Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nature Nuts

The topic of vacations came up on one of my discussion boards recently. Essentially, where would you take children under 5 on a family vacation? I was very surprised by the responses.

I lived in Central Wyoming until I was about 13 years old. I would venture to say we were a pretty average family for the area. My dad worked in the mines, my mom was a SAHM and we took a summer vacation each year. I looked forward to these vacations and still remember many of them very distinctly.

The first vacation I remember well must have been when I was about 3.5. My little sister was tiny, and it was still hot out. We drove to South Dakota and visited Mt. Rushmore (we rode the tram and my mom was afraid of heights - and holding a tiny baby), Reptile Gardens (I rode a turtle) and Flintstones (yes there really is a Bedrock). It was probably the next year that I remember going to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone. I was so excited to visit Yellowstone and kept my eyes peeled for bears the entire drive. I remembered seeing pictures of bears coming up to cars and couldn't wait to see one myself. (We never did see one.)

Jackson Hole was at that time a scenic little fun town, not the bustling high end movie star haven that it is now. I remember seeing Old Faithful in Yellowstone and asking lots of questions, why does the water come up every 45 or so minutes, where does it come from, I was riveted. We stayed in a little cabin and our number was C-5 (I had to memorize this and remember it because all the cabins looked alike).

The following summer we went to Denver and stood in line to see one of the first showings of a new movie called Star Wars. I remember driving into the huge city and gawking at the sky scrapers. My big score that trip was a cassette tape and book for the movie Star Wars. I am pretty sure I wore it out simply on the 6 hour drive back from Denver. We shopped that trip and I remember my parents buying a pachinko machine that my sister and I played with for years to come. We went to Casa Bonita and I think that was my first trip to an amusement park, Elitches. I still have the ruler I chose using the tickets I won from Skee Ball.

There were many other summer vacations. Some were just weekend trips to Thermopolis, WY to swim in the hot springs. Other times we went north to Devil's Tower. Or maybe even just camping trips out to Alcova or Pathfinder Reservoir with friends. (Where I would scout for arrowheads and eventually amassed a pretty good collection.)

AB had similar experiences growing up in Alaska. He grew up in a middle class family of six. If they were flying out of Alaska for vacation, it was to the Seattle/Puget Sound area to visit his dad's family. Leaving Alaska was horribly expensive and so their vacations consisted of lots of camping and fishing. From an early age AB became a woodsman and still has very fond memories of arriving at a campsite and heading out to collect wood and as he got older, get the fire started. My MIL tells stories of packing up the three little boys and their camping gear and heading down to the Kenai Peninsula to go camping. AB remembers catching his first Sockeye when he was 7.

A few years ago a woman I work with told me (as she rolled her eyes) that she and her husband were taking their son to Disneyland for their summer vacation that year. I commented that she didn't seem that excited about it. She replied, "I'm not, but if he doesn't get to Disney before he is in kindergarten this fall, he will be left out". The way she said this was similar to how I hear parents talk and worry about their kids entering kindergarten without the necessary academic skills.

My grandmother took my sister and I to Southern California and to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo when I was 13. I was at that horrible awkward age and add to it too old for the kids stuff and too young for many of the older rides, plus the fact that amusement park rides in general are not something I find fun. I spent much of the time arguing with my grandmother. It was fine. I suppose I had a good time. I actually attribute most of my indifference towards the trip as being at "that age". Had I been younger, I would have likely enjoyed it a lot more. My main concern was finding an authentic Swatch to buy and dreaming about getting a tan (something that has never happened in my entire life).

Frankly the thought of hauling even one child under 5 to any theme park strikes me as pure misery. Yet I was very surprised to hear theme parks being the recommendation of choice on where to go for summer vacation with kids under 5.

If you read my life list you may have noted that many of the things I want to do in life and want to take my kids to see are among natural wonders. Ok, I admit it, AB and I are nature nuts. Last summer we went to Mt. Rainier with friends and I know that Leif and C loved it. They walked the shorter (about 2 miles) nature loops, they played around camp and never seemed bored. In October we went and spent 4 or 5 days at the coast. Leif and I beachcombed with grandma and grandpa, we picked blackberries and we hung out on the deck. Not once did I ever wonder if he was bored. Leif has an intense fascination with animals, not surprisingly, and enjoys walking and hiking. We plan to encourage this.

This isn't to say that Disney isn't on our list at some point. I know Leif would love it - he points out Mickey Mouse regularly. But the crunchy side of me really rebels against the commercialism and the waste (the environmental impact as well as the piles of money to maintain these sites). So what is my point? Not to make anyone feel bad for opting for theme park vacations... truthfully would I rather have the millions tromping through the national parks instead? Probably not. I suppose my point is a reminder of all the wonderful places and things we have in our own backyards and to give even little kids a chance to fall in love with nature and history, not to assume that they will be bored by it.

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