Geekamama


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No! Sleep! Till–oh heck, I don’t know when

This was supposed to be written yesterday, but I was exhausted. My husband is out of town for a couple of days, and I’m finding I need an awful lot of energy to keep up with the very active Toddler Force One.

It doesn’t help that we had three days this past workweek where we had to get up much earlier than usual. By Friday afternoon I was already in sleep debt. After I got Kiddo tucked in that night, I went straight to bed myself. Usually on weekends, my husband and I sleep in until Kiddo wakes up, and then alternate taking showers while the other plays with Kiddo. Yesterday, though, I didn’t get that shower until my sister came over that afternoon. Oh, and this morning? Forget that extra hour of sleep that usually comes with the switch back to Standard Time. Someone in this house didn’t get the memo.

We’ve had plenty of afternoons and evenings where Kiddo and I were on our own while my husband worked. And I often take care of Kiddo myself every weekday morning. I figured I had this weekend in the bag. Turns out, without the ability to get away for just five or ten minutes, it’s more of a challenge than I expected.

This morning when I woke up (or more accurately, was woken up) I thought, I don’t know how single parents do it. Do they have more strictly scheduled days? Are they better at squeezing in housework while their child entertains herself? I don’t think I could ever really know unless I had to live through that myself–something I hope never happens–and not just for a weekend, but day in and day out, managing child and household and job, very likely having to sacrifice personal time and interests to do it. I have new respect for anyone in that position.

Before my husband left, we made a picture calendar for the days he would be gone. It shows who’s home each day and what we’re doing that day, whether it’s school or a visit from Kiddo’s aunt, or watching football. The idea was that Kiddo could cross off each day and understand how long it would be until Dad comes home. Honestly though? I’m not quite sure which of us is counting the days more eagerly.


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Twenty Years After

How could it have been 20 years since high school? After all, it’s not like I graduated, went to college, went to grad school, got married, got a job, moved to Seattle, bought a house, went to my 10-year reunion, got divorced, bought a condo, got married again, sold a condo, had a kid, quit my job, and found another or anything.

I mean, I hadn’t even cured cancer yet or gotten my Nobel Prize, or, more importantly, lost the 20 extra pounds I’ve been carrying around since Kiddo came along.  I did remember to get my nails done and my eyebrows waxed, though. So that should have counted for something.

High school had its highs and lows for me. I got to develop my writing skills and was selected editor of the school paper for my senior year. I successfully auditioned for the chamber choir and the colorguard, even if I never realized my secret dream of being a cheerleader (yes, seriously) or had a date to Homecoming. I had friends in high school, but only one really close friend. I spent a lot of time convinced that the other girls were snickering at me behind my back, and maybe they were, or maybe I was just being paranoid.

But really the lows weren’t all that low; it’s just that when you’re a teenage girl living through them, it feels like your social standing is going to determine the rest of your life.  I was looking forward to the reunion in spite of, or maybe because of, those insecurities. Heck, I wanted to show everyone that I was no longer the nerd who couldn’t get a date. Yep, I’ve moved all the way up the social ladder to Software Geek. At least I had a hot date to parade around.

As the reunion got closer, though, I started getting nervous. What if no one remembered me? Worse, what if they remembered me, and didn’t want to talk to me? What if my clothes still weren’t cool enough? What if once again I tried too hard to get people to like me? I honestly did want to go, but I wanted to go as a success story.

The first part of the reunion was Friday evening family picnic. I shouldn’t have worried about not being remembered, because as soon as I walked in the door I was recognized. Someone even told me I looked just like I did in high school. I talked to a lot of people, but chickened out at approaching others. At the end of the evening, as Kiddo was starting to show signs that he’d had enough, I found myself looking forward to the next night’s adults-only dinner.

Undistracted by kids, we were able to talk to more people, and I learned a lot more about what others have done with the past 20 years. Many people still lived in our hometown, while a bunch of the rest of us had migrated west. Some people had put on weight, others had changed their hair color or lost it altogether. Some people still looked as amazing as they had back in high school.

No one had cured cancer, and there wasn’t a Nobel Prize winner among the lot of us. But there were successful business owners and employees, and happy parents and spouses, and people who’d traveled to interesting places, and people who were doing things we’d never expected twenty years ago. There were a lot of people who were happy with where they’d found themselves, and who were having a great time reconnecting with old friends.

Including me.

By the time the dinner and dancing ended, I was sorry that it was over. I wanted to talk to the Homecoming Queen and the cheerleading captain again. I wanted to make amends with a few people. I wanted to find out more about what everyone was doing, and where they had been.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. There seemed to be a lot of support for the idea of a 25th reunion, and one friend in the Seattle area has proposed a local mini-reunion.

Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a lot of close friends among my high school classmates. I came away from my reunion hoping to change that, before the next time.


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The beauty in unplanning

When we started planning the Glacier National Park portion of our vacation, I was a little bit at a loss. It had been more than 30 years since I’d been there, and I didn’t have any good ideas about where the best places to stay would be, or what the must-see sights were. From what I could tell, the things to do were 1) hike, 2) drive Going-To-The-Sun road, and 3) admire lovely scenery.

Based on this information, I made a plan. We’d arrive Monday afternoon, early enough to do a short hike. Tuesday would be more hiking, Wednesday would be driving the pass, and Thursday we’d make our departure for Bozeman.

That plan didn’t even make it through Monday. First of all, I underestimated the time it would take us to get out of our hotel that morning. I’d also forgotten about the time change between Idaho (where we stayed the first night) and Montana, so what was a three-hour drive turned into four hours on the clock. We had to make a couple unscheduled stops – first, to top off the oil in the car, and second, to load up on fresh cherries. By the time we arrived at our hotel and home for the next couple nights, it was already around 5 p.m.

Tuesday did start out according to plan. Armed with a list of day hikes that we’d gotten at the hotel, we set off for the park. We found a trail that led to a waterfall, and we also walked the Avenue of the Cedars, a short enough and flat enough trail that we let Kiddo run instead of loading him into our carrier.

In fact, we had such a good time that as we came to the end of the walk, I said, “I wish we were doing more hiking tomorrow instead of driving over the pass.”

“We could do that,” my husband said. And there went my plan for Wednesday. Rather than driving over the pass, we’d do some more day hikes, and then on Thursday we’d start our drive to Bozeman via Going-to-the-Sun road, exit the park on the east side, and proceed from there.

Wednesday morning we picked out a couple more day hikes around the lake, and drove to the park. And were thwarted by Kiddo before we even got to the first one, because he fell asleep just as we entered the park. To preserve the boy’s naptime, my husband suggested we continue up the road for a bit, then come back.

By the time we found a scenic pullout, we were well on the way up Going-to-the-Sun road. And that was when we made what turned out to be the pivotal decision for the day. Why not continue on to the visitor center at the top of Logan Pass, and hike around there? Well heck, why not?

And as we continued, I found out what it is about Glacier National Park that brings people back year after year. The scenery was breathtaking. I was snapping pictures out the window every mile. My husband, on the other hand, had to pay more attention to the winding road hanging off the side of the mountain. “Tomorrow I’m driving this, so you can gawk,” I said.

     

But the day was just getting started. At the visitor center, a ranger showed us two hikes we could do: one to Hidden Lake overlook, and another that made its way along the mountain wall we’d just climbed. We opted for the lake, since it had a definite endpoint.

That hike is one I’m going to remember for a long, long time. Glacier had had more snow than usual this past winter. Even though it was summer down in the valleys, snow fields remained up top. The hike to the lake is a boardwalk path, but even so, a good part of our 1.5-mile trek out there was covered in snow. Like most of the other hikers, the three of us we were wearing shorts and t-shirts (and sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen.) But that wasn’t a problem – it was 68 degrees outside, and all that high-altitude climbing kept us warm.

We let Kiddo walk for a while, even through the snow. Then we loaded him onto my back and kept walking.

    

We crossed the Continental Divide shortly before the overlook. We also met up with half a dozen mountains goats along the way.

It was a gorgeous day, sun shining, snow glistening, mountains towering above us. And we wouldn’t have experienced it if we hadn’t spontaneously added an extra day of hiking; if Kiddo hadn’t been napping at an inconvenient time; if we hadn’t missed our intended turnaround spot and ended up halfway up the mountain.

Organizing is one of my personal strengths. I thrive on plans on checklists. But this trip reminded me that sometimes the best plan is the one where you throw the schedule out the window.


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Road trip or bust!

Who on earth would be crazy enough to plan a two-week road trip–14 consecutive days–with a just-turned-2 toddler?

Oh, right. That would be me.

In my defense, parts of the trip had been in the works well before there was a Kiddo to complicate the plans. But after years of postponing and rescheduling, I finally said, Enough. It’s happening. We’re going to make it work. And amazingly, it not only worked, but turned out to be one of the best vacations we’ve taken as a family.

Our itinerary took us first to Glacier National Park, in the northwest corner of Montana. We then headed south to my hometown, Bozeman, and while there, split our time between the annual Sweet Pea Festival and my 20-year high school reunion.  The following week, my parents, sisters, and I (plus husbands and kids, of course) visited Yellowstone National Park, a couple hours south of Bozeman.

So what inspired this grand tour? Nostalgia, initially. When I was a kid, there were two things my family did on a regular basis: visit Yellowstone at least once a year, and spend Sweet Pea weekend hanging out at the park where the festival was always held. In fall 2008, I was driving on a road that reminded me of Yellowstone, and got the idea that we should take another family trip to the park and revisit some of our favorite sights. And why not schedule it adjoining Sweet Pea, and check off two things at once?

The family was on board; we set our sights on summer 2009 so that we’d have time to schedule time off from work. And then my sister and I both got pregnant about three months apart. Making that trip with months-old babies wouldn’t work out well, we all agreed. In spring 2009, we postponed the trip to the following year.

But a few months later, before I’d gotten around to booking lodging in the park, my husband’s family stepped in with their own plans for an big family August 2010 trip. They’d already picked dates and made hotel reservations when I learned about it. Our little family could have made both trips happen, but it would have meant taking more than three weeks off work, and taking a cross-country flight right after completing a two-day drive back from Montana–and all that with a one-year-old. I was informed that our Yellowstone trip would have to be postponed yet another year.

I’ll confess that I didn’t concede this as gracefully as I could have. I’d been making these plans for a year and had postponed it once already. Now I had to wait not one but two more years? Even now I can still feel some of the ire that was bubbling back then. I reluctantly agreed, but defiantly hammered my stake into the ground: August 2011 was MINE.

Whatever, people said. After all, that was almost two years away. Who knows (and who cares) what we’d be doing then?

I knew. I cared. I started making plans. At first, it was just going to be Sweet Pea and Yellowstone, in some order. Then I remembered that my husband and I had talked about visiting Glacier Park, and that it could be doable even with a young kid. I decided we could fit a Glacier visit into whichever week we weren’t going to Yellowstone. Finally, after that was settled, my high school classmates decided to follow local tradition and schedule our reunion to coincide with Sweet Pea weekend.

It was a lot to cram into two weeks. It was especially a lot considering that by the time the vacation happened, we’d have a two-year-old who needed regular snacks and naps and attention. We were worried he’d protest being cooped up in the car for hours of driving, and that he wouldn’t sleep well in unfamiliar hotel rooms. We knew his little legs didn’t have the stamina to keep up with us on hikes and geyser tours, so we’d need to make accommodations.

However, I’m an organizer at heart, and I was already in the mindset that we were going to make this trip happen, come hell or high snowpack. We found some great tools and techniques that helped make things go more smoothly (more to come on these), we built in downtime for naps, and we kept an open mind toward adjusting the schedule on the fly if needed.

And in the end, it was all worth it. We saw amazing sights that we’d never seen before, revisited others that I’d grown up with, brushed elbows with mountain goats, and spent rare time with family and friends. Would I change anything? Oh sure, looking back there were a few tweaks that could have been made, but nothing major. Would I do it again? Unquestionably.


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Road Trip, by the numbers

Days traveling: 14
Miles traveled: About 2,200
States visited: 4
National Parks visited: 2

Nights sleeping in hotel rooms: 8
Days traveling from one point to another: 6
Mountain passes crossed: 8 (Snoqualmie, Fourth of July, Lookout, Logan, Bozeman, Craig, Dunraven, Homestake)
Continental Divide crossings: 13 (including 2 on foot, as well as one crossing of the Northern Divide)
Highest point of elevation visited: 8,878 feet

Miles hiked in Glacier National Park: About 5.5
Geyser basins visited in Yellowstone National Park: 7
Waterfalls visited in both parks: 3, plus a handful seen from the car window

High school classmates revisited: About 70!
Facebook friends added: 10
Tater pigs eaten: 2
Miles walked early in the morning pushing a stroller: 3.1
Parades viewed: 1

High temperature on departure day: 71 F
Average high temp in Whitefish and Glacier Park on days 2-5: 86 F
Average high temp in Bozeman on days 6-9 and 13: 82 F
Average high temp at Old Faithful on days 10-13: 73 F
High temperature on return day: 70 F

Longest day of driving: Technically Day 14 (Missoula to Seattle) but Day 5 (Whitefish to Bozeman by way of Logan Pass) certainly felt like it.
Cows counted: Uncountable
Toddler meltdowns while driving: Only 2!

Suntan acquired: Yes (but not as much as the guys)
Freckles acquired: Many
Spectacular vistas viewed: Definitely
High school reunion survived: Yep!
Blog posts likely to come out of this trip: At least 3

Overall assessment: A++, would trip again


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Toddlers versus the TSA, redux: Well, that was anticlimactic

Last week I wrote about my jitters around bringing a toddler through the security lines at Sea-Tac airport.  I even called the TSA to try to assuage my concerns.

As often is the case, my worries turned out to be fruitless.  Going through security was easy, and frankly, the least troublesome part of our flight.

We arrived at the airport about two hours ahead of our 7:30 p.m. scheduled departure.  Our carry-on count: two backpacks, one diaper bag, one car seat in carrying bag, and one Kiddo-carting stroller.  I estimated 40 people in line ahead of us at the security checkpoint we initially chose, but a helpful TSA agent pointed us to another checkpoint that had no lines at all.  By the time we got there, there were about 20 people in line ahead of us, including several families with small children.  Excellent, I thought; I can watch what happens with the other families before we have to face it ourselves.

What actually happened with them was a whole lot of nothing.  In fact, no one in our line got pulled for secondary screening.  Even the occasional person who had to step back through the metal detector was passed along eventually.

Metal detectors?  Wait, weren’t they supposed to have been removed and replaced with the body scanners?  Nope.  Once again, I’d led internet hype mislead me.  The body scanners and pat-downs are only brought into play when a person fails to clear the metal detector.  And in the entire time that we were watching the people ahead of us, or going through the line ourselves with all our baggage, or waiting for my backpack to clear a hand search, or packing up afterward, not one person was pulled for secondary screening.

I was almost convinced that the machines weren’t even turned on–that they were set up to let people get used to their presence, but not yet functioning.  We had to walk past two other screening areas on our way to our gate, and at each one I craned my neck, hoping in vain to see the AIT in action.  Finally, at the third security area, we saw a single adult male standing in the body scanner.  That was it. 

And considering what else we had to go through that night to make it to California–snowy roads, slow service in the food court, a mechanical delay, having to unload off the first plane and wait for a second plane to arrive, having to board 150-plus people in less than 20 minutes to avoid the flight being canceled–getting through security was a breeze!  Even with a toddler.

Those people setting up web sites asking whether you “posed for porn” or “got groped” are tweaking public perception by leaving out the option most likely to happen: neither of the above.  But no one gets web hits or ad revenue off stories of systems working correctly. On the other hand, it’s great gossip to pass along links of things that outrage us!  Here’s the problem with doing so (and I’m guilty of this myself): it creates the impression that the outrageous occurrences are more widespread than they actually are.  There’s so much fear and misinformation flying around that it’s a wonder there’s room for the actual planes.

I’m not thrilled that there’s a chance I may have to deal with a full-body scan or pat-down at some point in the future.  But now that I’ve seen firsthand what’s actually happening at the security checkpoints, I’m no longer stressing out about it.

By the way, here are a couple direct-from-the-horse’s-mouth blog posts about how to make your holiday travel go more smoothly (and reduce the chance of getting pulled for secondary screening):

http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/hey-turkey-check-out-our-holiday-travel.html

http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/tsa-myth-or-fact-leaked-images.html

Kiddo watches the airport activity during preboarding


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Toddlers versus the TSA

Update: I’ve noticed I’m getting some hits from web searches on this topic.  Thanks for visiting!  Our trip is Sunday evening, November 21.  I’ll take some notes on what happens when our family goes through the security lines, and I’ll try to write up a good detailed description of how extensive the toddler pat-down is (and the adult one too, if I end up getting that.)  I’ll try to have the new post up by Monday afternoon, depending on how much computer access I get.


 

Next Sunday afternoon, we’re flying to visit family for Thanksgiving week, departing via Seattle-Tacoma International.  Sea-Tac is one of the many airports that has installed full-body scanners at the security checkpoint.  I’m starting to get a little anxious about this.  It’s not the privacy issue at all; it’s the question of how it’s going to work with a toddler.

 

I’m sure I’m just letting myself get paranoid about it, but here’s the scenario that’s playing in my mind:

We get to the airport and check in.  Knowing us, we’re already a little stressed and running slightly behind schedule.  We go to security and get into the Family line.  Since it’s holiday time, the line is long.  Kiddo is getting antsy and doesn’t want to be held, but doesn’t want to hold someone’s hand while standing.  I’m already juggling too many carry-on bags and having a hard time keeping him mellow.  At last we get to the front of the line, only to be confronted with the full-body image scanners…

The problem I’m mentally crashing into is that everything I’ve been able to find (which isn’t much) about how the scanning process works says that the person being scanned has to step into the scanner and stand still while the image is being processed and analyzed.  It can take up to 15 seconds for this to happen.

Fifteen seconds doesn’t sound like much, does it?  For a toddler, it can be an eternity!

…Husband and I pass Kiddo back and forth while we empty our pockets.  He takes Kiddo while I walk into the scanner, pause for the imaging, and exit.  Then it’s Kiddo’s turn.  He balks.  He squirms.  Then he sees me on the other side and sprints through.  The TSA agent turns to me apologetically and says, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we need him to stand there for a few seconds.”  I guide Kiddo back into the scanner.  Kiddo stays for a moment, fidgeting, then runs back out and clings to me.  The line behind us is getting longer and the waiting travelers grumpier…

I called the TSA to get some clarification.  It only took a few minutes to get through to a real person (most of that due to me mis-navigating the menu) and the agent I spoke to was nice, but just repeated the same information I’d found elsewhere: They will not separate me from my child.  I can opt for a pat-down if I don’t want to go through the screener.  The agents are trained to work with children.  She did tell me that the pat-down for children is less invasive than it is for an older person, but right after that there was a burst of static and the call got cut off.  I should have called back, but I didn’t have the heart to do so.

…At this point, we have to go with the pat-down.  But by now Kiddo’s had enough.  He just wants Mommy to hold him.  He doesn’t want someone else taking him, even if I’m standing right there, and he doesn’t want anyone touching him.  Tension rises.  Kiddo fusses.  I stress.

Flying with a toddler is going to be challenging enough.  Logically I know that it’ll be just a couple of minutes and then it will be behind us, but not being able to plan for what’s going to happen is the part that’s causing me the most worry.  I feel a little silly, because in the travels with Kiddo that we’ve done so far, the TSA agents have been helpful and respectful, and I don’t know why I’m worried that things will be different on this trip.

In the meantime, my husband has declared the issue moot.  We’re not going to expose our son to more radiation than necessary, he says; we’ll opt for the pat-down for him right off the bat.  It does give me one less thing to worry about, but frankly, I never thought I’d long for the days when “all” we had to do was take off our shoes and walk through the metal detector.  I don’t want to be THAT MOM whose kid is screaming and putting everyone else on edge as well.

At any rate, I’ll report back next week on how things went, and we can all have a good chuckle at my still-relatively-new-mommy paranoia.  Right?  Right.