Thursday, November 11, 2010

Train Travels Past

My kids and I were invited to visit some far away family this fall, and decided for a number of reasons to take the trip on a train. Rather than drive over 10 hours along a less than exciting stretch of highway that I've already driven about 12 bazillion times, and in a car that is quite a few years older than my children, I thought it would be fun and relaxing to take the train. We haven't been on a train journey in about 8 years. As we're excitedly planning our upcoming trip, I've been remembering that last one, and recalled writing something about the journey for an obscure mama zine back then. So, I dug through old files on my laptop, and found the piece. It's funny how selective the memory is, as I really had not remembered some of the less than fun details of my last train adventure when I enthusiastically purchased tickets for my upcoming one. That's probably for the best, as it likely would have dampened my excitement, and maybe even made me re-think another train adventure. As it is, my kids are delighted that we will be taking a journey on the rails in a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to it myself. But, for the sake of memory and old times, I'm posting this little blast from the past about our long ago trip here. It made me giggle, and I hope you'll enjoy it too....

Train Travels circa 2002

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I had the idea to take my two kids little kids on a long distance train trip all by myself. Maybe I thought it would be fun and adventurous, or at least no problem for a terrific, hands-on mama like myself. Sure, twenty two hours each way on a train with two kids under five years old as the only adult in charge... it'll be great!

Of course there were plenty of other people around, it was public transportation after all. But we knew none of these other people, and quite frankly, many of them were scary. Even the nice ones had no responsibility for my kids. It was all me, all the time on this trip. Now, I'm an at-home-mom, and my kids don't go to school or daycare, so being their primary caregiver is not unusual in itself. But that painfully long stretch of time, far from home and things they know, with very little sleep and no one to relieve me, it was like a mothering marathon.

With kids that little, I couldn't exactly leave them and have a moment to myself. When one had
to use the restroom, we all had to pack up and go. My newly toilet trained two year old loudly announced at least the five times an hour "I go poo-poo potty!" And every time, we all got up, gathered our things and hurried through the cars and down to the restroom. I quickly cleaned off the splattered seat for him while warning “Don't touch anything!” After sitting for a minute he said in a surprised voice (the same way he had the last four times we had made this exact journey in the last hour alone) "No poo-poo come out."

Now, he probably wasn't trying to torture me. It was probably the tiny, cramped, smelly, metallic bathroom, along with the loud noises and the fact that we were bouncing all over that was inhibiting his regularity. But at the time, I didn't care. Maybe I wanted to care, but I was really, really tired, and I just couldn't take it any more. My nostrils flared as I tried relaxing breathing to calm myself, but I was sick of this pointless bathroom journey five times with no results. In my exasperation I hissed something along the lines of "Would you just freaking go poop already! Just go poop! For the love of God, just please poop NOW!"

Now, I really do try to be a loving and kind, attachment style mother, but it doesn't exactly come naturally to me, and in this case, I was failing miserably. My voice unfortunately was not nurturing or motherly at all. When it became obvious that nothing was coming out this trip either, we pulled up his pants and opened the door to head back to our seats. That's when I realized that I was being watched. The doors to those bathrooms aren't all that thick, and I suppose the lady right outside the door might have heard my little momentary loss of sanity. That was probably why she was giving me such a reproachful stare. She didn't even have to say it out loud- the “bad mom” message was loud and clear.

It was like a light coming on for me, this obvious epiphany of mine that I was under the scrutiny of all my fellow passengers. I began to get paranoid that they were all judging me and my mothering, and no matter what, I was going to come up lacking. A few fellow passengers actually did seem to enjoy my kids, talking to and smiling through the seats at them. But when my kids started whining or melting down, the good Samaritans quickly escaped, and who can blame them? I was again, alone in charge, and wondering what I had been thinking.

The lack of control involved in traveling by public transportation is something that my little ones' just didn't understand. They figured I would be in charge as usual. When they wanted me to stop the train so we could go outside for a little bit, I explained that they couldn't stop the train just for us, because all the other passengers had a schedule. First, they looked at me uncomprehendingly, and then their faces morphed into shock, dismay and indignation as they tried to digest the fact that everything was not in fact, all about us. We tried to at least get out at the longer stops for a few minutes of fresh diesel and tobacco smoke filled air. Often, we walked the aisles to burn off their excess energy spreading the joyful noise of children through all the cars on the train. Some passengers were a little less than enthusiastic about this. At this point, I gave up caring about whether or not I was being judged because I probably couldn't win with these people. I'd be too permissive if I let my kids make a peep, and too too mean if I didn't.

While traveling through acres of farmlands at 90 miles an hour, my little boy, the false poop alarm kid, insisted "I get out! I drive that tractor!" Again, my explanation brought on the look of sadness and outrage that they wouldn't bring our train to a screeching halt so he could wade across a wheat field and drive a strangers tractor. The injustice of it all.

So, I did what any other mother would do. I tried to distract them with food. We headed to the cafe car, with it's slim pickings of overpriced and over- processed food. My four year old insisted on carrying the $5 slice of greasy artificial cheese pizza back to our seat herself. Then, she dropped it cheese side down on the floor that had been passed over by 50,000 shoes and looked like it hadn't been cleaned it her lifetime. I hadn't even had a bite, but I managed to only growl rather than freak out.

At least the train had a “kid car” featuring two benches, some puzzles with missing pieces, a couple filthy, germ covered balls and toys and a TV with cartoons blaring. Basically, it was place where they could be loud and crazy, and I could avoid the harsh glares of the parent patrol out there. Old Loony Tunes cartoons were on constant replay and there was no controller, no way to turn it off, down, anything. Bugs Bunny and his pals were just on constantly for what seemed like forever. I grew up watching those cartoons, but until I watched them with my son, I never noticed just how often Yosemite Sam fires his gun. It's approximately once every two seconds. My little boy was mesmerized. It was like a magnet between the screen and his eyes. Then, for the next two hours he walked around pointing his finger, gun style, at everyone and everything making “Pow, Bam” type noises and saying "I shoot that duck. I shoot that dog. I shoot that bald man." etc. while laughing hysterically. No one but he thought it it was funny, and it certainly didn't help my approval ratings with my judgmental fellow passengers.

A few more hours into the trip, my daughter, Miss “I can do it myself”, spilled a huge bag containing most of our snacks for the long ride all over the floor of the train. My mean mother voice re surged. I don't remember exactly what I said. It was probably mean and horrible and that's why I've blocked it out of my mind. Meanwhile, my normally easy going child seemed to spiral into some sort of weird regression. She suddenly turned high needs on me, clinging to my leg when I walked. This made the twelve more unproductive trips to the bathroom even more difficult. She started using baby talk, which she hadn't even used as a baby. I couldn't understand what the heck she was talking about, but whatever it was, it was urgent and she was whining about it. Unfortunately with my lack of skills, I think I started acting like a baby and whining too. The more immature she acted, the more immature I acted. No wonder those people were judging me. I was being a terrible example. I wanted to shout out to them all “We're not usually like this. My kids aren't wankers, and I'm not mean! We're really cool and fun. Honest, I swear!”

Fortunately, the horrible stage passed, and we all lived through it. Our saving grace was when we finally slept a little. We woke up refreshed and smiling like actors on a sleeping pill commercial. We played some games, read a few stories, and ate some food without spilling it. Now people were smiling at us with no disapproving looks. I was a good mom after all. We eventually made it to our destination, and actually had a nice trip.

One thing I gained out of the whole adventure is an appreciation for my life at home. It was a taste of single motherhood for me, and a humbling look at myself. I came out of it with a whole new respect for all the parents without partners in the world. I knew my husband was a good dad, who is involved and all that, but I still handle most of the child and home care issues. In the trenches of the day to day life with kids, I tend to notice more what he does not do, than what he does. Just coming home every night and playing with the kids gives me a break, however small, for a moment to myself when I know they are safe and happy and with someone who loves them. Without that break, I would quite possibly lose my mind. This experience really helped me be appreciative for my friends who help me all the time by swapping kid care, and my own mother who raised two kids pretty much on her own. It also made me oh so glad to get off that train and back home. It might be humble, but there's no place like it.


  1. I so want to take a train trip with my daughter. We are thinking about going in Jan. I will look forward to your posting about your upcoming trip!

    The ages of your kids sure make a difference in your experiences huh? :)

  2. You're a brave woman. I took a train trip with my daughter when she was three and a half (her dad was still alive then, but had to stay behind for health reasons), and I chickened out and booked a roomette because I knew I wasn't tough enough to manage a preschooler in front of an audience for 14 hours.

    Hope you have a good time on this upcoming trip!

  3. @ Karen- I hope you get to take your trip with your daughter! And, yes, what a difference the age makes! Travel (and lots of things, like even trips to the grocery store) are SO much easier now.
    @Vanessa- I don't know if I'm brave- maybe just ridiculously hopeful ;-) I would LOVE to try one of those roomettes, and I know my kids would think it was the coolest thing ever. Maybe someday.....


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