My Life as a Cruise Director

When I was a kid, these people made working for a cruise ship look fun. As an adult, I think, "Cruise ship? Aren't people always getting sick on cruises?"

When I was a kid, these people made working for a cruise ship look fun. As an adult, I think, “Cruise ship? Aren’t people always getting sick on cruises?”

“Spring Break is my practice summer,” I told my husband, my friends, and anyone else who would listen. I said this with the giddiness of a college student headed to Daytona Beach with her daddy’s credit card–and with the sincere trepidation of that same college student who upon graduation realizes she needs to find a job.

You see, “Spring Break” was to be the first week in two years in which I had both of my children home with me all day, every day–and no need to even consider granny-care. Two years. I certainly don’t want to come across as insensitive about this, and I’m not saying that I am glad my mother-in-law has finally died, but the truth is, just being a mom is so much easier now that I don’t have to take her care into account. I’m not in a rush to leave in the morning. I’m not in a rush to return in the afternoon. I’m not dealing with two different bathroom-related emergencies at the same time every day. I don’t feel pulled in a gazillion different directions for the first time in two years.

And my children have really grown up in those two years. They were babies the last time I had this kind of freedom to just be a mom–and not a care-giver. Sure, they weren’t newborns two years ago, but my son was still young enough that I had to always pack diapers and be aware of nap times.

I’m excited about how much they have grown. In my pre-child mommy-fantasies, I wasn’t daydreaming about infants and toddlers. I dreamt of kids—the kind who climb on the monkey-bars, ride bicycles, and read really cool books, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler and I Capture The Castle. I wanted to take them fun places and have deep conversations about life and love and literature.

See? That’s the giddiness! A full week to spend time with two of my favorite people! Every day of Spring Break would be an adventure! I likened myself to being a cruise director with a whistle, a clip board, and a daily itinerary of fun, fun, fun! Just think of me as the Julie McCoy of the M.V. Spring Break.

And now, for the trepidation. I don’t have much experience as a cruise director, and my children are…active. Very active. Super active. It’s like living with two of the three Chipmunks—on caffeine. They get into everything. They are impulsive. They are noisy. They are messy, and their attention span is short. Very short. Super short. Life at our house is Alvin and the Chipmunks meet Love Boat.

Oh, wait, they’ve already made that movie and in it, they ended up marooned on an island. That sounds about right.

So, how was Spring Break? My practice summer? Obviously, I survived it since I’m writing about it today.

On Monday, we had plans! We met friends at the library for a play-date and then, we went to a playground with those friends. That part was good. The grocery shopping after the playground? Well, that was like taking Chipmunks to a grocery store. Clean-up on aisle nine.

The remainder of Monday is a bit of a blur. I’m sure that I have blocked it out of my mind for a reason. I do remember being aware that Tuesday’s weather was going to be icky—rain, colder temperatures, wind.

Here I am with my children and one of their friends. We recorded several albums and had our own show back in the 1960s.

Here I am with my children and one of their friends. We recorded several albums and had our own show back in the 1960s.

Having spent my career working in museums, I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in this discussion: How does weather impact visitation?—Or as it relates to me now, will I take my kids somewhere in the rain? And here’s the answer: Museums experience slightly increased visitation on days in which the weather is iffy because people want to go somewhere and they’ve ruled out all outdoor venues such as playgrounds. However, if the weather is just plain bad—stormy, for example—they stay home and the museums experience a decrease in visitation.

Tuesday’s weather was bad enough that we stayed home all day watching movies. I made popcorn for lunch and told myself that a movie counts as an activity. It snowed Tuesday night. Enough said. Okay, it wasn’t the kind of snow that accumulates, but still, it snowed—in mid-April. Frankly, I think that is plenty of justification for sitting around in our pajamas eating popcorn and watching movies.

On Wednesday, however, I was determined to go somewhere, anywhere. I chose the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge. Why? Because it is free and we hadn’t been there in a couple of years. In fact, when we pulled into the parking lot, both of my children claimed this was all new territory. “We’ve never been here before!” they squealed in their little Chipmunk voices. In fact, whenever I quote my children in this blog, you should just assume they sound like the Chipmunks–and I sound like David Seville. That’s right—I look like Julie McCoy in her little nautical uniform, but I sound like a cartoon song-writer/animal trainer.

The Wildlife Refuge was a hit. I took their picture in front of the taxidermied polar bear and they played a video game that uses bird calls to create rap music. I tried to encourage a little hiking, but alas, they were hungry and so we headed to their favorite restaurant—Ikea.

Yep, I know. Ikea is known for its inexpensive, easy-to-assemble furniture, but my children think of it as their favorite place to eat, and with good reason—kids’ meals are free on Tuesdays! Hooray! But it was Wednesday. We ate there anyway.

My children had wanted to go to the free in-house childcare center at Ikea, too, but it was closed for remodeling?!?! During Spring Break!?!? Oh, Ikea, you disappoint.

We made the most of our Ikea adventure, however. It really is a kid-friendly store and so I didn’t mind shopping with the Chipmunks there. Besides, they really like the Ikea free-bees– the paper tape measures, golf pencils, and brochures that feature the store floor plan. “Look, free treasure maps!” Alvin squealed as she handed Theodore a brochure!

On Thursday, I was once again determined to go somewhere and I had considered quite a few options—including a two-hour ride to St. Mary’s City, an outdoor history museum that had daily Spring Break activities scheduled. Excellent choice. Fun and educational and since I love archaeology, this seemed a logical pick.

The phone rang. I answered. Blah, blah, blah. We got a late start.

I decided we would try to make it to St. Mary’s City anyway, even if we would obviously miss the 11 a.m. Spring Break program on colonial rope-making. Oh, rats. As for lunch, I had no time to make sandwiches. I threw pretzels, bananas, and juice boxes in a bag, and I figured we would stop somewhere along the way for a burger.

No one was hungry when we passed what would be our last fast food option for many miles, but on that long stretch of highway and little else, my children began whining, “We are hungry. We are hungry. We have to go to the bathroom.” I tried to give them pretzels and bananas, but no, they were hungry for lunch. “We are starving for real food,” they squeaked.

Real food? Yeah, me, too. Here’s a mistake I periodically make: I let myself get hungry and once that happens, my ability to make wise decisions is just gone—along with my patience and desire for road-trips.

We pulled into the one lone shopping center we found. Our lunch choices? Chinese or Mexican—so, basically, we were choosing between high sodium and high sodium. I picked the Mexican restaurant because I figured they would bring us chips and salsa as soon as we sat down.

My daughter ordered off the kids’ menu—a quesadilla with rice and a lemonade—for $8. That was waaaaay more than I had planned to spend on a child’s meal. I decided my son and I would split an entrée. Shrimp tacos? He likes shrimp and tomatoes and lettuce and everything else that goes on a taco, so that seemed like a good choice.

Our lunch arrived. He refused to eat it. “I don’t like shrimp,” he squealed. Then, he, the child who was starving for real food, not just snacks, filled up on chips and salsa.

I paid the bill–$25 when I included the tip. Wow. I had planned to spend only half as much on lunch and now, I didn’t have enough cash to get into St. Mary’s City. Sure, I could have used a credit card or even hunted for an ATM, but at the start of Spring Break, one of the things I promised myself was that I would use only the cash I had on hand. I had started the week with $75, and now, I was down to less than $20. And okay, I will admit I bought a bottle of wine with some of that cash on Monday night and so, yeah, that along with the Mexican lunch…St. Mary’s City would just have to wait until summer.

“What do you know about Flags Pond?” I asked our waiter. I had seen signs for it a couple of miles back, and I had heard that it was a good place to hunt for fossils. Fossil hunting? That could be fun.

“I know nothing, senora.”

“Okay, so we will just take our chances. We will go to Flags Pond because it is a state park, and therefore, probably within my depleted budget,” I thought as I loaded my children back into the car.

We drove north and followed the signs to Flags Pond. It was closed.

And so, we continued to drive north towards home. “Well, today has been a bit of a failure,” I told myself, and then, I saw the sign for the Cypress Swamp Nature Center. Like the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, it met those qualifications of free admission and we had not been there for a really long time. Jack pot.

So, we hiked the cypress swamp trail—twice—and visited with an albino snapping turtle that lives at the interpretative center. My daughter declared it, “the best day ever,” and I realized that I may have driven too far and spent more money on lunch than I had planned, but the day was not a failure.

On Friday, we went to the annual PMAH Spring Fling where the kids hunted for eggs, rode a pony, and played with all their little Chipmunk friends—is it just me or do all children sound a little bit like the Chipmunks? It, too, was praised as being “the best day ever.” I love that about my daughter—for her, most days are “the best day ever.”

So, was Spring Break my “practice summer?” And if so, how did I do? What did I learn?

  1. Not every day on the M.V. Summertime will be an adventure. If bad weather or illness or other unforeseen events put us in dry-dock for a day, it’s okay to watch movies. And as much as I loathe crafts, it’s not a bad idea to go through our craft supplies and have them ready and available for those days when we are stuck in-doors and at home.
  2. Lunchtime is important. Buy good lunch food—not just peanut butter and jelly—and pack good lunches. Eating out as the result of desperation is a lot like desperation shopping. You will pay too much and you probably won’t get what you want.
  3. Include time for friends. What made Monday and Friday special? Friends. One of the things I have neglected in recent years is friendships because I didn’t feel as though I could follow through with anything planned. I couldn’t guarantee we would make it to playdates and so I stopped going to them all together. Things are different now. We’ve re-entered the land of the living.
  4. Be flexible. I’m glad I was open to hiking the cypress swamp trail even though it was not what I had planned. According to my daughter, this was “the best day ever” and I owe that to being open to an ever-changing plan.

Of course, the real difference between Spring Break and summer is that summer is longer and the M.V. Summertime will have more ports-of-call. Well, that and it’s not likely to snow in July. God, it better not snow in July. I won’t be able to handle that.

Still, I am aware that summer always goes quicker than we expect. I assume I will have more time in the summer—I suspect most people fall into that trap—and then, we all blink and it is over.








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