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Four states, three kids - need I say more?
I’m going to go ahead and start with a disclaimer:

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how your mama raised you, you’re just bound to do some things that indicate your lack of wisdom or a failure to “act like you’ve got some sense.”

I’ve been telling my mama that for years — generally in reference to all my siblings — but now I’m afraid that finger is pointing back to me.

That’s because my wife and I took a 9 day trip involving 4 states and 3 children under the age of 8. This was intentional. Now that you’ve all covered your mouths after gasping in horror, you can read on.

Since they’ve taken all the sharp objects away from me here in the asylum, I have been unable to handwrite notes, so we’ll just do this a travelogue:

•Day 1: After a year of planning and saving, the day has arrived. We’ll pick up Holly (age 7) from school and hit the road.

Everyone is optimistic, except the 8-month-old (Lowell) who has a look of concern that he might miss a meal in all the hubbub. The 2-year-old (Kent) begins what will become a record setting performance of saying the word “Poop.”

We pack everyone’s stuff and the largest #$%^ stroller you’ve ever seen in your life. It is so big, I consider driving it and just stowing Honda van in its cargo section.

•Day 1 plus three hours: We pull into a Cracker Barrel for dinner. Cracker Barrel is a great plus on the road with three children, due to the fact the food is good and consistent, and nobody notices the noise your kids make because theirs are making so much.

Lowell creates nuclear waste and my wife Kristi fears we may be banned for “doing that Wow.” Kent did things with the little golf tee game I’ve never seen before.

•Day 1 plus seven hours: We decide to call it a day and check into a hotel near Savannah, Georgia. The room is 52 degrees when we walk in, actually colder than it is outside.

I call the front desk and they ask if I’ve turned the heat on. I thought telling them I built a fire in the fireplace would get their attention (since there wasn’t one). They offer me another room, which I first check on, and the temp there is a balmy 54. I complain, and as it turns out, I am the only one at the hotel who speaks English.

Later in the conversation, it turns out that some words are universal. I get a hotel room bigger than my house and it is 70 degrees inside. Apparently there are “secret” rooms at hotels that no one actually gets to stay in. I complained through that particular chains’ website, and nearly two weeks later I’ve heard nothing from them.

•Day 2: We eat at Cracker Barrel again. Holly suspects that her parents might really BE getting old after all. We finally find a Starbucks. They don’t like it when you reach across the counter and hug them.

This is the day when all our gadgets pay off. We we departed, we had more technology on board than the first Apollo mission. We had cell phones, XM Radio, a GPS and a really smart Honda Odyssey. This does not include the entertainment options for the children, which saved everyone a lot of grief.

It is also noted that my joke about the sun never shining in South Carolina once again proves to be true as we realize that it is much brighter in Georgia and Florida.

Also, the target market for travelers on I-95 is apparently orange and honey eating people who really like to take showers with topless people (signs never specified whether it was boys or girls who were topless) and stop at South of the Border.

We finally arrive in Tampa, Florida.

•Day 3: Tampa is a beautiful city, but must have been laid out by Curious George. Even the GPS had to think about things to get us around in the crazy downtown with exits, no signage, one way streets — you know, kind of like downtown Raleigh.

We stay at a hotel for a convention that has valet only parking, which costs $18 a day and you’re expected to tip the guy who parks and retrieves your car. I think the mafia works on this same principal, as no one wants to drive and there is a little known Tampa law that prevents restaurants from being located near the hotel district. They are all in Orlando.

Holly takes her 200th photograph of the trip. Lowell does what he does best, input and output, so to speak. Kent figures out that you can hide a small 2-year-old and several books and toys in a hotel entertainment center and still have room for snacks and a drink.

•Day 4: After mornings of classes, we get some time to spend out. We go to the Tampa Aquarium, which is world famous for being in Tampa. It costs about four times what the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores costs, but hey, PKS doesn’t have penguins or people from Florida.

The penguin exhibit was pretty neat. This is where the staff turns three or four penguins loose on the audience and advises people that “...it may seem like they’re trying to bite you with their cute little beaks [read: fierce, sharp, menacing butcher knives], but they’re just trying to snuggle and play.” I tell the lady next to me that when I punt small flightless birds across a large room, I am really trying to snuggle and play. She looks frightened.

Kent’s day is made when the penguin handler warns that penguins can shoot their poop four feet. Okay, that was pretty funny.

•Day 5: You realize that while Tampa is a beautiful city, it has a lot of people from Florida in it. The whole Floridians-unable-to-vote-properly-and-hanging-chads-episode becomes much more understandable. There is ice hockey in Tampa, but apparently no bluegrass.

•Day 6: Us and everyone else in the hemisphere head for Orlando, with the work-related part of the trip now over. Disney World, which has been the carrot at the end of the stick for the kids, is now within reach.

Except for Lowell, who seems worried that we might forget he is due a bottle in just a couple of hours. For good measure, he tries to use both teeth to bite people who think it is okay to walk up and touch other people’s babies in the face. I want to pet him and give him a treat, but I am afraid he may bite me.

Next week: Disney World!

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