Surviving a Cross-Country Road Trip with the Husband, Two Quarrelsome Teens and a Dog

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm , by

 

“We could pull a Thelma and Louise right here, Mom.” Ava (15) was pointing to the precipice falling away into oblivion before our car.

“I was about to say that!” I answered.

We were climbing into the mountains on our way out of Death Valley, six days into our own epic, life-changing road trip, and relocating from North Carolina to California. Everyone—well, mostly my teenagers—had expressed no small amount of anxiety about our ability to get along in a car for that long. When informed that we planned to drive cross-country with two quarrelsome teens and 60 pounds of stubborn canine anxiety, a few people had suggested that our chances of ending in mayhem and bloodshed were high.

At least one of the trip’s detractors was in the car with us. “I’m dreading this,” Cole (17) had said the night before our departure. “Ten days in a car with my family. What could be worse?”

I didn’t voice my fears but I certainly had them. My kids are so skilled at bickering they could have coached Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. My husband, Dan, and I had just packed all our earthly belongings into a moving container, a herculean effort that had left us teetering close to Taylor-and-Burton territory ourselves. I’m aware that moving has a stress quotient that’s right up there with divorce. Was I crazy to think that throwing this road trip on top of the move wouldn’t cause one to lead to the other?

“Maybe we’ll have fun,” the Pollyanna voice in my head ventured.

So I overprepared. I made sure everyone had a working smartphone with data, a tablet and headphones. I made sure the kids downloaded books, movies and music to those devices before we left in case we found ourselves without cell service or Wi-Fi. GM had loaned me a Buick Enclave for the journey as part of its Buick Bucket List campaign. It sports plenty of charging ports, video monitors and space as well as some serious creature comforts, such as heated and cooled seats. The dog would have the third row and each teen a monitor. We were not planning on suffering. Since this particular car does not sport a Wi-Fi connection (though most cars with OnStar will in the future), we packed a NetGear Mingle so that everyone could get online with their laptops and tablets. When another famously quarrelsome couple (Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke) went searching for the source of the Nile, preparation was essential. I told myself the same was true for us. Preparation didn’t guarantee success—certainly not for Burton and Speke—but the lack of it could mean certain failure.

And here we were, six days later, staring into a (stunningly beautiful) abyss.

We’d had to make a few compromises for the dog, but not many. We were able to find beds, TV and free Wi-Fi in places that let our pet stay with us at every stop. It was pretty easy. We simply limited ourselves to two hotel chains and used the Hotels Tonight app, when possible, to secure rooms at a bargain price. La Quinta hotels are always pet-friendly but, from afar and with only a smartphone, it’s hard to tell the difference between the nice properties and the sketchy ones. Best Westerns usually accept pets and are sometimes (I’m talking about you, Best Western near Zion) exceptionally pleasant. We also like KOA’s Deluxe cabins because they’re as nice as hotel rooms and often pet-friendly, plus they offer more space, including a kitchenette and a separate room for the kids. So, with almost no advance planning, we did fine on accommodations.

We also survived vast deserts that lacked not only water but cell service. We were traveling with our phones on an AT&T plan, a Nokia 2520 tablet with 4G on Verizon, and the Mingle on Sprint’s networks. I now know for certain that all claims by cell companies that they have connected the entire world do not include vast stretches of American mountains, plains and desert. But it didn’t matter. By the time we got past Oklahoma, the need to always be connected had drifted away, along with most of the worries that we wouldn’t get along.

When we got to the New Mexico desert, Cole grabbed the Bluetooth connection to the Enclave’s sound system so that we could all enjoy that landscape to the sound tracks to Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars. “Is that atmospheric or what?” he asked as we drove over a bridge with desert as far as the eye could see while a train passed beneath us, Ennio Morricone’s music playing full blast.

We survived my husband’s disastrous attempts at hula hoop in Santa Fe, blistering (115 degrees!) heat in Death Valley, our own bad singing and some terrible food. As a family, we are stronger for it.

It turns out this crazy road trip was an excellent idea. My bickering kids got into only a few scrapes. My husband and I have a blast together when we aren’t working so hard. Our post-move aches and pains were soothed by repeatedly alternating the car’s seats between heated and chilled. We saw a dozen places—Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Death Valley and Memphis among them—that were on my bucket list. And we witnessed a few things that none of us expected or really hoped to see, including the Area 51 Alien Brothel (or the gas station portion of it, anyway) and the Continental Divide fireworks and souvenir store.

As we crested that hill with Death Valley below and only my sane driving decisions keeping us from Thelma-and-Louise oblivion, Ava was not suggesting that we end it all in an apocalyptic blaze. She was demonstrating that we were enjoying each other’s company.

“See,” she answered. “I can read your mind. Love you, Mom!” She smiled at me in the rearview. “Who knows you better than anyone?”


Win a Pair of Asics Sneakers for Your Family

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

Have your sneakers been looking a little worn lately? Enter to win a new pair of Asics sneakers for your family by commenting below with your favorite type of exercise! For official rules, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, sales of these colorful Asics running shoes (asicsamerican.com, $140) benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit that raises money for research.

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Win It! Back-to-School Pilot Pens + $300 Amex Gift Card

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

Pilot Pen wants to help you stock up for school. Enter for a chance to win a journal, a year’s supply of Pilot Pens and a $300 American Express gift card by commenting below with your must have school supplies. For official rules, click here.

 


WIN IT! $500 Gift Card From Target

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

Deck out your student’s homework zone with stylish supplies from Target. Enter the Family Circle + Target Homework Station Sweepstakes for a chance to win one $500 Target gift card by commenting below with what school supplies you would buy with the gift card? 

 

For official rules, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on August 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm , by

This week’s featured chef is Instagram user @laurynbgold who made our Strawberry Salsa!

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


Letting Go of the Past

Written on July 30, 2014 at 11:31 am , by

Downsizing can lead to some tough questions. Like, how do you throw out a lifetime of memories?

By Sandra Bornstein

The author’s family in Colorado, 1991.

It took me a few seconds before I summoned the strength to open the first box on my cluttered basement shelf. Labeled “treasures,” it was filled with my children’s old drawings and art projects, each one wrapped in white tissue paper. As I started to unpack, memories from my four sons’ early school years raced through my head. Each item made me hopscotch back and forth through time.

There was one—a piece of paper marked with a few colored scribbles—that I couldn’t place. But it brought me back to my eldest son’s preschool years. He rarely sat still and had almost no interest in art.

I found colorful handiworks in another box; an elaborate mask and an assortment of ceramic pieces made me pause. These were done by my other sons—they definitely had more artistic talent than their older brother.

Each one was indeed a treasure. But were they all worth saving?

Early on, I had chosen to hang on to most of my children’s artistic endeavors. I wanted my kids to know that I valued their efforts and was proud of their accomplishments. I knew what it felt like to have one’s creativity shunned. My mother always threw away my art projects the same day I brought them home. I didn’t want to repeat that behavior. Instead, I showcased my children’s artwork for at least several weeks. Some noteworthy pieces stayed on display indefinitely.

Weeks before, my husband and I had decided to downsize. We simply couldn’t take everything with us. Every item in my house had to undergo a new level of scrutiny. I shed a few tears as bits and pieces of my children’s childhood were smashed into black plastic bags.

So much about our decision to move was difficult. My family had relocated to Colorado to be closer to the fresh mountain air of the Rockies. This was my dream house, filled with fond recollections. The home itself was amazing, each room designed for a large family. We spent movie nights gathered around a large screen with a professionally wired sound system. We exercised together in the basement, which was outfitted with fitness equipment. It wasn’t possible to envision that the house would become hollow and lifeless when our kids became adults.

Maintaining a big home once my children were gone was hard enough, but after my husband was in a near-fatal ski accident, it no longer made sense. We had new priorities. We wanted to travel and enjoy the nearby Rocky Mountains.

It took a couple of months to sort through all our things. I discarded the notion that I needed to save an item simply because it might be needed at some unknown future date. I was overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff I had voluntarily chosen to keep. Each week, we filled our two large trash receptacles and the oversize recycling bin.

Now that the tedious and sentimental process of downsizing is behind me—and my husband and I are happily settled into our new, smaller home—I am relieved and content with my decision, as overwhelming as it was at the time.View from the author's new home

I am thrilled that I have two less bathrooms to clean and that my vacuuming routine is considerably less onerous. Moreover, I am now enjoying a less-expensive life that includes lower taxes, utility bills and mortgage payments. But most important is the fact that my husband and I have more time and money to enjoy life’s adventures—and to make some new memories in the process.

 

 

Sandra Bornstein is the author of the award-winning book May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. Sandra currently writes a blog that focuses on life as an empty nester, book reviews, author interviews and travel. For more information visit sandrabornstein.com.

 

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm , by

Dad @derekbruff13 perfectly mastered our Chicken and Goat Cheese Crepes! This simple and delicious meal is a no-fuss option for busy weeknights. He even made a prep station with different filling options so his kids could indulge in sweet crepes.

Find other no-cook meals here.

 

@Derekbruff13 crepe prep station.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


Dorm Shopping Pointers from Moms Who’ve Done It

Written on July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm , by

With my oldest son just turning 10, I have a while to contemplate the college launch (gasp!) and furnishing a postage-stamp-sized dorm room. But my sister-in-law is in the thick of it now, since my niece graduated from high school in June and is heading to a state university next month. I know the two of them are trying to figure out what’s truly necessary and what isn’t, given the lack of space. Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes, written by the two smart moms behind the parenting blog Grown and Flown, has what sounds to me like a lot of sensible advice. My top two takeaways: Make triple-sure your kid knows how to appropriately dose herself with OTC remedies like Advil, and if you’re driving, consider packing in garbage bags so there’s no luggage to store, hogging valuable real estate. Even without college looming imminently for my kid, I found this worthwhile. And in my heart of hearts, given how the past decade has flown, I feel like I’ll need this info sooner rather than later. The impact of that knowledge on my heart is a subject for another day.

For more info on navigating the high-school-to-college transition, my colleague Suzanne Rust has a terrific feature in the August issue of Family Circle, “The ABCs of College.” Read it here.

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What’s So Bad About Being a Trust Fund Kid?

Written on July 24, 2014 at 11:42 am , by

To the best of my recollection, I have never met a trust fund kid. I’m sure there are benefits to having a friend who never has to worry about working, paying rent or facing the dreaded “I’m sorry, do you have another card?’ from an ambivalent waitress. He or she might offer to foot your bill or pay for trips and would never squeeze you for cash. Sounds convenient, right?

But perhaps actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was aware of something about trust fund children that I am not. His untimely death resulted in a large sum of money going directly to the mother of his three kids because he refused to put any cash into trusts for them. Reportedly, he told his accountant that he didn’t want them to be perceived as “trust fund” children.

Which begs the question…why?

His decision is not without precedent. Reportedly, Bill and Melinda Gates will leave their children only $10 million each. Warren Buffet allegedly will do the same. On the other hand, Oracle chief Larry Ellison famously began distributing the family fortune to his kids at the age of 18. He didn’t want them to “be afraid of money” but instead wanted them to learn about the ethical and social responsibility that access to a vast fortune entails. Although both dropped out of college, they are hardworking adults.

It’s pretty simple to understand why creating trust fund kids may not be optimal for some uber-wealthy families. The common perception is that money is a primary motivator for hard work. That’s a complete myth. In fact, leading motivators for hard work are caring about customers and clients, having a sense of purpose, passion, an alignment of values, wanting to achieve and just plain having fun.

What’s interesting is that Hoffman made a shrewd declaration of how society endorses the wealthy and privileged at the risk of alienating the lower classes. Perhaps he also wanted his children to learn the value of earning a dollar and, more important, character.

However, character does not come from a zip code. Parents with limited means raise responsible children and struggle with the same parenting issues as middle- and upper-income parents.

For my money, the underlying issue is not related to how much cash we give or leave for our kids, it’s the life lessons we teach them. What kind of role models are we as parents? What kind of respect do we exemplify toward others? How much do we show love to folks in our own households?

Money doesn’t buy happiness. I would guess that a trust fund doesn’t either.

Would you ever establish a trust fund for your child? Post a comment and let me know.


Janet Taylor, MD, MPH
, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.



Putting Fit Fun Back in the Family Vacation

Written on July 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm , by

By Julie D. Andrews

Recently, on my first trip to the Hawaiian Islands, I was gob-smacked at the number of families there. Not just there, but there doing things together, active things, outdoor things of the adventurous ilk.

As soon as I checked into the Westin Maui, I began noticing a trickle of active families, which soon intensified and wove its way through my entire stay. There went a mom and her teen son, jogging in the cool, early morning along a coast-hugging path (not a trophy, blonde-bombshell mama, by the way). Trailing behind her boy, she beamed a prideful “I know, can you believe this young man is my son?!” look as I scooted past. There glided a father and teen daughter kayaking, ricocheting unscripted giggles and smiles, not an eye roll in sight. While outrigger canoeing with friends, I saw swarms of families snorkeling together. Even when I was mountain biking, siblings sloshed by me, tires whipping mud, racing to trail’s end.

This struck me—particularly because, one month before, while biking in Acadia Park, I had not seen this. Retirees and couples biking, yes, but families, no. What I saw instead shocked me: throngs of massively overweight families, slogging to restaurants more slowly than the elderly, ordering fried everything with fries on the side for dinner and bacon with whipped-cream pancake stacks for breakfast while I cringed nearby. “Huh?” I puzzled to my boyfriend. “We’re in Bar Harbor. Bike, kayak and rock-climbing-gear rentals dot every corner. What gives?”

I recalled a Carolinas family vacation years back with my parents, siblings and nephews that fell during marathon training. I had my running gear on, happily about to launch. “What are you doing?!” the group asked, astounded. “You are on vacation,” they said. I went anyway, even convincing my sis to join me for a power-walk-run the next day. Still, everyone around me viewed exercise as work, part of a regimen. But by that time in my life, all I saw it as was playtime.

I know we don’t want to hear this. It sounds like blame (far too harsh and unfair a word, so I prefer “awareness”), but a mound of evidence shows that parental decisions and behaviors significantly affect a child’s lifestyle choices.

It’s easy to blanket-blame fast food or video games for childhood obesity, but a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that while fast food contributes to unhealthy kids, the core culprit in childhood obesity is dietary habits children observe and learn at home.

Research suggests that the earlier kids learn healthy behavior, the better, according to the NIH, and experts recommend that most kids exercise at least 60 minutes daily. Plus, another study found that kids whose moms not only encourage them to exercise and eat well but model such behaviors are more likely to be active and healthy.

Sneak fitness into your family vacation this year. Offer suggestions, and let your teen decide. Some possibilities:

• Rent bicycles (have your teen map a route)
• Park the car, replenish water bottles and walk everywhere
• Try a beachfront yoga class
• Take morning or evening jogs/walks
• Rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks
• Take surfing or paddleboarding lessons
• Scuba dive
• Hike
• Play tennis or golf
• Pack a frisbee, paddle balls and swimsuits
• Splash. Sweat. Fall. Rekindle the playful spirit within you and, I promise, your teens will take note.

 

Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm , by

They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Instagram user @loveonafarm went straight to the source with her take on our Mini Blueberry Pies, sweetening up the shape and forgoing the original’s pop sticks. She said the “super easy recipe” made for a “delicious little DIY Monday!” Can’t say we disagree!

Watch a step-by-step video on how to prepare this dessert here.

 

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”