Friday, April 19th was a hell of a day here in Cambridge. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, several communities went into lockdown as the police combed a 20 block area of nearby Watertown searching for the remaining suspect. In an effort to find him, all residents were asked to say in their homes while police went door-to-door.
I had been up for several hours the night before when I was awoken by the constant rush of police cars near my house (the bombers had released a hostage at a gas station two blocks from my house), so I wasn’t completely surprised when a Cambridge code-red alert announcing the lockdown came in at 6am. My daughter Ayelet (age 5) and son Rafael (age 2) had just woken up and crawled into bed with me.
“Okay guys, school is closed today,” I told them. “Um…let’s make pancakes!”
I’m not much of a cook, but I had a long day ahead. My wife was in New York City visiting a friend and scheduled to return by train later that afternoon, so I was going to be on my own.
The day passed in a blur. The kids watched a ton of TV, played on our upstairs balcony, and squabbled over coloring books. In the midst of trying to mediate, I was handling work calls and emails and trying to discretely follow the amazing news events unfolding around me. I was constantly on the go, jumping from one thing to another. It was exhausting.
Then my wife called with the news that her train was canceled. Faced with the possibility that I was going to continue the solo act for perhaps another full day, I put on a brave face, but she quickly figured out that she could get on a bus that would get her as far as Providence, just an hour away. Technically, Cambridge was on lockdown, but my sense was that no one was going to stop me if I got in a car and hopped onto the Masspike, which is right near my house. So, we agreed the kids and I would pick her up there.
When it came time to throw the kids in the car, everyone’s patience was running thin. My son hadn’t napped and was having a tantrum on the floor and refusing to put on socks. My daughter was gathering a mountain of books. I was mentally exhausted and needed to get both kids ready for a two hour car ride, there and back.
At times like this, I fall back on a mnemonic that I started using when my daughter was just 15 months old and we were traveling in Italy. We would inevitably forget something when going out for the day, so I came up with “Big Jumping Penguins Don’t Sing With Turkeys”. As long as I followed it, I would have everything I needed for the kids:
- Big = “B” = bib (a handy bib for easy, no mess meals when out and about)
- Jumping = “J” = jacket (make sure they don’t get cold ; substitute a hat in warm weather)
- Penguins = “P” = pacifier (in case of a meltdown)
- Don’t = “D” = diapers (’nuff said)
- Sing = “S” = snacks (they will get grumpy if they get hungry and you have no food)
- With = “W” = water (playing can be thirsty work)
- Turkeys = “T” = toys (a great distraction)
In my dazed state, I started running down the list. “B=bib”: I didn’t need a bib anymore, since they kids are much older and eat without big messes. “J=jacket”: I tossed some jackets in a bag; no need to put them on now, just get them in the car. “P=pacifier”: I put my son in the car seat and stuck it in his mouth, knowing he would konk out for a nap within 10 minutes that way. “D=diapers”: I threw the miniature diaper bag in the car. “S=snacks”: We had a snack pack ready to go from when we expected my mother-in-law to be picking the kids up from day care. “W=water”: I filled two water bottles. “T=toys”: I took the giant pile of toys and books my daughter had gathered and dumped in the car – at that point, I didn’t care how large it was.
Within five minutes, we were in the car and on our way to highway. I was tired, but I knew I had everything I needed since I had followed the mnemonic.
As we drove down to Providence, we used almost all the items. Ayelet ate snacks, drank water, and she looked at her books. She used a coat to wrap on her legs as a blanket. Rafael quietly napped and sucked on his pacifier.
Then, about 10 minutes out from Providence, we hit a major traffic jam due to a car accident. Suddenly, my daughter said, “Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom!”
The mnemonic was created when she was just 15 months old. This was long before toilet training, and I had never updated it to include a bathroom trip. It had failed me! Now we were stuck in traffic without a bathroom.
I managed to keep her distracted long enough to get past the accident and park at the Providence Mall, close to where we would be picking up my wife. As my bad luck would have it, the mall was being evacuated due to a fire alarm, but we soon found our way to a nearby hotel and a bathroom she could use. Crisis averted.
Soon, we were reunited with my wife and back in the car, returning to the Boston/Cambridge. As we drove, I was telling her about the stressful day, how the mnemonic had once again come in handy, and how it was out-of-date. I was thinking I was going to need to add another letter when we both realized that we already had one. “B=bib” was no longer needed, but it could now become “B=bathroom”!
And so, the advice still stands.
Big Jumping Penguins Don’t Sing With Turkeys.