In Which I Embarrass Myself in French, and we begin our plan to eat all the carbohydrates in Paris

19 years ago, I travelled solo to Europe in the summer before starting medical school. One of my favorite memories from that trip was having a picnic lunch on the Champs des Mars park in front of the Eiffel tower with a gathered  crew of like wanderers from the youth hostel. The girl has also had a lifelong (9 WHOLE YEARS) wish to visit Paris and see the Eiffel tower. Thus, I decided to end our year with a week in Paris. But then it turned out we could spend a few days in Reykjavik on layover on our way home, so that changed a bit. But that’s a story for another blog post. 

We flew in relatively early, landing in Paris before noon. The first thing we saw was sunshine, glorious glorious sunshine, and coming from Ireland we nearly lay down on the airport sidewalk to soak it up, but thought it might be frowned upon. We hopped into a taxi to get to our flat, and I began speaking French with our driver. This proved only moderately successful.  I took French from 7th grade through some relatively advanced college courses, at one point was conversationally fluent. I remember my French professor, a thin sprightly woman named Sophie who had dark-rooted blond hair that frizzed past her shoulders in messy waves, who always wore all black clothes with a black leather jacket and smoked a cigarette outside before class. She was really far too cool for San Diego, land of cargo shorts and flip flops. She always yelled at me for my terrible grasp of the negative construction.  When I tried phrases in my mind before arriving here, Spanish words would worm their way in so that I was speaking some bizarre form of a mutated Romance language patois. Our Algerian taxi driver, however, was a patient listener and helped me to figure out some of the words, and having been here now for a few days it’s coming back to me. I’m sure I sound like a three year old, and at one point told the hostess at a restaurant that “she need to go sit outside” instead of asking if we could sit outside, garnering a furrowed brow and slightly offended look. I corrected myself, she broke into a smile and waved us to a table.

The view from our 4th floor flat, across the street from St. Denys

We’ve a little flat in the Marais, clean and modern in what’s clearly an old building. The Marais is one of the oldest districts in Paris and the one least touched by modernization. Whereas much of Paris is characterized by large grand boulevards and Haussmanian architecture, the Marais retains its near-Medeival heritage. Many houses are fronted by large double wood doors that open into a courtyard, created for horse and carriage to pass through and then have room to turn around. “Le Marais” literally means “the swamp,” and was a waterlogged area for vegetable gardens until drained for French nobility to build grand mansions. After the Revolution in 1789, the nobility declined as did the area, becoming a more working class neighborhood. It then became an important Jewish & immigrant neighborhood, before turning into a gay friendly neighborhood, before being completely gentrified by what our taxi driver referred to disparagingly as “bobos” and what we would call yuppies, if we even use that word anymore.  For visitors like ourselves, however, this means a delightful place with small narrow streets filled with boutiques, bars, restaurants and museums. 
 

Crossing the bridge to Ile de la Cite, the breeze flapping up Stitch’s ears

After dropping off our bags, we went on a mission to find crepes. This proved surprisingly more difficult than we’d anticipated, and we didn’t find a restaurant until we’d wandered onto Île de la Cité, and were grandly rewarded for our efforts. We continued to Notre-Dame, and walked in to look at the cathedral, built and remodeled over the years. I particularly like the gargoyles myself, edging the stone as protective spirits. In that they shuttle rain away from the structure, in a way, they are literal protectors as well.

 

In front of the famous cathedral, the breeze has died down making Stitch once again lop eared

Ironwork detailing on the doors

Our Catholic schoolgirl lights a candle for St. Therese

We continued on to the very tip of Île de St Louis, to see the love locks left by romantic hopefuls on the fences surrounding. You engrave your name, close the lock on the fence, then throw the key into the Seine. The more famous bridge with love locks is the Pont des Artes, where they’re cut down as they damage the structure. Honestly, I get the idea behind it, it’s sweet. But it seems to me a modern and damaging form of graffiti that will eventually destroy the beauty and the structure itself, is this the legacy you wish to leave? Not to think of the keys rusting at the bottom of the Seine, which I can’t imagine are good for the environment or the fishes. Akin to carving initials into a tree stump, what is it about young love that requires some form of violence to prove it’s legitimacy? Call me a curmudgeon if you will.

 

Across the bridge to Shakespeare and Company, an English Language bookstore on the Left Bank. Opened by an expat American, Sylvia Beach, its other branch in Paris had been a literary hangout for Hemingway, Joyce and other authors of their ilk. That branch is closed, but the one across from Notre Dame remains. No pictures are allowed inside, sadly, but to wander among the tall narrow winding pathways filled with gorgeous books is an experience. Upstairs is a quiet reading area that echoes the reading library at the former space, complete with nooks and slumbering cats, where you’re welcome to sit and relax.

The only picture we got outside the shop, taken the next day. The girl kept trying to photobomb and I got so annoyed that I just walked away instead of waiting to get a picture without the random tourist in the background.

Here, of course, is where we were when a terrorist decided to attack a police officer with a hammer just across the street at Notre Dame. Eric writes about this eloquently in his post here.  I was at the front register when I heard two loud sounds from outside. Couldn’t possibly be gunshots, I disbelievingly thought to myself, but I’d turn out to be wrong.  I had been waiting for an employee to bring me a copy of “American Gods,” so we were still in the store instead of walking past Notre Dame right when it was happening. (She showed up with the book, but it was a heavy hardcover and I felt too guilty to get it, knowing that we’re carrying everything with us. Now of course, it feels like a talisman protecting me, as had we not been waiting for it we likely would have been walking across the plaza at the time. I went back a day later to buy the book, and alas, it was sold out.  I bought a copy of “Anansi Boys” instead, I hope it serves the same protective influence.) The store employees closed the doors and told us to all stay inside. The kids were nervous and scared, but sat in a corner reading books calmly.  After sheltering in the store for a while in limbo, I asked someone scrolling on their phone what was happening and learned that it was one person with a hammer who’d been shot. Feeling safe to do so, we left through the side entrance and took a long route home, staying well clear of the Notre Dame area. Later on, we talked it over with the kids, and over the next few days answered more questions from them as well, hoping to help them process what had happened. 

 

Eric and I dropped the kids at home and went to find bread, cheese, vegetables and wine for supper.Given how expensive Paris can be for food, our goal was to eat in as much as possible.  As always in a new neighborhood, it took a little longer but home we came and after a deliciously fresh sandwich, to bed, content at our first good day in Paris, terror attack and all.

 
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Given that it’s bright here until well near 10 pm, we slept in in the morning before heading out for a leisurely walk through the Marais, stopping by the remnants of the old city wall and various other architecturally interesting buildings, ending at the St.Paul Metro, where we hopped on board to get a bit outside the city and meet Bruce for a bike ride along the Marne. 

Remnants of the medieval wall, now surrounded by cellphone checking teens. Bookends of new and old in Paris


Bruce is an American who’s lived in Paris for many years and runs bike tours in Paris and also in the countryside. If you are planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend his tours to get out of the city – email him at French Mystique Tours. We did a three hour bike trip along the Marne, and it was lovely. As we wheeled past the geometrical French cottage houses, the boy burst into song, “Little town, it’s a quiet village, every day, like the one before…” 

Cycling in France is a bizarre experience, in that cars respect bikes on the road. Vehicles on the right have right of way, which is respected by car and bike alike. If we were going slowly on a narrow one way road, cars slowly trailed us until they could go past, with not a one getting too close or trying to squeeze around. Used to being nearly run over by Irish drivers, we were hesitant at first around the cars until we realized they really weren’t going to hurt us. 

 At one point, the girl’s front tire slipped on a curb and the bicycle tumbled sideways, throwing her off of it onto her palms. Without tears or wailing, she picked herself up slowly and rolled up her pants leg to see how badly her knee was skinned. We waited back, asking if she was okay. “I think so,” she replied. “My thumb hurts.” In all honesty, I was worried she could have broken her wrist, as she landed on outstretched arms. A quick finger and wrist exam, though, didn’t reveal anything other than some bruising, so off we went again. That girl, she is tough.

 

Returning to the town of St. Maur des Fosses, we walked back into the quiet center for a drink and a waffle at an outdoor cafe before returning to Paris, our cozy little flat, and a well deserved night of sleep. 

Attacking waffles with a Viking manliness, and YES to rose in French summer


-S

In which I feel a bit homesick, and later am told that we’re a pagan family

A few weeks ago I took a short trip back to America, to visit my sister and my brand new nephew!

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Look at this adorable family!

I thought he was pretty cute. Here he is in some of the handknits I’ve made for him, and there will be more.

Being with a newborn again makes me reflect on parenting in general, especially as my children start to begin the process of pulling away even more. Your baby is wholly dependent on you for care and often for food, and you are quite literally their whole world. You’re physically in contact with your baby for most of your waking hours, and often much of your sleeping hours as well.

 

Over the years that changes, to where the kids separate more, to feeding and toileting themselves, dressing themselves, and to now where there are large swaths of time where I have absolutely no clue exactly where they are or what they’re doing. At night, we still have snuggle time where I crawl into bed with the kids and we chat for a bit before I kiss them goodnight and they go to sleep. I sense, however, my time doing this is coming to a close especially for my older one. At some point it’ll feel weird and I don’t picture myself getting into my 16 year old’s bed to snuggle anymore, just maybe a kiss on the forehead if that. It’s bittersweet, to be sure, in that I’m happy for this independence and I certainly wouldn’t want it differently, but the difference is stark and made me nostalgic for those heady early days, where despite the sleep deprivation and difficulties, you had a tiny little being that only wanted to cuddle in your arms all day long.

 

Being back in the States was fantastic. It can get wearisome to always feel like a stranger, so to be in New York where I just understand how things WORK was such a relief. I was also lucky enough to have friends  who could travel to see me and got to spend time with them, and marvel on what good friends I have. This was soul-reviving, to be with people who I could just relax with instead of having to feel like I was “on,” and I’ll admit that I was feeling quite homesick after the journey.

 

Back in Ireland, I returned to spring break and a trip out west. First stop was to get the rental car from the airport. Eric had made the reservations and so went to pick up the car, but when he arrived, it turned out that his US Driver’s license had expired! Of all the details to overlook. So out I went to fetch the car, and did all the driving along the way. We did upgrade to an automatic transmission, which I was glad of after I nearly got into an accident on the way home in one of the roundabouts. Tricky things, those are.

 

As I sat down to write this blog post out, I looked through the pictures I took of the trip. For once, there just weren’t all that many. I wish I could tell you that this was due to some nobler purpose of being so involved in the moment that I couldn’t pull out my camera, but I feel the truth is simpler – I was feeling a bit travel weary on this trip. It’s a complicated moment in our time away, where I’m simultaneously itching to move again, bored with being in one place, and yet tired of feeling like we’re on a trip. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy this leg to see more of Ireland, but we couldn’t help but feel that we would have enjoyed it more from a warm beach, with an umbrella-garnished cocktail in one hand.

 

We started in Dingle, a peninsula on the southwest coast. We checked in to our hotel and started chatting with the proprietor about living in Maynooth and the kids being in Catholic schools, given that it was Easter weekend. She asked, “If you don’t mind, what religion do ye follow?” I didn’t mind at all, shrugged my shoulders and replied, “We’re really not religious, don’t follow anything in particular.” At which point the girl piped up and said loudly, “We’re Pagan!” as the boy nodded vigorously beside her. The hotel owner looked simultaneously shocked and entertained, I tried to correct the kids but they kept insisting that they were indeed pagan as they believed in the Norse gods, and Greek gods, and Hindu gods, and what have you. I suppose this summer we’ll be dancing around the Beltane fires at this rate.

A stop on the Slea Head drive around the coast

A favorite stop was the Dingle Brewery where we had a glass of Crean lager and chatted with Paudie, whom the girl informed “had a name that sounds like ‘bathroom’ in America.” Awesome. She’s making friends all over this island. Tom Crean is a local hero in Kerry, and rightfully a proper badass.  Known as a famous Arctic explorer, he took three separate trips to the South Pole in the early 1900s, was turned around each time, dealt with frostbite, starvation, team members dying, and at one point walked solo across the ice for 35 miles to save a colleague. After the last trip he returned to Kerry, settled down to raise three children and opened a pub. I’m happy to report that the lager brewed in his name is quite delicious, made from spring water near the brewery itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a glass of fresher tasting beer, and it made me appreciate lagers again after years of being an almost exclusive IPA drinker.

Enjoying a pint in a recreation of the arctic sailing vessels

Next was a drive northward to Westport, where we stopped in at the stunning Cliffs of Moher along the way. Also known as the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride, or the Horcrux cave site from Harry Potter, a sheer 600 foot drop from the edge to the ocean is carved out of rock. A signboard tells you of the types of birds that nest on the cliffs, and upon seeing this I yelped “PUFFINS!” so loudly that Eric jumped. Like daughter like mother, I suppose. Thankfully, we were well inland when this happened, else he might have had a long journey down. I was so excited to possibly see a puffin (puffins!) but alas, they had gone sea fishing in the afternoon and I was disappointed. You know you’re not in America when there’s nothing to block you from a cliff edge other than a few signs that warn “danger” in a half-hearted way.

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The next day the girl woke with a fever. Because I’m a medical parent, and I have little sympathy unless you have an obviously broken bone or an active hemorrhage, we popped a few ibuprofen into her, proceeded to rent bikes and took off on the Great Western Greenway. This is a 27 mile long trail from Westport to Achill island, with exit points along the way. We decided to go for the 19 mile section and take a shuttle back. It’s almost all entirely car-free, which is a rarity for cycling here and was utterly gorgeous. The mountain Croagh Patrick is in the distance, and all about you are peaceful rolling hills and grazing sheep, goats, and some curious cows. Around mile 15 of 19, the trail became almost entirely uphill, and the girl may have wept a bit at this point. We may have said things like “Come on, we just have to keep pedaling!” and she may have wailed back “Fine! Fine! Just leave me behind!! You don’t even care about me, DO YOU?!?!”  After about a mile of this, however, the trail again turned downhill, she hopped on and returned to her usual sanguine self.  I swear, I don’t know many adults who would have been able to do what she did, she is so, so tough.

 

Our last stop was to Donegal on the Northwest coast. Along the way, we stopped in at the Country Life Museum. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a dark room with a butter churn and walls covered in text, as I’ve seen in some other museums. This is however an incredible place. Displays about Irish rural life from prefamine to the 1960s bring to life what was clearly a very difficult existence. I felt like I was walking in a real life “These are the people in your neighborhood” song from Sesame Street.

Listening to school lessons, trying his hand at the butter churn (yes,there was one after all), and hand woven straw baskets


 We tried to hike up Slieve League the next day, but were stymied by fog. Another high cliff like those of Moher, there’s supposedly a gorgeous view up there but it was not to be for us. I looked for signs of puffins as well, and again they were not to be.

 
The Donegal Yarns workshop was a delight. Rooms filled with beautiful yarns and handwoven and handknitted scarves, sweaters and hats. Fun fact: most wool in Irish products does not come from sheep living here, and is imported from England, New Zealand and Australia. One Irish season is enough to turn the softest sheep’s wool into Brillo pads, and as such the wool is exported for upholstery. Most of the adorable lambs you see tottering about on the side of the road are fated to end up on your dinner plate in the next few weeks.

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Upstairs is the weaving room, where fabrics are created as they always were, on long hand looms with foot pedals, by one person at a time.  Behind that is the spinning room, where the dyed fleece comes in and is mixed into skeins for the weaving, and then the sewing room where the fabrics are made into their final product.
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Here he is in action, the rhythmic click clack of the loom with each shuttle pass taps out a cadence for him to follow. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t record so you’ll have to use your imagination.

On the way back home we visited the Corlea Trackway Museum, where an ancient 2000 year old wooden bog trackway has been preserved. No one knows what this road was for – there are many such roads along the spongy bogs, which were heavily trafficked as ways to cross over without sinking into the sludge, but this one remains pristine. It was a long road, and took months and many people to construct, and as such is a mystery as to why, after all that work, it remains unused.

 

We’re back in Maynooth now, and glad to be here. We pulled up in the rental car, I dropped Eric and the kids off to go and return it, and when I got back the kids were nowhere to be seen, having run off to join their friends somewhere in the green of the estate. I think I’ll have a glass of the Crean’s lager we brought back with us.

 

 

In which we learn to say, “Ah, Vienna!” Like everyone else.

[Side note: This is part 2 of a special Fretz 2 part blog crossover EVENT. Check out the first part of the Vienna trip over at ericfretz.wordpress.com]

Vienna! I remember when my parents visited Europe many years ago, and when they returned they waxed poetic about the beauty of Vienna. Yesterday we saw the summer palace in the outskirts as Eric mentioned but didn’t get much of a chance to see the city during the daytime, so today was devoted more to that.

Vienna has a LOT of museums. You can choose from Jewish history museums, music museums, several art museums of different foci, architecture museums, children’s museums, museums dedicated to Habspurg rulers, a globe museum, and even more. We again found ourselves in a country capital on its National day, which we seem to have a knack for. Luckily, in Austria this means free or reduced museum entry and everything is still open. We opted for the Haus der Musik (Sound Museum) and the Albertina (art museum) and then would see how we felt afterwards.
The Haus der Musik is more than just music – it’s really more like four floors of sound games. A few of our favorite games were a musical dice rolling game where you replicated Mozart’s version of this to create new waltzes, another similar game based on your name. Another was this cool exhibit on how your brain makes sounds that aren’t actually there to fill in the gaps of sound waves that may be discordant. I can’t entirely explain it, because I don’t know that I entirely understood it, but it was cool nonetheless! One room was dedicated to simulating life in the womb, with a pulsating light in the center of the room, whooshing sounds around you and heart beats, and a floor which vibrated under your feet. It was oddly soothing. There’s one floor dedicated to the great composers, where you can see some of their original compositions written in their hand, but other than that the floor is a bit dull otherwise unless pictures of bewigged men makes you swoon.


After this it was off to the Albertina, a more traditional fine arts museum. There, they had an exhibition showing the evolution of pointillism and how it morphed from the style of Seurat all the way to Mondrian style color blocking, passing through Van Gogh along the way, who had little patience for pointillism because it just took so damn long. They blamed this on his mental illness, but I think it shows a particular moment of sanity on his part. I particularly liked an exhibition on woodblock prints as well – they were so precise, and such a difference after seeing the rooms of impressionism and soft colors.
After this we were done with museums and ready for a break, and we found one with some tasty pastries! We ate all of them.

We strolled through the crowded main square we looked around briefly at the museums in the MuseumQuarter, though I was too tired to enjoy them at that point. The kids amused themselves on the walk through by trying to catch giant bubbles being blown by a woman on the square, though “didn’t hear us” when we called them to move on and needed to be corralled. I swear, the number of times I wish I had a sheepdog to round them up.


That evening was spent in, tired as we all were from walking around and still having a cold. I went to a panini place across from our hotel for takeaway, and while waiting at the bar for our food struck up a conversation with a college student from England in Vienna to study art. Within the EU this is relatively easy, as college prices are low across the board and you can move about. With Brexit, though, this won’t be possible and I began to understand why young people in Britain were truly dismayed at the possibility of having a closed border.

I miss playing trivia while travelling, so we played Austrian trivia. Lu did the best with this and beat the rest of us hands down.

The answer was A, in case you’re wondering.

Vienna was delightful overall, and we hope to make it back someday. The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, the food was tasty and there was so much to see and do we left feeling as if we barely scratched the surface.

-s

San Francisco

We all just got back from a great trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up and where my parents still live.  The kids had a great time with Aaji and Aba, ate tons of delicious home cooked food, and loved both the Exploratorium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, places that I have such strong wonderful memories of I was incredibly excited to take the kids to both of them. In fact, when we went to the Aquarium, we took a picture of the boy standing in the same spot I stood in nearly 30 years ago, wearing the Aquarium shirt I bought on that trip. That one is still on my Dad’s camera, so I need to have him send it to me. I’m loving all the trips we’re doing this year and hope to keep taking the kids to more places–in some way, this is my gift to them. Some parents teach their kids music, or sports, or wilderness and nature skills.  I have none of these talents. What I DO have is a love of traveling and seeing the world and the luck of having a job that lets me take a lot of trips, and a desire for my kids to know the world outside of their own, something that I think comes directly from my Dad.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating-I’m really so impressed with the two of them, especially considering that they’re only 4 and 6, and still soldier through these trips, largely uncomplaining. These are not easy trips-the kids are responsible for their carting own luggage through the airport (Skip Hop rolling luggage, by the way, hold enough for a 1 week of kids’ clothes and are easy for them to manage) and have to walk on their own everywhere since I don’t want to deal with a stroller. (Eric might disagree with me on that last one since the girl got her fair share of being carried, but I’d say it was 75% her own feet.) I don’t expect them to remember everything about these trips, of course, but my hope is that once you learn these skills it becomes easier to do more challenging trips in the future and more importantly, they love going places as much as I do.

A few pictures from the trip (click to enlarge)

Cold beach day

Climbing from Fort Point to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge all by myself!

Chilly girl with a funny funny turban hiking through the Marina

Pole position at the Musee Mecanique-I remember begging my parents for more quarters to play this when we’d go to Round Table Pizza

Hanging on to the Powell-Mason Cable Car

Becoming one with the puffin exhibit at the Aquarium

Spooky jellies

Stared down by the giant octopus

New York 2012, continued

We had a BIG NIGHT planned tonight and after the lesson of the previous day, scrapped plans to go to the Statue of Liberty (which is closed anyway) and instead visit the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

We walked there from my sister’s apartment, which she insisted was not far. Of course, she was thinking in adult terms of not far and not 4-year old legs, so it got to be a bit long getting there. As soon as we got inside the gardens, though, the girl ran about merrily and the second we hit pavement after leaving, she began to complain about walking.

In Brooklyn, the size of kids that are in strollers is truly, truly astonishing. I know there’s already a tumblr on the topic, but I couldn’t help but stare at these very large children in tiny strollers. I guess for Brooklyn, this is the equivalent of a car and you simply need to get from Home to School and then Work in a short amount of time and can’t be leisurely strolling. Some of these kids were 7 or 8, though, easily and could have been on a scooter next to the parent, if they were in a hurry. I’ll keep this in mind the next time I strap my kids into the minivan to go less than a mile away, which I do frequently. Back to our previously scheduled programming…

After what need up being a one and a half mile walk, we got to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. So, so pretty! We took some time to smell the roses, literally.


There’s a lovely discovery garden with some nice little tree-y nooks

And a compost bin where the girl got to do one of her favorite activities: digging for worms.


Then, we went back to Sapana’s place for a well deserved nap!

And in the evening, Times Square! On the way to the subway, the girl swung her arms side to side and sang as loud as she could, “I Loooovvveee Meeee! I love me! I so fancy! I so fancy!” Ah, if only she can keep up that self-confidence her whole life.

Soooooo BIG!

And someone was VERY excited for the Ferris Wheel inside the Toys R Us building

After that, we went to watch

The girl has never seen Mary Poppins, so before the show we had a little conversation that went like this:

Girl: “Mom, what this show about?”

Me: “Well…it’s about two kids and their nanny.”

Girl: “And then the kids die?”

Me: “No! They don’t die!”

Sapana: “Well, that would be more interesting then your boring description!”

The show was surprisingly delightful, albeit with some tongue-in-cheek drug references, like, did they really need to keep taking spoonfuls of “medicine”?And while you could take alcoholic beverages into the theatre, they were served in…sippy cups. What cracked me up was the number of groups of adults without children that came to the show and merrily sang along with Mary.

Late, late taxi ride home with a sleepy little girl, to get ready for the next day of adventure.

New York 2012

As you may know, every year I do a trip to New York with one kid and alternate kids every year. This year it was the girl’s turn to come to New York with me.  She was so, so excited to go, as was I.

With this trip, I let go another one of my parenting tenets that was established before having children, which was “Children do not need to watch screens while on the plane.” Idiotic, really. Had I been wise, I would have plugged my kids in much sooner.  To this day I have NO idea how my parents managed to travel with small children to India without any assistive devices. I was incredibly happy to get out “How to Train Your Dragon” and plug both of our headsets in. You know, that is a very good movie, even if I did have to fast forward through a few scary parts and constantly shush the girl as she yelled out “TOOTHLESS!!” in joy, unable to hear how loud she was.

First stop once arriving in Brooklyn was getting froyo at Culture. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to eat froyo again, anywhere.  It’s that delicious. Bad foodie that I am, I did not take a picture.  I’m wondering if it actually happened.

The next day it was a bit rainy so we briefly braved the Brooklyn streets,

had a first (remembered) encounter with a subway train

And then went to the Transit Museum. SO COOL. All about how the subway system was created and how it runs, though the girl mostly loved driving the buses.

My favorite part was the vintage subway trains they had downstairs, starting with above ground Brooklyn trollies from the late 1800s. The girl decided to use this time to pick her butt.

The trains are decked out with vintage ads and admonitions as well

Still good advice, if you ask me.

We then hopped the subway to the Natural History Museum.  By this time the girl was an old hand at the trains and kept warning us to “Stay away from the yellow lines or you get squished!” Always the safety officer, that one.

I love seeing the dino skeletons.  It’s astonishing to me how incredibly huge they really are.  It steels my resolve not to go back too far should I ever happen upon a time machine without first going to the future and picking up a jet pack so I can escape quickly. Or an invisibility cloak.  That would work.  But they might have a good sense of smell, so the jet pack is still the better idea.

Rawr!

You know, one thing I forget about New York museums is that they are NOT friendly to little children.  I feel like the Denver museums make a real effort to have things be open to all kids and accessible, whereas the ones in New York seem to make a point of being more for adults, really–crowded halls, tiny dense print and few interactive features.

After that, we went to get Thai food and the girl had a huge meltdown, which should have been entirely expected given that we’d been traipsing around 2 boroughs for the entire day. Poor thing.  She recovered to her usual self and we headed back home and had an early bedtime, with plans to fit in a lot less the next day.

Parenting ideals

While not an original idea by any means, I was definitely a better parent before I had children.

I’d see a child misbehaving in public and watch how his awful parent handled it, knowing that my child would NEVER act that way and if they did I’d handle it SO much better than his terrible mother.   There was a whole list of things of things I definitely would or wouldn’t do as a parent.  Among them, my child would never wear anything with a character on it, would never order off the children’s menu, and would never misbehave in public.  Cut to a few years later when I’m ordering mac and cheese for my screaming toddler who’s wearing a “Toy Story” shirt.

I think everyone has certain ideas of what is most important to them as a parent.  I’m not talking about big things like religion–more the little weird things that we think will make us exceptional parents, not just average ones.  Things we get to be all sanctimommious about.  Some people refuse to feed their child anything jarred.  Some insist on their kid listening only to Mozart. I’ve heard of one woman who is so anti-processed food that she even makes her own ketchup.  Her own KETCHUP, people.  In the end, I don’t think most of these make the huge difference that we like to think they do.

I’m not without my own set of parenting  idiosyncrasies, though I’d never go so far as to make ketchup. (Now I’m curious. Wow, this sounds delicious.  I might have to backtrack on that ketchup comment.)

One of my big things before I had kids was TV.  Surely, when I had kids, my precious puppykins would never watch any TV until they were at least 3 years old.  For the boy, we held out until he was a bit closer to 2 years old before he was watching anything on a regular basis, and even then never saw a full length movie until he was closer to 3.  The only way that we made it this long is because I’m not a stay-at-home mom.  If I was, the kids would have had their daily TV hour starting in infancy to provide me with some sanity. The girl was corrupted much younger and already runs around asking, “Watch teebee? Nemo? Shaaks? Scaow me!” (Translation: “Can I watch ‘Finding Nemo’ in its entirety? Those sharks are somewhat frightening but brilliant representations of how we all face our own demons.” God, she’s bright.)

Still, I never quite understood the need for having a television in the car.  I HATE televisions in cars.  I don’t understand why children need constant entertainment, and electronic at that.  What’s wrong with talking to other people in the car, looking out the window, reading books or even (gasp!) being bored for a few moments and letting your mind wander?  Usually my kids grab a book to read in the car or we have some nice chats.

Recently, though, my ideal was tested.  I drove from Denver to Moab by myself with both children.  I’d rented a minivan so that my parents, who were vacationing there, could ride back with us.

It’s one thing to be able to go for short car ride with small kids without resorting to television, but would I make it for 7 hours?

My first plan was to not even let on that there was any TV capability in the car.  This lasted all of two minutes before the boy checked out the car and started pushing on panels and yelped, “There’s a TV!! Can we watch TV?!”

Sigh.  I said that we don’t watch TV in the car–we look around, we talk to each other, we read books, we listen to music. Disappointed, the boy strapped himself into his carseat and we took off.  Truthfully, I fully expected to play a movie, but wanted to see how long they’d make it first.  Or how long I’d make it.

The first hour and a half was fine–they read books, played with a few toys, and looked for bighorn sheep on the side of the highway.  We stopped in Vail for food, which ended unceremoniously with us racing through Vail village to get back to our car while holding the girl away from me as far as I could. In a moment of great parenting brilliance I’d decided not to bring a spare diaper. She pooped once and I figured she could go commando because surely, she wouldn’t poop a second time.  I was wrong.  Considering how different we look, I half expect some people thought I was kidnapping a little blond girl and was waiting for someone to call the cops.

The rest of the trip was dotted with a few stops for bathroom breaks and gas.  Glenwood springs is beautiful to drive through.  Then we crossed into Utah and hit 2 hours of the most boring drive I’ve seen.  It almost rivals Kansas in lack of interest.

I kept waiting for the inevitable, “Can we watch TV now?” from the back seat.

But it never came–we made the entire way there (and later the entire way back) without once popping in a video.

Unbelieveable.  And you know what? The ride was actually fun. We listened to a few science podcasts, sang along to Dan Zanes and the Dino5, and had some good conversations.  (As my Facebook friends know, my favorite one began with the boy asking me, “Hey, Mom, could we get a dead body sometime to make a mummy out of it?”)

More importantly, I now have one pre-parenting ideal that I’ve been able to carry through with, which clearly makes me an exceptional parent.

And now I have to go watch TV.  30 Rock is on!