Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Week In A Fallout Shelter

If my family ever needed to live in a fallout shelter for any length of time, I'm fairly sure we'd go stark, raving mad by the time it was safe to go outside again. We saw a fallout shelter at the National Atomic Museum, and Noah immediately asked, "Can we get one of those?" He thinks they'd make a great hideout, which is true, I suppose. Noah loves hideouts and secret places, which is why we've had to have so many discussions about not going on other people's property, even if they do have a perfect little hidden corner for a hideout. Thank goodness Noah's cohort, I mean, best friend Josh has extra-cool parents who built them a hideout on their own property (out of a tarp, I think) so we don't have to invest in a fallout shelter.

In a lot of ways, family vacations are an interesting psychological test, one that you would imagine a room of researchers dreaming up in order to see at what point ordinary humans break under stress. "I know!" one researcher says, "Let's take two adults and put them in a minivan with four kids who each want something different for dinner. Let's make sure that the floor is so covered with trash, toys, clothing, unfolded maps, and the random half-eaten banana that the kids need to be lifted by crane into the backseat. Then we'll make them share beds with each other. In fact, let's make sure that no one can spend more than, say, a five minute shower without being together. How long do you think they'll last with all of this forced togetherness?" Then he laughs his mad scientist cackle, because that's how crazy this idea is.

For me, the Vacation Rorschach test has revealed that I don't do well having zero time to myself. I've watched my well of well-being slowly draining away, leaving me with the dregs of irritation and ill-temper. Every day that goes by leaves me a little bit grouchier, a little bit less patient and less able to put up with the kids' junk. And the researcher would also note that the kids' moods and behavior have gone downhill in direct proportion with my mood and behavior. Coincidence? Or Psychic Phenomenon? The world might never know.

I had very high hopes for myself this week. I made the boys bring their homework and lots of books to read, mostly to assuage my guilt for taking the boys out of school for three days, but also because I have this picture in my head of being this fantastic mom who does all sorts of educational stuff with her kids for fun and instills learning and all that. On Monday, we did some flash cards and spelling with Noah, and a little math with Brad. On Tuesday, I thought about pulling out the books but didn't have the energy. Today is Wednesday, and the kids have watched about 6 hours of Nickelodeon. We have gone to museums every day, but I don't think we're breaking even in the brains department - I think the kids are watching so much hotel tv that they are actually getting stupider.

So that's why I don't homeschool my kids. I can see myself having all this ambition but getting so tired of the constant work that I'd throw in the towel. And here's my dirty little secret - I like having a break from the kids every day. It's a time for all of us to recharge, to be away from each other and have some independence and breathing room. Here's the best part: the kids like it, too. My kids adore school, and spending time with their friends and playing at recess and eating lunch without me telling them to eat their vegetables and no, they can't have their cookie until they eat their grilled cheese sandwich. They like the break from me, although I don't know that they could articulate it. We all seem to get along better with a little time apart.

Today (Wednesday), I was able to get us a little breathing room. We went to the Balloon Museum (which was on Brad's must-see list) but no one was interested in walking in an orderly manner from one exhibit to the next, observing and reading and getting a little smarter at each one. No, they were interested in running from room to room, in three different directions, and most especially in not listening to me. We left, picked up some "authentic New Mexican food" which tastes exactly like what I would order at Los Hermanos back home, and put Darcey down for a nap. When she woke up, we went down to the front desk and had them print me directions to a park, any park, that had playground equipment for the kids. It turned out to be the best thing for the whole pile of us. Noah and Brad organized the kids there into a game of freeze tag. Zack got to run and climb and ignore me without a single museum docent telling him not to touch something. Darcey toddled around, dug her feet in the sand and attempted to eat rocks when I wasn't looking. It was the most argument-free two hours of our whole trip.

I got myself a little breathing room, too. I hadn't brought a book or anything to do, so naturally, I was bored. The only technological gadgets I had were my ipod (with nothing new on it) and my cell phone, which used to be Ryan's cell phone and therefore has no interesting person's phone number on it. Well, it has mine, but I couldn't very well call myself. I called my friend Rachel, but she wasn't home so I left a message that went something like this: "Hi, Rach, it's me, I'm at a park in Albuquerque and I'm bored, so I thought I'd call you because I'm bored. You don't have to call me back, I'm just bored and, well, talk to you later." I didn't realize that there was a mom my age standing 10 feet from me, so now people in two states can know how pathetic I am! Fortunately, there is something about being a mother of small children that automatically gives you freedom to chat with complete strangers about any intimate detail of your life, including, but not limited to, morning sickness, working vs. stay-at-home, career ambitions, and family planning. And, man, that picked me right up and put me back in the saddle completely! I didn't realize how much I needed friends - other people to talk to, to get me out of my own head and give me some much needed perspective on life.

I ended up being late picking up Ryan from his conference, but I told him that he should be happy I was late, because he ended up with a much nicer, saner wife than the one that dropped him off that morning. Now with some added well-being, I realized another thing about vacations that the researchers wouldn't have predicted. Yes, cramming six people in a minivan or into two hotel beds for a week in a strange city with no one to be entertained by but each other sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's also, strangely enough, the recipe for fabulous family memories. My boys might be getting stupider by watching The Three Amigos seven times, but today I overheard Noah telling Brad that when they are married and have their own kids, they can still do their new secret Three-Amigos-inspired handshake. And who knows what other gems they'll pull out of the pressure cooker of this trip! Some of my best childhood memories are from vacations - listening to Weird Al, playing post office in the ocean with Dan, going to Friendly's with my brothers in Colonial Williamsburg, playing cards in Georgia, and eating at Waffle Houses.

So these are some thoughts I've had while living in our temporary fallout shelter this week. I've seen some things in my Vacation Rorschach test that I don't necessarily like to see in myself, but I know that the kids will take more positive from this than negative. I can't wait to see the things, ten or twenty years from now, that the kids have taken from this trip. That's why we do it, that's why it's called a "vacation" and not "torture." Even when it feels an awful lot like torture. Or a bizarre science experiment. I can hear the evil genius laughing right now.


Cash_Killa said...

hmmm. childhood/sibling memories.
vacation wise, there was...
that one time drew, the parents, and I went to Ohio. I can only remember listening to the little prince in the car and Drew shinning the flashlight on other cars. There were wafflehouses, with dad and mom. There were Brags with Weird Al. No secret handshakes. Maybe Dan's secret handshake. I think he used to call it the "back-hand". Your kids are lucky to have memories like that, there are a lot of realizations that I think I would've learned earlier if I were grouped more with you guys, age wise.

rachel said...

I was actually bummed to miss your call that day - it would have been fun to talk to someone. Torture or no, I think your kids will take away happy memories of this trip.
See you soon!