Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Leg of Our Cross Country Journey

At the end of May, I took my 7 year old son and baby (who was 4 months old at the time) on a cross country adventure. If you just thought, "You're crazy," - honestly, it wasn't difficult. I knew I wanted to take all of the big kids on their own special vacation. The baby, of course, will be in attendance anywhere I go the next two years or until I'm finished nursing, and I figured it's better to go before he's mobile and getting into everything. It just worked out to take Dash on the first trip. It felt fair because I had been on so many trips with Tornado before the other kids were born. We thought it would be nice for me to spend some alone time with Dash because he and I had butted heads a lot last year over schoolwork, etc. I had a romantic idea that we could solve all of our problems while riding the rails. Well, I can't say that is what happened per se, but we had a really nice trip that I feel he and I both cherished.

first short stop to step out of train for some fresh air

The train leaves out of Little Rock at 11:39. My first panic of the night was realizing I had forgotten to pack my son's DS. Now, playing video games is not what I wanted him to get out of this trip. But we're talking DAYS on a train. I assumed we would need some video game distraction from time to time. I started making this weird hyperventilating sound when I was sitting with Ryan in the car, waiting for the train. Tears were forming. I had even bought him two new games. All of the games were packed; the DS was not! I told Ryan to be prepared to mail it to our hotel, so we would at least have it on the trip home. (Well, we didn't end up doing that since it was cost-prohibitive and really, we just didn't need it, after all, thank goodness. Traveling on a train is really THAT fun.)

My next panic occurred shortly after we settled into our cozy sleeper room. The sleeper rooms were everything I hoped they would be. My mother doesn't understand this, but I just love small spaces. I am obsessed with dollhouses and miniatures. My siblings and I used to love the moments that our great aunt and uncle would let us step into their small travel trailer. It was so cute inside. (They even called it "the dollhouse.") We don't own a mini-van. I actually drive a miniature version of a mini-van. Speaking of cute things and travel trailers, Ryan and I are in current discussions over all things RV lately. I want to sell my house and live in one full-time! Squeals! We probably won't do that anytime soon, but we would like to own one. We'll see.

I had a little time on my hands later at one of 
the train stations to make my nails fancy!

Back to my panic...I settled Dash into his top bunk. The beds were already made up for us. My phone suddenly died. Not from lack of battery or being out of area; it just wouldn't turn back on. My week with no ability to converse with Ryan and no way to look up addresses while we're out and about flashed before my eyes, and it did not look good. Plus, all of my travel information was IN my phone. I predicted the first chance I would have to visit a Verizon store would be Monday at the earliest. Because there was nothing else I could do, I told the car attendant. I'm sure he was like, "Uh, lady, not my problem." Actually, he was very nice, and after about 30 minutes of feeling like it was 1993 again without cell service, he let me use his personal phone to call Ryan. Well, of course, my husband was able to offer the suggestion of pushing the power button and the other circle button at the same time for several seconds. It worked! Who knew?!

My son was Mr. Crabs the night before, so I was relieved when he woke up the next morning happy and ready to get a jump on reading. I wanted to focus some of our trip on practicing reading. I also let him purchase a few Star Wars easy readers. One of my goals on this trip was to proceed 100% into all things 7 year old boy. If he wanted to retell every action scene of every adventure-y, science fiction-y cartoon he's ever watched, I was all in, and I did not let my eyes glaze over once!

I vaguely recall the train sitting still on the tracks at some point during the night, but I was able to go right back to sleep. Apparently, there was a fire on or near the tracks, and we were stopped for an hour. When we got to the St. Louis station, we were allowed to step out for a few minutes. After I told him that my sister Cary and her family live very close to the train station, Dash was so upset that we couldn't go visit them. I think he was ready to end the trip then and there, if it meant getting to hang out with them.

Who was the best baby ever this week? This kid. I mean, he was perfect. Because I was always holding him and right with him, he never had a reason to cry. Here we were enjoying the view in the dining car. The kids always fight over time with the baby, so it was also nice for Dash to get some special baby time, too.

I already wrote about the food and dining car on my vegan blog. I was surprised that they seat you across the booth from other people. If you are traveling by yourself, they will seat you right next to someone else. Dash LOVED going to the dining car, and I knew he would. My other kids will love it whenever they get the opportunity, as well. It's similar to how they think it's way cool when they have gotten to eat off my maternity ward hospital trays.

Next stop: Chicago! It takes about 14 hours for a train trip from Little Rock to Chicago. It takes about 11 hours to drive the same distance. Not bad if you ask me, considering we slept the first 7 or 8 hours, then took another rest/naptime later in our little room.

Even though I know it gets colder in Chicago, we were not prepared for the very chilly days on our departing and return layovers out and about in the city. I had dressed Baby Brother in a sleeveless onesie (To me, the train ran more warm than cool, but I tend to always get hot.), so I wrapped my nursing cover around him. During our first layover (around 3 hours, I think), we were able to check our luggage into a locker (which cost us about something like $20 for the 2 hours we used them) and walk a few blocks to a vegan restaurant.

another shot of the dining car

One of the best things about the train ride: the term "slept like a baby" finally came into practice with my little man. This was the BEST night of sleep for him, up to this point of his life. The vibrating roar of the train gently kept him lulled him to sleep the whole time. He and I slept great, snuggled up to one another.

Dash slept in the top bunk. There is a strap the length of the bed  to help keep the top person on the bed. This gives you another idea of the size of the sleeper cars when the seats are made into beds at night. There's enough room between the bed and sliding door for a person about my size to stand facing in or out. There are little cubbies and spots (including steps to the top bunk) for luggage.

I purposely planned for one of our layovers to last a few hours in D.C. According to my trip planning studies, we would have time to visit a few of our nation's monuments, which are located relatively near the train station. It seemed we would be able to walk to a few of them. After getting drinks in Union Station's food court, we quickly located the capitol building and continued to walk along next to the National Mall...

until I thought for sure we would not be able to make it. It was so hot. I was trying to walk in every area of shade we were afforded, but I felt it was just too hot and arduous for the baby. If we were spending all day in D.C., actually visiting museums and things along the way, then walking would have been fine. But our intended destination was over 2 1/2 miles away; this was not the day to walk the whole stretch.

The pedi-cabs looked fun, so we opted for that. Unfortunately, it dawned on me that this was Memorial Day weekend. In our nation's capital. Not the best planning. Traffic was hideous, and it was still really hot in the pedi-cab. We got a nice breeze, though, when he was able to pedal fast.

Our driver pulled over so I was able to take a picture of the White House. He also pointed out other points of interest.

THIS was the main reason I wanted to take Dash to D.C. He had learned about the Lincoln Memorial in a class at our homeschool co-op, and he came home to tell me all about it. He wanted to show me the picture on the penny, and then it came up during other lessons and conversations after that.

He explained to me in different terms 
that it felt surreal to see it in person.

standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 
facing the Washington Monument

closer shot of the Washington Monument

He immediately fell asleep when we got into the cab which took us back to Union Station! It was a good "what a fun two days" kind of tired.

To be continued...

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Annette W. said...

Love this!

Jenn said...

What an amazing adventure! I want to do this now...already got it planned out too. Just have to catch the train next time I go to Little Rock to see my parents:) We've talked about going to Chicago and D.C. for ages! And I'm glad to know that I am not the only one who would love to live in an RV full-time!

jeannine: waddlee-ah-chaa said...

This is so awesome!!! One of our passions at waddlee-ah-chaa is getting children out into the world to experience nature, cultures and heck life! You certainly tackled that head-on. I love everything about your fabulous adventure. What a special memory, not to mention all of the learning. Love it!