Being a Dad at Thanksgiving

December 10th, 2009

Over Thanksgiving this year, we took a train trip to visit Terah’s family in Indiana. Here’s the story of the trip.

The Train to Indiana

Our last train trip (to Chicago) was in May, before Oliver was born. Jacob always has enjoyed the train, but this time — wow.

We told Jacob about the trip the day before we were to leave. Several times in the day, he’d get a sly smile, and ask, “What are we going to do?” Terah or I would spell out the day’s activities, and when we’d get close to the part where I’d wake him up at night and we’d go to the train station, he’d have a big smile.

The big hour (2AM) arrived and Jacob woke up while Terah was putting his shoes on. I was there a moment later. Normally Jacob is terribly grumpy after waking up, even more so if somebody else woke him up. That day, I saw a very groggy-looking boy. I asked him, “Jacob, are you ready to go to the train station?” He answered, “YEAH!” while rubbing his eyes. “Dad, let’s go!”

We had Amtrak’s family bedroom for the first time this trip, and it worked out great. Jacob actually slept, despite his extreme excitement.

He’d been talking about eating in the diner car for quite some time, and was really excited when breakfast time rolled around. We sat down, and he pressed his nose up against the window right away. He counted the freight trains the he saw, pointed out train tracks and “crossing guard lights”, noticed barns and trucks, and gave us frequent updates on how fast we were going. His voice was high-pitched from excitement, and sometimes we’d have a running commentary we could barely interrupt, and other times he’d sit there silently just soaking it all in.

But he didn’t eat. He didn’t want to turn his head away from the window for a second to take a bite. I kept reminding him to take a bite, and finally, fearing he’d be really hungry as soon as we went back to our room, fed him a few bites for the first time in ages. I don’t believe he realized that happened. He just opened his mouth by reflex — and once I had to tell him to close his mouth around the fork that was in it.

It was much the same story for lunch, and for dinner on the train — though less so for dinner since it was dark outside. At dinner, a man sitting across the aisle from us said, “If you weren’t getting your meal free [since we're in the sleeper], I’d buy it for you. Your boys are amazingly well-behaved!” I thanked him politely — Jacob and Oliver both were doing well — but didn’t really think it was that unusual.

Oliver and Jacob were both big hits on the train. They got smiles from so many people on board and in the stations. Several of the dining car staff seemed to linger at our table longer than elsewhere, looking at them (and especially Oliver).

Oliver slept well on the train:

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And here are a couple of typical Jacob photos:

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In Indiana

I’ve got to start this out with one of the family gatherings at Terah’s aunt’s house. They have a large kids’ area in their basement, and a swingset with a slide outside. Jacob loved all of this, and spent hours playing with me. Sometimes if I’d go upstairs with the adults, I’d hear Jacob’s voice from the basement a few minutes later:

“DAAAAAD!!!! Shall you come back downstairs? DAAAD!”

And, of course, it’s hard to resist a 3-year-old that wants to play with me, so I inevitably would. We played air hockey — Jacob shrieked with delight whenever anybody scored a goal in any way. At one point, he stood up, looked around, and said, “Hmmm. Where are all the trains?” Apparently he expected every home to be stocked with toy trains, and this one wasn’t. A few seconds later, he was all excited. He ran over to a toy semi, and said, “I will use the semi train!”

Outside the short slide had a ladder going up to it. I held Jacob’s hands while he climbed up the first few times, but I knew he could do it himself. I started helping him less and less, and eventually refused to help him at all. He was rather frustrated with that for a moment, but a couple times later, climbed up and said, “Dad, I got up here all by myself!” A few times later, it looked like he was having trouble, so I tried to help, and got shooed away with, “No, dad! I can do it.”

The best moment of the weekend came during the drive back to Terah’s mom’s house where we were staying. Terah was driving, and I heard Jacob say, “Shall you come closer?” Not sure how to do that from the front seat of the car, I reached my hand back there and he held it. He held one or the other of my hands for 20 minutes until he fell asleep in the car. It’s funny what feeling needed by a 3-year-old makes a person feel, but that was surely a happy day.

Jacob got to see all of his Indiana grandparents on this trip, and loved playing with them. He especially liked using a “perfect red train” (his words!) he drug home from the nursery at church on Sunday, and a child-sized tent in the basement. I’m not sure how many times I heard “Gampa Mike! Shall we go to the basement?” that weekend. One point he wanted me to come down to see it and play with him, so I did. Then he decided we all needed to be down there, and told me “I’ll go pick up mom. I’ll be right back. Stay downstairs, dad.” Fearing that Terah wouldn’t know what to do when Jacob attempted to “pick her up”, I tried to discreetly follow at a distance. That was no match for a 3-year-old. He looked back at me from the top of the stairs, pointed an accusing finger at me, lowered his voice, and said, “Dad. Stay.”

Terah and I spent a day in South Bend and stayed at the Oliver Inn while Jacob and Oliver got some time to themselves with their grandparents. We had dinner at the beautiful Tippecanoe Place, just next door.

The Trip Home

We had a few hours in downtown Chicago on our way home. We went and ate at a small Indian restaurant. Jacob kept alternating between three things: “This food is very spicy! I like spicy food. I need another drink!” A little while later, Terah decided we should have some dessert. So she and Oliver stayed in the waiting area while Jacob and I went “asporing” (exploring) to find something. We walked a block or two to the nearest Dunkin Donuts, then to a Starbucks, and then back. Jacob carried the sack of donuts, guarding them so carefully that I was afraid he might smash them. (They were cream-filled so that wouldn’t have been good.) He had a lot of fun exploring Chicago Union Station, and also enjoyed walking in Chicago (though not quite as much; it was all a little too loud for him.)

In the train station, he loved the escalators. Up and down we went, whenever we wouldn’t get in people’s way. I had to eventually drag him away from them as I was getting a little self-conscious at all the people standing around watching us repeatedly go up and down the escalators.

Jacob has found a 3-year-old way to express his feelings: he’ll pretend to be a kitty, and say “the kitty is sad” or something like it. All day he had been saying “the kitty is hungry.” He hadn’t had a big breakfast, but he had plenty of opportunity to eat at lunch, and a snack. We were a bit confused, but I think we finally figured it out on the train back to Kansas. We didn’t have time to eat breakfast in the diner on the train from South Bend to Chicago, so Jacob missed out on the dining car then, and I think he was disappointed or confused about that. Once we had dinner in the dining car, he was happier.

Since we’ve been back home, he’s been talking about our next train trip. He says which suitcases we’ll take, that we’ll eat in the diner, that it will be a night train we take, and generally is still very excited about it.

It was a fun trip.

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