The Rockwood Files: A Vacation Unicorn

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened – the rarest of family vacation experiences. It has never happened before and may never happen again, which is why I must document it here for the sake of posterity and to give parents everywhere hope that it’s possible.

On our recent trip to Minneapolis, Tom and I took our three kids to the amusement park he’d visited as a child – Valley Fair.  We arrived before the gates opened and hoped the morning rain shower wouldn’t wash out our plans.

We debated about buying “fast passes” for the kids. These passes allow you to stand in shorter lines for rides, which means you spend more of the day riding and less of it standing around sweating. But fast passes are also a fast way to empty your wallet, costing $150 for three kids. We decided to take our chances without the fast passes and hope for the best.

On our first ride, not only did we not have to wait in line, we were the only people on it. I pretended we were VIPs who’d bought out the entire park so as not to be bothered by the paparazzi. The ride was amazing, and we scampered off to the next and the next. By then, the clouds had parted and the sun was peeking through. The temperature was a perfect 82 degrees without an ounce of humidity.

But the most remarkable part was that we never waited in line – ever. Anyone who has been to an amusement park knows just how rare that is. It’s the unicorn of all vacation experiences. You dream of it, hope for it, but you know deep down it’s not going to happen.

unicornAnd yet  it did.

We kept expecting it to end. Surely the crushing crowds would come. They’d catch wind of our good fortune and show up to spoil it. But they didn’t. We meandered through the park, walking on to each ride. We even rode the park’s largest roller coaster two times in a row simply because we could.

By 2 p.m., we’d criss-crossed the park and been on every ride we wanted. We decided to break for lunch, and that’s where the story takes a turn back toward reality. In our haste to get to the park early, we’d neglected to pack a picnic lunch to eat outside the gates.

Luckily, we spotted a Subway inside the park. We’d been burned by other amusement parks in the past, who charged penthouse prices for what turned out to be inedible chicken fingers. At least at Subway, we’d know what to order and what to expect.

As we’d hoped, the food was good, but we paid $75 for it. Keep in mind that only covered sandwiches for five people who shared one bag of chips and one bottle of water. We took comfort in the fact that we’d skipped buying those fast passes, so we were still coming out ahead.

We finished the day with a visit to the adjoining water park, where we slid and splashed to our heart’s content. The people-watching was fabulous, too, although we still haven’t recovered from a few of the R-rated bathing suit choices we witnessed along with some inexplicable tattoo designs. They were the proverbial train wreck you don’t want to see yet can’t look away from.

It was a small price to pay, however, for what will go down in family history as that time we went to an amusement park, walked on to every ride with no waiting, never felt crowded, ate decent food and enjoyed perfect weather.

Vacation dreams really do come true.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: 5 steps for getting your way

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Whether you’re forty-something or only 4, we all want our own way. Toddlers are especially insistent about getting their own way which is why you’ll often see one out in public having a meltdown when things haven’t gone well.

As we get older, we learn to relax a little but, underneath the seemingly mature, reasonable façade, we all want what we want.

So here’s a handy how-to guide for how to shift the odds in your favor, especially when dealing with kids. (Feel free to try them on spouses and co-workers, too.) Some might think these steps are sneaky or manipulative. I’d just call them “effective.”

Step 1: Make it easy for them to do it your way.

We humans always want the quickest, easiest way to get something done. If this weren’t true, the remote control wouldn’t exist. Arrange the circumstances so that “your way” is also the easiest and simplest way, and your odds of success shoot way up.

The only reason our kids have shoes on is because I set up shoe cubbies right by the car in our garage so it’s easy to dump shoes into a bin before they go into the house. Without this system, the kids would track mud into the house daily and never be able to find a pair of matching shoes when it’s time to leave.

Step 2: Brag, don’t nag.

Okay, so maybe there’s no way to eliminate nagging completely. But it is easier to get people to do stuff when they think that you think they’re awesome at that particular task. I once made our oldest organize a closet and the results were so good that I bragged on it for months. Now when I need something organized, I recruit him for the job and he reports for duty with much less grumbling because he knows I admire his skills.

pizza-sliceStep 3: Incentivize with pizza.

This one’s easy and is especially effective during growth spurts when kids get hungry about once every 17 minutes. When they don’t want to do it your way, tell them there’s a pizza in it for them. Works every time.

Step 4: Play a mind game.

There are two times in a kid’s life – toddlerhood and the teenage years – when he or she is sure they do NOT want to do anything that you think might be a good idea. During these phases, you may need a strategically-timed mind game.

When one of our boys was a vegetable-hating toddler, I made green peas for dinner and told him not to eat any because it was a grown-up food. Fast forward nine years. He still eats green peas as if they’re M&Ms.

Check. Mate.

Step 5: Play the “Mom Card.”

When all else fails, and it often does, I play the “Mom Card.” When they start whining about how hard their chores are, I remind them that giving birth wasn’t so easy either and that I did it not one but three times.

They roll their eyes immediately and say, “Aw, Mom! You always say that.” And they’re right. I do always say it because it’s always true and it’s impossible to trump the Mom Card. To maximize the effect of the Mom Card, just add exaggerated details of the birth or what happens if you have a surprise sneeze at the same time as a full bladder. They’ll do anything just to make you stop talking.

That’s it – five easy steps to world domination. Use one or multiple steps until you achieve the desired effect. Go forth and use your powers wisely.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Boots the Beloved

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but, if I did, I’d want to come back as my parents’ dog.

boots and dad2They adopted him four years ago, and he was a tiny thing – solid black except for small white feet. Mom and Dad named him Boots.

My theory is that, when parents raise their children and send them out into the world, the love and attention they once heaped on their kids doesn’t disappear. It has to go somewhere. All that energy transfers to something or someone.

Some empty-nesters spend the energy on travel. Some take up a new hobby. And some people, like my parents, transfer that parental love onto a dog.

Boots is what I would call a professional love sponge. His job is to soak up all that love and daily devotion and be the four-legged “kid” of the house. By all accounts, he does it brilliantly. I don’t want to say Boots is spoiled, but it’s hard to deny the evidence.

Exhibit A: Boots has his own recliner. It’s positioned three steps away from my dad’s recliner. On any given day, you can find both of them lounging in their chairs, watching The Weather Channel or listening to country music.

Exhibit B: Boots, the love sponge, has swelled to a size we’ll call “pleasantly plump.” When dad can’t remember whether or not he has fed Boots his breakfast, he errs on the side of feeding him dog-bones-350094__180again, just in case.

When Boots was a puppy, my parents worried about him having separation anxiety while they were away from the house. So they started a ritual wherein Boots gets a “going away treat” as they walk out the door. When they return, he gets another treat for waiting patiently. As you can imagine, Boots is more than happy for his humans to spend the day running errands because he has literally got them “coming and going.”

All the treats do have an impact, however. I don’t want to say Boots is fat, but we haven’t seen his neck in two years. We’ll just leave it at that.

Exhibit C: When Boots isn’t watching the news from his recliner or eating his second breakfast, he spends nights on his own blanket in the middle of my parents’ king size bed. Sometimes they scoot to the outer edges of the bed so as not to disturb his slumber.

If Boots needs to go outside on a rainy night to answer nature’s call, Dad goes with him, holding a flashlight and an umbrella over his precious head.

Last weekend, my parents took a trip out of town, so I was in charge of dog-sitting Boots the Beloved. We kept him with our dog Charlie on an enclosed (and air-conditioned) back porch, where he had access to a dog bed and one meal a day.

Boots wasn’t impressed. He stood at the door looking in at us as if we’d left him in war-torn Baghdad. “What? No recliner? No one brought me extra bacon from Waffle Hut? What is this God-forsaken place?”

After three days of slumming it at our house, Boots was rescued from his non-pampered purgatory. When he saw my parents again, he wagged himself into a frenzy as he celebrated their homecoming. He went home and sacked out in his easy chair, thankful to be restored to his rightful place in the universe.

For some couples, retirement truly does go to the dogs.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Every step you take

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Back in May, I dropped a hint to Tom and the kids that I’d like a new Fitbit activity tracker for Mother’s Day. It’s part wrist-watch and part step-counter. It even syncs up to my iPhone and vibrates fitbit altaon my wrist if I have an incoming phone call, text or a calendar reminder.

Seven weeks later, I’m glancing down at my Fitbit and feeling a bit frustrated. A bit guilty. Maybe a bit resentful. This thing watches every step I take! Sure, that’s why I wanted it, but that was back when I believed I was an active person. I assumed the Fitbit would confirm that theory and ease my guilt about not making it to the gym. The Fitbit was supposed to bear witness to how much running around I do in the course of a normal day.

Instead, the Fitbit has made it painfully obvious that running errands does not involve actual running. It involves mostly sitting in the car while I drive this kid to the orthodontist and that kid to Vacation Bible School and the other kid to a golf lesson. If my car was wearing a Fitbit, the activity numbers would be off the charts. My numbers, however, are less than stellar.

Thankfully, my new Fitbit has a feature called “reminder to move.” If I don’t walk a certain number of steps within a given hour, it will vibrate on my wrist at exactly 10 minutes before the hour to remind me to get up and walk around – an electronic nudge to leave my desk chair. As you may have heard on recent news reports, sitting still is the new smoking. That stuff will kill you.

When I turned on the “reminder” feature, I realized just how quickly an hour goes by. “What? Buzzing so soon? Time to move again? I swear I just sat down!” But there’s no arguing with this thing. It doesn’t care that 50 minutes feels more like 15 minutes. It wants what it wants, and what it wants is more steps. More get up and go. More movement.

Some days, I give it what it wants. It’s particularly happy when I walk all over the house putting away laundry and then do a few laps around the Walmart Supercenter while getting the groceries. When I reach the goal of doing 10,000 steps in a day, it flashes a celebratory message on the electronic display – the equivalent of a “gold star” for being a good little walker.

Other days, I sit at my desk too long, drive the car too much and leave the laundry in a basket. It doesn’t flash the word “loser” on the electronic display, but I get the feeling it wants to. I can sense it silently judging me.

fitbit pie chartThe worst part is what happens at the end of the week. My Fitbit sends me an email with a “recap” of the week’s activity. There’s nothing quite like seeing your personal failings represented in a pie chart. (Ooh… pie. Pie sounds good right now, doesn’t it?)

The good news is that there’s at least one activity where I’m showing progress. The Fitbit also tracks my sleep time (since, in addition to too much sitting, not enough sleep will also kill you.) On Saturday mornings, the Fitbit is awfully impressed with me because, given a semi-quiet house and a dark room, I can blow right past the recommended 8 hours and do 9 or even 10 hours straight without lifting an eyelid.

So there, Fitbit! Stick that in your pie chart and smoke it.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Once upon a story

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Just when I thought the machines had truly taken over and that kids’ attention spans had shrunk down to the time it takes to download an app, something wonderful happened.

books-441866_640My 12-year-old son had birthday money burning a hole in his pocket, and he asked if we could go to the bookstore to spend it. Immensely grateful that it was the bookstore and not the arcade, I said an enthusiastic yes. Any excuse to go to the bookstore is a good one. His brother and sister wanted to go, too, so off we went.

I love the bookstore. It’s good for a writer’s soul. Writing is a solitary experience, which is ironic because writers who spend too much time inside their own heads are prone to despair. “Why the heck am I doing this? Nobody wants to read this stuff. This is ridiculous, just stringing these words together, trying to make sense from this jumble of thoughts. Why didn’t I learn a more useful, marketable skill? Like computer programming or transmission repair. Nobody wants stories anymore. They’re too busy with tweets, posts and likes. They want something simple and quick.”

But at the bookstore, I walked down aisle after aisle of books that were neither simple nor quick to produce or to read. The range of topics is immense – everything from ancestry to zombie novels. I scanned the colorful rows of book spines and thought about all those despairing writers – toiling away alone somewhere, stopping occasionally to berate themselves for being too queasy to have gone to med school or too bad at algebra to have become an engineer. Wondering why they feel compelled to write a story that people might never even read.

Somehow, they beat back their own neurosis and the seemingly impossible odds of getting a book published, and they filled this expansive store with books. And despite the 24-hour buffet of daily distractions from social media, YouTube, the App Store, Netflix and so many others, people still show up here in search of stories.

The kids and I drifted in different directions, finding each other now and then so we could hold up a book and say “Look at this one!” Finally, we each narrowed down our book choices and headed for check-out.

But the true magic happened on the way home. As soon as I started the car, the three kids reached into the plastic bag and fished out the book they’d just chosen. They couldn’t wait. Those books were like hot fries from the drive-through, and the temptation to reach in and consume one was too strong to ignore.

The car ride home was as silent as it has ever been – broken only by the sound of our own breathing, pages turning, and the rhythmic click of the car’s blinker. It was serene, and it renewed my faith in the power of stories.

The kids’ book bliss also reminded me to be grateful. Because I might not be any good at math or be able to diagnose appendicitis, but occasionally I’m able to write down a good story – one that reading bookmakes someone feel a moment of joy. And that’s something – a little piece of magic.

We live in an increasingly complex world – one that practically screams for our attention in dozens of different ways – but we’re still hard-wired to seek out stories. We crave them, like hot waffle fries on the car ride home.

Despite all the digital clutter out there, thank God we still gravitate to something as powerful and simple as “Once upon a time…”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.