Day tripping

 Photo by  Debbie Brenner

Happy 4th of July! It's going to be a quiet one here. Two of my kids are gone, but we are going to do our best to be festive with those loyal enough to remain behind. I'm thinking burgers on the grill and pool volleyball. The fireworks don't fall under my departmental responsibilities, so I have nothing to say on that matter. 

For the past five or six years, the week of the 4th has included a trip to San Antonio, just under 200 miles away. The older kids have a camp that week at Trinity University, and San Antonio is always a welcome respite -- what with the Mexican food and the Alamo and SeaWorld and the Mexican food. This year my sister-in-law and I drove the older kids to camp, dragging along our 12 and 11 year olds for some good old fashioned Mom-led fun. (Imagine me doing a dorky dance that would make a 12 year old boy roll his eyes.)

The last child leads a strange existence. At the tail-end of the family, they are witness to everyone's activities and comings and goings, and I find myself trying to balance Parker's watching and participating as best I can. In this instance, he was along for the drive and the dropping off, but then afterwards -- it was all him (and his beloved 11 year old cousin). We spent the night in San Antonio and then headed out adventuring in the morning.

In an effort to avoid the sweltering heat and horde of humanity that is SeaWorld or Six Flags, my sister-in-law came up with the brilliant plan of visiting Natural Bridge Caverns and it's next-door neighbor Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. The caverns are a huge underground system of caves with incredible stalagmites and stalagtites and mineral creations by the hundreds. And the Wildlife Ranch? Ummm . . . let me just say that a beautiful zebra stuck its head into my window and opened it's mouth WIDELY looking for the animal food pellets distributed at the ticket booth. I may have freaked out (because the teeth were large and unbrushed), screaming at my sister-in-law to roll up the window. When the same zebra stuck his head in the back window? The kids started laughing hysterically, all the while feeding her as quickly as they could pull the food from their bags. There's not much better entertainment than that. 

All of this got me thinking about the required elements for big kid day-tripping. Once, I loaded up my whole family and drove them to a small town about an hour away for some antiquing. Not a successful venture. The trip only ended on a somewhat less-dispirited note because of the Dairy Queen Blizzards I managed to locate in the 11th hour.

Forgoing antiquing . . . here's my list of day-trip essentials: 

  1. Something to DO. There really needs to be something along the way that expends some physical energy. This is true for my big girls as well as my son. (Obviously, this is why amusement parks are typically sure-fire teen pleasers). Walking from one antique shop to the next does NOT seem to fulfill this element. At Natural Bridge Caverns there was a large ropes course and zip line that more than made up for the less-than-captivating lecture given in the caverns. 
  2. Something to LEARN. Even though Parker was more interested in secret passageways than our tour guide's spiel, my kids are usually pretty interested in facts and figures along the way. They especially love a factory tour -- watching something being made. The Blue Bell tour is high on my list (and not just for the ice cream at the end). I also have great memories of the Cape Cod Potato Chip tour. My dream tour? Crayola. Only because I've seen it on Sesame Street like a zillion times.
  3.  Something NEW. Novelty generally isn't BORING. Parker has seen the zebras in the zoo any number of times, but being accosted by a zebra in a vehicle? That was original.
  4. Something to EAT (see photo). I probably don't need to spend an entire bullet point on this. But as my momma always says, "A hungry child is a dangerous child." This is even more true for teens. 
  5. Something to ENDURE. Okay, so this isn't necessarily a "required element" for a day of fun. But that's the whole point. It's pretty near impossible to plan and execute a day of perfect fun. There are long car rides, tiring lines, altered meal times, and often disappointed expectations. The trip itself is about spending time together, seeing more of our part of the country, and focusing on the positive.  Reminding big kids of these goals is an important part of trip prep and maintenance. Also? Telling everyone Mom needs ten minutes of quiet before her head explodes? That's okay too.