The Best Way to Travel with Kids


Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years. All of that time, we’ve lived far away from family. That means that most “vacations” have been trips to the grandparents’ houses and have involved driving long distances with very small and very squirrely people. We’ve tried all kinds of methods to get from point A to point B without a murder/suicide pact, but I discovered the best one yet last week: travel with coworkers.

It sounds crazy, I know. In fact, before we left for our 14-hour road trip to ICOM (International Conference on Missions) in Columbus, Ohio, I dreaded the idea of packing my husband, my three children and myself into a mini van with my boss and another professor from the college where we work. I imagined hours of monotony infused with severe whining and me maybe doing something horrible like yelling at the kids while simultaneously trying to hold an adult conversation with a Ph.D.

My boy is the cutest boy.

My boy is the cutest boy.

As it turned out, though, I was very wrong about the whole thing. In fact, I hadn’t even considered the idea that the presence of outsiders might make our family nicer to each other. My children, being preteens and old enough to entertain themselves for longer stretches than 3.2 seconds, brought books, notebooks, homework (!), DS games, and they actually kept themselves busy about 70% of the time.

Of course, kids their ages are decent at being nice to each other, but sometimes they get tired and feel cramped and bored. When that happened on this trip, the children did something wonderful. Instead of yelling at each other and pushing each other around, they calmly (most of the time) expressed themselves and guess what! Having two extra adults in the vehicle proved wonderfully handy. Instead of Andrew and me shouldering the entire burden for entertaining and refereeing, whenever the boredom started setting in, one of the other grown-ups came up with something interesting for them to talk about or listen to or do. Imagine that! We brought a village in the van with us, and they helped us raise our kids for a few days.

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving...

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving…

One of the professors regaled us all with stories from his doctoral dissertation in literature, and that proved interesting and informative.  During the long ride home, in what felt like the middle of the dark night but really was only about 6 pm, the other one broke out in a narrative poem/story he recited from memory. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.

The best parts, though, were not related entirely to the children’s behavior. I watched us all together and I realized a few things.

1.  I enjoyed seeing my coworkers in a different and unusual setting. I see them at work, interacting with students and other faculty and staff, but I never see them on a ridiculously long road trip with children. They both have grandchildren of their own, though, and I got to see the grandfather come out in them. I like them better now, having seen how gently they treated my children. Like I said above, my children don’t get to see family very often, and this trip reiterated for me how God provides families for us when he leads us far from our biological families.

2.  Children spend more time with their parents than anyone, and I think that sometimes can get oppressive. They need other people’s input in their lives. Seeing other adults, listening to them talk, hearing the way they spoke to each other and to their own children on the phone during the trip gave my kids a different perspective, little glimpses of other ways to view the world. Not to mention that they listened to us converse about things other than what was for dinner and whether the cats and dogs will ever get along in our house. They got to hear about theology and literature and ministry and all sorts of important things that I know very little about and rarely discuss with them.

3.  My own behavior improved drastically on this trip because nothing will make you nicer and more patient with your children than having your boss sit there and listen to you talk to them. I realized how much my attitude affects the children’s behavior. The old saying holds some truth: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” That can go for Dad, as well, of course. One person can bring down a carload, and one person can build up a carload as well. I need to remember that in everyday life!

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year's ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year’s ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

So now that we have made it home and have managed not to do anything horribly embarrassing, we can be thankful for the experience. I think my kids will remember the time they travelled with the faculty! Now if we can just convince them to go with us on our next family vacation…!

I Was a Cemetery Telemarketer

This looks all too familiar.

This looks all too familiar.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I had a traditional library job in high school. I spent hours shelving and organizing books. Hated every minute of it. The only thing good about it was the hours. I only worked 4-6 a week, so I spent a very small amount of time in there. I should have liked it. I thought I would because I love books. I just don’t like that super-quiet atmosphere with repetitive tasks, and, honestly, the people I worked with were a little odd. I went back to that library a few years ago, about 20 years after I quit, and I understood why I didn’t like working there. It wasn’t one of those fun libraries where kids play and enjoy the books and story time and all. It was one of those libraries where, when your cell phone rings because you accidentally forgot to turn it off, the entire place turns and shushes you. No thanks!

Maybe if my library looked like this one at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I would have enjoyed it more.

Maybe if my library looked like this one at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I would have enjoyed it more.

So I decided one summer during college to do away with the boredom. I got a job in a cemetery. Row after row of graves has got to be more exciting than a library, right? I came home for the summer and spent a couple of weeks looking for a job. Any job. I had no luck until a desperate employer jumped at the chance to get a naive, poverty-stricken college person in its grasp.

Not really the cemetery where I spent my free time that summer. I'm not including pictures of that one, mostly because I did not care to take any!

Not really the cemetery where I spent my free time that summer. I’m not including pictures of that one, mostly because I did not care to take any!

My job was telemarketing. That in and of itself is weird. When I tell people I was a telemarketer for a cemetery, they look at me like I’m nuts. What was I telemarketing? This particular funeral home/cemetery offered a free burial space to every person. That’s right. Free for the taking. They really did give it to people, too. There was a catch, however, since there’s no such thing as a free lunch…or a free cemetery plot. They sent a representative/salesperson to the house to deliver the deed to the property, and that person tried to sell more. Who doesn’t want a plot next to them for their wife or husband or cat? And if they’re getting a free plot, don’t they want to buy a headstone as well?

I worked in the evening. You know, the time when most people are sitting down to eat their dinner or watch their favorite tv shows because that’s the prime time for telemarketers to strike. I had a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers. These came from some mysterious giant telemarketing phone book and were listed not alphabetically, like most phone books, but in numerical order. Because of this, we could see where numbers were skipped. We knew they were left out for a reason: the owners of the numbers had requested that their numbers be unlisted.

I see some Cyrillic writing, but I didn't take this in Ukraine. It's cool, though!

I see some Cyrillic writing, but I didn’t take this in Ukraine.

That’s right! These were the days before Do Not Call Lists. Bet you always wondered how telemarketers got your number when you had an unlisted number, didn’t you? Now you know. We were a tricky lot because we went down those lists and wrote down the ones that were skipped and called those, too! Yep, we were those people.

I can still remember the first part of the pitch. “Good evening! This is Laura. I’m calling from [insert cemetery name] to tell you that you have been chosen to receive a free burial space. Do you own your own burial spot?” Intense pause filled with anxiety for me because this is where the gentleman or lady of the house reacted to my ridiculous question. There were a few different answers that seemed to surface often.

1.  The person politely said, “No thank you,” with uncertainty and enough of a pause to allow me to jump in and continue with my spiel…which I don’t remember because this happened so few times that I did not bother to memorize it.

2.  The person slammed the phone down, possibly cursing at me.

Scary cemetery! No way I'd work in THIS one!

Scary cemetery! No way I’d work in THIS one!

3.  The person began a tirade that elicited such comments as, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir! I did not mean to interrupt your dinner. Have a good evening,” and ended with me slamming the phone down, possibly silently cursing him.

4.  The person said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Mr. Jones is not here. He died last week. We’re still cleaning out his house and haven’t had the phone disconnected.” This happened too often to be true.

I worked with two other women. One was about my age, and that was her real job. For me, it was just a summer job, but for her that was it. She spent every evening there, and that’s how she bought her Maybelline cosmetics and her hair products. She was nice enough, but she was quite a bit bigger than me and tougher than me, and I tried not to make her mad. She got mad at people a lot and told us all about it every night.

The other woman was a lot older than me, or at least I thought so. She was probably only like 29, but she had already been married and divorced. She had another job during the day and just worked there because after her divorce she had no money and no social life. I liked her, but I also felt a little sorry for her because…cemetery!

Sometimes weird things happened when I called people. Once I went through the whole thing and the person just stayed on the line. She didn’t hang up and was polite. The longer I talked, the more excited I got. Maybe this person would actually want a salesperson to visit her and deliver the deed. However, I began to feel ill at ease when I asked the person if she would like the representative to visit and silence ensued. Then the voice said tentatively, “Laurie?” I knew that voice! That voice belonged to none other than my own mother! I had called my own mother accidentally because she had just moved and her new number had not yet been listed. She was one of those people with unlisted numbers, and I didn’t recognize it!

Imagine lugging a bunch of these around in your car all summer! Fun times!

Imagine lugging a bunch of these around in your car all summer! Fun times!

The cemetery wasn’t my only job, though. I had a second job that summer. This was a long time ago, remember? At that time, everyone needed phone books because they didn’t have internet and smart phones to look up numbers for them. In addition to the cemetery job, I had been recruited by a woman I knew from church to deliver phone books out in the country around my house. She assumed that since I had grown up in that area of the countryside I knew the roads, their names, their numbers. The other people working for her had trouble delivering to those addresses, so she loaded my very old, very hard-to-drive car down with heavy phone books and handed me the list of impossible-to-find addresses. I had just learned to drive a stick shift car, and this old car took most of my strength to shift. I spent every morning wandering lost down country lanes frantically looking for unknown addresses. When I finally found a house, I would carry the phone book up to the door and leave it somewhere they’d find it. Most of the time, I never even saw anyone.

The weirdest thing that happened that summer occurred when the cemetery job and the phone book job intersected. I delivered phone books to homes along a route every morning one week, and somehow in the evenings got the same exact list of addresses and phone numbers to call! I wanted so desperately to tell the rude people I called, “Oh, hey! If you want your phone book, check your back door. I left it on the back step this morning when I delivered it to your house!”

I sometimes think about that job now. It feels like a dream. I never worked there again or even went there again after I quit at the end of the summer. I went back to college and every summer after that went to Ukraine to work. I never had to hunt another summer job, thank goodness, because I never really liked the cemetery all that much. I’m glad I did it, though. It makes for an interesting story!

Anybody else have weird jobs before? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Hannibal, a Hermit Crab, and a Hairy Dog

One year ago tonight, we slept in a hotel in Hannibal, Missouri. We smuggled our dog in, although this will remain our secret since I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule. We had her with us because we had everything we owned with us. One year ago today, we packed up everything and headed west.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.


Ready to go!

Ready to go!

My oldest girl and I drove the car. The un-air-conditioned car. She held the dog on her lap. I chose to drive the car because I didn’t like the alternative: our 12-passenger van. The weather people predicted thunderstorms and lots of rain, and the thought of navigating that enormous thing over the prairie with all of our most important earthly belongings packed tightly around our invaluable children in the back pushed me to choose the car. Of course, the only rain came on the very last leg of the trip, when our son had just guilted me into driving the van so he could see me for a while, but we all survived anyway.

The little one brought her hermit crab, so in the back of my mind I worried that a small Rubbermaid container would not be enough room, that the hermit crab that had lived three or more years would die on the trip and what would become of my child’s emotional health during a big move when she’d already left everything behind?! Of course, it lived until a few months ago and she remained emotionally healthy, but that’s a story for another day.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I'm sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without complaining.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I’m sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without much complaining.

So, anyway, we stopped in Hannibal just so we could see Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and it did not disappoint. We had dinner in a quaint little restaurant and walked down to the river. The town has fixed up the riverfront to look like it did when Mark Twain lived there, and if you visit during regular business hours (which we didn’t), you can tour some of the homes. We settled for looking at them from the sidewalk.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone's eyes and blinding them. At least that's what they claimed.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone’s eyeballs, turning them to small spheres of char, and, therefore, blinding them. At least that’s what they claimed.

He's a stranger to hard work.

Yep. He’s a stranger to hard work.

We took the obligatory tourist picture of our boy acting out the famous paint-the-fence scene from Tom Sawyer.

We got up the next morning and drove the rest of the way to our new home. We rolled into town around dinner time. I snapped a photo of the water tower in town as we drove by. I pass this every day on my way to work, and I almost always think of that first day here. Especially on rainy spring days when the green fields contrast with the purplish blue sky. You can’t see it in this picture, but the colors stand out so beautifully on days like that.

Don't judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

Don’t judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

We didn’t have a home yet, although we would in a few days. My family, along with the dog, spent the weekend in the dorms at the college, where I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule too, and one of the very first things I did after settling our stuff in was take my daughter to buy a cage for that hermit crab!

Although my husband and I moved a few times before the children were born, including a move to and Ukraine and back, we had never moved with children. I didn’t know what to expect, how they would adjust, if the move would traumatize them in some way. Not only did I wonder how the children would adjust, but I also wondered how I would do. I left behind friends and a support network, a place I had struggled for about a decade to feel like I belonged before I finally found my niche.

In the end, it was worth it, and everyone just settled down into life in the small town without much trouble. Surprisingly, it felt like home pretty quickly.  Here are some things we learned in the transition:

1. Wherever we go, there we are. We don’t leave ourselves behind, which means we bring all of our baggage with us when we move. Real change takes more than just a change of location. We can’t expect that everything that we hated in the old place will just disappear when we move. For example, I hoped that leaving a job in the mall with daily access to a food court and unlimited refills of every soft drink imaginable would help me improve my dietary habits and lose weight. Not true. I found that my new job boasted a pretty great cafeteria where I could eat lunch AND breakfast, and for a small fee could get as much Mt. Dew as my tummy could hold.

2.  Sometimes taking one step to change something really does change a lot of things. Seems contrary to number one, and maybe it is. Sometimes I am afraid to change things in my life. I prefer the known to the unknown, so I just stay in whatever mess I’ve made. Taking one step in a positive direction gives me a different perspective and encourages more positive change.

3.  The negative scenarios usually don’t happen. I worried that the kids wouldn’t like their new school, for example. I thought maybe it would take a long time for them to adjust to being somewhere new. That was unfounded, though. The principal told me a few months ago, “We love your children! They fit right in at the very beginning. I forget that they haven’t gone here all along!” The feeling is mutual with the children. When I ask them what they like most about living here, they say that they like the school and the people in it the best.

4.  We have to let go of some things to get other things. And its corollary: We don’t need half of the junk we keep around. This applies literally and figuratively. We had so much stuff in our house. Moving forced us to get rid of it and leave behind the things we never used. Even the kids gave away a lot of their toys. And guess what. We hardly even remember what we gave away!

5.  We’re not as indispensable as we think we are. I loved my job in Ohio. I knew I did it well, and I was proud that I could pierce ears and help manage that store, but now that I’m gone someone else does that job. Almost all of the people I knew there have moved on to other jobs in other places, and nobody there even knows who I am. And I’m OK with that.

This time, the change was good, and we all survived. Even the hermit crab!