Note to Self:
The next time it sounds like 'fun' to take three small children and a stroller on public transit - ANYWHERE - all by yourself, THINK AGAIN. You might as well go hit your head into the wall ten or twenty times... it will yield about the same headache and level of exhaustion.
Here though, is the story of the first ever "real" train travel my children have experienced... in a heavily abridged version detailing only a few choice moments. The truth is, I'm very tired.
For the third or fourth night in a row, my two year old daughter woke me yesterday evening around 3am and it took me such a long time to fall back asleep. She also awakened her brothers, which explains why this morning we all slept in about an hour past usual... getting up around 8am (which any parent with small kids can tell you is VERY late... almost a miracle).
Eight a.m. is a beautiful number during summer vacation; except when summer camp (at the other end of the city) starts at nine. Looking at my three kids lounging in their pajamas and demanding homemade waffles, it was pretty obvious to me that it would take a massive Divine intervention to get the three of them bathed, fed, dressed and in the car while still giving myself enough time to get my eldest son to the camp before the campers "departed" for their daily adventure around town.
"How important is it to you to go to camp today?" I asked my son.
"I'd rather stay home and play here," he replied.
"Done," I nodded, relieved. "I will go start working on the waffles and think of something fun for us to do today."
Usually there are tons of options for fun activities to do with the kids but due to my younger son's recent injury I realized that we would be a lot more limited in our scope. The art museum is not as much fun when you don't have a hand to create art with... similarly, "hands-on" activities such as riding bicycles to the park or flying a kite are totally impossible when one of your hands is mittened in a thick cast.
Then I had a brainstorm - trains!
My children have always wanted to ride on a "real" train. We've taken little trains at the zoo before (actually, at several zoos) and so they get the basic idea. They also watched plenty of Thomas the Tank Engine when they were smaller, and every time we see a train whiz by us on the hill above a certain traffic stoplight they shout and point at it. "I want to ride on a train!" has become a common mantra.
It had been over a decade since I looked into local train travel but the idea sounded like fun, so I checked it out and sure enough there was a train running where we could take a relatively short round-trip journey for about $20... since my two younger children would be free of charge.
"Do you guys want to ride on a train today? A real one?" I asked.
"REALLY??? A REAL TRAIN?"
"Sure, why not?"
It looked as though we were in for a great day.
* * * * * * *
Someday in the not-too-distant future, I have confidence that this kind of spontaneous travel WILL actually be fun. My kids and I will be able to take off for adventures ~ to see movies, go to theme parks, go hiking, see shows in other cities. It will happen!
Today however, my initial burst of enthusiasm for riding the rails was instantly tempered by the actual process of getting all three children ready to go. Just getting into the car (fed, bathed, dressed, WITH the diaper bag and some toys) is a major procedure around here - and the more children are involved, the harder it becomes.
We agreed on our train trip around 8:00am and I had high hopes of us making the 11:03am train leaving from the north part of our city, arriving at the southerly end exactly one hour later and then making a return trip.
In actuality, thanks to innumerable meltdowns, we left our home around 10:55am with absolutely no hope of catching the 11:03... and then had to plan an entirely different route. Where would we catch the train? Where would we park for the day?
This latter question turned out to be quite significant. To catch the train downtown, it turned out that we would need to pay $10 for the privilege of parking our car. Then we discovered that there were no parking lots close enough to the downtown station for my two year old daughter to walk comfortably, and I was leery of having to bring the stroller.
We circled the station about twenty times, looking for a space. There was plenty of two hour parking - but since the round trip journey promised to take around 3 to 4 hours, that timing wasn't going to work for us.
My sons grew restless and began to bicker.
My daughter grew hungry and began to cry.
I started to wonder how we were going to make it through to our destination with only granola bars and water to subsist on.
I checked the train schedule.
Happily, I discovered that the same train would stop just five minutes away in a different part of the city where there was ample free parking. "Let's go!" I cheered. My children, happy to have stopped circling, cheered too.
It ended up taking us about 45 minutes just to find a free spot though at the other station.
"Mommy, I have to go potty."
"Sure honey, just as soon as we've parked."
"No Mommy. I have to pee NOW."
"Oh dear. Honey, we're in the middle of a parking lot. There is nowhere for me to take you right now."
"But Mommy, I have to GO."
"Unless you want to sit in wet smelly shorts for the rest of the day, I really hope you can manage to hold on, buddy. We can't just get out of the car right here."
The tough little man managed to hold on, but suddenly our parking dilemma had an entirely new element of stress.
By the time we'd parked, pulled out the stroller (because there was no way my daughter could walk all the way to the train as quickly as we needed to go), crossed through the parking lot and entered the station, my son was basically hopping on one foot. Poor guy.
Time had run short though and if we didn't go to wait on the platform right away, we would miss the train.
"I'm so sorry buddy," I consoled. "You can go potty the very second we get on the train."
We purchased our tickets from a silver machine in the middle of the track. All sorts of people milled around us. A heavy-set man with a special dog came by and showed us how his dog could count to ten by tapping his feet, in exchange for treats. He thought my kids would be excited - actually, they were terrified of him and hid behind me. My children are not big fans of male strangers.
"What a great dog!" I thanked him, while shepherding them along. My younger son whimpered. "That doggy is scary Mommy!"
Then came the larger question of how we were going to board the train.
It didn't occur to me until about 8 minutes before arrival that the train itself had steps which we would need to climb up. Difficult to do with a 30 lb girl strapped into a stroller. I am not remotely strong enough to lift her, the stroller, the diaper bag, the camera bag and our book bag by myself.
Yet since there was not enough time to return the stroller to the car, somehow we would have to make it work.
My six year old is tall and muscular, also a good helper. "I can lift it, Mommy!" he encouraged.
"Why don't we try doing it together?"
The only way to make that work though was to release the two year old from her straps so we could fold up the stroller to lift it.
Anyone with a two year old knows, letting them "free" on a train platform is not exactly an easy decision. Suddenly there are too many pinballs rolling through the maze - three little children, unbound; a stroller; three bags, and one very stressed out mommy... about four feet away from fast moving trains and a train track on either side.
"Um, I think maybe we should have waited to ride a train until Daddy could be with us," I murmured.
"I WANT MY DADDEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!" cried my daughter as she ran around me in circles.
"I wish your daddy was here too!!!" I thought.
"Mommy, I HAVE TO PEE!!!"
I began to sweat. Suddenly our day had gone from Thomas and the Magic Railroad to Man Vs. Wild. Grabbing my cell phone from my purse, I decided to let my husband know that we'd changed stations... only to discover watch it die right in front of me.
"GOODBYE!" flashed Samsung before it cut me off from all contact with family and friends.
"Argh! Why didn't I charge my PHONE?" I wondered in dismay.
My daughter shoved my younger son who began to cry about his cast.
The train whistle blew in the distance. Knowing our big moment (climbing onto the train with a toddler in one hand and a stroller in the other, assisted by a six year old AND a four year old in an arm cast) was about to arrive, I began to pray.
DEARGOD, PLEASEHELPME. THISWASPROBABLYNOTMYBESTIDEAEVER. PLEASEHELPSOMYCHILDRENDONOTTRIPANDFALLONTHETRACKS.
I tried to visualize us successfully on the train.
And then, AT LAST, it arrived.
* * * * * * *
Somehow, some very awkward and ungraceful way, we managed to muddle our way up the steps and onto the train. It involved a lot of fast twisting lifting and forceful speaking on my part. But we made it.
We got all three children, a large stroller, three bags and a very stressed out mother onto the train (where my boy raced into the fairly clean bathroom by the sliding doors) and at last, I thought we could relax.
And I DID relax.
I relaxed for all of two minutes until my daughter began to scream.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" she screeched as the train began to move.
"I NO LIKE ITTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I WANNA GO HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT SCAREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"
Gosh, the folks in the surrounding seats really started to love us then.
We were technically two minutes into our journey, and already I couldn't WAIT for it to end. "What the H#$( was I thinking!!!"
* * * * * * *
It wasn't ALL bad though.
My sons really did light up like Roman candles when they began to watch the countryside fly by. They were mainly happy for at least 30 minutes before they began to complain about hunger, thirst, fatigue and boredom.
So that part was good.
My daughter DID chill out for a little while when I handed her an etch-a-sketch and a granola bar.
"Maybe this won't be so bad after all," I dared to hope. I tried to take their photo only to discover that the camera I was lugging around was also, like the cell phone, out of charge. Sigh.
In actuality, that was actually the only calm and happy stretch of the day - but at least we did get that one peaceful interlude.
A beautiful landscape rising up before us, full of trees and valleys, blue sky and even some beautiful water scenes. For a brief moment I was reminded of how much I have always loved train travel; it is my favorite form of transportation.
Without small children in tow, it is my favorite form of transportation.
I found myself missing my husband even more, thinking how romantic the train ride would be if shared with him alone.
One more thing to add to my "when they're older" list.
* * * * * * *
Highlights? (Lowlights?) from the rest of our day:
- Sons get into a huge fight over what kind of food to eat for lunch. (My solution - go to a grocery store where everyone can get what they want.)
- One son steals food in the grocery store and rolls his eyes at me when I try to explain to him that we can't just TAKE anything we want in a store.
- My daughter, angry that it is taking too long, throws the salad I have just put into a box, all over the floor. There are black beans, lettuce and tomatoes all over the floor. I spend five minutes wiping off the floor with paper napkins and apologizing to the staff member that has to come help me clean up the mess.
- My son begins to cry and scream at the top of his lungs when I tell him that, because he stole food from the store when I asked him not to, he will lose his lunchtime dessert
- I ignore the crying, but cringe when I see the faces of the other shoppers around us
- We accidentally board the wrong train on the way home, and end up about an hour out of our way
- My younger son gets jostled while waiting for the train and manages to pour water from the bottle he was drinking onto his cast, necessitating that we head back to the hospital when we FINALLY return to our parked car
- My daughter falls and scrapes her leg while waiting for the train
- My elder son manages to drop his favorite treasury of bedtime stories in the crack between the train and the tracks as we are boarding to go home. He freaks out, drops the stroller, and tries to stick his little hand into the space between the train and the track. In an instant I grab him - all fifty pounds of him - back onto the train and recapture my daughter's hand.
- My very tired, very emotional daughter (a) Decides to show the rest of the train her underpants and (b) Lays down on the floor of the train in front of the bathroom and won't get up until we finally yank her up. This also happens on the floor of the grocery store AND (later) the hospital. Good thing we believe in building her immunity...
- As the final train approaches it blows a hot wind full of dust and fine rock particles directly into my eyes. Ouch! It takes about two hours and several rinses to get my eyes "clear" again.
As I try to rinse them while sitting with my three kids, I remember to be grateful for all of the important things that I take for granted - like having eyes at all. I also give thanks that my three of my children are capable of running (around me in circles), screaming (because they have lungs) and telling me off (because they have functioning brains).
Lastly, I am so grateful that my son and daughter are both healing and could be with us on the train.
* * * * * * *
Around 4:34pm we finally rolled back into the original station - three exhausted, fussy children and their totally worked mama who was more than ready to curl into a ball and sleep for a year.
As we raced to the hospital before it closed at 5pm, to get my younger son's damp cast checked by the tech, I gave thanks that the adventure was over and that I had a husband at home who I knew would be kind enough to help me make dinner and put the kids to bed.
Just as I drifted mid-reverie back into reality, I had one last surprise.
"That was really fun, Mom," announced my son - same one that had been crying his head off at the grocery store and by the side of the train track just hours earlier. "I want to go again tomorrow."