2014: Holding my one-year-old, I stared up at fireworks and started belting out Let It Go. Tears streamed down my face. It was the end of a week-long trip to Walt Disney World, during which I spent most of the time imagining my kid getting trampled. Earlier that week, my hands shook and mind went blank in the Tomorrowland snack bar as I had my first identifiable panic attack. That perfect girl is gone, indeed.
2017: Leaning over my four-year-old in his car seat in a parking lot in Nevada, I thought, “I hope he’s okay.” Right on cue, his cheeks filled, he leaned forward, and spewed out water and pretzel bits all over me. Touching my hand to my hair, it was wet and sticky. We were half-way through a three-hour car ride to Zion National Park. I breathed deep and said, “Hey honey, it’s going to be okay.” Then I got out the baby wipes and went to work cleaning up everything up.
What on earth happened in-between? In that three years, I had a second kid, started dealing with my anxiety, and grew so much as a parent. But I also learned a ton about traveling with kids. In-between the trip in 2014 and the one in 2017, we’ve been to Las Vegas, Cape Cod, multiple camping excursions, and so many day trips. While the anxiety still flairs, adjusting my expectations and my own behavior has helped me stay sane when we travel with kids.
Nothing makes you feel more like “The Parent” than bringing your kids somewhere your parents brought you as a kid. Last week, we visited Zion National Park with our four-year-old and 18-month-old. The last time I was there, I was 17 years old on a trip with my own parents.
Needless to say, there was a world of difference between the two trips. The last time, the trip had gorgeous scenery, tough hikes, and lots of driving. This time, the scenery was pretty much the only similarity. Here’s what was different then and now:
My toddler eyed the cow warily. What was this creature? Sure, it said moo, but this was so much larger than he expected! Seeing him back away, we didn’t push it. We knew he would have plenty of other opportunities to visit a local farm or two along the way.
Visiting a local farm is a great way to connect kids with their food, especially if you don’t have the ability to garden. They get to see how fruits and vegetables grow and experience real, live animals. That helps them appreciate the hard work of the people who grow their food and put more thought to where it comes from.
Plus, it’s really fun. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of picking giant blueberries and slurping strawberry smoothies at a local farm near our house.
We’re particularly fortunate because our county actually has a large agricultural reserve set aside just for farming. Since that incident, we’ve visited many farms. Here’s what we’ve learned in the process:
A trip with cabins, right?” asked my friend. She was responding to my message about a camping trip our family was taking in a few weeks with her husband and son.
“Hahahaha. No,” I answered. I thought it was a joke; it was not. Knowing her general dislike for the outdoors, I had assumed she wasn’t coming. I was wrong.
Changing my tune, I said, “Well, cabins it is then!”
That was just one of the many ways I learned to tweak our routine and expectations to accommodate our first camping trip with another family. Because of the following lessons learned, our family ended up having a great time.
Feeling the thump thump thump of kicking feet against my back and the cries of the baby who did not want to be in the car any longer, I thought, “What the hell was I thinking trying to go camping with two kids?” We were still 45 minutes from our site and things were already going very badly. Fortunately, a couple of potty breaks and some whining later, I realized that the camping trip this past weekend turned out a hell of a lot better than I expected it. In fact, it was easily our best camping trip so far.
It had been almost two years since we had gone camping with Sprout. It was the first time we went camping with two kids. Even though the times with Sprout were chaotic, from clueless packing to partying college students, I still wanted to go. There’s a genuine magic that makes all of the other nonsense worthwhile.
While Sodor may be a dystopia where no longer “useful” sentient trains are threatened with getting melted down, my kid really, really loves trains. And therefore really, really loves Thomas the Train. So when my mom and dad offered to bring us to the Day Out with Thomas event at the B&O Railway Museum, I knew I couldn’t say no. Which led to us driving through Baltimore and pulling into the museum’s parking lot this past Sunday, ready for a day full of Thomas and his perky train friends.
Washington D.C. has never felt hotter than when sitting on a bench at the National Zoo, holding a baby who won’t sleep and wondering when the hell your spouse will show up with some water. This was me two years ago at our first trip with the kid to the zoo. Despite grandparental support, it was a disaster.
But since then, we’ve had many successful, fun trips to the zoo, both to see the animals and ZooLights, their annual December extravaganza. Thankfully, we learned from our experience. I’m going to share those lessons learned so you have a better first (or second or third) experience!
Kite-flying does not come easily to my family. In Ocean City a few years ago, my mom and I sprinted through the sand over and over again to be met with a diving kite on the end of a limp string. We fell over laughing, but we never did get it up in the air. Thankfully, we had a lot more luck in both kite flying and cooperation this past weekend at the Cherry Blossom Kite Festival in Washington D.C.
Despite having more museums per square mile than anywhere in the country, Washington D.C. doesn’t have a museum dedicated just to kids. In our ongoing survey of the children’s museums of the East Coast, there’s not a single one we can reach by Metro. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t kid-friendly spaces available. The Smithsonian is working to develop some exhibits that focus on small children, such as the Wegman’s Wonderplace in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. On a visit a few weeks ago, we found it to be a cute area for small children, especially in the context of a larger visit to the museum.
“I love things that drive and move and moons,” Sprout announced to me the other day. When you’ve watched trains and ridden the Metro so many times you’ve lost count, what’s the mom of a transit-loving kid to do? Bring them to the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville, MD!
While the D.C. region has a wealth of museums, none of the others have trolleys (aka streetcars) you can actually ride on. If the idea of a 15-minute trolley ride through the woods doesn’t thrill you, this museum probably isn’t for you.