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.

Summer So Far

The first week or so of our summer break looked like this:






All joy and bright sun and ocean waves and drippy Spanish moss and new adventures and smiles and salt air.

Our summer started with a very last minute, only slightly thought-out trip to South Carolina. My parents were going to be vacationing there and about two weeks before their arrival date, we decided to join them. We took the kids out of school a couple of days early, threw some swimsuits and beach towels in a bag and hit the road. I think we all benefited from the change of scenery.

And, it looks so, so lovely, doesn’t it? Just like the perfect, idealized version of summer.

The second week or so of our summer break looks like this:


The contents of Henry and Charlie’s backpacks on the last day of school in a giant floor pile. When they arrived home with bursting bags of school desk detritus, I directed them to a spot in my bedroom where all of their school shrapnel would be out of the way while we prepared for our trip. I figured we would just address all of this upon our return. It’s been almost three weeks now. The pile remains, occasionally changing shape and spreading out a bit in a blob-like fashion. Bob keeps stepping over all of it on the way into our closet and we both have acknowledged that this pile exists and will need to be sorted but neither of us have taken steps to do anything about it. I feel like we’re sort of in the cheese-in-the-suitcase episode of Everybody Loves Raymond here.


The kitchen table. Where we’re supposed to eat. In fact, most flat surfaces in our home right now look like this. No clean, unobstructed surface is safe. If such a surface is found, it must be immediately covered in Lego, toy soldiers, things kids have borrowed from my desk and not returned or just plain garbage. At this rate, I’m not sure what shape our house is going to be in when school starts back up again but the outlook is not good, folks.


A kid, still in pajamas at a late-morning hour, relaxing in MY bed watching a small screen for way, way too long. I know I’m supposed to be carefully monitoring their screen time with some sort of clip chart/reward system/chore list but I’m not there yet, guys. I’m still just trying to catch up on laundry from our vacation. I have half-heartedly suggested they play with Lincoln Logs or read a book or run around the outside of the house in racetrack-style but we always seem to circle back to a small screen. I’m not going to win this fight before the fourth of July so I’m just going to make a mental note to try better next month.


A sink full of dishes. There are never NOT dishes in my sink. Kids home for summer break never stop eating. Never ever. Never. I made a big pronouncement to the entire family that I was only going grocery shopping on Fridays this summer. That’s it. I’m not running to the store for more Doritos or Nutella or bread that doesn’t have little nuts and seeds in it. If we’re out of your favorite foods, tough. You’re going to have to go deep in the pantry cupboards for sustenance and eat the rest of that one box of cereal that inexplicably no one likes (Kix, for the record. No one in my family likes Kix.) We’ll see how long my grocery shopping holdout lasts. We’re dangerously low on peanut butter right now and that’s a dietary staple around here so I’m nervous my plan will backfire.

TELL ME, how’s your summer going?

Camp Days

Bob is from New York which explains why he says so many things wrong. For example, instead of pronouncing “celery” the way it should be pronounced which is, “sellery,” he pronounces it, “salary.” This is… not correct and now the kids are saying it all wrong, too.

In addition to mis-pronunciations, New Yorkers apparently attribute different meanings to words than the rest of us. Bob and I had an entire conversation one time that went like this:

Bob: Guess what? My sister and her husband bought a camp. In the Adirondacks.

Me: A camp? Wow! That’s a huge commitment for two people that work full-time. How are they going to run it?

Bob: They’ll go up there mostly on the weekends and holidays probably.

Me: Oh. Is it a camp for boys or girls or co-ed or what?





Bob: A camp is a house, Joanna. Like, on a lake.

Me: So, they bought a cabin? Is that the word you’re looking for? A cabin in the Adirondacks?

Bob: No. They bought a camp.

But, this isn’t really about how Bob can’t say things right.

Our kids have been at camp this month! And, not the kind of camp that’s actually not a camp. The kind of camp where girls and boys go to do fun things. There may or may not be a cabin on the premises. Or, a lake. I’m not sure. I’m not from New York. I’m from Indiana.


This past spring, I enrolled the kids in some half-day summer camp programs through our county’s parks department. We’ve never done camps before but Millie aged into some of the classes offered so it seemed like a really good time to start outsourcing our summer fun. Finding programs that all three kids could be enrolled in at the same location, at the same time took a whiteboard, an Excel spreadsheet and a logistics course from the local community college but I eventually figured it all out.


The registration effort was well worth it because they are having a fantastic time. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect since this was our first ever camp experience but the program seems incredibly well run, the staff of high school and college student counselors couldn’t be nicer and the modest size of the classes makes everything seem super laid-back.


The camps the kids are in run a half day where they spend three or so hours every morning running around, playing games or making things (With glue! And, glitter!) which means I have no problem letting them spend their afternoons in front of a screen. Absolutely everyone wins in this scenario.

And, after last month’s vacation, we really needed a win.

Plus, a morning spent at camp makes for an afternoon of spent.


So, tell me. How is your summer going? How long have you known about these amazing camps? Why does Bob talk funny? And, most importantly, do you say, “pop” or “soda?”