely be Zeke, because he is smaller and therefore slightly easier to move, and he is less likely to leave bruises on my legs when he kicks me during the night. All those years of martial arts and soccer and running have endowed Zoe with very strong legs. Over the past nine nights of this trip, I have slept in a variety of beds in four different states with each of my children, occasionally my husband, and once–I think–alone. I am very much looking forward to being home in my own bed with space enough to sleep peacefully. Randy sometimes steals the covers but he never thrashes around or elbows me in the face.
On this trip I saw three cousins, two cousins-in-law, four second cousins, an uncle and two aunts. It had been so long since I’d seen some of these family members that they’d never met Zeke, or interacted with Zoe since she was an infant. I also got together with a high school friend, whose kids instantly befriended my kids. As we were leaving her house, Zoe asked, “can we exchange information?” I instructed her before she went to sleepaway camp this year to make sure her friends wrote down their names and contact information if she wanted to keep in touch with them, so she wouldn’t come home with scraps of paper saying “mom’s #” with a phone number and not know whose it was. Zoe drew one of her signature dragons for her 16-year-old cousin Elizabeth, with whom she was greatly enamored, as a thank you for Elizabeth giving her two stuffed animals from her childhood collection. Zeke came away with a large plastic version of a Swiss army knife, which he called his “tool,” and he spent hours asking everyone he could find if they had a problem, which he would then attempt to solve with his tool. He stuck the tool in his pocket and carried it everywhere. He dissolved in sobs when he was FaceTiming Daddy and couldn’t find his tool to show him. Zeke can’t seem to remember the name FaceTime. Earlier today he asked if we could TimeFace Daddy, and then as we pulled up to the hotel he asked if we could HotelFace Daddy. I said yes.
On this trip we hung out with five different dogs–Bella, Maisy, Lily, Dewey, and Lucy–in three different houses. Even though Zoe was reluctant to even walk into the house when Bella was standing at the door, after less than 24 hours with her, Zoe and Randy wanted to adopt her. On the way from South Carolina to Georgia, Randy was looking at dogs on an animal rescue website. Discussion quickly turned to how many pounds was too many and which dogs were better with kids or required a fenced yard. The jumpier, louder dogs at the next two houses perhaps curbed Zoe’s enthusiasm to adopt, yet by the end she was sad to leave the dogs who had seemingly terrified her moments before. Zeke was unfazed by all of it. He just couldn’t remember that some of the dogs were girls, saying, “Hi little fellow!” as he pet them.
On this trip I tried to pack in as much family time and adventuring as possible and therefore did not plan for adequate napping for Zeke, which resulted in several meltdowns and a lot of huffing and puffing. I suppose this is to be expected from a three-year-old, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. Zoe was a good sport about almost everything and usually continued to do whatever she was supposed to be doing while I dealt with Zeke. Sometimes she helped. It is easy to forget that it is hard for three-year-olds to adapt. All things considered, Zeke probably adapted really well. We did a LOT in 10 days–the Georgia Aquarium, Legoland Discovery Center, the High Museum of Art (exclusively the Eric Carle exhibit, family gallery, the outdoor climbable sculptures, and the ArtLab, lest you think I tried to coax my kids through the Walker Evans exhibit or anything too sophisticated), Zoo Atlanta, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the climbable sculptures at the Abernathy Greenway. We shopped all too briefly at Little Shop of Stories and devoured ice cream at Butter & Cream (I recommend the OG Goodness).
We saw sea lions perform and beluga whales glide gracefully by and we touched sea anemones. We learned that sea lions have ears you can see and seals do not. We pedaled into the air and shot at bad guys on the rides at Legoland, and admired a Lego model of Atlanta’s famous buildings. We read Pancakes, Pancakes and learned about Eric Carle’s technique of sweeping paint onto paper on the floor with a broom and then cutting it up to create his vibrant illustrations and how growing up in Germany and walking through the woods with his father influenced his work. We built block towers and created collages and Zoe and Randy made a stop motion animated film. Zoe and Zeke fed romaine lettuce to a hungry giraffe with a long and powerful tongue. We saw orangutans and pandas and flamingos and giant tortoises so calm and contemplative that I thought at first they were statues. We rode the train and the carousel and an exceptionally kind zoo employee went out of his way for me. I had bought a souvenir cup at lunch and refilled it with water which I was sharing with the kids. While I was watching Zoe climb a very tall net structure, Zeke finished the water and went over to recycle the cup. I tried to stop him, shouting that I had bought the cup to keep, and he pushed it further into the recycling big and then hung his head, Charlie Brown style, which he does when he realizes he did something wrong but seems powerless to stop himself. The zoo employee, who was on duty at the climbing structure, but there was no one else there but Zoe, said he would be right back and he went to get me another cup. I thought that was amazingly kind of him. It wasn’t a big thing, but he really didn’t have to do it at all, and I never would have asked. We watched a clever and engaging puppet show called Old MacDonald’s Farm. I bet you think you already know the story, but there was really a lot more to it than you’d expect, and it was quite well done. Then we made our own chicken puppets, even the grown-ups. We visited quite a few gift shops and came away with too many souvenirs (the number diminished at each stop), except at the Children’s Museum where we bypassed the gift shop altogether because the kids’ behavior there was especially unpleasant.
I learned more about my Dad’s family–that they used to drive from the Bronx to Yonkers on Saturdays to visit Grandma Yeager and eat delicious Hungarian food, and take leftovers home. I learned that Grandpa Rosenblatt was some sort of peddler and that he traveled back and forth from Romania to the US but once to Argentina–speaking only Yiddish– for some time because he couldn’t get back in the US, and Grandma Rosenblatt worried that he was going to abandon the family so she sent Max (my grandfather) to America when he was a teenager to make sure his father would send for her and her daughter Sara. I learned that my dad and his brother and sister and their mom spent several summers at a bungalow colony in upstate New York, which they loved, and my Uncle Larry and his friend went fishing and unexpectedly caught an eel. And there’s more, for another post another time.
We enjoyed seeing my Uncle Larry appear suddenly as Bobo the Clown, which initially frightened Zeke but then delighted all of us with magic tricks and corny jokes and a couple skits. Zeke was still talking today about how funny it was when Bobo the Clown was trying to sleep and a bee was bothering him. Zeke cracked up both watching and remembering the scene.
We enjoyed eating authentic Southern junk food at the Varsity in Atlanta. I had two hot dogs with chili and slaw. I don’t think I’ve had hot dogs like that–or that good–since my Nana died because I used to have them at her house. Chili and slaw in Arlington are not the same. This morning we hit Waffle House. I was reminded of my desire to eat at Waffle House by the Waffle House-replica kitchen at the Children’s Museum, where Zeke served Aunt Susan a stack of six fried eggs. I decided we would stop and eat not long after we left Atlanta this morning, worried that we wouldn’t encounter another Waffle House. As it turns out, there was one about every other exit for hundreds of miles. Not to worry. I took my aunt’s advice and ordered hash browns covered and smothered. The kids had chocolate chip waffles. Which means I ate my breakfast and half of Zeke’s waffle while he ate bacon and my biscuit.
I love how Zeke made himself completely at home with all of my family members, most of whom he’d either never met or hadn’t seen in years. And if you’re three and you haven’t seen someone in years, you might as well never have met them. He just jumped right in with no hesitation. Zoe is more circumspect, but still enjoyed bonding with the family, especially getting silly with my uncle and glimpsing the glamorous lives of her older cousins–ages 12, 14, and 16. As soon as we left each of our family’s houses, she declared that she missed them already.
I almost forgot how we started the trip with the Insane Inflatable 5K in Virginia Beach. Zoe and I signed up for this fresh off her excitement about the Girls on the Run 5K she ran with my sister in May. We watched videos of the Insane Inflatable 5K and it looked fun. And it was, mostly. It was also very hot that day and traversing those inflatables was way harder than we anticipated. But we did it, and we were proud of ourselves. And I got a migraine later that day but that’s to be expected. We also enjoyed the Children’s Museum of Virginia that afternoon. I think I am done with Children’s Museums for a while.
I did not accomplish much of anything else this week. I thought I’d be able to squeeze in some work because this week was a completely inconvenient time for me to take off, in terms of my work schedule, but this week was when we could make the trip. So, sorry clients. I’ll be back on task next week. I was so exhausted I fell asleep two nights this week putting Zeke to bed, and stayed asleep for the night. I apologized to my uncle for being antisocial but he said he understood. I am thankful to everyone we visited for their flexibility. They were all remarkably solicitous and accommodating.
The last leg of our journey is tomorrow. Roughly six more hours to go, not counting stops to eat and pee, of which there are always plenty. We had a terrific adventure, but we are all ready to be home. And now it’s time to claim my sliver of bed, next to Zeke and Kitty Kat and Uh Oh Dog. Good night.