Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Highlights From My Vacation

Actually, I didn't take a vacation in the strict sense of the word, as I didn't actually go anywhere. I almost did. My parents rented a timeshare in Southern California for a week so they could visit my brother and his family, including my 5-month old nephew, and my mom initially suggested that the kids and I join them since Chef had to work all week. Soon afterwards, though, I noticed that my parents were really trying to discourage me from coming. "It'll probably be pretty cramped with all of us there," they warned "and you won't have a car of your own, so you'll be stuck doing all these boring things with the two of us. You'd hate it!" I took the hint. Lord knows, my parents are entitled to a relaxing vacation by themselves - and my mom especially deserves a break from taking care of my kids!

The minute they arrived at their hotel in Newport Beach my mom called me up on her cell phone. "You should have come with us - the place is HUGE! Our room looks right over the beach and you could have had a whole separate bedroom to yourself. Too bad - Bug and Bee would have had so much fun playing with their cousins!"


So, I missed an all-expenses paid trip to a luxury hotel on the beach - so what? The kids and I found plenty of things to do right in our own backyard:

The Jungle

Knowing I was going to have this time on my hands at the end of December, and that the weather would likely preclude excursions to the park, I purchased several guest passes to the Jungle at the Sunday School silent auction weeks ago. My intention was to coerce some of my friends into joining me, as the Jungle is definitely not the sort of thing you want to face alone.

"It'll be great," I assured them. "It's not crowded at all during the week, so it should be quiet and low-key. The kids will be occupied for hours and we can sit and drink Starbucks and catch up!"

I must have been on crack when I said that. I was basing the statement on my last visit there, which occurred when I was on maternity leave two years ago. The difference then was, Bee was asleep in her infant car seat the entire time and Bug had only just learned to walk, making it much easier to contain them both in the toddler area. It didn't work that way this time. First of all, the schools were on winter break and the place was packed and clamorous. Not five minutes after we arrived, I turned around and realized Bee, who had been right behind me, was nowhere to be seen. At the Jungle, when a kid is nowhere to be seen, it typically means they have disappeared into the massive, multi-level maze of tunnels and tubes that wind through the entire facility. I had no choice but to crouch down painfully on my creaky, middle-aged hands and knees and crawl in after her. After searching in vain for a good five minutes, I finally heard a distant sound of a child wailing "Mommy!!" Following the cry, I found my poor girl practically drowning in a ball pit, barely able to hold her little head up above the colored plastic. I dove in and hoisted her up to the steps, thinking she'd want to escape to safety.

No such luck. She quickly made a left turn and scrambled through a dark tunnel, with me scurrying along after her like a hamster in a Habitrail. Mercifully the tunnel soon ended, only to reveal . . . another tunnel. I could see people walking around next to me, but I could not figure out how they got there. Reluctantly, I again followed Bee through an endless series of narrow, twisting, colorful tubes. Children skittered by, glancing at me quizzically as I muttered "I'm pretty sure this is what Sartre was talking about" under my breath. Just as I was ready to give up, we came upon the Great Yellow Slide of Deliverance, which shot us down four stories back to where we started from.

My knees tattered and my hair a tangled mop, I staggered into the toddler area clutching Bee like a trophy. It was at this point I discovered that Bug was missing.

I never did get around to sipping any Starbucks that day.

Fairyland at Night

Fairyland is one of those places that warms the cockles of my hippie, anti-corporate heart. In a world full of Disney Princesses and incessant McDonald's movie tie-ins, it is wonderful to retreat to this simple, charming fairy tale theme park which remains essentially unchanged since it opened over 50 years ago.

This year they did something new, keeping the park open late the week of Christmas and offering special holiday programs and activities. We bundled the kids up in coats and hats and headed over to Oakland. I am so glad we went - the place looked magical, with sparkling lights everywhere. There was free hot chocolate and apple cider, and the kids got to ride the train and the merry-go-round, climb aboard Captain Hook's pirate ship, slide down the dragon's tongue and drink pretend tea in the crooked man's house. The only time Bee got a little fussy was during the Snow White and Rose Red puppet show which depicted a pair of sisters and their friendship with an enchanted bear (really a prince under a wicked spell, naturally). Bee was instantly enamored of the bear, and whenever he exited the scene she would shout "Bear go? More bear! More bear!" When the final curtain closed and she realized the bear would not be returning, she burst into a crying fit so loud that children two rows in front of us turned around to ask if she was okay. I felt a little embarrassed saying "Oh she's fine, she just, uh . . . well, she misses the bear." But, being kids, they nodded sagely as if that explanation made perfect sense.

Thurman G. Casey Memorial Library

There is something about living in the same small town in which you grew up, with your parents just a few short minutes away, that often fosters some regressive childlike tendencies. For example, my mom still makes me blueberry bran muffins each morning for breakfast, much to the amusement - and jealousy - of my coworkers. Even worse, I am thirty-six years old and she still checks out my library books for me. She has often hinted at the possibility that it might be high time for me to take over this reponsibility for myself, but I always balked at the idea. My mom is so much better ar this kind of thing than me, keeping track of due dates and getting materials back on time and all that. Plus, I had a strong suspicion that I was on some sort of perpetual "wanted list" at the library for lost books or unpaid overdue fines from long ago, and if I applied for a new card they'd say "GOTCHA" and a bunch of goons would jump out from behind the stacks and grab me, and how mortifying would that be?

But by the Thursday of my second week at home, it had been raining for several days in a row and I was running out of places to go with the kids that were indoors and did not cost a lot of money. So, with visions (again, possibly crack-fueled) of each child sitting happily on a chair for hours, flipping quietly through a pile of picture books, I headed off the the neighborhood library of my youth. When I walked in I immediately turned right, expecting to see the sprawling children's section that I remembered so well, but instead I was met with rows and rows of adult fiction. Shockingly, sometime in the past 30 years they rearranged things a little bit, and after wandering aimlessly for awhile I found the spacious, newly remodeled kid's area.

It was a well-appointed section, with a big picture window, several large stuffed animals and an oversize Curious George book that was even taller than Bug. The kids ran right over and started playing hide-and-seek within the pages of the book, knocking it over several times and bending one of the pages. Mortified, I tried to call their attention to the numerous collection of storybooks. "Here, let's look at some of these - okay, look, here's Maisy!" That got their attention - unfortunately, there was only one Maisy book and they both wanted it desperately, leading to a tearful confrontation which almost destroyed the book in the process.

At long last I got them settled down at the table with a bunch of books featuring snowmen and monkeys, their obsessions of the moment. They enjoyed hearing the stories and looking at the illustrations and were reasonably well-behaved. Still, I could not help feeling self-conscious during our entire visit simply because the library is just so. damn. QUIET! The kids were speaking in a normal, regular indoor sort of voice but the sounds just reverberated in that still mausoleum of an enironment. Nobody was shooting us dirty looks or anything, but not one other person in the entire place was making a whisper of a noise, so ALL you could hear were Bug and Bee going "Wow - I see baby monkey!" I didn't want to keep shushing them and telling them to be quieter - they would just have gotten frustrated and upset and I wanted them to like the library so I didn't want to make the experience a big drag for them. And who knows - maybe their level of noise was just fine - see, if I'd gone to the library a little more often instead of using my mom as a delivery service, maybe I'd have some idea of the expected standard.

So I took a deep breath, walked up to the counter, and applied for my VERY OWN library card . . . and they gave me one! I guess their records are not sophisticated enough to pick up on my criminal trail.

Lindsay Wildlife Museum

By Friday I was at my wit's end. It was still raining and I had completely run out of ideas for what to do with the kids. The Jungle was too nerve-jangling (and we'd been there twice), the library was too quiet, and every other place was too far away, in Oakland or San Francisco. In desperation I drove to a place I'd only been to once or twice in all the years I have lived here. I wasn't sure exactly what they had or how appropriate it would be for young kids, but at least it was close, indoors, and not too expensive.

It turned out the best the best thing we did all week. The museum rescues wild animals and either returns them to the wilderness or, if they are too injured or too accustomed to humans, they keep them, care for them and use them as teaching tools. We arrived just in time to see one of the trainers feeding a nice fresh fish lunch to a 10-pound bald eagle with a broken wing, and then we spent several minutes watching a furry ground squirrel jump from branch to branch, taking a break to gnaw on a pinecone. The kids were fascinated by all the animals: we got close-up views of a desert tortoise, bobcat, gopher snake, opossum, grey fox, red-tailed hawk, and even a great horned owl. The museum could not have been more kid-friendly; it was small enough that I could keep an eye on them at all times, and there was even a "Discovery Room" just for toddlers. It was set up like a little animal hospital, with stuffed animals and plastic medical instruments to care for them.

I was so charmed that I filled out a membership application on the spot - I love this place! Now we can drop in anytime we like for free, have the kids' birthday parties there, even sign up for their multitude of nature classes. In fact I have Bee enrolled in the "Wednesday Wiggles" class starting later this month.

Back to the Grind

In a way it is a relief to get back to work. I can drink my coffee while it is hot and catch up on my email and favorite websites (the minute I log on at home the kids are at my side, wanting to play the Dora the Explorer adventure game). It's nice to get dressed professionally again, as my wardrobe really devolved while I was at home - my track suits are just so comfortable! - and to have uninterrupted conversations with other adults.

But I really miss spending those long, luxurious hours with Bee and Bug; I loved not always having to kiss them goodbye and rush off every day. And now that I know how many fabulous things there are to do around here during the weekday - it seems a terrible shame to be cooped up in an office all day long.


Blogger exute said...

Well, I sure didn't know that mom had called and said that you should have come with us!

The place is nice, and worth visiting. Christmas week isn't the greatest time for such a visit, though, unless all you want to do is drive to and from Corona.

10:50 AM  

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