We were supposed to spend spring break at Legoland in Florida, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Henry’s to vacation with his favorite mini figures. I had booked everything in January, when the infinite possibilities of a brand new year makes one overly optimistic about traveling 950 miles with three children. We were going to surprise the kids, too, in that super fun way where you wake them up and go, “SURPRISE! We’re leaving RIGHT THIS MINUTE for Legoland! In Florida! Now, get dressed, go to the bathroom and let’s spend the next fourteen hours trapped in a car while I yell, SIT ON YOUR HANDS! every fifteen minutes in the general direction of the backseat.”
It was going to be great. So, so great.
However, at some point, Bob and I decided that we didn’t actually WANT to take the kids to Legoland. We didn’t actually WANT to drive all of the way to Florida. The tediousness to enjoyment ratio was out of balance. There just wasn’t anything in it for us. I mean, other than the unadulterated joy and tremendous happiness of our three delightful offspring. And, I’m going to be honest here, sometimes, that’s just not enough incentive.
We canceled our spring break travels and had absolutely zero regrets. Instead, we promised the kids a week full of adventures. I organized some day trips to new and interesting places and planned little excursions and activities I knew they would love to do. All things that were manageable and low commitment and definitely fewer than fourteen hours from our home base.
Library Playdate With Friends
We were supposed to kick off spring break with a trip to the local library in town which my kids find to be a super special treat since I never take them during the school year because they already bring home tons of books every week from their school library which all seem to magically disappear by their due dates and explains why, after a particularly contorted top bunk bed search for a Davy Crockett title, I ended up relegating the library to a summertime/special occasion treat.
However, on library day, they acted like hooligans all morning long and lost their library privileges so we spent the afternoon at a friend’s house where the kids ran and ran and jumped and played and laughed and did not get into trouble for acting like hooligans.
Stop #2: U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center
For years, we have driven by the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, without really realizing that it was there. What’s visible from I-81 is a mounted helicopter and a few tanks in what appears to be someone’s backyard. There’s no large sign or marker to indicate that the site is an actual museum. So, when we decided to make a spring break trip to finally find these tanks we’d passed over and over again, I half expected to take a tour of some super eccentric individual’s collection of military surplus parts.
That was not the case. The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center is actually a Smithsonian affiliate, is housed next to an expansive collection of army archives and is on the same campus as the U.S. Army War College at the historic Carlisle Barracks.
The museum tells the story of the U.S. Army’s involvement in conflicts dating back to The Revolutionary War all of the way through to the present “Global War on Terror.” The inside museum tour does a great job of keeping kids’ interest through interactive displays, mini-movies and lots and lots of guns. The walking tour of the grounds is surprisingly expansive with replicas of everything from Civil War cabins to a German bunker. All open for exploration.
This place was such a treat and the kids had a fantastic time. If you’re local enough, I would put this on your summer to-do list. It’s free (donations accepted!), has an on-site cafe, plenty of bathrooms and lots of room to roam. So, very kid-friendly. In addition, there is a DRIVE-THRU Starbucks right around the corner so you can fuel up for the car ride home.
This GIANT sign obviously not visible from the interstate.
World War I Trench Exhibit
World War II Barracks Exhibit
Razor Wire Obstacle Course (I’m thinking of replicating this concept in our backyard.)
Stop #3: Target
Because spring break is supposed to be fun for mommy, too. Only, I had three kids with me so it wasn’t fun. At all.
Travels with her own fairy wings.
Stop #4: Bowling with Friends!
I can’t remember if we’ve ever taken all of the kids bowling before. My memory is clogged full of other important information like, which kid doesn’t like ketchup and who’s out of clean underwear. All I know is that group bowling was not a total disaster as I had absolutely expected it to be. It was really fun! The kids were fully engaged the entire time, only one (1) finger (Millie’s) was smashed at the ball return/shoot and I totally beat the kids to emerge as the big winner which was super satisfying.
Stop #5: Swimming
Bob was in charge of the swimming portion of spring break and he reported that no one pooped in the pool so, I think, from all appearances, the activity was a grand success.
Stop #6: Antietam National Battlefield
The final stop of our Spring Break Not Legoland Tour was a day trip to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. I knew of Antietam from assorted history classes, I just didn’t know what really happened there or that this was located only about 30 minutes from our house.
We’ve toured our fair share of battlefields throughout Virginia and Pennsylvania so the details of each tend to blur together in my mind. However, traveling with Bob and Henry to these places is sort of like traveling with my own little history department. They are both so knowledgeable about the American Civil War and were quick to explain exactly what happened. Almost 23,000 persons were killed or wounded in a single day of fighting at Antietam making it the bloodiest day of battle in American history. And, this particular conflict is seen as a lost opportunity by the Union to end the war early when they did not pursue retreating Confederate forces at day’s end. It’s really tremendous to stand there imagining such a destructive scene.
The battle took place in and around the fields of a few farms in Sharpsburg and the homes still stand today, although one had to be rebuilt after the fighting. While Charlie is most interested in the heavy weaponry used, I really find the little farmhouses to be the most fascinating part of any battlefield tour. Mostly because I simply can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been when a war arrived, quite literally, on your doorstep. There are so many old homes tucked into the nooks and crannies of the mountains around here and I always imagine how scary that would be to see troops emerge over a rise or converge on your front lawn. Something we are unbelievably blessed to have not had to deal with since.
Through the National Park Service’s Every Kid in a Park program, Henry had a paper pass that he presented for admission to Antietam. The staff at Antietam converted that pass to a special card that he can carry as a 4th grader (through August) that grants him free access to national parks and federal recreational lands throughout the country. I think we’re going to be using it as our guiding compass for summer activities. It’s really a neat program and the parks employees were so great to the kids, handing them trading cards and encouraging their interest in where we were and what we were seeing. They are doing such important preservation work and we should give the National Park Service all the money they need until the end of time forever and ever.
So, that’s it! Everything we did (and didn’t) do over spring break 2016. Even though Florida was in no way involved, the kids really did have a ball with Henry declaring it the Best! Spring! Break! Ever!
However, out of an overabundance of caution, if you see our kids, please don’t mention that we had the chance to take them to Legoland and didn’t. We’ll get there. Someday. Maybe. (Probably not.)