The More Things Change

I had a chance to visit my alma mater with Henry earlier this month. The last time I was on campus, I was entering my third trimester, pregnant with the same kid that just asked me on the drive out to Indiana what a 401k is. Time is funny like that. One minute, you’re crouched over their crib moving stuffed animals to a safe distance. The next, you’re putting a television in their room and making them pledge not to watch questionable content on Netflix.

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It was a bit surreal to be back in my college town. Especially with a teenager. Goodness, I was a teenager when I began school there. Only about four years older than Henry is now. Drunk on freedom. (Also, probably alcohol.) Walking the same streets with your teenager that you walked as a young adult while fervently hoping and praying that the beautiful person next to you doesn’t make the same mistakes you did is quite a trip. I refrained from pointing out the houses and apartment complexes where I partied the hardest, preferring to prudently hi-light the remodeled student recreation center and underground library instead.

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Things have changed so much in the fourteen years since my last visit. New buildings. New businesses. New bars. Everything a little different, even if achingly familiar.

For one thing, transportation on campus has changed dramatically. When we first arrived and began walking around on Friday afternoon, I noticed there were these lanes next to the sidewalk. Sometimes separated by a median, sometimes just painted lines. The minute I realized – and began to appreciate – that they had finally designated separate bike lanes, a student flew by us on a motorized skateboard. That was the beginning of a weekend filled with a lot of things… zooming in our peripheral vision. Motorized skateboards. Motorized bicycles. Motorized scooters. Many things with wheels wheeling students from place to place. In ye olden days, we walked or rode bikes until things turned icy in winter and then we just, well, walked.

The dormitory situation has changed, too. Campus seemed filled with new apartment-style dorms. They looked very fancy and very comfortable. I distinctly remember that by the time I graduated, some of the newer dorms being constructed were designed suite-style, with attached bathrooms for each room. I remember being jealous of the incoming class of students that didn’t have to haul their shower basket down the hall wearing flip-flops and a robe, to the communal bathrooms. But, now some of these even newer places have balconies. And, Starbucks in the lobby. I mean, what luxury is this? The dorm I lived in as a freshman, has air conditioning now. What kind of grit are we instilling in our next generation if they can’t even make it through an Indiana August in 90 degree heat on the twelfth floor of a building that has no hope of a cross breeze?

Also, I guess most of the dining services have been consolidated now. No one heads to the basement of their dorm each morning for questionable scrambled eggs. Now, you go to a stand alone dining hall that services a few of the dorms that are clustered in that area. I mean, the dining hall we stopped into was lovely and the selection of food was kind of amazing but there was not a single deep fried button mushroom with a side of ranch dressing to be found and so that made me sad. Times have certainly changed.

The student union looked mostly the same – all dark wood paneling and quiet nooks and crannies – until we rounded the corner and were greeted by the blaring white spaceship lighting of an Amazon pickup store. So, that’s a new thing, I guess. Back in my day, we used to have to beg the video store delivery guy to stop and get us snacks from the convenience store next door on the way to our dorm. These days, the kids can get parts for their motorized skateboards delivered next day. By drone, probably. Right to the balconies of their air conditioned dorms, I’m assuming.

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It wasn’t all new. Indiana is still just as flat as it’s always been. That hasn’t changed. We took the non-interstate route north from Indianapolis to reach Lafayette and the flatness is truly remarkable. After almost six years of living in the mountains of Virginia, I think I had forgotten what it’s like to be able to see all of the way to the horizon. Henry must have thought I was delirious from the long drive because I just kept saying, “Can you BELIEVE how FLAT it is? I mean, SO FLAT, right?”

I took Henry to Arni’s, a Lafayette tradition since forever. They’d remodeled the restaurant at some point in my absence so that was freshened up a bit but it still smelled the same inside. Just like ever-so-slightly burnt crust. The pizza was the same, too. A thin crust with tangy tomato sauce and topped with sliced mushrooms that came from a can which is the only appropriate way to top a pizza with mushrooms. The salad has remained the same as well, made from non-nutrient dense iceberg lettuce with copious amounts of shredded cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Served with what can only be described as a tureen-sized container of Thousand Island dressing. I love a restaurant that still serves Thousand Island dressing.

The football game was just as much fun as when I was a student, too. The stadium hasn’t changed much, albeit maybe a little bit bigger than when I was last on campus. I seem to remember an addition going on, funded after one particularly successful football season that has yet to be replicated. It was also a little bit colder than I remember ever being bothered by as a student. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve lived in the south for eighteen years or because I wasn’t insulated by beer consumption. Regardless, all-in-all just as thrilling and nail-biting as a Big Ten college football game always promises to be. The band just as entertaining and awe-inducing as I remember. I loved it. Every minute of it.

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At one point during our weekend on campus, Henry mentioned that he felt a little out of place walking around. “It feels a little weird,” he said. Like he was too young to be there. Too young to really belong just yet.

Which, I understood since I felt a little too old to be there. Especially jarring since it seems like just yesterday that I was there, seventeen years old, wondering if I belonged, too.

He can’t imagine what lies ahead and I can’t believe what lies behind. Everything past, present, and future. All together. Time is funny like that.

 

Places We’re Taking Our Kids They Will Fail To Appreciate

Summer break begins tomorrow, when the school year officially comes to a close. (But, we started celebrating weeks ago and our kids have not been to bed before 9:30 at night since, basically, the time change and, at some point, we just kind of stopped doing homework so summer break began awhile ago, if you catch my drift.)

When you have babies and toddlers, the end of the school year doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Summer routines for wee little kids are just like rest-of-the-year routines – days strategically planned around the dual schedule anchors of naps and mealtimes. June, July and August with tiny ones means doing everything you normally do the other nine months of the year only with 95 percent more sweating and a never-ending alternating application of bug spray and sunscreen.

But, we no longer have babies or toddlers! Everyone in this house can, for the most part, apply their own bug spray and sunscreen. And, they almost never get it in their eyes. Also, all of my children are capable of getting their own meals and snacks. While I still have to remind them to eat something other than a plate full of potato chips, I can yell that in the direction of the kitchen from the living room sofa so I consider it a win. And, the only one that really naps anymore is Bob so that’s good. Our summer breaks look so different now with these older kids and the freedom and relative autonomy that affords.

We’ve somehow found ourselves in that magical window of time wherein our youngest child is old enough to be in control of her own bowels but our oldest child is still young enough that he hasn’t begun to resent us with every fiber of his being. There’s an opportunity here to make some memories and I’m planning on taking advantage of it this summer.

Some things on our summer bucket list that my kids will probably complain are super boring but, one day, I’m confident they’ll look back upon and remember how super bored they were:

James River Plantations – Dotting the James River, southeast of Richmond, Virginia, is a stretch of plantations and historic homes open for tours. The buildings are impressive and I look forward to whisper-yelling, “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” to my children as we tour them. I remember visiting the area with my parents more than twenty years ago, when I was still a college student. I’m looking forward to making my own kids pose on this same boulder, which I assume has not been moved since this picture was snapped sometime around 1996.

Washington Nationals Game – This is not my idea. This request came from Henry and Charlie so I’m pretty sure that I’ll actually be the one that will be bored and miserably hot. Baseball just isn’t my jam but I will feign a good attitude and also I have heard there is really delicious food at the park so that’s something.

Movie Blockbusters – Nothing screams SUMMER like a well-made documentary! Am I right? I’d like the kids to see the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, “RBG” and the film about Mister Rogers titled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I expect both will elicit tears from me and eye rolls from my children. I’m kind of okay with that.

 

Hershey Park – I grew up going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio and feel strongly that amusement parks are SUCH a SUMMER thing. I don’t think the kids have ever been to one so I plan on taking them this year. I mean, it’s not really summer until you momentarily lose one of your children in a massive throng of strangers. (Aside: do people still wear matching outfits to amusement parks? I think I could get Bob on board with at least matching shirts. Yes, absolutely, I think he will LOVE that.)

Historic Route 11 – Route 11 stretches the length of Virginia (and beyond) and is the original and non-infuriating version of Interstate 81. We’ve wanted to explore the route for years now and are planning a few days this summer to do just that. We’re planning to begin in Abingdon, in the southwest corner of Virginia, and make our way north from there with overnight stops along the way in Roanoke and Lexington, eventually making our way to Winchester. I will probably find all of this way more fun than my children and that’s fine. The Route 11 Potato Chip factory is somewhere along this road and open for tours so that should make them feel right at home.

And, since I frequently field messages from friends looking for trip tips in our corner of Virginia, I thought I’d compile a list of some of our family favorites in case you need to add to your summer bucket list. All of the places detailed below are super kid-friendly which means they have easy access to bathrooms and snacks. Also, it will not surprise anyone that battlefields, heavy artillery, and (Civil War) history feature prominently in this list so your mileage may vary, etc.:

  1. Antietam (Maryland) – I like to say that Gettysburg gets all of the Civil War glory around here but Antietam should absolutely not be missed. It’s incredibly moving.
  2. Appomattox Court House (Virginia) – Appomattox is where General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. It’s worth the drive for the history and to see this part of rural Virginia which has it’s own unique beauty.
  3. America’s Historic Triangle (Virginia) – Encompassing Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Go see this! Colonial! History! Everywhere! It’s so fun! (Also, Williamsburg will be super busy but hanging out with our kids by the river in Yorktown was always our favorite part.)
  4. Cumberland (Maryland) – Bob said I should put this on the list so, you’re welcome, Bob. He’s biked the C&O Canal to Washington, D.C. a few times and Cumberland is where they always begin their journey. We’ve stopped once with the kids and there’s a neat museum here and lots of trains!
  5. Ohiopyle State Park (Pennsylvania) – Bob and I were married close by Ohiopyle and we’re making a return pitstop here in a couple of weeks with the kids. The Youghiogheny River runs through the park and affords lots of outdoor adventure opportunities. There are fun little shops and yummy places to grab a bite to eat. Highly recommend!
  6. Harpers Ferry (West Virginia) – Harpers Ferry is so easy to explore with kids. There are trains and trails and rivers and old houses and people wearing historic clothing and, like, five places to procure ice cream. It’s a win all around.
  7. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center (Pennsylvania) – We spied this from the interstate and eventually made it back to visit a couple of years ago. There’s a little museum and loads of outdoor installations to explore that tell the history of the U.S. Army’s conflict involvement.
  8. Frontier Culture Museum (Virginia) – You should totally visit this place. Read all about it here: Worth Doing Also, the nearby town of Staunton is adorable. Make a weekend of it! There are wineries close by!

Okay. I think we’re ready for summer, guys. LET’S DO THIS.

Ideal

We have a lot of imperfect days around here. We are a family of five so at any given moment, chances are, someone is not being their best self. There’s been plenty of complaining and infighting and back talking and tears and injuries and just general malaise of late. I blame the seemingly interminable cold weather.

After a week that brought too much of all of the above, we set out yesterday to change our surroundings. And, we ended up with a day so delightful, we all felt lighter upon our return. There was sunshine and fresh air and old houses and a brisk hike and heavy artillery and livestock and laughter and a magical dinner that had options for everyone.

An accidentally perfect day spent with my imperfect crew.

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Best Farm, Monocacy National Battlefield

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Worthington Farm, Monocacy National Battlefield

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National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center

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It’s tempting to wish each and every day could be as perfect as yesterday but that’s not realistic. The grumbling and bickering and grievances are sure to return.

Besides, if every day were perfect, how would we appreciate the ones that were really, truly special?