Tag Archives: traveling with kids

Cats, Ducks and Nags

Standard

For the uninitiated, place names on the Outer Banks seem a bit odd.  Ancient fishing villages like Nag’s Head and Kitty Hawk and Ocracoke sound whimsical at the very least.  Their history is every bit as colourful as their names.  Ocracoke was home port to Blackbeard.  Legendary Cape Hatteras  has witnessed the death of countless ships and sailors on its treacherous shoals. Corolla is home to wild horses descended Spanish ships that foundered off the coast.  The Outer Banks are so much more than just beach.

However, the beach is the primary reason anyone from the mainland sets foot on these narrow barrier islands.  There are literally miles and miles of beach and the water is warm; the waves, respectable.

I’ve been going to the Outer Banks probably since I was an embryo.  Some of the earliest photographs of Baby Banshee were taken on the beach at Kill Devil Hills where I sat baking in the summer sun in an ill-fitting red bathing suit and a small straw hat.  My last visit, until a couple of weeks ago, was when I was fifteen.

A recent issue of National Geographic magazine re-awakened a strong tide of desire to see my Atlantic beaches again.  I did some math; it had been thirty-five years since I’d been to my summer playground.  Disgraceful!

So when my husband was cobbling together our summer road trip, I knew we had to pass through North Carolina to get from Atlanta to Washington DC.  We would be so close – couldn’t we just veer eastward for a couple of days and sink our toes into some Atlantic sand?  I pleaded (it was whining).  I shed tears and lamented that my children had never dabbled their feet in the Atlantic Ocean – an oversight that rendered this East Coast girl a negligent parent.

Once my husband agreed to the detour, I regaled everyone with tales of my beachy summers – climbing the East Coast’s biggest sand dune, the Wright Brothers, how my mother used to be able to buy fish right off the piers, Mr. Midgett’s fruit and veggie truck, the cottage, the sea, the salt, the sand…

Upon our arrival at the Hilton Garden Inn at Kitty Hawk, fresh from our disastrous hotel experience in Virginia Beach, my children heard there was an indoor pool and hot tub. Seriously?  My youngest rooted around for a charger for his DS.

I stood on the balcony of our room and looked out at the ocean.  And burst into tears.  Why didn’t anyone get it?  Mind you, we’d only just arrived but still…

Gently, patiently, my husband tried to explain that to the kids it was just a beach, an ocean.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It was a hotel with Wi-fi and room service.  I grumbled but knew he was right.  It was impossible for my children (or my husband) to appreciate the meaning a place called Kitty Hawk held for me.  I came to realize that my memories were largely unshareable.

In spite of threatening skies, I ran down to the beach.  I sat down and let waves break right at my feet. Surf rushed around me.  Soon my skin and hair were caked with salt and my bathing suit was filled with sand.  I was three years old again and happier than I’d been in a long time.

My daughter appeared at my side, gazing apprehensively at the crashing waves. Here was my opportunity.  I stood up and waded out into the surf and she followed.  Soon we were being knocked around by the surf.  We were soaking wet and holding our suits on for dear life.  We shrieked with laughter and ran in and out of the water trying to escape what we used to call “the washing machine.”  The boy child was more reticent but soon he was in there too.

That night, already enamoured by the place, my husband bought an embarrassing amount of beach paraphernalia – shovels, buckets, diggers, skim boards, frisbees…as if the kids were five years old.  Nonetheless, everything (except maybe the skim boards) were put to good use. We all found our inner five-year old again on that beach.

That is the beauty of the Outer Banks beaches – they are tailor-made for family fun.  There are no nightclubs – the closest you’ll get is some dude with an acoustic guitar playing on a  restaurant’s rooftop deck.  There are no casinos and no tacky boardwalk.  There are restaurants that cater to families, eclectic clothing shops, motels run by the same family for generations, and an assortment of “beachy” tourist stores.  The most radical thing you’ll see are the mini-putt golf places built to look like pirate ships.

Mostly there are cottages – my husband and I walked down the beach for hours just looking at them.  They literally come in all shapes and sizes.  Some have rooftop decks that you wouldn’t dare have one cocktail on because getting down would be so dicey.  These cottages are awash in sand, damp bathing suits and towels, and tuckered out kids.

Family vacationing is the essence of the Outer Banks. Although there are way more cottages there than when I was a kid, the place has not lost its family feel.  Just avoid the “highway” where all the fast food restaurants are (although if you ever go – you must go to Capt. Frank’s – it’s on the highway around mile post 4 or 5.  Best cheese steak I’ve had in a while.  It’s a no-frills kind of place but it puts anything like McDonald’s or BK to shame – as it should.  Don’t let the girl behind the counter scare you.  She’s just busy as all hell.

Another good place is right by the Hilton – Rundown Cafe.  We ate at The Black Pelican on our last night but I seriously can’t remember what I ate.  It wasn’t bad – just not memorable.

Seriously, you could spend all summer sampling the restaurants there.  Some good, some tired and some have literally been there since I was a child (Port O’Call Restaurant).  We wanted to try Awful Arthur’s.  Or, Tortuga’s Lie.  Or, (ahem) Dirty Dick’s Crabhouse (the T-shirts are hilarious).  We just didn’t have enough time.  We did find time for the most amazing (and not at all healthful) breakfast pit stop:  Duck Donuts.  Made fresh while you wait, they come to you warm.  They are melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave.  Someone I know cried all the way across the causeway back onto the mainland.  Memories flooded my brain like a storm tide.  My mom cooking bluefish in a pound of butter.  My dad flying down at weekends and skimming the surf in his Beechcraft Bonanza (giving my mother a fright).  Leaving the cottage after breakfast and being dragged reluctantly off the beach for dinner.  Paddling out beyond the breakers and floating on a raft for hours (pre-Jaws).  Falling asleep in a giant Adirondack chair on a deck overlooking the ocean, my long hair sticky and hopelessly tangled with salt.

I hope my children think well of this place I hold so dear; however, I don’t hold out too much hope.  When asked if they wanted to try to rent a cottage there next summer, both declared it the most boring place on earth.  What is wrong with these people?

I’ll be back!

I will make the 13 hour drive – alone if I have to.  And, I’m taking the puppy.  You people are on your own.

[Note:  we don’t have a puppy.  But, if we did…]

Next stop:  Washington DC  – home town!

Advertisements

A Word on Family Road Trips

Standard

Road trips used to be easier.  We used to truss  sorry – fasten securely in their car seats – the kids up in the back of the car with a laptop, some DVD’s, some snacks and we’d reach our destination with nary (ok, a minimum) of complaint.

Times have changed.

Our kids, both teens, are no longer content to sit in the back of any moving vehicle unless it contains at least two of their friends and is rolling towards either a mall, a movie theatre, or an amusement park.  Once the destination is reached, said teens flee the car before any other humans can see that they’ve arrived under the control of their parents.

So, imagine their…let’s use the word dismay…at being trapped in a car – not even a cool car with video screens or GPS – for upwards of nine hours at a time whilst their parents (one driving, one napping) provide absolutely no entertainment whatsoever and who have the unmitigated gall to drive right by any and all amusement parks.

Think then of the parents’ resultant rebuttal dismay  at being trapped in same said uncool vehicle for upwards of 9 hours at a time with bored, slightly hostile spawn.  Some tempers might become frayed.  Ok, just mine as my husband is a saint.

Back in the good old days, the worst we dreaded from our little ones was a tiny foot hammering away at the back of the seat  or a sudden potty break.  Mostly, our kids were dreamy travelers – they napped.  Our daughter’s eyes would start drooping the minute we strapped her in.  I remember my son sucking contentedly on his pacifier, his huge brown eyes gazing up at the car ceiling as if it was the most fascinating thing on earth.  Then his eyes too would close and peace would descend on our little mobile world.

On this trip, my daughter’s steely blue eyes bore into the back of my head, not blinking.  If I dared make eye contact in the rearview she fixed me with The Look, then slowly peeled her gaze away.  Oh dear.  We’ve gone beyond the days when all discontent could be fixed with a container of Honey Nut Cheerios, a sippy cup and a Dora the Explorer backpack full of paper and crayons.

The boy child was somewhat easier to handle.  He was quite content to sit for hours and play his DS.  The problem with this strategy revealed itself after we realized he hadn’t had a decent meal in six hours.  Dr. Jekyll, may I introduce Mr. Hyde?  Not pretty.

My husband and I must shoulder the blame for subjecting them to the monumental torture of a summer road trip to start with.  However, if I may just offer a word (or 500) to my “little” ones:

Sometimes, just sometimes, the world does not revolve around you.  Reality sucks, I agree, but sometimes trips have to be arranged according to time, budget, and parental desires as follows:

  1. It’s a miracle we went anywhere at all this summer given your father’s work schedule
  2. Sadly, none of our lottery tickets paid out and the miracle did not go so far as to provide us with an unlimited budget.  These days, we simply cannot afford to fly all four of us…anywhere.  Even if we could’ve afforded plane tickets, we would’ve slept in the airport terminal as a car rental would’ve done us in financially
  3. Last summer was The Big Vacation; this summer was about catching up, re-visiting old stomping grounds of the adults.  As you saw with eyes glazed over by stupefying boredom, your parents had friends, lives, houses, sand dunes that they could claim as their very own territory before you two became the focus of our familial universe

I know you did not enjoy this summer’s vacation as much as last summer’s.  And no wonder but it is important to realize that last summer was The Big One.  Not every summer will be filled with exotic locations such as Monte Carlo, Rome, and Santorini.

Kids, I wish we could.  I wish we were so filthy, stinking rich that we could go somewhere new and exotic every summer – and we could take all of your friends with us – in separate private jets, no less.  That is not our reality.  Next summer?  You’re probably going off to separate work camps nature camps.  Or working and going to the pool or that really, really big lake out front called Lake Ontario (complete with beaches, lifeguards, and cleaner water than we saw anywhere in the Mediterranean – or Virginia Beach).

[LECTURE ENDS HERE]

In an effort to reach some sort of common ground, I attempted to ascertain what comprised a good vacation – private jets and exotic locales notwithstanding.

Conclusion?  There is no common ground, at least not in our little unit.

My idea of a good time is my snow-white ass parked on a stretch of pristine beach with a good book, a bucket of SPF 50 by my side.  If a waiter wanders by with a tray of margaritas, so much the better.  My idea of a wild and crazy time is to add headphones to that picture.

My husband loves a little bit of time on a beach but ultimately he gets twitchy and longs for some physical activity – playing frisbee, flying a kite, blasting up and down the shoreline on a jet ski.  He also loves museums and churches.

The kids want to be waited on, catered to, and entertained.  Location is the only thing that differentiates vacation from an ordinary day at home.  My daughter loves a good pool and a beach with awesome, adrenaline-pumping sport like parasailing. She drives a mean jet ski.  My son would be just fine in a cave – not spelunking but playing video games.  Only occasionally would he emerge, blinking, into the light of day to sightsee.  I haven’t really nailed down his favourite type of place but the Colosseum and the Coca-Cola Museum were his two faves from the last two years.  A trail of chocolate would help in drawing him forth from any cave.

Are separate vacations the answer?  I need copious amounts of downtime – and food/alcohol at regular intervals – or I become unbearably witchy.  My husband and daughter are marathoners who can sightsee until their legs nearly drop off.  My son is a wildcard – depending on his mood and the charge left on his DS.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing – a break from the tedium of everyday life.  Can this family’s vacationing future be saved?

I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke

Standard

Several things come to mind when thinking of Atlanta:  the War (as in Civil) and Coca-Cola.  And, of course, the Braves if you’re a  baseball fan.  I could add traffic and an amazing array of fantastic eateries but that would be getting too far off track.

Back in the 1880’s, a guy named John S. Pemberton pondered a refreshing treat to get his customers through another muggy, hot Atlanta summer.  Eventually, he came up with the formula (still held in great secrecy over 100 years later) for Coca-Cola.  Incredibly, it wasn’t a sure thing when it first appeared – Pemberton was a pharmacist, not a marketer – and he only sold 51 drinks that first summer.

The most incredible thing about Coke has been its longevity and the army of marketing genius behind the brand – dating back to the turn of the 20th Century.  Once it took off, it became a stellar money-maker and the company hasn’t looked back since.  In 1919, the formula for Coke was purchased for an astounding $25 million dollars.  That’s like a gazillion dollars today.

So, when one goes to Atlanta, one must visit the World of Coca-Cola.  This relatively new museum occupies prime real estate downtown adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park and next to the Georgia Aquarium.  There was another World of Coca-Cola but it was old, rundown, and outdated – and uninspiring.  Kind of like when they changed the Coke formula.

Technology rules at the new museum; it isn’t so much an ode to the drink itself as a tribute to the marketing machine that has propelled the company since the early 1900’s.  There is a little theatre where you can watch old commercials and those from other countries.  There is also a theatre presentation in “4D” where the seats move, you get squirted with water, and if you can skip it you might want to – especially if you have back issues.

The best?  The Pop Culture Gallery – the colourful wood carvings of Coke bottles and the giant collage piece is worth the price of admission.  And then, there is the section known as Taste It! where you can taste over 60 flavours made by the Coca-Cola Company all over the world.  The gift shop is everything you’d expect.  Interesting tidbit:  all apparel sold there is made from recycled plastic bottles.

I’m not a rabid fan of Coke but I’m glad I went to this museum.  It’s a fascinating look at the vision of a few men and one of the most closely held secrets in the world.

Tomorrow:  the Georgia Aquarium

Borders

Standard

On the eve of our great Pilgrimage south of the border, I’m a bit apprehensive as I realize just how long I’ve been away.

I’ve lived in Canada exactly ten years this month and with every passing year, I have found myself becoming more entrenched here and more removed from all things USA.  At times I’ve felt guilty about this but busy raising kids and just living, I’ve not had a lot of time to dwell on the growing distance between me and home.

I’ve ventured over the border in short hops over the years but nothing extensive.  This trip is different because we’re spending quite a lot of time in different places and I will be seeing my home country keenly through the eyes of my (very opinionated, very Canadian)teenage children.

We are visiting some of the most iconic sites the United States has to offer:  Washington DC, nation’s capital with its monuments and museums – not to mention some of my old stomping grounds on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Also, New York City with…well, what can I say…it’s the Big Apple.  More than anything, I want to take them to the World Trade Center site – a place that forever altered the hearts and minds of my country.

We left the States right after 9/11 – a move that was more coincidence than planned but in the years immediately after that fateful day, I noticed a monumental shift in the world’s perception of the U.S.  Now, having been away so long, I know that my perception has changed as well.

If the foreign press is to be believed, Americans are a bunch of close-minded zealots armed to the teeth.  It’s very hard to listen for ten years without having some of it sink in; it’s almost like a Stockholm Syndrome kind of thing.  Have I forsaken my American roots?  Am I now more Canadian than American?  How will I be perceived there?  How will perceive my countrymen?

I’ll cross the border tomorrow with my Canadian husband and my Canadian kids who have never worn the Stars and Stripes; I think they have maple syrup in their veins instead of blood.  I will be piloting a car with Ontario license plates.  I have something of America left in me: my mid-Atlantic twangy accent that, as hard as I might try, I cannot shed.

I hope we all have a great vacation.  I hope I can show my family all that is wonderful about my home town, my favourite cities, my home country.  USA, here we come!

First stop:  Cincinnati, 8 + hours from Toronto.  Overnight rest only…

A Dream of Europe – So Far Away

Standard

In my previous post, I waxed nostalgic about our BEV (Big European Vacation).  This year, we’re going old school:  overloading the Family Car, filling it to the brim with cranky teens, unhealthy snacks, a cooler full of caffeinated drinks and whatever map apps our phones provide.

Remember the good old days when maps were paper? The person sitting in the passenger seat would be in charge of the pile of folded paper maps.  This co-pilot would squint at them, fold them and unfold them, rip them and turn them every which way but the right way while the driver of the overloaded Family Car tapped the wheel impatiently waiting to be told whether to turn left or right.

Trips like these were the reason cheap, ugly motels were invented.  We’re cashing in our Visa points to pay for the hotels en route.  We are even able to stay in some pretty swanky looking places.  But, as you all know, photographs lie.

The trip has been designed to visit friends and to show the kids places where their mom grew up.  Yes, Banshee is attempting to go home again – always a tricky business.

What if these places that meant the world to me are so changed as to be literally unrecognizable?  This is a fear not without basis. Landscapes change, villages change, sand dunes get bulldozed, what if there is a Wal-Mart right down the street from the White House?

I must be very careful not to set my expectations too high.  The places where I frolicked in my youth will be different.  The Atlantic beaches might seem less like paradise now that I’ve grown up.  The salt water taffy shop that I begged my mother to take me to every summer might seem downright tacky and overpriced now.

So, as usual, this trip will become an educational trip for me- with a big lesson on managing my own expectations and not imposing mine on everyone else. And another thing: I’m American; I feel very strongly that my kids should get a taste of where I grew up, the places that mattered to me, the things that I took for granted in my own backyard. At the end of the day, though, I have to let them have their own opinions about these places.

My kids are pretty thoroughly Canadian now even though they were born in the States.  They have acquired very Canadian attitudes towards Americans – an attitude which is difficult to describe.  Consider it a sibling rivalry type of relationship.  I can only pray we do not cause some kind of international incident.

I will be blogging along the way just as I did last year.  Me being me, I’ve already catalogued a list of things to worry about:

American medical care should we become sick, injured, or otherwise impaired.  Hurricane season – late August is prime time.  Faulty memories about my hometown (where the hell is Foggy Bottom?)  My new phobia about  big city” traffic – Perhaps I should send Mayor Bloomberg a quick note of warning/apology…

I’m toast.  Stay tuned…

A Dream of Europe – A Holiday Remembered

Standard

Yesterday, in a hung over state, my husband and I lounged in the living room watching photographs from last year’s BEV (Big European Vacation) flash across our flat screen.

“Gosh, that was a good trip.  Look how happy we were at the Acropolis.” I groaned, holding my aching head.

“Look at that sun-drenched Mediterranean coastline,” my husband murmured from the depths of his big leather chair.

“La Sagrada Familia is just weird,” I commented.  (Ok, that piece of dialogue was real; the others, not so much).

It was a very good trip.  We’ve talked about re-visiting Europe.  The conversation was pre-hangover because in the cold, harsh light of sobriety we know it will be years before we can afford to go again.

Yeah, I know all of Europe is deep in the throes of recession, depression, austerity, and in a month London will be enjoying a whopper of a post-Olympic hangover but I still want to go back.  The Banshee is getting increasingly restless.  We’ve stayed put now for three years…we ain’t gettin’ any younger and neither is Europe.  Venice is sinking, you know.

When do we say, screw it and just do it?  Take the leap we’ve been longing to take for nearly twenty years, trade the North American sizes of homes, appliances, roads, and land mass for the smaller, more economy-sized Europe?

London would be the first choice for a couple of reasons:  language and job.  I have nightmares about making a complete ass of myself in a foreign language whereas I do so daily in my native tongue with no qualms.  Also, Hubby can work in the UK on an “ancestry visa” because his grandmother was born there; London also provides the most opportunity in his line of work.

However, if money were no object: Buon giorno, Roma!  For pure romance, people watching, and authentico street-level lunacy, nothing beats Rome.   I already have my apartment picked out (it will have to be a BIG lottery win).

A photo popped up of me and the kidlets sitting on the Spanish Steps.  We looked footsore but happy. I remember how rushed we were and how many landmarks we simply couldn’t visit because we were  I was paranoid about missing the boat.  I regret not taking Hubby’s suggestion that we miss the boat on purpose and spend the night in Rome.  We easily could have caught up with the boat in Salerno.  Ah, the 20-20 rear view…

My son made an interesting comment.  The wise twelve-year-old said we should not live anywhere that felt magical because as residents, the magic would fade.  Rome would become like anywhere else – like Toronto.  I would bitch about the taxes, the hydro bills, the line ups at the market…I would likely die under the wheels of a Vespa…

So, ok maybe we don’t live in Rome.  Maybe we just have a nice, long visit.  We would immerse ourselves in the landmarks and enjoy leisurely meals off the piazza of our choice.  Then, we would return to our rented villa in the hills outside of the city. The air would be scented with citrus and the only nighttime noise – the sound of a breeze rustling through olive trees…

This is part of the “Lotto 649” fantasy loop…

The beauty of Europe lies not only in its history but also its compact size. Those of us corn-fed and raised on the wide open vistas of North America cannot conceive of driving through three different countries in a day. The sheer network of trains throughout Europe means you can go anywhere by train.  Lots of anywheres.

I long to experience that life before I get much older.  Mobility scooters don’t work very well on medieval cobblestone streets.  Nor do walkers.  Let’s do this, already.  I can hear my husband’s voice in my head:  Patience, patience.  We have to get the youngest through high school.

Ah, he’s smart.  He can skip a few grades, si?