Holiday Travel

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children.

Allow me to share with you our experiences between Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their traditions. Every family has that house they visit to celebrate the Holidays. Some families may even be that host who welcomes friends and relatives into their home.

A very Merry Christmas!

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children. We just told Lovie, who has been in charge of laundry, to make sure that everyone has enough clean clothes for the week. She didn’t seem too suspicious about it but went about her chores.

We went to my in-laws on Christmas Eve, went home, went to bed, and woke up on Christmas morning. We exchanged presents and had a quick, light breakfast. As the children ate, Wife presented them with a slide show detailing what the week had in store for everyone.

Everyone packed bags. We took snacks for us. We weren’t sure what would be open for meals on Christmas Day. Everyone loaded up the car and piled in. The Gaggle, Slick, Slugger, Lovie, The Oppressed, The Boy, Wife, and me. We hit the road, always a favorite hobby of mine. We drove through towns. We drove on highways. We stopped where we could to buy snacks. After hours of driving, we finally reached New York, and not long after crossing the line into the Empire State, we arrived at the urban jungle known as New York City.

Stop 1: New York City

All things considered; the traffic wasn’t that bad from our home on Massachusetts’ South Shore to the Big Apple. Even driving through NYC was relatively easy in terms of traffic. Like everything else with life: meals, travels, coordination, this trip presented its challenges which we met and…. Well, we met the challenges.

Our base for this trip was the Hilton Garden Inn on West 54th St. We parked on the street, which was utilized as a street for traffic, a bike lane, and a loading/unloading zone for those staying at the hotel. The loading zone was already full when we got there. Wife got out and got to check us in. I manned the driver’s seat just in case someone came by and said we needed to move the car, which may or may not have been blocking a fire hydrant when we first got there.

The Christmas tree lit up at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

I patiently waited in the car with seven children, some of whom wanted to go into the hotel with Wife. We said no. There was no way we were letting the kids split up in NYC before we got rooms squared away and luggage out of the car. I kept looking in all directions, hoping to find a better place to park and making sure no one was saying we couldn’t be here. Wife came back out and informed me we were good to go. We unloaded the car and got it parked out of everyone’s way. On to see our rooms, which weren’t adjoining. That’s alright. I’m sure we can make it work. The boys are on the 10th floor and the girls are on the 30th. Okay, we can meet in the hotel lobby, out front. Meet in someone’s room. Oh yeah, there are three elevators in the hotel, and one doesn’t work. Oh…

The day we arrived was a little low-key. After all, it’s Christmas Day. We chose to eat dinner in the hotel. We did some walking around the city. Back to the rooms for some rest and sleep.

The next day was the start of two full days in the Big Apple. We walked around Central Park. We took a bus tour of the city. We took a boat cruise and went past the Statue of Liberty. We ate bagels, pizza, and all kinds of unhealthy food that you would expect someone to eat while they’re on vacation.

A man standing outside a coffee shop in the city.
I have coffee every day. This time I let everyone know.

Oh yeah, pizza. Slick and I went to get pizza for everyone one night. There was a place not far from the hotel. It was late. Everyone was hungry, but no one really wanted to leave the hotel. Three pizzas should cover everybody for dinner. We ordered the pizzas and then we are told it’s cash only. No problem. We had the cash. We pay for the pizzas and wait for them. I realize I never bought drinks and have to make another order. The manager, who took our order, then informs us they take cash or credit cards. Would we like to use our credit card? Slick and I looked at each other and I told the manager we had cash. We’ll use cash.

There were sidewalk artists. Kids got paintings and drawings. Everyone got souvenirs. Wife told me you could get a Rolex for $10 in NYC. I didn’t know Rolex was going out of business. There’s also a question of authenticity with said “Rolexes” and I guess it’s not just the Rolexes. The same thing happens with certain designer bags and clothes. I’m in my 40’s and I’m still learning things.

A sidewalk artist wearing a mask as he spray-paints on canvas.
Sidewalk artist
The Statue of Liberty
A view from our city cruise.

We took a bus tour. We went around the city and listened to a recorded tour. We learned things about New York City, how things got their name, and the history of buildings and streets. We went down 42nd Street. No miracles. Then again, six went to NYC and we made it back with all six kids alive and intact. Maybe there was a miracle.

A street sign marking West 42 Street at night.
The home of miracles.

West 44th Street. I was on West 44th Street. There just happens to be a recording studio on that street. The Record Plant, aka “The Plant” was where John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimi Hendrix recorded. Aerosmith recorded there. It was one of those places I had always heard of. I tried to get The Boy to walk down the street with me. He declined. We were also on the far end of the street. I never made it to The Record Plant.

There was plenty to see in New York. There always is. Unfortunately, we had to get home. We needed to unpack our bags and trade dirty clothes for clean clothes, unload souvenirs, get some rest in our own beds and get ready for the second trip of the week.

Stop 2: Mystic, CT

We got home from the urban jungle of NYC and I took a shower and shaved. It was nice to be in my own bedroom. The past four nights with Slick and Slugger challenged my nose and lungs. I think housekeeping wore hazmat suits when they cleaned our room after we left.

A main reason for stopping at home was an earlier-planned meeting with my parents and siblings for lunch and exchanging Christmas presents. Unfortunately, one of my parents came down with Covid and plans for lunch had to be scrapped. Still, it was nice to get home and unload some of the dirty clothes that were sitting in our bags in the car, especially clothes from Slick and Slugger. We hit the road. A shorter trip this time. We arrived at a nice hotel situated in a nice part of town. We were near shopping, restaurants. We were near the Mystic Aquarium. The rooms were nice, the pool was heated. I was waiting for something to happen: some type of infestation, there was a mistake, and our rooms weren’t actually adjoining. Nothing. Accommodations that seemed too good to be true were the real thing.

A turtle in a glass case
The favorite part of the trip for The Oppressed.

Dinner and a quick dip in the pool with The Oppressed and The Boy. We fell asleep in our new room, the third in as many nights. The next day was spent at the Mystic Aquarium. The Oppressed got to see turtles. She loves turtles. The Boy got to see dinosaurs. He and I were both glad to see that. We had to leave the aquarium, though. We had dinner plans with Wife’s cousin at his family’s house. It was a nice house, and, when we pulled into the driveway, I reiterated my death threats if anybody didn’t behave themselves. It went well. All children were able to occupy themselves. Wife and I were able to have intelligent conversations with adults.

The next morning began with breakfast at a local diner. We did some shopping before getting on the road and making our way home. We got home. More dirty clothes were unloaded. We said goodbye to 2021 and welcomed 2022. It was a year with challenges, kids, lots of kids, and moments that made for interesting stories and reasons for drinking. What mattered was everyone had a good time. We got to do and see things with the kids.

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.

Just me and… Forget it (A Marriage Story)

We’re a busy family. We always have been. Wife’s work schedule is insane. The kids have sports, doctor’s and dentist appointments, drivers ed. We travel here and there to visit family and sometimes help family with various things around the yard. There’s things around our yard that need attention. We’ll get to it. Sure.

We’re busy just like you. Everyone has their obligations and to-do lists. It’s nice to get away for a while but even then it can be tough for me and Wife. Our children can be territorial; Not with me of course. I could be missing for a month and they wouldn’t care as long as screens are charged up and the Wi-Fi is working. I’m talking about their mother. That’s right. Their mother. I have been reminded numerous times that Wife is their mother. My mother is not in the house and therefore they get to have her and not me. People don’t own people and they should be able to spend time with whoever they want. I’m still working on that message for the children.

One time we took a vacation to a resort. This was before we became foster parents. There was me, Wife, The Oppressed, and The Boy as well as some of my in-laws. One week at an all-inclusive resort. No cars. No going anywhere except the beach and the restaurant. During that entire week Wife and I had a 20-minute lunch together. That was it in the entire seven days.

A rare photo of Wife not surrounded by children.

I know you’re reading this nodding your head. You’re dealing with the same thing. Or you had the same thing once and don’t anymore. You may miss it those days and for that, I pray for your mental health.

It’s not all bad. Sometimes when when we need to go somewhere and have to take two cars, the kids want to go with Wife. This allows me some quiet time. Sometimes the cars are so packed one or two of the children have to go with me. That’s when they show Wife how they can contort themselves in the car and still be able to go with her. They are willing to do anything if it means going with their mom and not going with me. I’m looking forward to one of the children getting their license. Maybe then Wife and I could go together in one car and the children could go in another. Maybe then we could get some alone time. It would just be for an hour or so but I’ll take what I can get.

Last week we had a Zoom meeting with some friends. Wife and I were set up with drinks and snacks waiting for the host to join. Something went off inside The Boy as he sensed I was sitting too close to my wife. He sped into the room, jumped on the couch and crated a spot between me and Wife for him. He doesn’t want me to get too much time with my wife. He doesn’t want me to get any time with my wife.

Family Vacation

The ‘Rona gave another trial this tried-and-true family had yet to endure: Vacation.

Wife usually picks where we go. I’m happy to go anywhere so I provide the tie-breaking vote if we can’t narrow it down to one place. We did have a place picked out and booked… Then Coronapalooza hit and we were forced to call an audible. We needed a place that would accommodate seven people. We needed a place that would provide fun, diversion and enough space for people to properly social-distance. What better place for that than the Great Outdoors.

One week, four adults, eight kids. What could possibly go wrong?

Wife has told me time and time again she is a “Hotel Girl”. I did a couple of years in Boy Scouts and my first camping trip was wall-to-wall rain. The heavens opened up and stayed open from the time we made camp to the time we broke camp. We swam, cooked, ate and slept in the rain. I should have checked to see who made those tents because not a drop of water came in the entire week.

We arrived at the campsite; Me, Wife, The Boy, The Gaggle, The Oppressed. We were accompanied by two of wife’s cousins. One of the cousins had three kids. One week. Four adults. Eight kids. What could possibly go wrong?

We set up the tents when we got there. I was ready. We had enough tents to shelter everybody and we were cooking on propane. It wasn’t exactly Valley Forge that week.

Wife and one of the cousins did most of the cooking that week. I helped where I could. I washed some dishes. I monitored the kids swimming. The waves at the beach were fantastic. Everyone went out to the water and tried to remain standing as the large waves came at everybody.

We cooked and cleaned outdoors. We roughed it, especially the gaggle, who did everything they could do to find and use wi-fi. All of the children went a week without screens. It was, by far, one of the longest, hardest weeks they ever endured. the mental anguish. The Oppressed was also concerned for everyone’s safety. On the way to the beach, she saw signs warning about sharks and made sure no one went into the water. I reminded her that sharks did live in that water and we needed to be told about this. The sign convinced her that there were definitely sharks and maybe we shouldn’t go in.

Proof we shouldn’t swim.
(The Oppressed)

There were other challenges and trials. Some Daddy Long Legs infiltrated tents. I was sent in a couple of times to rescue God’s little creatures. Some of the tents looked like the children (the boys) were actually trying to grow or culture something in their tents. I was glad I had a mask when I went in there. Some of the kids left their shoes out in the rain. Luckily, we had extra shoes packed.

There were hot showers on the premises, so it was nice to be able to keep clean during the week. What wasn’t nice, was having to trip through the roots and rocks in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.