Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Holy SeaWorld Batwing Manta Ray! Reflections on a Research Trip by Carol Ross







As every writer knows, research is absolutely essential both to the writing process and in ensuring the authenticity of the work.  Recently I embarked upon a research trip to engage in the fascinating study of sibling interaction and family dynamics.  Okay, so it was a spring break trip to San Diego with my sister and her four boys.  Not having children of my own, I’ll take the opportunity for nephew/niece research time whenever and wherever I can get it.  Is it wrong of me to so shamelessly use my family for my own personal gain?  You be the judge.

I have two sisters, each has four kids, and fortunately both are eager to the point of insistence in “sharing” their children with me. Statements like this are not uncommon; “No, really, Carol--you can keep them as long as you want.  I’ll pack their birth certificates just in case...”  Or “Nephew #1 wants to run away from home and I really want to be a good parent and give him what he wants, so I told him he could move in with you for a little awhile--or until he graduates from college...”  They are incredibly generous these sisters of mine.

I am usually willing to take them up on their more reasonable offers of kid-sharing, and vacationing with my sisters and various combinations of nieces and nephews is not uncommon.  So sure, I was up for a week-long spring break trip--me and my sis and her four precious rapscallions basking in the California sun and seeing the sights. 

I’m going to say something now that will undoubtedly cause all of you moms to roll your eyes and mutter under your breaths at such an obvious assertion.  But please keep in mind that I don’t possess your built-in biological coping mechanisms.  So here goes--traveling with kids takes exhaustion to a whole new level.  And I’m not talking about physical stamina.  Last year I ran my first half-marathon--I can hold my own with these screen-loving couch-kids of modern days.  No, I’m talking about the kind of exhaustion that drains the mental capacity of adults and renders them stupid.  And let me be clear here--by “adults” I mean me. 

Two of my favorite words to hear in the entire world are “Aunt Carol,” which is immediately followed by a question or a series of questions.  If I had a dime for every time I heard the words “Aunt Carol” on this trip I would be a very rich woman, albeit a rich woman with acute tendonitis from clicking one of those counter-thingies because that would be the only way I could possibly add up all of these “Aunt Carol’s.”  And then I would promptly be poor again from spending these hard-earned dimes on churros and souvenir plush critters sporting tiny tie-dyed logo-embossed t-shirts.

But I think it’s the never-ending questions that inevitably do me in.  And it’s not so much that the questions are never-ending as they are difficult. (No, I am not smarter than a fifth-grader, and I think I’ve already proven this by admitting that I repeatedly and enthusiastically agree to these trips.)  I really want to provide answers to these thoughtful inquiries.  And I try.  I do.  Because I know the answers are important to them. 

As both of my teacher-sisters often say--almost every moment can be a teachable one.  I think that’s lovely, so I try to live by this advice.  And of course I love these children of my heart and want to spend time with them, be there for them, help mold them, and make a difference in their lives.  And so I patiently try to answer these brain teasers that make the SAT’s look like a first-grade worksheet.  The following questions are borrowed from the actual vacation transcript--no context provided or needed and it can be assumed that each and every one was preceded with an “Aunt Carol”...

Nephew #3: “Is the komodo dragon the biggest lizard in the world?  Do you think it would rather eat people or hard-boiled eggs?”

Nephew #2: “Do you think SeaWorld was a bike shop when it very first opened?”

Nephew #4: “Do panda bears hibernate?”

Nephew #1: “Do you know what color the San Diego Padres uniforms were in 1974?”

I always start out each of these vacations with a fresh dose of enthusiasm, but by the end, with exhaustion settling in and my now-aching brain about as useful as a pot of cold mush, I find myself more and more often reverting to one of a few pat answers: “Sure, why not?” or “That sounds great, honey!” or even “Mm-hmm.”  Sometimes in a burst of caffeine and sugary-vacation-snack-induced energy I’ll mix the words up or attempt to creatively re-string some combination of them together.  

But they become wise to this, these clever nephews of mine, because not only do kids ask a lot of questions--they listen, too.  Oh sure, maybe we think they aren’t listening and sometimes we might even wish they weren’t listening.  But they listen.  They do.  I have proof.

Nephew #1: “Aunt Carol, can you take us to Disneyland again?”

Me:  “Mm-hmm.  Sure, why not?”

Nephews #1-4: “Woo-hoo! Mom, Aunt Carol is taking us to Disneyland again!”

Me: “Wait...what?”

My sister:  “That sounds great, honey!  Ask Aunt Carol if I should pack anything besides your birth certificate...”

Any “research” I may collect and share from these trips shall be deemed authentic, hard-earned and a precious gift from God.

With Mother’s Day looming, I’d just like to add a heartfelt salute to all you mothers out there who are brave enough (and strong enough) to travel with your children.  And a sincere thanks to my wonderful sisters for all of their kid sharing.  I truly do treasure (almost) every quasi-mothering moment you gift to me.

Please tell me I'm not alone in collecting research from my family in this way?

28 comments:

  1. I have a daughter and I love it when she invites her friends over. They're such great girls and listening to them chatter and interact helps inform me as a YA writer and when including (teens especially) in my Heartwarmings! The best writers observe and capture what is true before turning it into fiction. You are definitely doing the right thing- and sound like an awesome aunt!!

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I have several nieces as well, so I'm also grateful to have them to 'observe', too. I do love being an aunt!

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  2. Research is one of the coolest things about writing! Sharing it with family is even better!

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    1. I agree, Dana! And I come from a huge extended family (Catholic) and I'm the youngest of five. Lucky for me it's a very fun and funny bunch, too. Lots of 'research' opportunities (:

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  3. Tax write off? Just kidding - in case any IRS auditors read this. :) Sure, as a writer we use EVERYTHING as potential character material. As you said, we want to be authentic.

    Enjoyed the post!

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    1. Debbie, that made me laugh...thank you! I'm so glad to hear that others are using their personal experiences in the same way!

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  4. Carol, your post made me laugh, and reminisce. I have 2 girls and my sisters-in-law have all boys. We used to trade kids during the summer to give each other a break. I did foolish things like take all 6 of them to the state fair, or a couple of times we made 3 or 4 day trips with the whole group to the Oregon coast. I remember back now at the shock to my system. And my girls always took friends when we went camping or to Disneyland, or once to San Francisco. Frankly I miss those times (or think I do) and love it when my grandkids come to visit now even if taking them shopping three or four days in a row breaks the bank. You are a good aunt. As well as research for you, they'll have good memories forever.

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    1. Thank you, Roz! You just made me laugh, too. I love it that you can so obviously relate. It sounds like your child-days were just like my sisters (and mine through their generosity.) We love to do those exact kinds of things and even though it can be exhausting I wouldn't trade the memories for anything! Even though sometimes we look at each other and say "What were we thinking?" And then we plan the next outing...

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  5. Carol - you're so funny! Our kids came to us all at once at ages 4, 8, and 10. We'd had them about four months on our first trip to Disneyland. I thought I'd have to be buried there. In that throng of hundreds of thousands, probably 75% of them children, the word 'Mom!" clogs the air, your ears, your brain. I was forever turning my head, thinking it was one of mine. Use your family shamelessly, I say. They owe you.

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    1. Muriel...I am laughing right now at your 'buried there' comment. Ahh, Disneyland magic... I wouldn't even want to thing about counting up all those "Mom's"...Lol. And thank you! Yes--they do owe me, right?

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  6. Great post! I always take advantage of family adventures as a source of research for my books. Kids have a way of asking fascinating questions and bringing a fresh view to traveling.

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    1. Thanks, Tara! Indeed, I am constantly amazed by the questions--and like I mentioned the quality of the questions floors me, too. I often find myself saying "That's a great question...you should ask your uncle!" Lol

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  7. This made me laugh, probably more than it should have! I'm totally envisioning all of those conversations:)

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    1. Amy, thank you! I know you can relate...and yep, conversations enfolded just like you envisioned. Next time I think you should come along to help me answer questions....

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    2. You know, I think I'll pass...

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    3. I don't volunteer as tribute.

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  8. Great post! I have a three year old and we just got back from a week long trip to Maui. They are exhausting and it's exactly for the reason you so perfectly described above-the questions! When I was pregnant, I was in a corner store one day and a little boy came in with his dad. He was about four and he just kept saying-Dad what's... Dad how do you do...Dad, Dad, Dad...And I thought it was the absolute cutest. I remember telling my mom that I couldn't wait until my little guy could call me mom. She said-Just wait...And I had no idea what she meant. I do now! lol:) If I hear 'mom' once every day, I hear it ten thousand times...but it's so worth it:) Worth it-but definitely exhausting!

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    1. Oh my goodness--a three year old in Maui! I bow to you for undergoing the airplane ride alone! The questions are so cute, aren't they? Until...they're not and then you could swear there was crazed little troll taking an icepick to your brain LOL! But you're right--totally worth every 'Aunt Carol' I am fortunate enough to hear!

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  9. Traveling with children is indeed an experience. Good for you to get authentic information for your books. Your blog was a delight and brought back many memories - some of them quite pleasant.

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    1. Marion, I'm so glad that it evoked good memories for you--that's what I was hoping for! And I think even the not-so-good memories tend to fade and morph over time until sometimes they even become if not quite good at least humorous...

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  10. Carol, you are so funny! I have three children and they exhaust me every single day. Have you ever tried to communicate with three complete irrational people on a regular basis? That's what being a parent is all about. I often use family experiences to give me ideas in writing because sometimes nothing is more entertaining than real life!

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    1. Amy, that's funny, too! My sisters say the same thing and that makes me feel better! And I will admit that my family is full of extremely entertaining and "irrational" little characters.

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  11. I have a nine year old. He loves the Titanic. And, he rationalized a few weeks ago that if it weren't for Adam and Eve's sin, then the people who sank with the Titanic would have been naked when they sank. Nuff said.
    Yup, exhausting

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    1. HAHAHAHA! Cant argue with logic like that though, right?

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  12. Carol, you have me cracking up!!!! I'm a mom of 3 and your take on all this is hilarious! Especially the 'I'll pack their birth certificates just in case' LOL. My boys always ask me why we don't travel more. The mere thought of traveling with them ever again is horrifying. The few trips we took when they were younger just about did me in (including simple road trips). Now that they're older, I might need to muster up some courage...or bribe Aunt Carol ;).

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