I have banked so much PTO this year that, if I play my cards right, I may not have to work a 5-day week all summer long (though my boss may have something to say about that). Last week I took a few days off so Chef and I could take the kids to the Children's Discovery Museum in Sausalito, which is now featuring an elaborate Sesame Street 30th Anniversary exhibit. We could simply have driven there from home, as we have done many times, but I thought it would be fun to spend the night in Marin for a couple of days, just to have a change of scenery and feel like we were really on vacation.
I booked reservations at the Novato Travelodge, figuring we just needed an inexpensive place to crash. On the website, it looked like a cozy white inn surrounded by greenery, with a sparkling blue swimming pool. In reality it was a dingy, unkempt building next to a lumberyard, with a few sorry-looking trees planted here and there. Looking back, I really should have upgraded to at least a Best Western or Holiday Inn or something - at least a place with decent linens instead of those threadbare, washcloth-sized ones you inevitably get at lower-end motels. But it was probably just as well, anyway, because the moment we walked inside the kids began trashing the room like a tiny little rock band. They ripped the styrofoam coffee cups to shreds, flung the stir sticks gleefully in the air, and tore open all the sugar packets so it looked as though we'd all been snorting coke for days.
The museum was wonderful, as always. The exhibit was housed in one of the old army buildings, where they essentially rebuilt a replica of the Sesame Street Set. The kids could climb up the stairs of the 123 Sesame apartment building, sit in Big Bird's nest, or relax in Gina's Day Care. They could watch themselves on a TV monitor with Elmo, play Sesame computer games, or watch classic segments in the mini-movie theater. What they liked even better, though, was the new outdoor play area, built to resemble a woodland habitat. There were animal sculptures to climb on, tunnels to crawl through, a teepee made of sticks to hide in, and best of all - at the top of the hill, a redwood puppet ampitheater with tree-stump seats and a plethora of plush animals - beavers, owls, woodchucks, bear cubs - to perform with.
The kids romped and played all day, until Bee practically collapsed in my arms, and then we drove to Mollie Stones and ate sandwiches and heirloom tomato salad in the car while she slept peacefully in her car seat. I even got Bug to eat the upscale organic alternative to those Oscar Meyer convenience lunches - meatless turkey slices, vegan string cheese, and Oreo-style cookies made from wheat flour and evaporated cane juice.
Saturday we had the most wonderful breakfast at the Easy Street cafe in San Anselmo. The coffee was strong, the Crab Cake Benedict was outstanding, and most importantly, the restaurant had a built-in playhouse in the corner, where the kids happily entertained themselves, leaving Chef and I to enjoy a rare hot meal with no kids in our laps.
Of course, little things went wrong here and there - we got stuck in traffic coming back from Sausalito, the crummy motel was further away than I realized, the kids were so rambunctious at Jennie Low's the first night that we had to eat most of our dinner while shivering on the stoop outside, watching the kids run up and down the sidewalk pretending to be airplanes. But in the end none of that really mattered, just like it didn't matter that our room in Downieville was so small the bed hardly fit, or that we couldn't get tickets to the holiday ice show when we stayed in Guerneville last winter.
What we will remember - and what I hope Bug and Bee will remember - is a joyful, relaxing time spent being a family.