Family Time and Road Trips

Ahhh, vacation. A time for leaving the hustle and bustle of work and everyday life. A time to replace work with fun. A time to check out someplace new and maybe try new things. Try new food, or maybe indulge in a little extra of your favorites.

Whether we’re on vacation or just trying to live our daily lives, nothing is normal or routine with our family. And even if we’re just trying to live a low-key life at home or away on vacation, action and excitement finds a way to find us.

Booking the trip

Wife and I were looking for a place to take our children on vacation this summer. Sadly, our options were limited as to where. (Check the state’s rules for foster parents if you want to know how.) After looking, consulting, and careful planning, we thought a few days at Six Flags would be just the thing. We found a nearby hotel that included passes to Six Flags. Breakfast was included with your stay. I showed this to my wife as the heavens opened up and a choir of angels began to sing. Brave Daddy had come through for his family!

I got the confirmation email shortly after booking. There was no mention of the included passes, so I called the hotel to find out if that would be in a separate email. Turns out they, “don’t do that anymore.” They stopped doing that during Coronapalooza. I tell the nice lady it would have been nice to know that when the website was saying passes were included. She was sorry.

I consult with my wife. We still want to go to Six Flags so we decide to keep the reservation since the hotel is so close to the park. Lucky for us we live in the 21st century and things can be done with the click of the mouse or tapping your phone. Loving parents that we are, we go online and look to secure tickets for our family. I find a package that fits our family and includes free soft drinks for the entire day of our visit. Brave Daddy has come through again! I check the terms and conditions to confirm this isn’t something too good to be true. I click “buy”. Rides. Food. Free drinks. Parking close to the park. I’d prepare my “Father of the Year” acceptance speech but I need to take care of things for work. I need to cook dinner and there’s a trip I need to pack for. The speech will need to wait.

The confirmation email from Six Flags arrives. The amount paid looks a little (a lot) different from what was listed at the checkout screen. Apparently I missed some things in the finer fine print. I explain to the nice person on the phone the price at checkout did not match the price charged to my card. The nice person explained the reason for the price. I asked for a refund. They don’t do that. They were sorry.

“If you actually get somebody on the phone, nobody can help but everybody understands… And they’re always sorry.”

Bill Burr

Getting There

The glorious day of leaving on vacation finally arrives. Doggie goes to the kennel. The car is packed. Everyone has their screens and headphones, ready for the ride through the fair commonwealth of Massachusetts. I love travelling and I love driving. Living in eastern Massachusetts, we don’t normally see western Massachusetts. I’m travelling to a different place. We’re going on vacation. We’re going to an amusement park. Life is good.

After our excursion (including a stop or two for food and bathroom breaks), we finally arrive at our lodging. A quaint place of business strategically located off the highway for travelers such as us. I go to the front desk to check in and get our keys. After getting the necessary information, I look over and see a “restaurant” with tables pushed to the side and chairs stacked on the tables. I ask the nice person behind the desk if that’s where the breakfast is served in the morning. The nice person gives me a look indicating they have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t need them to say anything. I know this is going to be good. There’s no breakfast. They don’t serve breakfast. It would have been nice to know that when their website touted a free breakfast with your stay. They were sorry.

Donut Dip. Our source for breakfast.
Go there. You’re welcome.

There was a silver lining to this story. Not having breakfast at the hotel meant we needed to find a place to feed our starving children. Parents know what a tedious, thankless job this can be. I did a search of the area and found “Donut Dip”, a quaint shop near the hotel that would, could, and did solve our breakfast conundrum. The Boy and I left and returned with donuts, coffee, and juice for all of us to fill up and prepare for our excursion in western Massachusetts.

Fun at Six Flags

We arrived at Six Flags. The temperature was hot. Thankfully, we had access to the water park. After going on a couple of rides and trying to find cold drinks to cool off, we decided to splash around the water park. From the water park we were back on the rides. The Boy was the most adventurous. He went on every ride he could. He was ecstatic every time he found out he was tall enough. He and one of The Gaggle went on the SkyScreamer. It’s a ride that climbs 400 feet and goes in circles. He loved it. I think he’s still excited about going on. This was just one example of the joy he felt going on the rides.

Like I said, it was hot when we went. Luckily, our membership allowed for free soft drinks all day, everyday. There was a small problem: Half of the concession stands were closed when we were there. The concession stands that were open didn’t have functioning fountain machines. We were looking for rides and looking for drinks. Sometimes the lines for the drinks (and the food) were longer than the rides. If you’ve been to Six Flags or any amusement park for that matter, you know how long the lines can be.

Our daredevils on the Skyscreamer.

I was in line at one concession stand and thought I was going to get a little added entertainment when someone tried to jump the line and fill their cup ahead of the people who were patiently waiting in line. Despite multiple reminders that there was a line and you couldn’t cut, this person continued to attempt to fill their cups. People got louder. I thought there was going to be a brawl. I had my cell phone ready to record whatever was going to go down. Would I be YouTube famous? Who knows? It didn’t happen. The person left the line. No additional drama.

We went home with more gear that when we got to the park. Children loaded up on hats, toys and souvenirs. People won prizes for winning games. My children don’t have enough stuff in their bedrooms, so naturally they got more. We stopped at a diner for breakfast before the trek home. We unloaded the car, picked up Doggie, and crashed for the night. In the morning, we packed up again for a couple of nights down Cape Cod. There we regaled Wife’s parents with glorious tales of Six Flags, the hotel, food, and a near-brawl over soft drinks.

Cape Cod presented its own challenges but challenges go with the territory when it comes to my family. I had daily shopping excursions with one of Wife’s aunt. Every time we got back we found out something was needed. We added it to the list and set out the next day. There was lively conversation at mealtimes that focused on the vacation and the fun we had food shopping. The days on Cape Cod were a lot cooler than the sweltering days in Western Massachusetts. We went to the lake one day. The kids went swimming. I stayed on the sand with Wife until The Oppressed came to me and begged me to go into the water with her. I did and I’m still recovering from the shock of the cold water. My kids would swim in a blizzard if we’d let them. Cold doesn’t faze them at all, unless of course we’re walking to or from school, taking a hike, or playing a game outside.

Doggie tried to play with my in-law’s dog, who was totally disinterested in that. Both dogs spent their time competing for table scraps that might fall from the table. They played the percentages and hung out near the Boy, who was the smallest of the family and the least careful with his plate of food. Both dogs also hung out near the grill. Their dog suddenly decided he needed to mark his territory at the grill. That was never a problem before. Now it needed to be official.

The dogs co-existed. Our dog was excited to have a playmate. Their dog tolerated our dog and made it clear on many occasions that there would be minimal playing. There were campfires at night where we had drinks and made s’mores. Walks downtown resulted in ice cream and candy. None of the kids wanted to share despite numerous requests. I reminded them I would have shared with them. They told me that’s nice.

Now we’re back home. Wife and I are back to work. We share glorious tales of our trip and learning experiences with friends and family. Camp will be starting soon. Kitty was excited to see us. Doggie was excited to have someone to (sort of) play with. It was an exciting time. I spent three hours at the grocery store to restock the refrigerator and pantry. The Boy is back at his friend’s house. The Gaggle are still sleeping until noon or later. Everyone is adjusting to life back home.

My new book, “Down in the Farm” is now available on Apple Books.

Dog Days of Winter

We’re all continuing to adjust to the added responsibilities Doggie has brought to us and our happy home. Being a puppy with a small bladder, she needs constant walking day and night. Ever the trooper, wife handles the overnight shifts. I’m gone; oblivious to the world. Wife once told me a story of one of our children climbing on me, crying, hitting me and screaming, “Dad!” I didn’t hear them. Didn’t feel anything. Wife asked, “Didn’t you hear anything?” Umm…. No.

I am, however, awake early in the morning bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to start the day. I spend these glorious mornings switching laundry, washing dishes, making coffee for me and Wife and pounding the keyboard about my glorious domestic exploits. So, as you read this, remember I woke up early to do this for you. You’re welcome.

If I am to take Doggie for a constitutional, I may or may not have one of the smaller children with me. There was one time The Boy and I were out to walk the dog around the block. There was some slight miscommunication as to how far we were actually going to walk. We both agreed we would walk around the block, but there happens to be a street that runs through the middle of our street. The Boy thought we were going to just walk around our half of the street but me being the taskmaster and architect behind the forced marches at Valley Forge and, closer to home, our own neighborhood after school, I decided we would walk the length of the entire block.

A boy and his dog. Photo by Sam Lion on Pexels.com

Keep in mind, this is the same Miracle of Christ who insists he doesn’t need a jacket in the middle of winter. I had Doggie. If the boy took her, I don’t think we’d ever see either of them again. I would miss the dog and would have to explain to wife what happened to The Boy.

We reach the intersection and The Boy is about to make a turn. I stop at the corner while Doggie sniffs curiously at a patch of grass or asphalt. Something incredible is down there and only she knows what it is. I call to The Boy and tell him we are walking the whole block. He eyebrows furrow. He looks at me with an open mouth. Do I not understand how cold it is? Of course I do. Why else would I invade his privacy everyday by telling him to put on a jacket. I’m not like other parents. I don’t love my children.

The Boy tells me we are curtailing this trek and heading home. It’s cold. There’s a YouTube channel that won’t watch itself. Why would I do this to him. Doggie hasn’t peed yet and I don’t want to clean the floor again. Plus, I’m still trying to work off the fruitcake that was calling my name and seducing me over the holidays. No excuses, says one of the child labor experts. It’s cold and he’s tired. My unfeeling ears hear none of this (They’re cold.) I tell him we need to walk the entire block. The Boy, in a fit of protest, sits down on the ground and removes his boots. Yes. Cold butt. Cold feet. That’ll show me.

We’ve now reached the point where I remind The Boy we could have been home already. He’s tired. He can’t do it. I need to carry him. I tell him I can’t I’m tired. He needs to carry me and walk Doggie.

What we did. (Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com)

The Boy picks up his boots and trudges onward. I’m imagining the story he’s going to have for his teacher at the next Zoom meeting. I interrupt my own train of thought to advise him to put his boots on. It might make his walk easier. After all, he did say he was cold.

What The Boy thinks we did. (Photo by Flo Maderebner on Pexels.com)

We get back home. Doggie has done her business. The Boy stomps his feet to the television where he basks in front of the warm glow of some mind-numbing drivel showing a walkthrough of Roblox or a Nintendo Switch game. As he thaws from the 30-minute session (five of which were actually spent walking), he curses my name and cruelty. He swears he’s going to be a better parent than me. Oaths are made. This resentment only lasts so long as someone, I won’t say who, but someone needs to read to him that night.

Cats and Dogs

There’s never a dull moment in our house. Me, wife, five kids, a cat, a dog… Oh, yeah. We got a dog.

I’m still not sure how this all came about. One of the children, I think, started talking about how nice it would be to have a dog. The Miracles of Christ don’t think we quite have enough going on in our house or in our lives. Between elementary school and high school, we have someone at home learning remotely five days a week. Wife is still working from home. Someone needs to go to school for a tutoring session at least two days a week. On top of that, there are the daily responsibilities of keeping the house clean. Now the children want to throw another pet into the mix.

We got a dog.

I reminded the children of the additional responsibilities that come with a dog, responsibilities that require getting out of bed before 11:00. No problem. They can do it. They will remember to feed the dog and walk the dog. These kids can’t remember to turn off a light when they leave a room but they’ll remember to take care of another animal.

It’s okay. They’ve got this. They’re going to take care of the dog. I voice my concerns, which are seriously considered by all before we start looking online for another member of our ever-growing family. We find a puppy at a local shelter. We sign up for our socially-distanced appointment. Before that, it’s off to the bank for a second mortgage and then the pet store where we buy up every dog supply the store has to offer. Wife and I are a little apprehensive now since there are no guarantees we will go home with a dog.

Who’s walking who?

We get the dog. Doggie hangs out in the office with wife where she whines and whimpers. Wife stops her business presentation to explain to the listeners we have yet another addition to the family and God forbid we don’t give her our undivided attention every waking moment.

Walking the dog is a treat. The dog fights us leaving the house and down the driveway and around the block. I’m trying to get Doggie to pee or poop. I don’t need to clean another mess in this house. Wife and I had a dog before. That dog took out three chew toys, five rugs, two mats, a bookcase, and the entire floor of one room. Some of these casualties are from chewing. Some are from peeing. Wife and I are especially vigilant about walking the dog.

We took Doggie to a check-up to make sure she’s healthy and alright. She has an ear infection. Fun times. The vet said we need to make sure her teeth are clean. The Oppressed has offered to share her toothbrush. I immediately vetoed that offer.

On the plus side, we have a fenced-in yard and our compost pile (We’re such good citizens of the Earth) is also fenced off. We have that to give Doggie a space to run around and expend some energy.

The family, especially the children are excited about this addition, especially one of the Gaggle, who has immediately adopted Doggie as yet another support animal. Speaking of support animals, Kitty is not pleased with this fellow four-legged creature. She is on alert every time she sees Doggie. Bristled fur, arched back, puffy tail. The whole bit. The truth is Puppy is just as scared of Kitty as Kitty is of Puppy. They’re both little timid animals who want protection from the other. What could possibly go wrong?