Mile Zero, Smile Eight Million

I’m determined to write a post about Alex and my trip to Key West (Mile 0 of US Highway 1, as every trinket for sale in the area points out), even as day after day passes and our vacation gets further away. We went there to celebrate our 15th anniversary, even though said anniversary was at the end of May, otherwise known as the Moving Freakout Era.

My mom came into town to watch our kids for us. I suggested that she take notes on how her week with the munchkins went so I could make it a post, but she didn’t do that so instead of a hilarious post about what it’s like to take care of Team Stimey Junior, this post about enjoying five days away from Team Stimey Junior will have to do.

If you are on Facebook and you are so inclined, you can see my annotated photo album of pictures from our trip on my Stimeyland page. Please don’t judge me if you see repeats of jokes from this post over there. I only have so much humor in me.

Alex and I flew into Ft. Lauderdale on a Monday morning. We had a long day driving south from there and all the way out to the keys, a drive made longer by a traffic jam caused by a car accident on literally the only road in or out of the area. We didn’t get to our hotel and settled in until nearly dinnertime, so we eagerly jumped in a hotel shuttle to the downtown area to find a restaurant.

Before dinner, however, there was something I had to do. I needed to try to fit in with all the other tourist ladies by immediately purchasing a large sun hat.

Photo of me wearing large sunglasses and a big green sunhat.

It seemed the thing to do.

I was pretty sure I was supposed to buy a hat, but I was worried that I would buy the wrong hat. I told Alex that I shouldn’t just buy the first hat I saw. But then I saw this hat and I like that color green and it cost a mere twelve dollars and I was all, “How can you go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat?”

It turns out that twelve-dollar hats will rapidly start to disintegrate and shed parts and you really can go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat, but it served its purpose in that it kept the sun off of my face and I was able to talk to Alex ad nauseum about my hat, so I guess in the final tally, I didn’t really go wrong.

Our trip rapidly turned into punctuating our long, leisurely meals with sightseeing and wandering up and down Duval Street. We set the tone with our first night dinner at nine one 5, a very delicious and fun restaurant that we sort of randomly picked. Alex ordered some sort of snapper dish and the waiter told him that the snappers were small that day, so he’d get two instead of just one. We, naturally, imagined two small fish on a plate.

Oh. Not so.

Photo of two giant fish on a plate along with Chester, my stuffed mouse.

Chester is there for scale.

The best thing though is that not only did I laugh uproariously when Alex’s giant dinner arrived, but an adjacent table of four men also laughed hysterically at Alex, causing Alex to protest that, “No! I swear! I didn’t order two giant fish! The waiter brought them! It wasn’t me!”

Maybe you had to be there, but when strangers join you in mercilessly mocking your husband, it totally makes your night. At least it made mine. It was great.

It was even better when Chester got drunk and wore one of the fishes as a hat.

Chester with one of the fish heads resting on top of his head.

Chester is so embarrassing.

We then boarded the shuttle back to the hotel just as the young people were arriving in town to party for the night. Alex and I both slept eleven hours that night. I don’t think that has happened for…ever.

Tuesday was our heavy sightseeing day. We started by going to the Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s. Obviously we went because Hemingway was an amazing writer and it was very cool to visit his home, learn about him, and see where he wrote his most famous books.

Two photos: one is me standing in front of a small building surrounded by people; the second is the interior of the building. A room with a table, chairs, and typewriter at the center. There is a taxidermied gazelle head mounted on the wall and various other decorations.

Here is me standing in front of Hemingway’s writing studio, followed by a photo of the studio itself. That must be why I haven’t written the great American novel yet—not enough dead animals on my walls.

Let’s be honest here though. The real reason we went to the Hemingway House is because of the cats. Evidently Hemingway was big into cats, specifically polydactyl (more toes than normal) cats. He kept a bunch of them in the ’30s and they still have a whole lot of them (48!) there now.

There were cats everywhere. There was a cat on Hemingway’s bed. There was a cat in Hemingway’s studio. There was even a cat hanging out in the ladies bathroom, which I presume was never Hemingway’s.

A brown, orange, and white cat sitting on a brick pathway surrounded by greenery.

Cats like this one. Hello, cat.

Fortunately, I do have a lot of cats, so maybe that great book is in me somewhere. We made a point of telling our tour guide that we used to have a polydactyl cat, as did every other person on the property who had ever owned, petted, or heard of a many-toed feline.

The tour guide was unimpressed with our cat story.

We wandered around some more and did more touristy things. We saw a lighthouse, so naturally we paid $10 each to climb to the top. Because why wouldn’t we pay good American money to climb 88 tiny, metal, spiral steps in billion-degree heat and humidity? At least the view was pretty.

We rewarded ourselves with more food, drinks, and Chester shenanigans.

Four photos: Chester sitting on a drink served in a pineapple, with paper umbreallas and chunks of pineapples sticking out of it; Chester sitting with a shrimp tail on each hand; Chester drinking a margarita out of a straw, Chester on his back near a margarita.

There is nothing more absurd than Chester on a bender.

We had such a lovely day. Probably every half hour or so, Alex or I would say, “Wow! We could never do this if our kids were here!” We missed the hell out of our munchkins, but seriously, we would have walked five feet in the heat and Quinn would have fallen to the ground in agony, Jack would have taken off after one of the wild chickens, and Sam would have tried to micromanage his brothers until a fist fight broke out in the streets.

We could have had a great trip with our kids, but, damn, it would have been different. We never get to just walk around and wander in and out of shops and attractions. We left the hotel that morning with no set plan. I cannot remember the last time we did that. It was so fun.

We ended our evening at a restaurant called Better Than Sex that only featured dessert, each dish served with a double entendre. It was hilarious and fun for us, especially when a mom, dad, and their two kids came in and read the menu. “Look, white and sticky,” the mom read off the drinks menu as the dad shot her a look. Alex and I ate our Jungle Fever and Cookie Nookie and giggled.

Alex and I had spent a lot of time on Tuesday debating whether we should go on a snorkeling boat trip. Our pros list included items such as, I bet it would be fun! and Fish are cool! and We might feel like bad tourists if we don’t at least touch the water! Our cons list mostly included one item: Goddamn, going snorkeling sure does seem like a lot of work.

It turns out that going snorkeling mostly involved putting on a swimsuit and paying $39 each to get a boat ticket, so that is what we did on Wednesday.

First though, we had to eat a lot of food, wander through a bunch of shops, and visit the Key West aquarium where I took this awesome photo.

Photo of Alex looking into an iguana enclosure with his hands hooked into the wires. There is an iguana to his left looking out of the enclosure with his feet hooked into the wire. Their poses mirror each other.

The greatest thing is that even though Alex is totally mirroring the iguana to his left, he didn’t even see that guy until I pointed him out.

We were going on an afternoon snorkel trip, so we headed out at about 3:30 on a boat headed to a reef.

Selfie of Alex and me. I'm wearing my hat.

Who is that rocking the awesome sun hat?

In case you haven’t figured this out about me yet, I like to take photos. So, after we had checked in for our boat ride, I took a special interest in the disposable waterproof cameras at the shop next door. The only problem was that they used, ugh, you know, actual film, which involves something like thirty steps to actually develop, look at, and share, leading me to believe that I would never actually successfully utilize those photos. Thinking this way led me to shift my gaze six inches to the left where the shop was selling $20 waterproof cases for iPhones.

What could be the harm in putting an extremely expensive piece of electronic equipment in an untested plastic bag and tossing it into the ocean?

No harm! I decided.

Happily, not only did the case work perfectly, but it helped me capture such important and flattering memories such as this one:

Selfie of Alex and I wearing our snorkel masks and breathing thingies. Alex's eyes are closed and my forehead is wrinkled and I look extremely concerned.

YOU try to take a selfie while floating in the ocean with a tube in your mouth and a sheet of plastic over your face, why don’t you?

Happily, my very first test shot captured something better. I don’t even think I was aiming the camera when I took this one.

Photo of the boat silhouetted against the sky. The sun is centered exactly behind the mast of the boat.

It almost looks intentionally framed.

We spent about 45 minutes in the water looking at fish and swimming around the reef. I saw some sort of ray (stingray? manta ray? bat ray? who knows?), which was very cool. Alex swallowed some seawater, making him barf a little, and then he got to watch all the little yellow fish who came swarming up to eat it.

What? We are Team Stimey. Do you think no one threw up on this trip?

Our boat ride back coincided with both the sunset and a storm rolling in. Even the boat crew was impressed by the sky.

Photo of the sunset behind boats floating on the water. The setting sun is at the left of the photo with a big cloud bank piling up on the right.

If I actually knew how to take sunset photos, this one would have been amazing.

On Thursday, we were driving north out of the keys so we could visit the Everglades on Friday before we got on our plane home, but before we drove off-island, we tooled around a part of Key West we hadn’t explored before, including the southernmost point on the continental United States.

Alex and I standing on opposite sides of a large marker declaring us at the southernmost point in the continental United States. The ocean is behind us. Cuba is 90 miles away.

We also went to the southernmost gift shop. Where I bought a toothpick holder.

We visited a wildlife refuge, waded in the water a little bit, walked through the Key West AIDS Memorial, and checked out a botanical garden housed in an old Civil War fort.

We found the wildlife refuge because I was attracted by a cluster of wild chickens in a parking lot. Did I mention the wild chickens? There are wild chickens walking all over Key West. It is charming as hell. I kind of wish there were chickens everywhere. Although the cluster of chickens in the wildlife refuge parking lot were actually gathered around the corpse of one of their own. That is, I suppose, the downside of wild chicken herds.

Also seen at the wildlife refuge:

A bird stands outside an open door. There is a chalkboard on the door  that says, "Please knock. If you need help call xxx-xxx-xxxx."

Seems like kind of a dick move to ask the bird to call for help when he doesn’t even have a dialing finger.

It rained on and off Thursday morning, which was good timing for us. Not only were we not doing anything that required clear skies, but the rain turned the ocean all kinds of amazing colors.

Photo of a palm tree in front of the ocean, striped with different colors of blues, browns, and greens.

We won’t discuss the smell of the ocean and sea grass and what not.

On our way out of the keys, we stopped at a state park to eat the Cuban sandwiches we’d bought for lunch. Because we were there, we decided to take a swim in water that turned out to be SO nice and SO warm that we never wanted to leave.

Another selfie of Alex and Jean, this time in the ocean.

This is a photo of happy.

Friday morning we were scheduled for a trip to the Everglades before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale to catch our flight home. I had been to the Everglades briefly in 1998 and had always wanted to go back. We took a fan boat tour, learned a little bit about alligators, and saw some local wildlife (turtles! fish! alligators! dragonflies!). I still want to go back and see some more.

Photo of the Everglades. There is water with the sky mirrored in it separated by grass and a hummock with trees on it.

If you wonder why I still want to go back, just look at this photo.

There is something about the Everglades that I just really think is super appealing. Also, I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy, and that was pretty cool.

Me holding a small alligator in my hands.

I was expressly instructed not to kiss the alligator, which was fortunate, as once he was in my hands, all I wanted to do was kiss him and snuggle him.

In the van on the way to our tour, we saw an alligator in a canal by the side of the road. It was upside down and kind of puffy looking. “It’s sunning itself!” said our tour guide.

I don’t think it was sunning itself.

We had woken up at the ungodly hour of seven-something (Can you imagine? Before 8? Waking up with an alarm clock?) to go on our Everglades tour, so naturally we requested a late checkout and took a nap before we checked out of our hotel and went the airport.

We had such a wonderful time. I think my mom is lucky we came home at all. Although, frankly, we did miss our kids. Our trip was the perfect amount and type of time away.

When Alex had originally suggested this trip, I did what I always do when someone suggests I leave my house, be it for an evening out or an extended trip away from home and responsibility: I internally panicked and then started listing reasons why it would be impossible to make it happen.

I’m so glad that this time I listened to Alex and to other people who were encouraging about my going. When we originally made the plans, we weren’t planning on buying a house. When we got on the plane, we had moved and were mere days away from putting our old house on the market. If ever there were a vacation where my lists of reasons I couldn’t leave home were valid, it was this one.

But we went. And it was so necessary. Having five days with no responsibilities was exactly what both Alex and I needed after all the stress we’d endured for the prior two months. Thanks to my mom for watching my kids in such a spectacular fashion and thanks to Alex for forcing me out of my comfort zone into a wonderful week that was sorely needed.

I’m a lucky girl.

Photo of Alex and Jean on their snorkel boat in front of the sunset.

Happy 15th anniversary, Alex! I love you!

Coming Home and the Presentation of Souvenirs

It’s funny, because usually when I’m on vacation, I find time to post here. I think that’s because I am always back in a hotel room by 8:30 to put my kiddos to bed and then I have to sit in the dark with nothing but my computer to entertain me as they go to sleep. It turns out that if you go on vacation without your kids, you can do things like stay out until midnight and then go to bed as soon as you get back to the hotel.

In related news, did you know that there is still a midnight?

In more related news, yes, I am aware of how lame I am for being impressed that I was out and about with the living people after eleven in the pm.

Also related, Jesus Christ, I am so glad I don’t go to bars late at night. Just walking past them was enough for me.

Anywho, Alex and I have returned from our five-day trip to Key West. In case you want a reminder of exactly how pathetic we are, that was our first trip without our kids since before Sam was born. In other words, about 13 years.

Don’t worry though. Much as we may have considered it, we didn’t just abandon Team Stimey Junior to Minecraft and their own devices. My mother came into town to take care of them. She didn’t let on, but she was suitably apprehensive. After all, as an old friend of hers said, “DON’T YOU READ HER BLOG?!”

She shouldn’t have worried. They got along swimmingly.

Photo of my three kids sitting on the couch with my mom. Jack is slightly blurry. All are smiling and look very happy.

I’m not sure that Jack ever stops moving long enough to be completely not blurry.

Although let’s be honest. I think we all know that my kids didn’t sit around compliantly all week. My mom definitely worked hard.

A photo of my kids and mom in the same spot as before, but this time their limbs are thrown about and they are laughing and wild.

Yes. That looks right.

I can’t wait to tell you guys about our trip because it was awesome. We had so much fun. I took seven million great photos. We laughed and snorkeled and drank out of pineapples.

But tonight I am preparing to go back to work tomorrow and it is also Jack’s first day of camp and my mom left this afternoon, so I am going to hold off on telling you about all of that and instead, I will sit here by my cat and regale you with stories about our alcohol-fueled metal sculpture souvenir-buying extravaganza.

I think my mom was nervous when I called her to get her mailing address because it wasn’t in my phone and then texted her a photo of the souvenir I’d purchased for myself.

Photo of a metal, multi-colored rat. He is about a foot tall and oh so very garish.

I call him Hemingway. He is so fucking awesome. And, yes, I was also baffled that no one else had already bought him. Weirdly, the shopkeeper seemed thrilled to sell him, offering us a deep discount.

“Yours is more dignified,” I told my mom via text.

Also, it was a pelican.

Photo of a metal pelican standing on a metal post. He's probably three feet tall and a rusty bronze color.

I would name him Rusty, but who knows what my mom will call him.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to place him right inside her front door so it’s the first thing visitors to her home see. She used an appropriate amount of enthusiasm when I eventually showed her a photo, so I think she likes it.

In other news, I have a metal sculpture-buying tip for you: As you put more and more giant metal statuary on the shop counter, discounts will get increasingly larger and the salesperson’s face will get increasingly happier. You might then choose to buy one sculpture for each of your children instead of one for the three of them to share.

Whereas for my mom, we were looking for something a reasonable adult would put in a home, we had no such criterion for our children.

Photo of a round-bodied monster on tall, thin legs. Its predominant features are it's buggy eyes and giant teeth. He's also carrying a hockey stick.

That’s why we got this hockey-playing monster who tried to eat Chester for Jack.

Jack’s most excellent response upon seeing this guy was, “LOL. He’s like me.”

He then took him to his room to find a spot for him. Jack reported back that “he’s trying to eat my bedroom.”

Photo of the monster with several of Jack's toys in its mouth.

Jack. That kid totally gets Alex and me.

Sam got the cat version of my rat. Said cat is pretty hilarious.

Photo of a multi-colored metal cat.

Honestly, his was probably the most dignified non-pelican that we purchased.

You’ve probably already guessed that we got Quinn a cat as well, but you may not have guessed that we got him a Slinky Cat. He’s hilarious.

Photo of a metal cat. His body is a long metal spring.

Slinky Cat has the benefit of being poseable. He can sit or stand. (He chooses to stand.)

Clearly, Alex and I are pretty delighted with our souvenir purchases. Fortunately, our recipients seem to be equally enamored.

I hope you all enjoy them as well. Thank you for indulging me. You may now carry on with the non-metal sculpture related parts of your life.

Lake Madness

I know that this, the last installment in Team Stimey’s whirlwind trip around all of Wisconsin, is super late and that seven million things have happened between our last installment and now, but I am a completist (it is too a thing), so I now present to you our last vacation destination from our summer vacation waaaaay back in mid-August.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Lake Van Vliet.

It's even prettier in person.

It’s even prettier in person.

After the chaos of the Wisconsin Dells, it was really nice to go to the peace and absolute quiet of Alex’s family cabin on this gorgeous lake. It is this amazingly quiet place where the big activity is driving into town to get ice cream or to go fishing in the lake or—and this is sort of the climax of our trip every time we come here—rowing to a little island in the next lake over to have a picnic.

We had this great little walk on our first morning there on which I took what is probably my favorite photo in the history of photos. Now, I know I say that a lot, but seriously, people, this photo cracks me up every time I look at it.

Confused kids are confused.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions, but I think we can all agree that Team Stimey Junior is confused.

To give you an idea of the kind of things we did at the lake, there was that afternoon we spent stalking a blue heron from a rowboat.

Actual quote from Alex as we tried to row close to said blue heron: “Will everybody SHUT UP? We are trying to sneak up on a bird.”

You'll notice that we weren't super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y'all.

You’ll notice that we weren’t super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y’all.

Things got louder still after Quinn started asking if he could jump out of the boat. This was our third time visiting this cabin with our kids and none of us has put more than a foot or a hand in this lake, mostly because it is FREEZING COLD.

I don’t think we completely believed that he would actually jump out of the boat when we gave him permission.

Quinn in the water

How could we have been so naive?

For the record, the water really was frigid. We asked Quinn if he was cold and through shaking lips and chattering teeth, he was all, “n-n-n-ooo.” He was so delighted that he was doing something that his brothers never had.

Qunn swimming behind the rowboat

The little dude actually swam quite a ways. He laughed the entire damn time.

Quinn in lily pads

He even swam through seaweed (lakeweed?) under the surface of the lake and lily pads on top. This surprised me. Lake swimming trumps sensory nightmare.

Quinn making victory sign on the dock.

Quinn got to the dock ahead of us. He spent the rest of our vacation reliving his victory in said “race” to the dock.

Alex, being Alex, then told Quinn that he hoped that Quinn hadn’t contracted Lake Madness, to which Quinn replied, “You’re kidding, right?” Alex, again, being Alex, then said, “That is exactly what someone with Lake Madness would say.”

I don’t know that I have ever seen Quinn speechless before, but that did it.

We did let Quinn know that Lake Madness was made up, but that didn’t stop us from repeatedly bringing it up for the rest of our vacation. We are not nice people.

In fact, if you know Quinn in real life and you’re hanging out with him and he does something weird, it would be awesome if you were to say, “Quinn. Have you been swimming in a lake lately? Because what you just did is exactly what my cousin did when he had Lake Madness.”

His head would quite likely explode right off of his head.

You should know though, that if you do that, you will also be a Not Nice Person and will probably also (1) go to hell and (2) contribute to Quinn’s nervous breakdown. On second thought, just think about saying that to him, but don’t actually do it.

My other kids got Lake Madness on our last trip out in the rowboat when they followed Quinn’s lead and all jumped in the lake.

Team Stimey Junior in the lake

Laaaaake Maaadddneeeessss!

They were all under our oars and hanging on the edge of the rowboat and generally causing a ruckus. It was de-fucking-lightful. I like my kids a lot.

Algernon came close to getting Lake Madness too, but I saved him before he fell in.

Algernon on a lily pad

It is remarkable how quickly a small stuffed mouse will sink a lily pad. This shot was harder to get than it looks.

Fortunately, we had access to an Algernon dryer right next to where Alex and I were sleeping.

Algernon in front of the fire

I badly want a fireplace next to my bed now. That was the greatest thing ever.

Of course, it was not all rowboats and nature walks. There were also go karts (Quinn was tall enough to drive his own kart here; he is a terrible driver) and mini golf and fishing (have you ever seen live bait dispensed from a vending machine? I have) and all kinds of quirky restaurants, including Paul Bunyan’s, where you don’t even get to order food—they just bring you plates and piles of food for the table and you choose what you want.

Jack goring Alex.

They also had these fabulous ox horns that Jack used to gore Alex.

One of my very favorite things that we did was take the munchkins horseback riding. They’ve been on ponies that go in those sad little circles before, but never on actual horses. I remember riding semi-regularly when I was kid and I LOVED it, so it was cool to see my kiddos do it for the first time.

Quinn was really nervous at first and almost refused to get on his horse. The guides were really nice though and told him they’d just walk his horse in a couple little circles and he could get off if it was too scary. After about three minutes, he was sold.

Quinn on his horse

This is Quinn on A3, which is a weird name for a horse, but reportedly he was “the best horse” they had.

Jack got to ride the tallest horse in the world. We always joke that Jack is the honey badger (“He’s pretty badass. Jack don’t care. Jack don’t give a shit. He just takes what he wants.”) Well, Jack got his comemuffins* by getting the honey badger horse. His horse kept stopping to munch on trail-side greenery, requiring Jack to guide him back onto the path. He did a pretty good job of it, but that horse worked him. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Comemuffins.*

Jack on his horse.

Jack on his horse, Kessler. You can’t tell here, but that horse was taller than a fucking tree. HUGE.

Sam’s and his horse rode directly in front of me. Sam’s horse audibly farted for the entire 45-minute ride. It was astounding that one animal could have that much gas inside him.

Sam on his horse.

Sam on his black and white horse, Oreo. It is quite possible that this horse is the direct reason we have a black and white cat named Oreo.

Quinn rode in the front, right behind the guide and he talked to her for 45 minutes straight. It was hilarious. I meandered along in the back, bothered only by the flatulence of the horse in front of me.

At one point, a deer spooked both Sam and Jack’s horses, causing them to take off running. Both of them managed to pull back on the reins and not get violently thrown to the ground. I was tremendously proud. They were rock stars. All three kiddos did a great job.

Even Algernon did all right.

Algernon on a pony.

He was too small to ride a real horse though so he was stuck with a pony.

I have to say, I think that this section of our vacation might have been my favorite. It was so chill. I got a ton of running in as well, on roads that ran alongside scenes like this:

forest

The only negative about running past this was worrying that a bear or mountain lion would come lumbering out of it.

All of our vacation was fun, but there is nothing like Lake Van Vliet for some forced relaxation. Team Stimey is really lucky to have the opportunity to vacation here. And I am very lucky to have Team Stimey.

My kids

I’m so lucky to have these three munchkins in my life.

(End vacation.)

* This is how we say “comeuppance” in my family. And, no, it’s not because one of our kids adorably mispronounced the word. Alex mispronounced it until he was midway through law school and I finally corrected him. I decided that it would be against our best interests for him to bust out with, “Then the defendant got his comemuffins…” in front of a judge.

Firsts From the First Day of Travel

Team Stimey headed to Wisconsin this week for family vacation. I am counting the day and a half it took us to drive here as our first day because if I believed that I spent TWO days of my vacation trapped in a car with these people (aka, my family) I would feel more tired than if I had just spent one day in that situation.

They are Nintendo (semi) enthused.

They were Nintendo (semi) enthused.

Also, we left Maryland at 6:45 pm yesterday, so that barely counts as a day. Which brings me to our….

First fuck-up: We stop at a McDonald’s a half mile from our house to buy dinner for our children. Alex announces that he has forgotten his wallet and we return home to look for it. Turns out that it was in the car all along.

First night: We spend our first night on the road in a hotel sandwiched between the Cleveland airport and a building that is actively being bulldozed at one in the morning.

First blood: We made it until a french fry stop at noon today before anyone emitted unexpected bodily fluids. Jack cut his knee on a “HOME OF THE WHOPPER” sign in front of the Burger King at a rest stop in Ohio. We still don’t know which letter on the sign was the offender. My money is on the “W.”

First kerfuffle: Despite having been a couple for nearly 20 years, Alex and I didn’t discover until this morning that our rules for playing the Alphabet Game are radically different. I’m not going to tell you which one of us has the ridiculous rule that you can’t use more than one letter from the same sign and that you can’t use letters off of trucks. I will, however, tell you that that person was WRONG.

First near-death experience: There was torrential rain all throughout our drive today—like, vision-eradicating torrential. It was quite a thing.

Algernon got the best seat in the house.

Algernon got the best seat in the house.

First miracle: NO ONE PUKED IN THE CAR.

First destination: Milwaukee! We are tired. We are grumpy. We are ready to be farther than four feet away from each other. We can’t wait to get started on our vacation!

The Five Stages of Grief as it Pertains to Luggage Loss

Something terrible happened to me on my way to BlogHer. Southwest Airlines lost my suitcase, something that had never happened to me before. It was extremely devastating to me and threw me off kilter for a solid day and a half, maybe more.

I imagine that it was less traumatizing for Southwest.

Upon realizing that I had arrived in Chicago but my luggage had not, my first instinct was to cancel all my conference plans and immediately board a plane back to DC where I could live in the sweatpants and t-shirts that live in my drawers and were not en route to some undisclosed location.

I spent a chunk of time shuffling back and forth in one place going over the pros and cons of the run-home plan before I began to work my way through the five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief is the common term for the Kübler-Ross model stating that when faced with the reality of an extreme, awful fate, an individual will experience a series of emotional states: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

In case you aren’t familiar with Ms. Kübler-Ross’ work, I will walk you through a simple (extreme, awful) example prior to describing the luggage debacle.

Let’s say your two male gerbils have babies. Let’s go with that extreme, awful example.

Denial: Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Overwhelming visual evidence be dammed.

Anger: The pet store sold me a boy and a girl but told me they were two boys. I should firebomb the pet store, but instead of throwing Molotov cocktails, I will lob hamster balls full of infant gerbils.

Bargaining: If the mother gerbil doesn’t have any more babies, I promise to never put an embarrassing hat on a gerbil again. I’m sorry, gerbil gods. I’m sooooorry.

Depression: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Acceptance: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Are you clear on the five stages now? Good. Let’s discuss these five stages as they apply to arriving in Chicago for a blogging conference with no clothes but for those on your back and no toothbrush but for those on sale at Walgreen’s.

Denial: Huh, I am the only person standing here at this baggage claim carousel. I’m sure that just means that I’m early. Or late. Don’t worry, Stimey, your bag is going to come. That one suitcase sadly traveling around the carousel wasn’t mine last time it went around, but maybe this time I will be. I should check the luggage tag again. My suitcase isn’t lost. That would be absurd. Airlines specialize in getting luggage to where it is supposed to go. My luggage isn’t lost.

Anger:  My luggage is lost. What’s that, baggage claim lady? You don’t track the luggage? You won’t know where it is until you find it in the wrong place? You have no idea where the suitcase is or how long it will take to get to Chicago? You will deliver my suitcase to my hotel when you find it MAYBE tonight? Look, baggage claim lady, I know you didn’t personally send my luggage to American Samoa or wherever it ended up, but you are making it really hard to not yell at you right now.

The great thing about the Anger stop on the Kübler-Ross scale is that you don’t have to choose just one target. Nor do you have to be rational about it. After Alex was less than supportive about my great loss (i.e. he did not teleport to Chicago to FIND MY LUGGAGE FOR ME FIND IT NOW I CAN’T GO TO BLOGHER WITHOUT MY LUGGAGE FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT NOW!), I turned my rage on him in a series of passive aggressive long pauses between hostile texts. It’s an art.

Bargaining: If my suitcase arrives before I go to sleep, I will never ever roll my eyes dramatically when an airline wants to charge me $12 for a small packet of peanuts and two ounces of vodka. Okay. I will still roll my eyes, but I do promise to always give my trash to the flight attendant when she walks through the cabin before landing instead of stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of me. And I promise to stop stealing barf bags and ripping out photos of dogs that look like my dog from the in-flight magazine.

Depression: This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Everything is gray. They will never find my bag. ALL of my cute clothes were in there. My running shoes were in there. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RUN AGAIN. I am sure going to miss my favorite hair brush. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO BRUSH MY HAIR AGAIN. Whhhhyyyy does everything bad always happen to meeeeeeee?

Acceptance: It is 10pm. Not only is my luggage not at the hotel, but the people at the airline still don’t even know where it is. My luggage is not coming. I will go to the Walgreen’s down the street from my hotel to buy toothpaste, underwear, a new hairbrush (sob!), deodorant, and boxer shorts to sleep in. I will also think that I bought a toothbrush, but will actually not have done so, leaving me to brush my teeth by scrubbing them with a washcloth smeared with toothpaste. I am prepared to wear the same purple shirt and old jeans for the next four days. It will not be okay, but it is happening.

And that’s how you deal with luggage loss.

You will be pleased to know that I was woken at 1 am with a phone call from the airline that woke both me and my roommate from deep sleeps. The woman on the phone told me that my suitcase would be delivered sometime between 1 and 5 am.

“Do I have to be in the lobby to get it?” I asked.

And then the woman laughed at me. “No,” she said. “Go back to sleep. We’ll leave it with the front desk.” Then she laughed some more, no doubt imagining me in my boxer shorts and washcloth-scrubbed teeth sitting forlornly in the lobby at four in the morning.

The airlines taught me a valuable lesson that day. They taught me that I should avoid checking my luggage at all costs. They taught me that if I do have to check my luggage, that I should put my favorite hairbrush, pajamas, and one change of clothes in my carry-on bag. Also, if you have to re-buy your toiletries, double check that a toothbrush makes it into your shopping bag.

That is the lesson the airlines taught me. The lesson I learned is that the airlines lost my suitcase once, which obviously means that I’ve paid my dues and that it will never get lost again, so I should start packing my valuables in checked luggage all the time. It’s how probability works, people.

Spectacularly Good or Spectacularly Bad? Welcome to Hersheypark.

Remember back the night before my family headed into Hersheypark and I was all:

“This will be my kids’ first time at an amusement park. I imagine that is will go spectacularly.

Spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, that remains to be seen.”

Well. Done and done.

Also, you should note that I managed to spell “it” wrong in the second sentence of that quote that I copy and pasted from its original post. That seems about right.

So. Here’s the backstory: I didn’t want to throw any birthday parties this year, so I talked Jack and Quinn into foregoing theirs and going to Hersheypark and Chocolate World instead.

In my defense, it sounded like a great plan.

Our itinerary was to drive up Friday night, go to Hersheypark on Saturday, go to Chocolate World on Sunday, and then drive home that evening, full of joy and happy memories. Friday went just as planned, complete with a heated pool to swim in at the hotel.

Jack choked on bacon at breakfast on Saturday, but that isn’t even the worst thing that happened that morning.

Here’s how it all went to hell, like, two minutes after our arrival at Hersheypark:

We drove into the parking lot, got out of the car, walked about 20 feet, and then Quinn turfed it. It was like slow fucking motion. I saw him go down on his knee, then his shoulder, then it looked like he was going to stop there, but he didn’t and then he tipped down onto his nose and his forehead.

I jumped to the ground next to him and hugged him as he started screaming, “We have to go home! We have to go home! We have to go home!” It took a good several minutes before he’d even let me look at his face. When he finally did, this is what I saw:

I don't know that I have to tell you that I took this photo much, MUCH later. Even then, several hours after the fall, it's somewhat of a miracle that he was willing to smile for me.

I don’t know that I have to tell you that I took this photo much, MUCH later. Even then, several hours after the fall, it’s somewhat of a miracle that he was willing to smile for me.

It was brutal. I had to pick Quinn up and carry him the rest of the looooooong way into the park. It was either that or turn around and take the 30-second walk back to the car and call it a day.

Side note: Quinn is ridiculously heavy. He’s loud too.

I don’t know if you’ve been to Hersheypark, but I swear to God that the entrance was, like, three miles away from the parking lot. We did stop at one point to measure ourselves according to Hershey’s height standards.

Sam was a Jolly Rancher. Jack was a Twizzler. Quinn was...reluctant to be measured. (a.k.a. a Hershey bar)

Sam was a Jolly Rancher. Jack was a Twizzler. Quinn was…reluctant to be measured. (a.k.a. a Hershey bar)

We had decided to get disability passes for Jack for his autism and Quinn for his SPD and body regulation issues. Standing in long lines is especially tough on Quinn and Jack gets dysregulated in line situations. I won’t go into all the reasons I felt my kids needed the disability pass, but I knew that we did need them—for Quinn more than anyone else.

Our visit to the Hospitality Office to get those passes was a source of stress for me. I was worried that they would turn us down and then my kids wouldn’t be able to handle the park. I was worried that they wouldn’t be nice. I was worried that they were going to try to make Jack and Quinn wear wristbands around the park and I knew that would be worse than not having a pass at all.

Here’s something though: If you are standing in the ADA compliance line and one parent is holding a sobbing 8-year-old while the other parent is clutching the hand of a 10-year-old so he doesn’t take off in excitement and then that parent bursts into stress tears because she has been worrying for weeks about how her kids would be able to handle an amusement park and it turns out that it doesn’t look like any of them are going to be able to handle it all that damn well because they are 15 feet into the park and it’s already Hersheygeddon, well, the staff there will be really nice to you.

The woman there took one look at me and my entourage, accepted my paperwork, said, “Do you think they’ll need cards instead of wristbands?” and then told me we could stand in a quieter spot while she got all of our paperwork ready.

Thank you, Hersheypark.

(In truth, we didn’t actually use the passes all that much. Quinn didn’t go on many rides and we stood in line for most of them. Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, it was really cold, so the lines weren’t too long. I do have to say though, that when we did need those passes, we were so grateful for them. I do know that our day was much easier because of them.)

We headed out from the Hospitality office and Quinn and I took a little break while Sam, Jack, and Alex ran off to play on a ride. I finally convinced Quinn to try the carousel. I got my first inkling that things might turn out okay when I saw him trying to suppress the tiniest of smiles on the ride.

This was not that smile.

This was not that smile.

Jack and Sam, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier.

The dude in the Hershey bar suit was probably less happy when my kids pretended to eat his arms. I bet that happens to him a lot.

The dude in the Hershey bar suit was probably less happy when my kids pretended to eat his arms. I bet that happens to him a lot.

So, they liked the characters, but what about the rides? I bet Sam and Jack hated the rides, didn’t they?

They totally did.

They totally did.

We went on a series of rides after that. Two of us on this one, three on that, and things started to look up. After riding the bumper cars, even Quinn busted out a smile. We worked our way through some of the kiddie rides on the way to the Minetown section of the park, which I think Jack imagined was just like Minecraft. (It wasn’t.)

By the time we got over to the little speedway where kids can pretend to drive cars (Jack, by the way, is the slowest damn driver ever. I know. I was in his car and witnessed the backup behind us), all three kids were having a good time.

When you ask Quinn if he had a good time at Hersheypark, he will tell you no and then he will tell you about how he fell on his face in the parking lot. He will claim to have hated everything and to have not had fun at all. But, trust me, he didn’t hate everything. I give you this photograph as proof:

Not only is he happy, but you can barely even see his facial scarring.

Not only is he happy, but you can barely even see his facial scarring.

You might also notice that he is wearing two jackets in that photo. That is because he was cold in just his jacket, so he stole my sweatshirt leaving me in short sleeves. By the time I got desperate enough to pay $50 for a sweatshirt that read “KISSES” across the front, there were no sweatshirt shops anywhere to be seen. It sucked.

If I had to describe motherhood in a sentence, it might be this: “No matter how cold it is, you will always give your coat to your child.” If I had to describe motherhood by Stimey, I would add, “and complain vociferously the whole time.”

After Jack’s Sunday driver training, we were walking to the log ride and Jack saw a roller coaster where people’s legs were dangling from the seats and he insisted he wanted to go on it. I should mention here that Jack had never been on a roller coaster at this point. Because I am me, I didn’t even bother to check the track layout before I agreed and got into line with him. I just figured, well, Jack is fearless, so what’s the worst that could happen?

You guys, this roller coaster had loops. It had corkscrews. It had a corkscrewing loop. Oh, it was quite the roller coaster. I think it surprised Jack a lot. I’ll say this for the kid though; he didn’t want to go back on that particular roller coaster, but he was game to go on any other ride or coaster for the rest of the day. Jack and his bravery astound me every single day. He is one of a kind, that kid.

We collected Alex, Sam, and Quinn from the nearby arcade and Sam, Jack, and I went on the log ride while Alex and Quinn headed back to the skee-ball lanes—Quinn because he wasn’t interested in scary rides and Alex because he wasn’t interested in watery rides. (Did I mention that it was really cold?)

The advantage of the cold day was that there was no line for the log ride, allowing the three of us to go on it twice in record time. Sam loved it. This pleased me because where Jack is fearless, Sam can be fearful. I was hoping to get him on a roller coaster at the park, so I was happy that Sam liked the thrill of going down the hill.

I was also happy that I was able to position my children to block me from getting too wet.

I was also happy that I was able to position my children to block me from getting too wet.

It’s actually too bad that Quinn started the day off in such a rough way. I think that he would have been way more willing to try some of the rides if his fall hadn’t convinced him that Hershey was out to kill him. His hair kept getting stuck to his wounds and hurting him, so it wasn’t like he could forget about it either.

Now, I know this may surprise you, but I am a little bit rigid in the ways that I do things and in my mind, when you go to an amusement park, you ride rides and that is what is fun and you don’t do the arcade games because they are a waste of money because they are rigged so no one wins.

I needed Alex to remind me that those arcade games aren’t just fun if you win. I needed to learn that there are ways other than mine to have fun at an amusement park. He and Quinn did a lot of arcade and boardwalk-style games while the rest of us went on rides. I am so grateful that Alex was flexible enough to see what Quinn needed and that the two of them had such a fun day together.

Quinn won these flowers and Alex won the ability to somehow make Quinn carry the family backpack. That achievement will probably never be repeated.

Quinn won these flowers and Alex won the ability to somehow make Quinn carry the family backpack. That achievement will probably never be repeated.

We headed out of the park shortly after I put Sam on the roller coaster I wanted him to try. I can tell you that he did not care for it and he is very angry at me for putting him on it when there was a tamer one somewhere in the park that no matter how hard we looked, we could not find. I thought it was a blast. He thought I was purposely trying to kill him.

On our way out, we passed a team of candy bars just hanging out by themselves. We caught sight of them from a distance and Jack shrieked and started running to them. The candy bars heard him and they all started waving. Jack leapt over a bench to dive into a hug with the Kit Kat. It was completely enchanting at the same time that it was totally absurd.

Then the candy bars' handlers had to physically pull him off of said KitKat.

Then the candy bars’ handlers had to physically pull him off of said Kit Kat.

From there, all that was left was finding our car. (Me: “Do you remember where we parked? Other than near the bloodstain?”)

Remember when I said that our day at Hersheypark would be either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad? Without question, we had both. All of us had some tough moments, but we got through it and I think we all learned something about ourselves and each other that day. Next time we go to an amusement park (you know, in ten or twelve years, once the memories fade), I’ll use those lessons to make our trip even better.

So, that was our day. I’ll save our day at Chocolate World for tomorrow because I think if I tried to add any more to this post, my blog would implode. For White Knuckle Parenting this week, I did write specifically about the lessons I learned at the amusement park. Definitely check it out.

The 5th Avenue bar strikes me a little bit as a Poochie the Rockin' Dog character.

The 5th Avenue bar strikes me a little bit as a Poochie the Rockin’ Dog character: all attitude, no substance.

We Survived Hersheypark (Almost) Intact!

Remember how Team Stimey was headed to Hersheypark over the weekend? Well, we went and we survived and we only had one choking incident and one injury that resulted in facial scarring.

For Team Stimey, that’s almost like a perfect vacation.

I took a gajillion photos and have a ton of stories to tell you, but I am tiiiiiiired tonight, so I’ll put that off until tomorrow.

Tonight I’ll give you this photo of Mouse, who made me happy by actually using the exercise wheel in his cage, but who did it all kinds of wrong.

Even my gerbils march to the beat of their own drummers.

He did this for a really long time. It was hilarious.

Until tomorrow!