Friday, September 08, 2006

The Road

We now return to our regularly scheduled program, after an observation and celebration of labor. (The less painful but more drawn-out sort, that is.) We kicked off said celebration last Friday by pooling the fruits of our labor (both sorts) for what was meant to be a mini road-trip to San Antonio. Somehow, we ended up spending 18 hours in the cramped Mommywagon, much of it to the tune of “WAAAAAAAAAAA!” and “SKREEEEEEEEEE!” (Translations, respectively: “Kindly stop the car, Father, as my wee legs have lost all sensation,” and “I understand, dear sibling, that you want this [toy, sippy cup, appendage], but surely you know that possession is nine-tenths of the law.”)

And yet: sandwiched between the tears and backseat squabbles, we had a great weekend. Granted, some of it was in retrospect. But first, there was the road.

Once the Mommywagon was packed with kids and kid accessories, and the Dallas skyline was finally in our rear-view mirror (several hours after our planned departure time), we made haste to Corsicana’s Collin Street Bakery for all manner of baked goods (all the better to placate you with, my dears) and a very decent bathroom. From there, we meandered down a pleasant stretch of Highway 31, which took us to Waco. It’s just a hop down the interstate to Salado, which we highly recommend as a place to stretch your legs, purchase some freshly jerkied beef and give your eardrums a chance to recuperate before permanent damage is incurred. (“She just wants to be held,” Carter told us after Katie’s screaming jag ventured into its second hour. That did it; Trey veered for the nearest exit.)

Happiness was, of course, short-lived, but we pressed on to Austin. Children were wild with joy but grown-ups sported grim expressions and clenched jaws when we finally pulled into the parking lot of Threadgill's, a college favorite. The classic southern food was as good as we remembered. Our offspring begged to differ. Our fellow diners stifled the urge to applaud upon our departure, and for that we were grateful.

We took the long way back though town to I-35, driving down Lamar and Guadalupe Streets to catch a glimpse of the 40 acres. Misty with sentiment, I pointed out various historical spots to the kids, who were mightily unimpressed. (“Look! The Wok-n-Go is still standing! And over there! It’s that nasty bar where Daddy… well, never mind, but his fraternity brothers thought it was hilarious. Oh! Remember when we exchanged weepy good-byes in that Burger King parking lot before I drove back to Mississippi that one time? Ah, memories.”)

Finally… finally, finally, finally, we arrived at Nana’s house. This was the first visit for S and K who, of course, were asleep by this point and could have cared less where we'd landed. However, they rose with the sun and immediately began to explore their gloriously unchildproofed surroundings. On a whim, we decided to cart the brood back to Austin to see if we might be able to sneak the three of them into the stadium for their first-ever football game. Our two tickets were, in fact, deemed insufficient for the five of us, so (my hero) Trey selflessly volunteered to wrangle S and K at the goal-post club while C and I joined the throngs of orange-clad fans massing at the stadium entrance. We had the great fortune of running into our longtime friends Monica and Steve, who kept us company along the way. (If you don't know Monica and Steve, you don't know what a treat it is to be in their company. They're smart, sweet, successful and funny as hell... and they somehow manage to make parenting look as easy and natural as breathing. Truly, I've never seen them break a sweat at anything, except the occasional triathlon.)

Now, Carter’s had plenty of exposure to Texas football in his young life… just never in three dimensions. He knows the hand signals and the songs and the mascot’s name. And he was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see real, live football players, although he struggled a bit with the concept of perspective. (“They’re very small?” he asked. “No,” I said, “they're actually pretty big guys, but they’ll look small from our seats.” Blank look.) I did explain that everyone around us would be making lots of noise so the team could hear us cheering for them, and that it was all part of the fun. But how do you really prepare a preschooler for the deafening roar of 85,000 hyper fans? And what happens if you forget to mention that a large cannon will be fired repeatedly, and often without warning?

Well, I’ll tell you: said preschooler is not very amused and, although he tries very hard to put on a brave face, is pretty rattled by the whole shebang. And whereas Dallas benefited from some nice cooling rain in our absence, Austin was hot. Damn hot. So there we sat on an aluminum bench, sizzling under an unfiltered high-noon Texas sun, snuggled up next to a small town's worth of our sweaty Longhorn brethren. For a while, Carter kept his face buried in my neck, occasionally whimpering, “Is it going to boom again? Tell me when it’s going to boom again!” When I promised him that the opposing team had the ball and, ergo, the cannon was unlikely to go off again, he began to relax and have fun. He charmed the heck out of our seatmates, who promptly rewarded him with a church fan (you know, the kind you wave at yourself, and all of the friendly people sitting around you) and generous swigs of lemonade. (Hey, we’re all family up there.) And for the first time in two years, I got to see a little football. (Yee-haw!)

By the time the cannon boomed to signal the end of the first quarter, we’d had enough. Carter’s happy face was flushed and sweaty, and I was ready to trade places with Trey so he could see some of the game, too. But by the time we found him, he had relocated S and K to the Alumni Center, reconnected with Monica and Steve, and all were having a great time shooting the breeze. Factoring in the time and the heat, we decided to call it a day and head back to San Antonio. (It was a good decision: I found out later that 400 people were treated for heat exposure during the game.)

When we returned to Nana’s house, Aunt Mary and Not-Quite-Uncle Albert were there to greet us with an invitation we couldn’t refuse: a late-afternoon trek to Schlitterbahn, the old-school water park by the lazy Comal River. We donned swimsuits, climbed back into the car (which, as you can imagine, the kids just loved) and took I-35 yet again, this time stopping in New Braunfels. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, being a procrastinator has its rewards: our early-evening arrival garnered us nearly-half-price admission and a sparsely attended park. No waits on rides! No obnoxious drunk guys in the wave pool! Our choice of tubes! Duuuuuuuude. We all had a blast.

By the time they closed the park and slammed the gates behind us, we'd already experienced a pretty full afternoon, if not weekend. But Trey voted that we push our luck one inch further and try something different for dinner. I was thinking different as in Wendy's rather than Whataburger; he was thinking an entirely separate town. Too tired to debate, we buckled the muppers into their car seats for the seventy-eleventh time in 24 hours and took a winding road to neighboring Gruene.

What can I say? When he's right, he's right: it was the perfect ending to the day. Trey described it this way: can you evoke the happy buzz you have after a day at the lake with your closest friends, many beers and no cares? That genial, gentle, keep-the-party-goin' feel just vibrated through the small town's night air. We breathed it in for a bit, then gratefully grubbed on a dimly lit patio at Janie's Table. Bellies full, we wandered over to historic Gruene Hall, where Texalternative music was wafting through the screened windows. (How is it, Mary wanted to know, that as much as we love Texas tunes, Trey and I have never seen a show there? We couldn't conjure an answer, but pledge to rectify this soon.) Finally, wistfully, we said good-bye to Mary and Albert and took the wee ones back to the car. No arguments about reuniting with their car seats this time: after changing our sweet muppers into pajamas in the back of the wagon, they were asleep before we'd even turned the key in the ignition.

The next morning, we hung out at Nana's till lunchtime. Still mourning the loss of our neighborhood EZ's (and still nursing a grudge and a personal boycott against 7-11 for razing its historic building), we headed to one of the Alamo City locations for some good kid-friendly eats. And hey, what's a few hundred more calories after a basket of cheese-covered curly fries? That's the kind of justification I used to drag the fam to a nearby Amy's ice cream outpost. Mmmm... bovine, so fine.

Unfortunately, all good things must end... and so it was that we reached the most dreaded portion of our trip: the repacking of the Mommywagon and the false promises to the children that the trip home would literally fly by if only they would sleep. And eventually, they did sleep, but only after hours upon hours of shrieking and wailing from the back seat, intermittently interrupted by negotiating and outright begging from the front. Los hooligans did simmer down after a dinnertime stop at a Waco Cracker Barrel, although I think it's best that we don't return there until they've had a significant turnover in their waitstaff or we've grown older and are no longer recognizable as "that family that caused such a ruckus 'round here." Y'know, whichever comes first.

So now we're home. And some of us will stay home this weekend. But some of us will be sneaking out the front door on Saturday afternoon for a return trip to Austin and another pass at a (well actually, THE) football game. Not so fast, little people... you'll be in good hands with your Nana while we're gone. Please, please be kind to her. (Nana, rest assured that we will be contacting Elizabeth Arden herself to ensure that her red door is swung wide open for you as a gesture of our appreciation.) Gentle readers, we gratefully accept any supportive and encouraging thoughts you wish to send this way for happiness and harmony. In turn, we, as always, send you our very best.

Love, F5

V.I.P. P.S. Mad props go to Jen for the fabulous banner she created for us (see above). We are so thrilled and grateful! (And, as always, in awe of her photographic prowess.) She took this picture of C, S and K on a steamy summer afternoon at the Arboretum when all five Franklins were out of sorts and uncooperative. (The next day, poor S was diagnosed with a double ear infection, which helped to explain his misbehavior. The rest of us were just cranks for no good reason.) Somehow, in the one nanosecond after they'd been liberated from their shirts and just happened to be looking in the same general direction, she captured this image. LOVE it. Love her! And, of course, love them.


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