A Tale of Two Day Trips

We’ve had a lot of visitors the last few weeks with my parents visiting two weeks ago and my in-laws visiting last weekend. While they both came to see Sprout, no one really wants to sit around the house the whole weekend. So we took some day trips: one to the National Zoo and one to the Maryland side of Great Falls. While both were good ideas in theory, they did teach us about the right – and wrong – ways to bring a baby on adventures.

My mom was very keen on bringing Sprout to the zoo for the first time. After the success of the aquarium trip, she justifiably thought he would enjoy seeing the animals.

Unfortunately, we totally botched the timing – we went on peak Cherry Blossom weekend, the height of tourist activity in D.C. On top of this annual surge was the massive interest in the baby panda born earlier this year. On top of all of this, it was also the first nice spring weekend, as we’ve had weather alternating between unseasonable cold and unpleasant rain most weekends. It added up to a big honking mess, with both us and the zoo being unprepared for the people swarming the place. Between the crowds and the poorly-designed map, it took more than an hour to get a very overpriced and under-flavored counter-service lunch. While my mom, Dylan and I sat on a bench and waited (and waited and waited), Chris and my dad walked almost half-mile looking for a food stand before ending up exactly where they started. Then, they waited 45 minutes in a line with absolutely no shade. To add insult to injury, every single vending machine was out of ice cream, soda and water and all of the water fountains were broken. As my mom doesn’t like crowds, Chris wilts in the sun, and I get cranky when I’m hungry, we were destined for disaster.

Even our baby’s beautiful smile couldn’t cheer us up much, because he wasn’t all that happy himself. When we were in the vaunted panda exhibit, he didn’t even seem to notice them, decided that he was really hungry and started crying. The elephants were too far away to make much of an impact of him – they could have been cars, for all that he could tell. Even in the gorilla house, he was far more interested in the little girl’s braids in front of him than the animal. Of all of the exotic species, his favorite part was the farm animals and even there he seemed more interested in the split wood fence than the cows or llamas.

In contrast, our trip to Great Falls went beautifully, although not without its hiccups. It certainly helped that the temperatures were cooler and the crowds less dense. We took the stroller along the C&O Canal, then a series of waterfall overlooks. Sprout seemed fascinated by the waterfalls, leaning forward in his stroller and watching them with real focus. The loud noise, expansive view and constant motion held his attention, even though he didn’t know what he was looking at. The only quirk in the trip was that I hadn’t learned from the weekend before and once again failed to bring any food or drink for the adults. And of course, the water fountains were also broken there. (What the heck, federal government?) We ended up eating at a nearby restaurant, but if we had planned and brought a picnic, we would have saved some money and possibly been able to go on the boat ride.

Thinking about these experiences, I think I’ve learned some lessons about going on trips with the baby:

1) Know your own limits and be flexible to accommodate them. If there are a bunch of different factors that don’t mesh well with your group – crowds, heat – just say no to that trip. I really should have known better than to go to the zoo on Cherry Blossom weekend.

2) Pick destinations based on what everyone wants to do, not just on what the baby might enjoy. What infants like or comprehend is really unpredictable. We thought Sprout would like the zoo because he liked the aquarium. But that’s thinking like an adult. While we thought he liked the animals, it’s more likely that liked the fish’s close-up quick movements and bright colors, which the zoo lacked. Even if it’s guaranteed to be baby-friendly, the kid might just be in a mood that day. At least if you pick something everyone has some interest in seeing, you’ll enjoy it even if the baby is apathetic.

3) Remember to pack for yourself, not just the baby. We packed a bunch of stuff for Sprout that we didn’t use, but we didn’t pack any food for the adults either trip.

4) Be aware of strollers’ limitations. The limits on where strollers can go wasn’t a big deal on either of these trips because the zoo houses that banned strollers were too crowded anyway. However, this has been really important in the past when we visited the aquarium and art museum, both of which didn’t allow them. In addition, strollers really limit kids’ ability to see. Sprout would have been able to see everything much better in both locations if we had the baby backpack. Instead, we had to keep taking him in and out of the stroller.

5) Be thoughtful about timing. We left for the zoo after Sprout’s morning nap and hoped we could get him to sleep in the stroller in the afternoon. As a result, we hit everything during the busiest, hottest part of the day. For the Great Falls trip, he refused to take a morning nap, so we left a lot earlier. In the future, I think we’ll be better off if we try to do the morning nap en route and get home for the afternoon one.

Of course, all of this could change tomorrow! But that’s the nature of parenthood, whether you set venturing out or staying at home – you learn what you can from the past and adjust on the fly as necessary.

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