North Dakota

The bad thing about snuggling with small kids is that they are always jabbing and bumping you in places you don’t want to be jabbed and bumped. Like your boobs. It was 5:45 this morning when both of my tired girls were fighting for a spot in my lap. So while one was aggravatingly close to twiddling her fingers in my chestal area, the other was leaning her cheek against my arm. But as she slowly moved her head side to side to adjust herself like a cat or dog making two laps in a circle before it finally sits, I could feel jaw tendons and bones slowly rubbing against my upper arm. That’s just gross.

But the reason we were at the airport was because my girls and I took our first big mommy/daughters trip which (via two airplanes and a car ride) landed us in Cogswell, North Dakota to visit cousins on the farm.

I use the term cousins loosely. My dad’s cousins live there who we still refer to as Cousin Paul, Cousin Phyliss, etc. to my kids. However, my mom has a cousin named Sheila whom my brother, sister, and I have always called Aunt Sheila. And my real first cousin has two kids now and we’ve debated whether I’m their Aunt Jody or cousin Jody. Tomato, tomato. (That last one was a British accent, see?)

So how did the trip go? It was fantastic. We were at our first stop at one of “Poppy’s cousin’s” house when it dawned on me that I really felt like family. Cousin Diana said, “of course! Because you are family!” That made me feel even more warm and fuzzy. The only other time I had visited (19 years ago) I was with my grandma Jack-Jack who integrated me into the family tree. Jack-Jack and I had met up with her sister Noreen in Minneapolis (with no roller suitcase in sight. I’m still not sure how I carried 3 suitcases to our rented car.) So Great Aunt Noreen and Jack-Jack were visiting their place of birth, their brother and sister-in-law, and their nephews and nieces and grand-nephews and grand nieces. Is that a word? Well it seems pretty easy to understand. Which is why we also stuck to the term cousin. Because second cousin once removed makes people stare blankly and it makes my head hurt. And as a college student, I was just taking it all in and trying to finally put faces to the names I had heard sprinkled in conversation over my two decades.

While sniffing the wafting aroma of take and bake pizza (it came from Fargo, over an hour away, FYI,) and looking out the window at the deer that Huntsman Jerry was eyeing come Deer Season, I realized I didn’t even need my grandma Jack-Jack there with me to feel comfortable with my far-away family.

They say southerners are known for hospitality, but I tell you what, midwesteners must be neck-in-neck with us! We were fed, chauffeured, catered to, slept great, ate homemade meatballs, cookies, cold brewed coffee, and sloppy Joe’s, and my kids were entertained the whole time. By all the cousins: Big, Medium, and third (?!) cousins their own size and age.

I’ll have to ask the girls what their favorite parts were, but I already know Ellie will say, “everything!” Sammy might say the dog Rosie was her favorite part, but I know she had a great time each day because she was already crying as we pulled away from the farm. As for me, I enjoyed visiting; riding on gravel roads; getting ancestor’s names and dates recorded; seeing a little bit of Jack-Jack in many of the faces, voices, and intonation; stepping into the corn bin (did you know they don’t really use silos anymore?) having a “champagne tour” of the fields; and discovering the feeling that we are indeed family and felt as much at home there as we do here in Georgia.

My Stress-Free Travel Buddy

One on one travel with my littlest girl has been fun! In Munich I woke Ellie up after my shower, and she got up after only my second attempt at rousing her! Since we had a train to catch, I kept letting her know that we needed to watch our time. The night (or so) before while feeling happy about our trip, but also missing my oldest girl, I said a little prayer about paying attention to moments when stress turns me into a “mad mom.” And I started noticing. (And noticing the buttery ease of stress-free moments, too!) Between Ellie and me at the gemütlich hotel breakfast table, there was no rushing or scarfing down scalding coffee or Nutella rolls in one gulp and no grumbling nor complaining despite keeping an eye on the time for our next departure. It was pretty magical.

After scoring a tiny to-go Nutella to bring back home to big sister, we left our hotel to attempt a ride on the subway to the main train station. It’s pretty sweet the way a small child follows her parents blindly. In her small toddler voice, Ellie asked, “now what?” She’d board a rocket to the moon if I led her to it. We were standing under Marienplatz in the city center of Munich and I stared at the rainbow of zigzag lines on the subway map. “None of these go to the Hauptbahnhof,” I said out loud. We’d have to take the street car. And we’d have to take the correct one! I know myself well enough to know that I am not the world’s best navigator. I’d likely get on the street car heading in the wrong direction. That’s an easy problem to fix, but today we didn’t have time for all that.

“Guess what?!” I said to Ellie in a cheery voice. (My husband will not believe that I have a cheery travel voice.) “We are going to take a taxi to the train station!” “Yay!” she exclaimed as she grabbed hold of our roller suitcase and clickety-clacked it over the cobblestones back toward our hotel. Luckily we found a taxi stand before we had to arrive at our hotel and either A) admit our inability to find the right subway or B) suggest that they gave us poor instructions. Did they say streetcar or subway anyway?!

I imagine if I had been leading both of my kids or both kids along with the hubs, the stress would’ve risen pretty fast. There would have been discussion of “well, which subway train? Which route? Which fare? What did the hotel lady say? Why weren’t you listening?” Plus extra baggage to carry. Literally. It’s probably often simply a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen scenario that gets me so worked up. I am very easily oversensitized, after all. There’s no one to blame for our usual Griswold moments but it is interesting to observe the difference between whole family and half family travel and related stress (or lack thereof!)

My little pint-sized traveler has been so good for my mental health! Like a train conductor, she is always on board. Of course she has complained a few times. But without complaints in stereo, it’s easier to manage. Her legs had been “too tired to walk” to the Hofbräuhaus. And I was hell-bent on getting there quickly so she could rest in the hotel afterward. I squatted down to let her have a piggy back ride and we galloped the last two blocks to that beautiful HB sign beckoning me! Sure, I was on a traveler’s high, but I wonder if I can keep these “fix it with ease” trouble shoots in mind as we head back to the real world, the one with four cooks in the kitchen.