Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Family Room by Michelle Martin


Frank loves trains. He loves to ride on trains.

He even likes to ride the CTA, and doesn't get upset when the train is delayed by workers on the track. It must be something about being 6, and not really being responsible for what time he arrives anywhere. If we get somewhere late, well, he wasn't driving.

So this year for spring break, we decided to take a train trip. A long train trip. All the way down to San Antonio on Amtrak's Texas Eagle, a scheduled journey of 33 hours, stopping in Springfield, St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas and Austin en route to San Antone.

Then we would have a relaxing two and a half days to vacation before hopping on a plane back home, ready for church and work and school.

The whole trip had a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" feel to it . too many elements, too much to do, something had to go seriously wrong.

But it didn't. Nothing like the last time Tony and I went to Texas, camping in the days-before-kids, and lost the tent.

For Frank, the trip was the train ride. It was all he expected as we pulled out of Union Station and he stood at the window of our sleeping compartment watching the freight trains slide by.

"I can't wait until we get out of Chicago so I can see things I've never seen before," he said, camera and notebook at the ready.

On the train, we fell into an easy rhythm of reading, looking out the window, visiting the lounge car, eating, watching DVDs and eating some more. The kids soon made friends with Tim the sleeping car attendant and Cecil the waiter, both friendly and patient, but also authoritative enough to remind them that rules were there for their safety.

Frank took to keeping a close eye on the schedule, noting how far behind we were at every stop-until we somehow managed to pull into San Antonio right on time at 10:35 p.m.

We fell into bed in our hotel room, then Caroline's part of the trip started: a hotel pool, restaurants and gift shops. And SeaWorld, with its orca show, water skiers and water rides, and yes, more gift shops.

There was also time to see the San Antonio Missions beat the Tulsa Drillers 2-0 in their home opener, a AA game in the Texas League, to eat Texas-shaped waffles for breakfast and to watch way more Disney Channel and Nickolodeon than a reasonable person should.

Tony and I enjoyed the chance to wander the riverwalk and watch our kids discover the Alamo and time to spend together as a family.

Before we left, I was looking forward to the trip with a certain amount of trepidation. Living in too-close quarters can lead to tempers-as well as elbows-rubbed raw.

But sometimes, I think, when it comes to having adventures with your family, you have to take Nike's advice and just do it. At the very least, you'll be left with an amusing story. And every so often, everything will fall into place just right, and you'll find yourself on the receiving end of a great gift.

Martin is a Catholic New World staff writer. Contact her at [email protected].