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February 5, 2011

While life is often boring, trips make it much more interesting


Daily Star

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Our life, by and large, is pretty boring. There's school. There's work. There's a few fun moments, like the Diva's riding lessons or the occasional movie.

There's sleep, which we've been getting enough of since both the Boy and the Diva now, generally, go to bed at 8 p.m. and aren't heard from again until it's time to get up for school. I didn't believe all of those parents who assured me that this day would come. And, now, I give the same advice to parents who are in the throes of wrestling with young kids who don't sleep: Wait for it. I'm sure they don't believe me, either.

The last three weeks, however, have been a maelstrom of activity. We went overseas for a fair chunk of that time. We also went up to Rochester, where my husband's immediate family lives.

We've done this trip enough that we have the routine down. We know which rest stop we'll wind up stopping at, no matter how many times we go to the bathroom before leaving home. We know that the stretch between Cortland and Syracuse always feels endless. And we know which hotel we'll stay in.

Four of us is just too many people to fit into either of Scott's parents' houses for any length of time, especially when two of those people can't be trusted around anything fragile. Besides, the hotel has a pool.

I didn't realize how the simple presence of a pool makes all of the difference when you're traveling with kids. If the place also had an indoor playground, I don't know that we'd ever need to interact with our children.

Of course, we go to all of the kid-friendly sights that the city has to offer. The Museum of Play is a huge hit (and I highly recommend that you go if you're ever in the city, even if you don't have kids). We've been to parks and playgrounds and beaches. We almost always go to the mall, just for the sheer novelty of going to a mall that has more than 20 stores.

This trip, however, we added a new stop. My mother-in-law's husband has advanced Alzheimer's and is now in a round-the-clock care facility. It's a fate that awaits a frightening percentage of us, unless medical science makes a breakthrough. I'm not optimistic.

Over the past five years, we've watched as the Boy and his grandfather crossed developmental paths. The Boy learned new words and memories at about the same rate as his grandfather lost them. For a year or two, they could both watch the same kid's shows and enjoy them equally. Both had impulse control problems, irrational fits of anger and a fixation on snacks. Now, the Boy is leaving those preschooler moods behind; his grandfather slides further into them.

And so we went to the nursing home, where we were buzzed onto the locked ward where all of the folks with memory issues are housed. When we took them to visit my grandmother in a similar facility in Baltimore two years ago, the Diva was too scared to come enter my grandmother's room and spent the bulk of the visit in a common area pretending to be someplace else.

The Boy, because he's generally less attuned to the odd behaviors of older people with failing memories (actually, he's just less attuned to how other people behave in general), spent the time playing with a Nerf target and velcro ball that the residents used to improve their hand-eye coordination. He couldn't have had more fun.

Two years on, it was hard to predict what would happen.

While the Diva continued to be wary about the whole situation, the Boy entered with his usual reckless abandon _ and ran straight into the arms of Chuck, a resident who might have weighed 100 pounds, wasn't much taller than the Boy himself and had full-body Parkinsons-like twitches and shakes.

Chuck, whose name the nurse told us, was determined to pick the Boy up, no matter how we kept insisting that the Boy is heavy and that young, strapping adults struggle to hold him. We also didn't want Chuck to break himself while trying to lift 50 pounds of kid. But, mostly, we didn't want the 50 pounds of kid to start screaming because a complete stranger was trying to pick him up.

We all braced for the fit that never came. The Boy was willing to play along with Chuck, as if he sensed another 5-year-old underneath that aging body. Maybe Chuck felt the same. Or had memories of his own children or grandchildren. No one's sure, frankly, and Chuck couldn't tell us.

The visit went as well as could be hoped. The kids behaved; so did the residents.

Chuck tried to pick the Boy up again on the way out; the Boy let him. Neither was able to articulate why it was OK, which was both profoundly sad and somehow lovely. But what it wasn't, was boring.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.