Category Archives: travel

The Handwriting on the Wall. Er, Ceiling. Well, In the Ceiling. Oh, Just Read It.

The Note in the Ceiling

The Note in the Ceiling

In honor of National Handwriting Day, I share the above note. Adam wrote it, in his adorable chicken-scratchy handwriting, after our first summer stay at a sweet little beach house in New Jersey. He tucked it into a ceiling tile (all right, it’s a humble place) and promptly forgot all about it. A few months ago, we got this email:

Hi Amy and Adam

When we started on the work to repair the inside of the house after the hurricane, your note tucked in the ceiling floated down. I want you to know that it lifted my spirits that day. To know that our little house brought you and your family a little bit of happiness helped me get through the initial shock of what has to be done.

We are so lucky that only material things are ruined. My daughters and their husbands went down with my husband the first day to help with the clean out as I watched the grandkids. Thank God for family.

I was down with my sister and daughter to finish cleaning when your note floated down. I hope your attached note brings back some good memories. We are all very emotionally attached to our beach house and are now on the road to getting it back together for next summer.


Everything about the exchange floods me with warm, happy nostalgia: remembering that lovely summer; knowing that we accidentally cheered someone’s Sandy recovery; and most viscerally, seeing Adam’s handwriting, which I very rarely see. Let’s all spend the day writing notes — by hand! on paper! — and tucking them away places, shall we?

Rockaway Beach: The Mini-Montauk.

For a few years now, we’ve celebrated the Amy Shearn Birthday Week of Tribute by going to Montauk, a sleepy little fishing town known only to locals and us. In October, that is. This year when Adam suggested it, I shuddered. I love Montauk. I love my birthday weekend trip. But traveling with two wee people, as cute as the photos turn out, is just so much work. What I really wanted was a morning with a cappuccino and newspaper and then perhaps a professional haircut from an elderly poolshark (both of which have been accomplished today, thank goodness).

Luckily Adam came up with a brilliant solution: a day trip to the Rockaways. For free, after only a 30 minute drive, we got our sunny, abandoned beach, our wild waves, our feeling of being out of the city, and we were home in time for Ollie’s nap. Heaven.


The Epic Midwest Family Visit Tour

Somehow I just never get it. I always think I’ll have time when traveling to write blog posts and catch up on reading (!) and the like, forgetting that when we’re visiting family our time is spent doing things like, you know, visiting family. So I didn’t update from the road, and it’s taken us about a week to recover from our epic 10-day trip to Chicago, Iowa City, Des Moines, Janesville Minnesota, Dubuque, and Chicago again (!), during which we saw the grandparents (the kids’ that is), the great-grandparents, one of the uncles, and a slew of whatever my aunts and uncles and cousins are to my kids (I believe no one knows for sure).

It was heartbreakingly wonderful to see everyone, but man oh man, is this kind of travel not all that relaxing. Hurricane Irene stressed us out the day we were flying to Chicago, but we bravely persevered in the face of inconvenient weather.  I basically did little but pack and unpack the diaper bag the entire time, and we never quite get to see everyone on our list, but in the end it all worked out just fine.The youth managed to survive family gatherings, long car trips, and sit-down dinners with grownups with only one super major meltdown when Harper went rock-star-in-a-hotel-room on her grandparents’ bathroom. I was actually really impressed with her. So much BEHAVING! She dealt really well with being so off her schedule, our of her routine. What a sport, this kid! One night she said, “We need to move! We need to move back to my apartment!” But for the most part, really was just such a good sport.

That said, if I have any advice to anyone traveling with a toddler and a baby, it is this:


Kidding! It really helped that all the grandparents very kindly arranged to have bedding situations all set for the kids, diapers in the right sizes, amusements, snackages, and such amenities, so that once we landed we really didn’t have to worry about those things. Make them do that.

Also, I packed a great many distractions for Harper: an adorable set of tiny crayons, finger puppets, books; I even stuffed my iPhone with the free-est kid apps I could find. But the traveltime amusement that was the biggest hit by far was our set of “Mystery in the Forest” Storytelling Cards.

 Love those evocative, adorable  illustrations by Melissa Sweet, whose work I’ve enjoyed for some time. And what a good idea these cards are. I told stories about winged girls and bicycling bears and curious squirrels until my tongue was numb. Then Harper started going through the cards and making up her own stories, which were amazing, if highly avant-garde.

Another fun aspect of the trip was the  suburban culture shock moments Harper experienced visiting our parents: responding quizzically to the unknown word “driveway;” wandering towards families’ backyard swingsets wanting “play at the park.” At an empty playground she asked me, a little wistfully, if any children would come play with her soon. She also kept asking why we had to get in the car and if we would please just push her stroller for epic distances.  We said, because we are lazy and mean.

ANYway. We arrived home very tired and extremely overly proud of ourselves for having made the voyage, parading the new baby unto the world, and bonding as a family along the way. The next day Harper was happily recounting all the fun she’d had. “I went on a long trip!”  “Yes you did,” I replied. Then she cocked her head and squinted at me and asked very sweetly, “Were you there, Mama?”

Was I there, indeed!

I have no idea how this child got to be so very silly.

Relaxation is for the Weak: A Summer Weekend Getaway With Two Small Children

For the most part I like to spend my summer weekends feeling sorry for myself that I’m not at some family country house (we really need some new relatives, no offense, old relatives) and/or enjoying the ample parking and fragrant melange of hot trash and park barbecues our semi-abandoned neighborhood boasts. But last weekend I made an exception and we actually went somewhere. Somewhere shady and breezy and countrified and refreshing. Somewhere…in the Berkshires.
 We found, super last-minute, a farm with a room to rent (well, like a little 2-story annex, with a storybook attic bedroom), and away we went. “It’s going to take how long to drive there?” Adam said, enthusiastically. “Um, 3 and a half hours?” I said. “It’s in Massachusetts, you know.” “Huh.” Later, on a stifling, crazy-making 100 degree night, “It’s air-conditioned, right? Right? Amy? Right?” (It was NOT! But miraculously, was quite cool. Phew.)

The morning we left I kept repeating, a bit hysterically, “This is going to be so much fun, you guys!” Harper turned to the baby in their side-by-side carseats and announced, “It’s an adventure, Ollie!” Then she turned to us, “I’m ready to get out of the car now.” We were two avenues from home.

But before we knew it (ha!) we were frolicking around this picturesque-as-all-get-out farm, which was truly a storybook farm come to life, and did nothing to disabuse Harper of her “Animals of Farmer Jones” notions of such things. (Next family trip: a get-real-tour of a factory farm.)  Horses! Goats! Chickens! Raspberries for the picking! Vegetables, which apparently grow in the GROUND! In DIRT and stuff! Ew!

On paper, it was everything I was looking for in a weekend. Adam and I have this beach debate — he is staunchly pro-ocean, while I’m really charmed by a nice shady lake in the pines — and here the swimming spots were cool and tree-lined, guarded by hearty swarms of friendly bugs. At the “locals” swimming hole in the river, off a little dirt road, we met some friendly “locals.” From Brooklyn. Writers. Wouldn’t you know it.The only problem with this little kid-friendly family vacation weekend, I realized, was the, well, kids. No offense to the kids. We adore them. Of course we do. They are life itself, etc. But man, is a weekend away with a 2-year-old and a baby not really that relaxing. First of all, the gear. So much gear. And I don’t know if this is how all 2-yr-olds are, but Harper was thrown pretty out-of-whack by having her routines messed with. Most memorable was an early morning shrieking fit brought on by the mere fact of hot chocolate being made with milk. Presumably she was disappointed to learn that just the packet of powder itself was not hot chocolate even though it was confusingly called such? Anyway. And then there is the sheer exhaustion that comes from being in an un-child-proofed space and the resulting constant vigilance over stairs and outlets and other temptations. I’m not sure why I thought such a weekend would be relaxing. I mean, just because you are somewhere else doesn’t mean you don’t still have kids to coax to bed before you yourself collapse with exhaustion. It should have come as no surprise that I wasn’t kicking back with a lemonade and my feet up for three days. But now when I look at the photos, they seem to tell a relaxing tale. So maybe I will just pretend that’s how it felt. I guess when all is said and done, once we got a band-aid on Harper’s farm-cat-scratch and the car stopped emitting smoke and the baby got tired of screaming and we’d completed our hour-long tour of the final 7 miles of the BQE before home it was pretty relaxing after all.

Brooklyn Tourist: Four Neighborhood Field Trips for Very Small Children and the People Who Schlep Them

Before I had kids I used to think I’d be that cool mom you see  toting her baby to a hipster loft party at midnight, or at an art opening with the freewheeling toddler dancing in the corner. Turns out, I’m in my pajamas pretty much every night by 7 pm. When I do manage to take the kids somewhere outside our everyday routine — the park, the Y, the other park — it’s a carefully crafted outing that can be executed between naptimes and accomplished with minimal effort, to somewhere we can very easily drive or take the F train to. Which means I rarely leave Brooklyn.

A bit provincial, perhaps, but there are worse places to be stuck. And after a winter of being so pregnant and snowed-in I never really left the neighborhood, venturing even a few miles away becomes an exciting journey. Here are some of the exotic locations we’ve traveled to in the past few weeks, and which I would recommend for similarly unambitious parents of small children/visitors to Brooklyn. Oh, and the cost of each field trip is about $5 or less — the cost of train fare and maybe an ice cream. Holla!

Kid visit pros: Easy parking for those days when stroller-subway-schlepping does not appeal. Cool ship-shaped playground. Beautiful views of Manhattan and bridges.
Kid visit cons: Kids don’t care about beautiful views, and mine found the bridges to be “too loud.”toddler in dumbotoddler in dumbotoddler in dumbo

Sunset Park. (No photos. Didn’t bring camera. You will just have to IMAGINE IT.)
Kid visit pros: Good park. Highest point in Brooklyn=great views. Lots of exotic, delicious food nearby. Easy street parking.
Kid visit cons: As previously discussed, kids don’t care about views. Or exotic food.

Carroll Gardens.
Kid visit pros: Cute and very contained small-person playground. Good places to eat. Book Court. My friend Liz lives there and her son is very cute.
Kid visit cons: Getting dirty looks from the yous who haven’t procreated yet. But realistically that can happen anywhere.Carroll GardensCarroll ParkCarroll Park swings

Coney Island.
Kid visit pros: If your kids are heinously early risers, like mine, you can get there early and before the crowds, even on a weekend, and it’s actually pleasant. Also, hello, it’s the beach, accessible by subway — and the station has stroller-friendly ramps! Beach plus kid-friendly (or kid-terrifying) rides, readily available ice cream, and the aquarium nearby in case it suddenly rains.
Kid visit cons: Your child will hear a lot of loud, bad music, and see a whole lot humanity in all its bulbous, fleshy glory.( And I don’t just mean me in a swimsuit, hey-oh!) Or maybe that’s a pro? Also, may possibly go swimming with a mysterious tampon or two. Big whoop.

Maybe this week we will go somewhere really exotic like Windsor Terrace. I don’t know, though. It’s like one mile away.

Storytime at the Postmark Cafe

Q: What do you do when it’s gray and drizzly and you’re sick to tears of the playground anyway and all you want to do is curl up with a book but the precious miracle you’ve spawned needs to be tired out?

A: You try every galdang storytime in town.

My friend Mary, the mother of the extremely sweet and ridiculously photogenic little boy pictured below, always has lots of good ideas of things to do (I suspect she has a spreadsheet somewhere of every fun thing there is to do with kids in Brooklyn because how else can she keep track of so many??), and she clued me in to the Postmark Cafe’s excellent toddler storytime.

Now, I’m starting to consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of these things.  The storyteller must be engaging and a bit loud and have books that are large enough for everyone to see and aren’t a thousand pages long.  There should probably be some accouterments such as stickers or stamps to really win a place in a small child’s heart.   The other parents/nannies should be friendlyish or at least not menacing.  And this storytime had it all, including STICKERS and a CRAFTS project and a SNACK! And it was FREE!

The cozy nook  in the back of the coffee shop is perfect for containing wandering tots, and it actually wasn’t that crowded for a rainy day although I hear that’s not usually the case.  Sigh.  So why am I telling more people about it?  Hmmm wait don’t listen to me it’s awful don’t go.

Sadly, it didn’t tire out Harper enough to actually get her to nap, which has been a disturbing trend, so I might have to stick with high-energy morning romps for a while if I want the little waif to sleep and not be a crumbly mess by 4:30 pm.  But that’s not storytime’s fault.

Toddler Travel Trauma

When you decide to go and start a family somewhere distant from your own family, you kind of sign on for certain things, one of which is air travel.  Harper has been on six plane trips and has always done exceptionally well.  She’s the kid everyone in the airport grins at, that the flight attendants fawn over.  Whenever she is behaving nicely somewhere, inevitably someone will coo, “Oh, you must be such a good mommy!” which I always swiftly rebut because it seems like such an unfair measure, and the kind of twisted logic you could quickly be at the other end of.  I mean, a toddler listens to no reason.  It seems to me that you get a mellow one or a lunatic and that most of them are some combination, and there seems to be very little you can do until they are old enough to understand bribery.  I mean, discipline and reward.  But in the past, yes, she’s excited and engaged by her fellow passengers, nurses at takeoff, snoozes through the air, and everyone’s happy.

Until our last trip, when this quiet and reasonable baby jumped ship and left me to travel with demon-tot.

A dad-friend suggested that maybe it was good to break the seal on travel bug-outs, and in the tranquility of recollection I am able to agree.  There’s no more suspense.  Now I know the worst-case-scenario, and I know that you survive it and it’s over and then you’re home and it seems mildly funny after about a week of recovery.

To be fair, it really was not Harper’s fault.  We were at the end of a longer visit with my parents, and had already been delayed an entire day due to catastrophic wind storms.  Yes, very clever, Chicago, windy city, we get it.  Harper had had a wonderful time but was just tired out from all the excitement.  And then we were delayed.  FOR FIVE HOURS.

If you are ever delayed somewhere without a toddler, I am going to go ahead and say you have nothing whatever to complain about. I don’t care how many connecting flights you’re missing.  I saw those other people, and they whiled away the hours drinking coffee and reading the paper and eating freaking Cinnabons.  Excuse me, but in my world that’s called “fantasy vacation.” So anyway by the time we got on the plane Harper had missed her nap and had been strapped into a stroller and wheeled around O’Hare airport FOR FIVE HOURS.  And OBVIOUSLY she spilled a huge amount of milk all over her pants mere moments before boarding, while a Greek chorus of nearby old ladies crooned, “Uh-oh! You need to change her pants! Don’t you have extra pants?”  (Now why would I have extra pants in my enormous diaper bag full of god knows what? I thanked them very cordially for their input nonetheless.)  Oh, AND this was our first trip without the sweet sweet narcotic of nursing, although I’ll admit I considered trying to spontaneously lactate then and there, five months after weaning.  It will come as no surprise that she spent her time in the air screaming at the top of her lungs and kicking everything in sight.  And my fellow delayed passengers, who had just enjoyed a spa-like afternoon of repose?  They were not that nice to me.

In this case, I don’t think anything would have helped with the possible exception of tranquilizers.  But I did have a bag of tricks that sometimes bought me a few moments of nonscreaming.

What worked really well was this: I bought a little backpack that looks like a puppy (two great tastes!) and kept it top secret until the trip.

Dog Zoo Pack from Skip Hop, could you please try harder to be cute?

Harper loved walking around wearing it, like some kind of big grown-up preschooler.  I’d definitely get a “pack-pack” just for any traveling tot, particularly if she is of the independent bent.

This backpack contained within it the following winners: lots and lots of lots of stickers, a mini etch-a-sketch, a couple of new books with super-engrossing flaps (she loves the Karen Katz ones ), many compelling (but not too sugary, heaven forbid!) comestibles including those brilliant squeezy juice/fruit/veggie things,  snack bars, and the like.

Daddy and Me features a fun workshop full of choking hazards.

Sadly, the backpack also contained some losers.  The block/bead things I’d picked up last minute were roundly dismissed.  Too bad since they were sort of cumbersome. And crayons, usually a beloved favorite, didn’t really work without anywhere to spread out.  Actual non-snack-form food was smacked away with disgust.

All in all, it was a really fun, relaxing, and very spiritually fulfilling afternoon/evening/eternity.   I think the real secret to traveling with a toddler is to keep in one’s mind the same mantra they tell you to remember when you have a screaming newborn: “This too shall pass.”  Well, I added an extra mantra, which I directed toward the pucker-faced twenty-year-old sitting next to us and scowling the whole flight: “Someday this will be you,  you  *insert string of obscenities here*”

Pictured:  Greeting Nani, in the one photo that was taken in all the hours of toddler travel. As I were distracted by something.