What We Did on Our Summer Vacations

It's a little early for Jocelyn and Perry to start writing these essays themselves, but they went on a number of trips this summer.

Milwaukee and St. Louis

Our first trip, beginning June 17, was to Milwaukee for a wedding of a colleague of Ken's. From the kids' point of view this was kind of a wash, but the hotel pool was a big hit. It was actually pretty nice, because the pool was on the 23rd floor and had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. We were in Milwaukee for just one day, flying from Boston to Chicago and then driving up the hour and a half.

After Milwaukee, we flew from Chicago to St. Louis, where we stayed for four days. Valerie was attending a conference there, and childhood friends of Ken's live there. The friends live down the street from the local elementary school, which had a very nice playground, but it was very hot in St. Louis, so it wasn't all that much fun to be outdoors during the daytime.

We managed a trip to the arch, which Jocelyn was very interested in, but Perry didn't care much for. The friends have a horse a couple of miles away, so there was a trip to the horse including some rides for the kids, which they enjoyed, and we also went to a rather excellent children's museum. The circus was in town, and we tried to go there, but unfortunately it was sold out by the time we got there. We rescued the evening from the kids' point of view with foodcourt pizza at the local mall.

Kids did OK on the planes, but Jocelyn was pretty fussy at the end. We had rather a number of screaming matches during the trip as well, including one where she climbed out of her carseat, so we had to pull into the nearest parking lot and wait her out.

Unfortunately this accelerated a prior tendency of Jocelyn to have screaming matches whenever anything did not go her way. The following couple of weeks were pretty horrendous at home with her objecting to every little thing and demanding adults doing enormous amounts of work for her.

Ferry Beach, ME

However, we seem to have broken the spell with our next trip, which was to Ferry Beach, a Unitarian Universalist retreat center near Portland ME. We chose July 8-14, a week in which several of our friends at church were also attending the retreat, so that there would be familiar faces for the kids. We told Jocelyn over and over before hand that she must not scream in the campground. Apparently it worked, because she only threw one fit during the week, and in the week after returning was able to be calmed down by suggesting that she hadn't thrown fits for a week and let's not start now.

At Ferry Beach, the ocean was a big hit. Jocelyn went in several times (using her flotation device) swimming, despite the frigid temperatures. They both were very interested in playing in the waves, digging in the sand, throwing rocks and sand at the waves, and collecting shells and rocks. There was also a child care program in the mornings which was a lot like preschool, and both of them enjoyed using playground equipment, playing with a big collection of indoor toys, and making little art projects.

Perry, who has been recently obsessed with games, was very excited by the collection of games in the common room. There was a chess tournament planned for the older kids, and both Jocelyn and Perry were interested in playing with the pieces from the many chess sets that were set up. Jocelyn mostly would have the little horses make little trips, but Perry was trying to do things that were more like moving the pieces in a game-like fashion (although actually understanding the rules seemed beyond him).

Perry's obsession with driving directions continued while at Ferry Beach, and he made us go on a little tours of all of the different buildings, discussing when we would turn right and left, and we ended up having to give names to all the little pathways between buildings. This walking + directions obsession continued after we got home, and he has now been on a walk around the block, which, because we do not live in a traditional subdivision, is a three-mile walk for the smallest full circle. We have also been on several shorter walks up and down the street and into the cul-de-sacs that spur off if it.

Story Land, NH

Our next trip, about four weeks later, was to Story Land in New Hampshire. This was a hare-brained idea of mine hatched a few months ago. I've wanted to go there since I learned of it, and they're finally the right age -- I would take them all by myself!

Well, not quite. I also took a ten-year-old helper named McKenzie. When it is just me, separating squabbling children is more difficult, and there is a lot more squabbling because of less adult attention. Plus it would be harder to do the adult-only mechanics of the trip, where neither gets any attention. Frankly, the idea of the four-hour drive up was daunting!

Even having an entertainer in the back seat, there was still quite a lot of "what road are we on", mostly from Perry, who is still obsessed about directions. For a while we were counting turns -- we got up to 13 turns, five of them left, before that game palled. All in all, however, the driving went just fine. I planned two stops on the way up, first for lunch, and then at the New Hampshire Farm Museum, which was fairly interesting in its own right. This meant that the trip up took slightly over six hours total, but we arrived happy and entertained.

At the farm, we got to see a sheep being sheared, go on a hayride (which Perry didn't want to do, so McKenzie and Jocelyn went while Perry and I explored the rest of the farm lands), do a scavenger hunt in the barn to get a little prize, see a bunch of chickens running around and eggs in the henhouse that had just been laid, and get demonstrations of various things involving wool, including a short spinning lesson for Jocelyn.

When we got to the motel, there was time for a swim before going out for supper, then we did bedtime, which worked smoothly, mostly because I had primed Jocelyn the entire preceding week about what we were going to need to do, to get both Perry and Jocelyn asleep with minimal fussing and time-lapse. The next morning it was Story Land time! I had been concerned about the weather report, since there was a 40% chance of rain, but it turned out that the rain was over before 9 a.m.

My original plan was that McKenzie and Jocelyn would go off by themselves some to go on rides, because Perry is less interested in rides, and tends to find things to do that weren't in the designer's minds. Unfortunately this plan failed, because you must be 18 to accompany a person under 48 inches on a ride. This makes sense for the roller coaster, but on the very slow-moving bus for the safari? But, that's the rule, and they did enforce it. So, we had to do the thing of alternating which child got to pick activities, and drag Perry along on some rides that he might not have wanted to go on. Perry sometimes picked the activity "walk up the giant wheelchair ramp on the big hill in the middle of the park." He loved it!

Story Land is really geared for this age group. They have things like a mechanical cow which has a plastic udder filled with water that you can milk (Jocelyn loved this), and a farm animal zoo set up like stories -- e.g. the pigs were in a cage that had a house built of straw, a house built of sticks, and a house built of brick. You could walk through the Three Bears' house and see the bowls of porridge, the chairs, and the hard, soft, and just right beds. There was an old lady in the shoe who gave you a sticker when you walked through. There were also traditional fairgrounds type rides which had been dressed up in some story theme, like flying shoes for Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

It got hot in the afternoon, so we took a break and went back to the motel to swim in the pool. It turned out that Perry didn't want to swim, but preferred some quiet time in the motel room. When we returned to Story Land it was still hot, and this occasioned some amount of complaining and irritability on all sides. Perry got it into his head that "we will stay until closing" (6 p.m.), but then didn't really act like a little boy who was being happy at Story Land. I think he would have been just as happy to have stayed in the motel for the rest of the day. On the other hand, I was able to capitalize on this obsession with when we could leave to say "if you want to stay until closing you have to stop complaining", which would get some complaint-free time for awhile. During one longer-than-we-expected line, I broke out my stash of M&Ms to forestall fussing. Jocelyn fell walking away from one ride, and wanted an ice pack to put on her boo-boo. I bought a drink at the nearest snack counter, and then asked for a cup of ice. The clerk had a better idea -- he put a few ice cubes in a rubber glove. This turned out to be an interesting toy in addition to making Jocelyn feel better!

We did in fact stay until the end, although the last little while was spent buying souvenirs, visiting the restroom, and just kind of walking around rather than riding anything. Jocelyn had a wonderful time, and I think would have been happy to go again the next day, but Perry was really quite done. Next time I will make sure to bring a second real adult, so Jocelyn can ride everything she wants and Perry doesn't have to ride anything he doesn't. Although, it wasn't too bad -- Jocelyn was pretty much happy to ride anything, and Perry was often happy with the ride in the event -- he just complained that he didn't want to go. Jocelyn got her picture taken with Cinderella in her castle, and they both enjoyed the pumpkin coach ride back down the hill. Both of them have been asking when our next trip to Story Land would be.

Nearby Attitash Mountain has an Alpine slide, which McKenzie first expressed interest in, but then got cold feet. I think my next trip will include a ride for Mom down the mountain! So we just packed up and left for home in the morning; there were more pit stops, but no large planned stops like the farm museum, so we made it home in five hours.

More Camping

Our final trip of the summer was a weekend at Bonnie Brae Campground in Pittsfield, MA, where the UU Church was having a retreat. A retreat really just means a bunch of church people getting together to have fun; there was no church-y content (even for UU's, who are pretty un-church-y).

We rented a trailer at the campground, because I didn't feel like tent-camping. It's too hard to deal with rain and there's not enough space and your cold food melts, and all that. I like my creature comforts. It POURED on Saturday night, so I was very glad of this! Jocelyn really enjoyed sleeping on the bed that is made by dropping the table between the benches.

One other family rented a trailer, two rented cabins, and four tent camped (but one pulled up stakes on Saturday after dinner to drive home). Because we were spread out all over the campground, coordination was a little tricky, but we managed. Saturday morning we had a potluck breakfast where the organizer cooked us pancakes and everyone else brought fruit or cereal or juice. Then we split up into groups to go do things for the day.

Perry said he wanted to go on a walk, so he and Valerie joined a group who were headed to Mt. Greylock for hiking. They consulted a guidebook and chose the Rounds Rock trail as suitable for a 4-year-old and a senior citizen not keen on hiking.

Perry hiked enthusiastically, keeping his mouth as busy as his feet. "Is this the Rounds Rock trail? Is this a blueberry field? Are we on the spur to the view? When will we turn?" They saw the remains of a sixty-year-old plane crash and two beautiful views. Near the end, Perry took exception to omitting a turn he wanted to make and screamed piteously for the rest of the way that he didn't want to go that way, that he wanted to stay in the woods forever, and so on. Fortunately, someone had a packet of crackers and Perry settled down to polish them off without further complaint as they returned to the cars and set off for the summit of Mt. Greylock.

Mt. Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts, at some 3,400 feet. It is topped by a granite war memorial and a light. The peak is on the Appalachian Trail and there were many backpackers in evidence. At the snack bar in the lodge Perry polished off a hot dog and some good fries and Valerie had some excellent veggie chili and then they walked around the war memorial . . . well, Valerie walked: Perry ran.

They headed down the mountain to a constant stream of questions: "Is this still Rockwell Rd? Will we stay on Rockwell Road forever? Is the campground on Route 7? Does Broadway St. go across Route 7? What if we turned right instead of left on Broadway, what then? Why would the car be wet if it fell in the lake? Are we going to stay in the campground forever?"

Altogether it was a very successful outing.

Meanwhile, Jocelyn and I went with another family to Jiminy Peak, which has an alpine slide. They also have something called a "Mountain Coaster", which is a shorter ride than the full slide, so we started with that. Like the alpine slide, it has individual cars where you control the speed, but like a roller coaster, they are attached to a track rather than free-rolling, and your car is pulled up by a cable rather than taking the chair lift up.

Jocelyn seemed excited about it, and liked the ride up (though at one point she said, "the ground is very far away" in a slightly alarmed tone). Unfortunately, once we started down she got very alarmed and I had to put on the brakes and go very slowly. Going slow actually made it worse, because the turns were banked, but since weren't going fast enough, that made it tilty, which was even more alarming. When we finally made it down the mountain, the staff member at the exit told us, "Next time you have to ride faster!" I decided not to buy a ticket for the bigger alpine slide.

There was a moonwalk, which is always a hit, so she went in that with the 5 year old son of the other family. There really wasn't much else to do, so after we all ate a picnic lunch I wanted to go home. But Jocelyn was enamored of the idea of the park, so kept trying to say she wanted to do more things.

I wouldn't let us go on the scenic chair lift ride because of her concern of the ground being far away, or the alpine slide because we would clog up the works going so slow (and it's longer). Some things she was too little for. That left the trampoline with a bungee cord harness you sit in and bounce over. It looked like fun to me, and small people were allowed. We walked around the ride, watched a 3 year old doing it, and decided to stand in line. The line takes a long time, because each rider gets 5 minutes and there are only 3 trampolines running. So we waited for over 20 minutes, and when it got near our turn, Jocelyn suddenly chickened out. Oh well, here I was with a ticket already bought, too bad. One more jump in the moonwalk, and then she pointed at the trampolines and said "I want to go on that." I said no way; I wasn't going to wait in line another half an hour just to have her chicken out again. Surprisingly, there wasn't a big fuss, and she consented to return to the campground.

Saturday evening there was a potluck dinner, to which everyone brought way too much food, We hosted the potluck at our trailer, as we had an awning and the weather was iffy. It was very useful to have a kitchen right there for odds'n'ends and reheating food. We followed with a campfire and s'mores at one of the tent sites. Yum! Turns out that Jocelyn and Perry don't like s'mores, they just like plain chocolate and uncooked marshmallows.

The weather was polite, and didn't start really raining til after the campfire activities were complete. We bugged out early on Sunday morning, since there wasn't much for the kids to do in the rain.

When we returned from any of these places, there was an enormous amount of reliving of trip details with dolls and stuffed animals having to do the various things we'd done, going up and down escalators and elevators and in cars and planes and in hotels and campgrounds and to beaches and museums.