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.

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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?

2018 Manifesto

1. I will CALM DOWN about October. The arrival of fall fleece weather causes such a frenzy of excitement that I over-schedule every corner of October to take maximum advantage of no longer sweating the instant I open my front door. October then becomes this giant blur. It begins with a couple of mums on the front porch, a giant scarf around my neck and the first hot beverage of the season but it always seems to end in a frantic fit of exhaustion and shame when my kids find me shoving one more snack size Kit Kat in my mouth before I set fire to all of their Halloween candy whilst yelling, “WE FORGOT TO GO TO AN APPLE ORCHARD!” October is crafty in that it promotes itself as this super chill month full of deep breaths and crisp fall air but in actuality, you never stop moving the entire time before tumbling into November and then Thanksgiving which bleeds into the December holidays and then you wake up sometime in January five pounds heavier with wrapping paper stuck to your pajamas. It all begins innocuous enough. I’m on to you, October and I will not fall prey this year.

2. I will step away from the news at regular intervals so as not to fall into a pit of depression and despair, believing that the destruction of mankind is imminent and all hope has been lost.

3. I will invest in me.

*insert tremendous eyeroll here*

But, lo, I am firmly in my forties now and no longer as physically resilient as I once was. Basically, stuff on my person hurts. So, this year, I’m striving to fix what’s broken. That means, I’m going to wear the stupid brace at night to help alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome I developed while growing three children with my body. I’m also going to do the stretching I’m supposed to do to help alleviate the plantar fasciitis I developed from excessive hiking to get some alone time away from the three children I grew with my body. I’m going to make the appointments and take the supplements and drink the water and get that weird bump behind my ear looked at so I can be as healthy as I can be for me and for the three children that wrecked everything when I grew them with my body.

4. I will finally figure out how to make the theme song from “Parks and Recreation” be my phone’s ringtone because it is delightful. I should probably ask Henry how to do this, better preparing him for the years and years he’ll spend down the road exasperatingly troubleshooting technology for his parents.

5. I will make a HUGE punch list of the home improvement items around this house that need to get accomplished so we can actually accomplish them. Bob and I talk all the time about our to-do list, casually mentioning over breakfast that the laundry room needs painting or the basement curtains are still waiting to be hung or the crack in the hallway needs patching. Frankly, someone needs to write all of this stuff down because we are easily distracted and inevitably one of us gets busy with something else or decides to take a nap or retreats with a book or goes shopping instead, forgetting all about the laundry room, the basement and the hallway. Then, the next weekend, we LITERALLY have the very same discussion about the things that need to get done around the house. It’s all very counter-productive. Bob asked for some sort of a master list some months ago so we can go room by room as time permits to complete the work and I love a good checklist so I’m going to make this happen. I’ll probably laminate it, to be honest.

6. I will show my kids new places and new things. As much as I love to lament parenthood, I think my kids are pretty much the coolest people on the planet. They’re so interesting and they love to learn and are so curious and they’re getting easier and more fun to take out in public. Bob set a goal of traveling into the city frequently this year to show them a new museum or exhibit and I’ve set a goal of two vacations with them to places that none of us have traveled before. This year, I really want to focus on more experiences and less stuff.

(I’m also in that post-Christmas deep regret stage as I try to organize and find space for the hoard of presents I brought into our home so, we’ll see how this one pans out is all.)

7. I will be generous with my time, resources and talent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better the lives of those around me. Not just for my husband and my children, but looking beyond that. I’d like to figure out how to extend generosity – in whatever form that takes – farther out in the circle. I have a certain set of talents and expertise and I have friends that are extremely talented and super smart in other things and sometimes, I feel like if we could just pool our gifts, combine our resources, we could make lives better. Easier. Lovelier. Kinder. For ourselves and for others. I’m going to figure out how to build that community of generosity this year. I feel like the world could use a lot more of it.

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