March 3, 2010

On Vacation, Happy Kids = Happy Parents

My friends told me it would happen, and I heard about it happening to others. But I never actually thought it would happen to us. I guess I had been in denial, I was sure this was not something that my family would go through. We planned ahead, and carefully raised our kids to avoid this problem. Things were going to be different for us!

Alas, we were wrong. On our last trip, it happened. We heard what every parent dreads: “I’m bored.” “Why didn't we just stay home!” I cringed as these words came out of my 12 year old son’s mouth.

Now granted, this was not one of our “big” vacations. It was just an overnight getaway only a few hours from home. I had been frustrated that we had not spent much time enjoying the tourist attractions right in our own backyard. So when we had a free holiday weekend, we took a quick trip up to Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay, just north of San Francisco. I was looking forward to a fun family adventure: we could visit a spot along the San Andreas fault where it ruptured in 1906, see a beautiful stretch of California coastline, and also go whale-watching. What’s not to like? First stop, the visitor center, and a short interpretive trail along the fault line. The complaints started rolling in: “I hate these trails!” “ Dad’s going to want to stop & read every sign!” “It’s so boring!” “I want to go to a beach!” Given that we had experienced several earthquakes recently, I thought the kids would really be into this. But even my daughter, who’s usually very enthusiastic, had a frown on her face. Apparently the recent quakes had the opposite effect: she was worried that the ground was going to open up right beneath our feet and she couldn’t wait to get back to the car.
Next stop, the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. But getting there required going to another visitor center to purchase bus tickets, and then waiting for the bus. We were at a pretty beach, so both kids’ eyes lit up and they asked, “Can we go play in the sand?” Well, of course the answer was "No," as we had to get on a bus, so now there was more grumbling and moaning. I was really getting worried that our “fun family outing” wasn’t going to be so fun.

Finally we arrived at the lighthouse, which is exceptionally picturesque perched at the bottom of a very steep cliff. Steep as in over 300 steps almost straight down! This time I was the one not so enthusiastic, trying to decide whether going down or up was going to be more painful. But things were looking up for my kids, who couldn’t wait to race down the stairs. Now I was hearing “Cool!” and “Wow!” The situation was looking better!

From the lighthouse, we started scanning the horizon for whale spouts. "This could be ugly," I thought, “If we don’t see a whale I will never get these kids out here again.” A few minutes later, a shout of “There’s one!” and the kids were hooked. No more complaints the rest of the afternoon. On the bus ride back to our car, the kids happily talked about the day, and kept an eye out for more wildlife, including elk, deer, and hawks.

Whew! We dodged a bullet on this trip, though I see that it may take a bit more work to keep my kids engaged as they grow older. I need to be sure that we budget time for the little things they enjoy most, like playing on the beach. And any opportunity to see wildlife is a sure hit.

There is more good news. My son told me last night he wants to see the fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits – music to my ears!

For help with planning your next family adventure, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.

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