When it comes to family vacations, I have a few traditions. Our first tradition is choosing pretend names for ourselves, to be used as often as possible, even in public.
So, a recent year, as we pulled out of our driveway in Boston, toward Brewster, MA to enjoy beautiful Cape Cod, I inaugurated our trip by calling roll. It sounded like this:
“Tigress?” (This is the nickname 8-year-old Ariel chose as her vacation name since she is our resident expert on wildcats.)
“Sacajawea?” (Six-year-old Miranda is fascinated with Plains Indians, thus the name she chose.)
“Gordon?” (If you are a Thomas the Tank Engine fan, then you will know that Gordon is the number 4 train. Corbin is four. That is why he is Gordon.)
“Buster?” (Two-year-old Perrin has been Buster for well over a year. I don’t remember why.)
“Perrin, say ‘here’, Mommy is calling roll!”
“Baby Onica, Bianca, Baby V, or Petunia?” (All of these are five-and-a-half-month-old Veronica’s nicknames. The first two sound like what Perrin calls her. The third one is my name for her. The fourth is my husband’s name for her.)
“She’s here. She just spit up about a gallon of yuck.”
“Constantine?” (My husband. He chose an important Roman Emperor.)
No answer, just a roll of the eyes.
Me? I was Empress Theodocia. I wanted to sound important. How often does one get to be called Empress?
Our second tradition, thankfully, isn’t quite so silly. We try to enjoy as much nature as possible.
I’m kind of the anti-soccer mom. I’d rather we get our physical exercise by doing something as a family, say, hiking. So, it was this in mind when I decided that our first full day at the Cape would be spent at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. I highly recommend this museum. It was not too expensive and just exactly right for kids my age. We were there when it opened at 10:00, toured the museum, had a picnic lunch and got ready for Mud Flat Mania, which is where I expected a little nature observation/physical exercise to take place.
Brewster, Massachusetts is known for its coastal flats. The best way that this Oklahoma girl can describe “flats” is that the beaches are very shallow, (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this) so during low tide, one can walk on the shore for a half mile or more before ever reaching the water. During high tide, one can walk the same distance, but the water will only go up knee high or so. This is the perfect condition for small children.
During Mud Flat Mania, a nature guide takes a group of people from the museum to the shore and demonstrates how to find critters in the tide pools, like hermit crabs and slugs and snails and worms and other slimy things. I’m thinking this is a primo homeschool opportunity, that’s why I signed us up! (Now, I learned about this from the website, not from personal experience.)
After our long morning of puttering around the museum, we met the nature guide at 1:30. His name is Lloyd. He has a dry sense of humor but seems to know what he’s talking about. So it’s my brood and six more adults on this adventure. Everyone not named Grubb is wearing hiking boots. I should have made a note of that. We were all wearing flip-flops. In my defense, we had arrived wearing sneakers, but changed shoes, because we were going to the beach. (Remember, I am from Oklahoma.)
Now, I’ve been on this property for a few hours and I’ve been trying to see the beach from the museum. All I can see from the windows and the picnic area is a dense forest of short coniferous trees. But the museum is on the north side of the highway. We’re facing north, the beach is there somewhere.
Lloyd began his saunter down the path, with my family right behind him. Emperor Constantine decided that Buster is too pokey, so up on the shoulders he went. I have Baby V in my body carrier which turns out to be infinitely better than a stroller. The walk is pleasant enough, through a scraggly evergreen forest. It is shady and windy. We walk for a good fifteen minutes, stopping every two or three, to adjust someone’s flip-flops that have flipped off. I gave up and have the kids go barefoot. Lloyd questioned that decision. I shrugged it off, taking into account that he, is in fact, not a mother.
We walked downhill toward a marsh. There are fewer trees here and one would think that we would see the ocean, since the museum is at a higher elevation. One would think.
The path stopped at said marsh. A long series of two 2X12 parallel planks have been laid across the marsh. Each plank is just wide enough for a human foot. This is our bridge across the marsh. The marsh isn’t dangerous. If you step off the plank, you land on the wet grass. But, this is a delicate habitat for wildlife, so we walked on the planks.
Lloyd stopped us on the planks and instructed the children to carefully inspect the grass of the marsh. Can they find a coffee bean snail? According to Lloyd, this marsh is under water during high tide. (So, that must mean that the ocean is near, doesn’t it?) Lloyd told us that the snails crawl up to the higher grass to avoid the high tide and then creep down low when the tide goes out. The snails are small and black, like a coffee bean. Can a child find one?
“I found it!” shouted Miranda, oops, I mean Sacajawea. Miranda is always the first to find anything. If she can’t be an Indian when she grows up, she wants to be a detective, like Encyclopedia Brown. She’ll be brilliant at it.
We all ooohed and aaahhed at the coffee bean snail as Lloyd gingerly placed Snaily back. On we go . . .
The marsh ends and we see . . . .a hill? Lloyd explained that this hill is part of a small peninsula, almost an island, and that we have more walking to do to get to the other side.
This is bad news for Corbin. He has persistently asked us, “When will be there? Where’s the water? When can we stop?” By now it’s after 2 p.m., we’ve been doing stuff all day. He’s tired, he’s whiny, he stomps his feet in frustration and pushes out his bottom lip in a pout. I can’t say that I blame him.
After about fifteen minutes or so, the dirt path turns into a sand path. The sand path leads to steps that lead to a bridge. In the horizon is a deep blue horizontal line. Once we descend the steps off the bridge, we’ve made it to the beach, but the water is still a half mile away. I can see other participants of MUD FLAT MANIA walking along the edge of the water, but we’re too far to see any distinctive characteristics.
I’m beginning to understand why it’s called what it is.
(From dictionary.com) mÂ·nia :n. A manifestation of bipolar disorder characterized by profuse and rapidly changing ideas, exaggerated gaiety, and EXCESSIVE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY.
The baby is stirring. She needs to eat. No one thought to bring a shaded chaise lounge, so I found a spot along a bank to sit and nurse my infant. The rest of the party walked across the beach to inspect the tide pools. Nursing the baby while sitting on a nest of hard bristly spikes in a very rough wind isn’t a vacation memory I want to cherish. I kept thinking that a critter, like a crab, might want to share Veronica’s lunch, so I tried to get her to hurry.
Once finished, I nearly fell out of my flip flops trying to cross the sand and tide pools to catch up with our party. Now I understood Lloyd ‘s concern about the children’s bare feet. The beach isn’t smooth, but it is covered with broken shells. Trudging through sand is harder than walking on the path and the shells made it treacherous. Nevertheless, I was trying to soak in the beauty of the beach, and not think too much about my discomfort. I’ve never done anything like this before. I would like to come back again, that is, when my children and footwear are sturdier.
The remainder of our group seemed to be very interested in Mud Flat Mania by their serious expressions and probing questions to Lloyd. No one was distracted or even obviously concerned about our disruptive children.
Everyone, including the children, stopped to look at a pair of mating horseshoe crabs. A single one is creepy enough. Two of them, in the middle of . . . . . .was enough to make my stomach turn. It may have bothered the baby too, because she started to wail.
As I approached my darling husband I could tell he was frustrated. He was trying to contain Buster, keeping him from running off and splashing in the tide pools. He foresaw the discomfort of carrying a wet toddler back to the car. He was also trying to console whiny, nap-worthy four-year-old, who wouldn’t have been excited about a crab if he saw one driving a police car. The girls, however, were running, splashing and looking around for life in the many tide pools. I was glad somebody was having a good time. My husband looked at me in desperation.
“What can I do to bless you?” I asked him, in a rare moment of selflessness.
“Do something with Corbin,” he pleaded. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t do much since I was busy patting V’s bottom, trying to get her to hush.
But it did occur to me that, even though we had spent a long time getting here, with the wind and my insecure footing, this was no place for a baby. I offered to take her and Corbin back to the van. My husband agreed, yet understood the enormity of this task. I had to keep my flip flops on my feet, walk 100 yards or so with screaming babe and cranky preschooler in the wind, find the now lost path and keep my cool, then trudge the whole mile back to the museum.
“Okay,” I thought to myself. “God help me. This is the stuff Super Moms are made of.”
Our return trek across the beach was slow going. I would call it a coffee bean snail’s pace. After a good ten minutes, (we did stop to look at a couple critters) we found the path. Corbin was slightly happier, but Veronica was not.
I was trying to keep Corbin’s spirits up and talk about anything except what we actually doing. We talked about what we were going to eat for supper. We talked about his favorite videos. We talked about what he saw in the museum. Finally, the staircase that led the bridge was in sight!
I said, “Corbin, let’s pretend that’s a ladder truck! We can be firemen!”
“Mommy, come on!” He actually rolled his eyes. “Fire trucks aren’t in the woods!”
Ooooo-kay. I’m running out of material.
Corbin is my music lover. He sings constantly and often identifies his videos and DVD’s by their background music. So, I tried to get him to sing a song. He spent another ten minutes or so trying to get me to sing the correct words to an obscure song from “Between The Lions”.
“I’m sorry, Honey,” I told him, “my brain is older and it has more stuff in it. I can’t remember the words! Hey look! The marsh!”
It was the marsh! I calculated we were about halfway back. We stepped on the planks to cross and Corbin, always concerned for my safety, wanted to walk beside me, to hold my hand. While I was trying to explain to him though I appreciated his chivalry, and marsh plank walking is an exception to his code of honor, he slipped off the plank, stepped onto the wet grass and sat down and little harder than he wanted to.
This was the last straw.
He broke down into a extremely loud and pathetic wail. It’s a wonder I didn’t join him. He was hardly hurt. In fact, he’s rolled over in bed and had more boo-boos, but his sandals GOT WET!
I was just about to offer up thanks that we were alone in the woods, when I saw five adults, behind us, step onto the plank path. Oh great!
They approached and we awkwardly allowed them to go around us. The last adult, a middle-aged woman, looked at the sniffiling Corbin and the snoring Veronica.
“Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”
I thought I needed to milk this for pity. “This is nothing. I have three more back at the beach with Daddy.”
“Oh, my!” She exclaimed.
“I wanna go back to the vacation house!” Corbin is inconsolable.
“Oh, are you on vacation?”
“Yes!” sniffled my boy. “But this stinks! Do you know what else stinks?”
“No, what?” I braced myself.
“DELLl! DELL STINKS!” Oh, no! Now he’s done it! I felt my cheeks turn hot. I know what he’s talking about. We’re moving into the territory where Mom gets embarrassed.
“Is Dell on vacation with you?”
“No, I’m talking about Dell Computers! Dell stinks!”
I mumbled something to this gracious woman about my husband: after God, family and Country, the Emporer pledges his allegiance to Apple Computer. Corbin is only repeating what he’s heard.
To my relief she said, “I agree. I have a Macintosh!”
“Whew! I’m glad we didn’t offend you.” Maybe I’ll encourage my husband to keep his opinions to himself.
The three of us came to the end of the plank path and started the ascent through the woods that led to the museum. A return trip always seems faster. Before long, the museum was in sight, then the parking lot, then our mini-van.
At the van, I changed Veronica’s diaper, switched Corbin’s footwear to pre-hike sneakers and then took care of myself. My Keds have never looked so inviting.
The next thing on my agenda was getting the three of us back into the museum for some water. I looked up to see my husband, with Perrin on his shoulders, and my other two tired, but happy kids walking down the path toward us.
My husband as as glad to see me as I was him. We were both amazed that I had been at the van less than ten minutes.
We packed everyone up and drove back to our rental house, which, ironically, was less than five minutes away. I suppose I could have walked there.
Next year, I’d like to add to my vacation traditions: I want to always keep water in the car, schedule hikes first thing in the morning and buy a pair of Timberland White Ledge women’s leather hiking boot in waterproof Gore-Tex.
Then we’ll have a vacation worthy of an Empress.