Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vacation, Part 1 ("Why Do We Have to Look at So Many Animals at this Zoo??!")

We loaded up the car, got the kids out early from school, and by 3pm were ready to hit the road and get as close as we could to Washington, D.C. that evening. We revved out of the driveway, down the road and onto the highway...and proceeded to hit a traffic jam five miles down the road.

Chloe started crying. Chloe never cries in the car unless she's been traveling for hours and hours. I mean it; never.

"Why is she doing this???!" wailed Ethan. And so, five minutes later, I was in the backseat, sitting on Ethan's carseat (he'd moved to the way back with Anna) and rubbing Chloe's tummy, whispering consolation. She stopped. Blessed peace.

Three hours and several traffic jams later, Dan announced we were stopping for dinner. A joyous whoop went out -- particularly from Anna, who was excited to see we were stopping at a mall.

This wasn't just a mall. This was a mall with an indoor aerial ropes adventure course like our own business. We wanted to check it out (i.e. "spy"). Not only that, but the place had a mammoth Ferris wheel in the food court.

After eating (a comedy of errors that involved several spilled drinks and napkins everywhere) the kids clamored to ride it (after we managed to cajole Ethan away from joyriding on the escalators that led to Dave and Buster's). I should note that Dan stayed below with Chloe, who we've discovered has a phobia of all rides, including the electronic Barney bus in the food court that moved ever-so-slowly back and forth.

Trepidation on the Ferris wheel

As we rode to the mall's soaring ceilings and back down again amidst creaks and groans, I noticed Anna's eyes were terrified. This is not like her. "I bet they don't even inspect this thing!" she hissed. She desperately wanted to get off.

The English major in me would like to point out that if this were an essay and we were in class, you might want to make note that the previous paragraph would be what we call "foreshadowing." We'll get to that.

Back on the highway we finally started to make better time and blew through New Jersey and then into Maryland. Unfortunately, we'd already wasted so much time in traffic and stopping to eat that it was well past 9pm. Then we hit construction in Baltimore. At 11-somethingish, we finally found a hotel, lugged our things to the room, and got ready for bed...

...but of course the kids thought this was a grand adventure. Everyone was checking out the room and nearly bouncing off the walls. Chloe, most of all, considered this all great fun. Even when big brother and sister had decided, sometime after midnight, to start drifting off, she was still going strong. She was deeply offended by us turning off the lights and putting her in the pack and play. She made that quite clear by crying and then just standing, sucking her thumb, and watching me (now the only one awake) until past 1am.

The next morning, she was up by 6.

It was Saturday, we were 45 minutes from Washington, D.C., and we had a plan: grab breakfast quickly and get to the National Zoo before the parking lots filled up. We filed in to the McDonalds down the road, encouraging the kids to fill up because we weren't going to have a big lunch in the zoo (with their astronomical food prices!).

"But I want a Happy Meal..." Ethan pleaded.

"What about the sausage burritos you loved last time?" I pleaded back. No luck. Apparently that day he ate not one but two breakfast burritos (just about the only time Ethan has ever eaten eggs) was an aberration. All three kids nibbled at their food. By 9 we were back on the highway and then driving through crazily ritzy neighborhoods just out of D.C. We reached the zoo just after it'd opened. Cars had already filled parking lots A, B, and C. D also was looking rather full.

Please, please, please I muttered to no one in particular, because the real God probably doesn't need to be bothered with such trivia. We were one of the last five cars to make it in before the lot was filled.

Smiling at our good fortune, we climbed out of the car, opened up the stroller and took out all of the other various accoutrements, got Chloe from her car seat, and then, I noticed.

"Dan, where's Chloe's other sneaker?" One of her feet was shoeless. A search of the car turned up nothing. Apparently, her sneaker, half of a pair of her best, most comfortable shoes, was back at the McDonalds.

Deep breaths. Let it go. I dug in the diaper bag for her sandals.

I knew the girls would love the zoo (Chloe's already shown an affinity for animals) while Ethan would tolerate it. What usually helps at these places (museums, zoos, aquariums) is to point things that would interest him (like a secret pipe running behind a display) or when Ethan chooses to latch onto something we might see as "unconventional" about wherever we are, and for him the day becomes about THAT. At the Bronx Zoo several years ago, for example, he wanted to look for exit signs. Here, he saw a sign for the American Trail. The American Trail was really just one of several paths that ran through the zoo, but Ethan saw it as something much more. So for a good portion of the day, we heard:

"Let's take the American Trail!"

"Where's the American Trail? We've got to find it again!"

And unfortunately: "We can't go that way -- we have to stay on the American Trail!"

At one point I asked him why he liked the American Trail so much, and he said it was because he liked hiking.

The National Zoo is a darned good zoo. I probably liked the Bronx Zoo a little better, but this one is free. We saw lions, tigers, and of course, pandas. We watched peacocks fight and elephants play. Anna and Chloe adored any and all animals. But the sun grew high in the sky. Three little stomachs started grumbling, and the snacks we'd brought weren't cutting it. It was clear the kids (particularly the two older ones) were done.

A brief moment of serenity
We were headed towards the exit, but it's a long walk. And of course Dan and I kept coming across one more thing we wanted to take a peek at. It's not like we'd be back anytime soon. Somewhere around the lions (or was it hyenas?) the sobs started. "Yes! I saw them!" Ethan cried, flailing about dramatically. "Why do we have to look at so many animals at this zoo?!"

At that point we picked up our pace towards the parking lot along with hordes of other parents whose kids had had enough. It was time to head to our next destination.

But we had to pass through D.C. first. We took the route right through the middle of everything so we could shout out a few sites as we passed them in the car.

The Washington Monument...Capitol Building...World War II and Jefferson Memorial flew by as we drove alongside the Potomac River. Yet Ethan wanted to know one thing: "Where was that bridge the plane crashed into?"

I am never, ever keeping the TV on again when he walks into the room during an episode of "Air Disasters" (a show honestly I shouldn't be watching, either). Only in our family would I be Googling a 1982 plane crash as we pass the nation's capital.

We never did find out which bridge, but by then Washington was in the distance as we headed off to Williamsburg. The traffic finally dissipated, the sun grew lower in the sky, and we pulled off to get something to eat at a restaurant with only Virginia plates in the parking lot.

Inside everyone looked up expectantly, as if they knew someone new was in town. Once we sat down I could see that people here talked a little slower and smiled a little longer. I wondered if grits were on the menu. I knew we were going to have to breathe in and breathe out and slow our pace down. Clearly, we weren't anywhere near Connecticut anymore.

To be continued...

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