Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 1999

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / September 7, 1999

Finally, after all these years, I’ve discovered a way to get my children to wash their hands. It’s hard to get, and it’s expensive, but it works. Youmust book passage in a sleeper car on a train. That little sink is so cute!The children just find it irresistible! And you’ll be so tickled to see sparkling little hands that you may not even mind the hickey on the right side of your head, where the sink corner hits you every time it’s unleashed from the wall. At least not the first few hundred times.”ALL ABOARD AMTRAK!” These words are music to my husband’s ears. Hehas many fond memories of whiling away hours in a sleeper car on a train; leisurely sipping his third cup of coffee while the train gently rocks its way to the destination. These lovely memories have been replaced by somenew ones; not-yet-lovely memories of traveling by train with two children.

“DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR!” These words are not music to my ears, not any of the three thousand times my husband commanded them to my son. Any daynow I am expecting a bill from Amtrak for the new latch that must have been necessary on the door to our sleeper car. My son found the slidingdoor of the sleeper as amusing as the sink was to my daughter. Actually, itwas even better, because after sliding the door open, they could step out and walk the train. Which they did; repeatedly.I warned my husband. When we began to plan the trip my husband pitchedthe idea of going by train. I cautioned him that 25 hours to Washington,D.C. might be too much. But the kids jumped on it, and I was outvoted. Myonly hope was that there would not be a sleeper available.

There was. As he booked the reservation I began to practice my I-told-you-so glances. Privately, I wondered how all of us would fit into one ofthose 6-by-4-foot spaces.

The answer to that came immediately upon seeing the sleeper. Carefully.I don’t believe the children ever actually walked on the floor. They simplystepped on my feet, since I had no place to tuck them.

Wisely, we had checked all of the bags, leaving the baggage compartment empty. That 3-by-3 foot hole in the wall 1 foot high actuallylooked appealing for a brief second as a possible place for stuffing one of the kids.

As soon as we got settled into the sleeper we headed for the dining car, for my husband to revisit some of his finest memories. He was still on hisorange juice when my son announced that he was done and ready to return to the room. Such revelations always convince my daughter, who was stillhappily eating her breakfast, that she, too, was done. My husband looked atme pathetically and said, “But I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee.”I flashed him one of the newly polished I-Told-You-So glances and chuckled sadistically.

I began to ponder the evening’s sleep. My eyes were again drawn to thatempty baggage compartment. Everyone was afraid to have daddy on the topbunk; questions about the strength of steel. I spent the night on the topbunk, continually flopping my comatose son into different positions, hoping to find any that would allow me a night’s sleep. The best option hadhalf of me suspended from a safety net that hooks to the ceiling.

On the way home that same half of my body was downstairs resting on the air conditioning vents. We all overcame our fear of metal fatigue and sentDad upstairs alone. I made a bed over the toilet and trash can, and lockedthe door so my daughter wouldn’t spill out into the hall. The empty baggagecompartment still beckoned, but I ignored it.

The night ahead promised to be long and sleepless; the two kids and I piled into a space smaller than a twin bed. Suddenly the thought of my creature-comfort husband needing to go to the bathroom sprang into my head.

I giggled myself to sleep.

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