Sunday, June 2, 2013

Travel: Part One, Mackinac Island

When I was a little girl we'd spend at least one weekend a year at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, MI for a Speech Tournament. I have attended the Grand every year for 20 years. And I've taken my boys as babies twice. This time though, they would remember it and I could not wait.

I fondly remember the days where my sisters and I would spend an hour or so primping for dinner. It was such an ordeal to us: we were treated like princesses, welcomed home and even seated near the front because we'd been there so many times. It was wonderful, magical and special. I wanted my boys to have the same memories I did there, so when the opportunity came, I made it happen.

I shopped for little boy dress clothes, got color matching outfits for all of us (yes, I did it) and took pride in the fact that these boys would finally have the chance to remember this place. But when I started packing, I realized that I was more than a little stressed out. Wait. I have a three and one year old and they are going to sit through a five course meal and be polite, kind, and sweet? These boys? Uhh, you mean the one year old that puts his bare toes on the table? The one year old that constantly throws food or places his dish on his head while flashes a cute, mischievous smile? Or were you talking about the three year old who simply cannot finish a meal without a battle or tears over eating one freeking bite of food? The same three year old who throws a tantrum when you make him put his cars in the center of the table while he eats because he can't hold them and eat at the same time? Oh God. What was I doing to myself? WHY? Why did I think it would be a wonderful experience?

Once I convinced myself that we'd be okay because they'd be able to get up in between courses to dance on the dance floor and would behave nicely because there would be bread and crackers on the table to keep them busy, I went on packing two backpacks full of toys. 'HOLD ON'. I started to think again. 'My freeking kids get car sick, motion sick and puke because they can. Abbey, you do realize that you're putting your kids in the car for four-five hours and then a fifteen minute ferry ride across Lake Michigan?! WHAT?! Are you CRAZY? No, it'll be fine, I have their sea bands, a few new toys, no books, snacks, drinks and new kid music. We can stop at these four different McDonald's Restaurants because they have a PlayLand and the kids can stretch their legs. Yeah, it'll be fine,' I said to myself as I psyched myself up for the trip. 'They'll be good. My parents took me when I was one, I can take them now. Yeah'.

When we finally get in the car we stick to the rule: If the kids are happy, drive. If the Kids are sad, stop in a place where you can eat, the kids can play, you can fill up on gas and pee all in the same stop. Simple.

I had my snacks, about 800 diapers and wipes, toys and of course Benadryl ready. The Sea Bands were on and I had Kid Dramamine if I needed it. We were ready. I was ready. We left just after dinner so that the kids could fall asleep, Theo lasted maybe forty minutes before he slept. Hank on the other hand, was awake. The. Whole. Time. He wouldn't stop talking. It was then that I realized another problem: Mackinac Island has NO cars. At all. Horses and bikes only. I decided to tell Henrik in advance that this place didn't have cars. We started to talk about the Island and how cool it was, what an island was and what they did have (to take the focus off the fact that there were no cars). It kind of worked except he was disappointed because:

1. Daddy won't be waiting for us at the Grand Hotel.
2. There are zero cars on the whole Island (he repeated this, but insisted that there were some and I was just being silly).

He was excited because: 
1. There would be a lot of horse poop
2. We got to take a ferry. 

We arrive four and a half hours later, and much to my amazement, we had zero complications. NONE. I was in disbelief. Apparently travel doesn't have as large a role on my kids as it does me. I'm the only one who stresses about having enough of everything, their behavior and happiness levels. For once, they had a pleasant car ride which meant, I did too! I guess what this tells me is that kids are parasites, they feed off of their parents and if you're stressed, so are they. But if I hide my fears in totes of toys and fruit snacks then we can all have an enjoyable trip together. If I stay calm when they start to fidget, or fuss, then they relax more quickly. Don't get me wrong, on the outside, I'm cool and collected. I use my soothing voice and make everything seem okay. But on the inside, my hart is pounding, I'm sweaty and I'm giving myself an ulcer and I'm loosing calories by the second.

While my children are very well behaved, and while they were excellent for their age at the Grand Hotel, we were not without mishap. At breakfast one morning, both boys used each utensil (a formal dining set) at least one time. Only two of those utensils fell on the floor. Only one of those utensils  was stuck down the pants of one of my children. That child then asked, "is this funny?"

Or how about at Lunch when Theo and I had this conversation:

T: Nu-nus (noodles) gone. All done.
A: OK.
T: I naked boy (and starts pulling off his clothes)

Or how about at Dinner when Theo randomly yells, "NAKED BOY" and goes on eating his food. Or dinner another night when Theo randomly yells, "PENIS" and continues eating his food like nothing happened.

So, I suppose I was that parent who had adorable looking children at a fancy establishment, but had those children, you know them, the ones you can't stop staring at because they do or say something that catches your attention. Sometimes it's funny and cute, but sometimes it's just annoying. You then look at the parent and think, 'I can't believe she lets them do that'. But you know what? We didn't have a single tantrum or cry, No one put their feet on the table or started a food fight. They were wonderful. I couldn't believe it (I had wanted it, but didn't think it could happen over the course of four days). And yes, I consider all of those things above, wonderful.

On our last day there, the boys and I were watching the horses come and go. Theo was adorable, he couldn't get enough of the horses and he kind of galloped when he heard the clopping of the horses coming around the corner. Henrik on the other hand had a lot of questions. "Dey sure do love horses around here," he said as observed pictures of horses, actual horses and carriages all over the place. "Why?" or when we were on the porch steps surrounded by a tour group and Henrik says, "where are their penises'?" In front of an entire tour group. He then crawled on the ground looking under the horses for their goods. OH. MY. GOD. I turned bright red, and then looked at Henrik and looked at the crowd through my peripheral vision. The kid was curious about all of this since we're potty training and he's three, and since I try to be honest, I knelt down and pointed out different horse penises as the horses went by. Mom Win. You know why? Because it was important to my kid to figure out where their penises were. I laughed as I did it and I made sure we weren't in the way or obnoxious about it, but why the heck not. Life is about learning right? 

Now that we've been back from Mackinac a while, I've had a few conversations with my boys about the trip. Theo is obsessed with horses now. Henrik is obsessed with fudge and has no further questions about horse penises. And from what I gather from them, they had a good time. Henrik does complain about how long the porch was and how there were no cars. He also calls the Grand the Ice Cream hotel, but whatever. I'm not sure that this one trip created the memories I wanted them to have. But at least for now, it left some memories. I know I'll NEVER forget this trip. There's no way I could ever forget my curious boys and how wonderfully they behaved in a place that's not set up for toddlers. For me, this trip wasn't the princess vacation getaway I once remembered. It was work. Really hard work, but I have some wonderful photos, laughed a lot with my boys and they were always smiling and having fun. That's all that matters, right? I haven't had a lot of "vacations' with my boys or my family so when we go somewhere I'm not really sure what to expect. 

What I did learn from this experience is that no matter how much fun I had as a child, as one of three girls, the experiences probably won't be the same for my boys and our family.  From now on, I won't hold such romanticized ideals on what a vacation is.  I'm not saying that I'm only going to visit "kid places". I've learned that it's important to do things that are special to someone else. It's important to show your children historic places and it's also important to visit those kid friendly attractions.  I'll focus on how to make it memorable and important to my children. I'm giving them opportunities and spending time with them. At the very bottom level, that's what's most important. 

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