Earlier this summer I was a little saddened to see my son’s reaction to being in the unfamiliar forest (see this) – my beloved forest! He hated it. He cried to go back. Meanwhile, his local cousins happily romped through the ferns and pine needles. Oh, my beautiful, beloved, wonderful Black Hills forest that I’d explored since my earliest days! But during our three weeks there, he began to reach out more, to touch things, to not feel so out of place. This cheered me. One day we followed a path in town lined with purple dame’s rocket and other wild flowers (and invasive weeds, if we’re being honest), and he reached out to touch things and notice them. I was so proud of him, so very happy to see him becoming acclimated to a place (the Black Hills) where being outdoors is basically a part of everyday life. We have the misfortune to not be able to live there currently, but my hope is to claw more and more time each year out for us to spend there, in the place that I love and consider home, and that hopefully he will come to love as well. Baby steps. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Even now, only November, I’m counting the weeks until we can return in early summer.
Should you? Yes. It is magic of the truest kind to watch the sea creatures swimming in front of, above, and around you and your children at the aquarium. We visited a year ago when our son was almost three and it made such an impression that he still remembered it when we went this October. Last year he made jelly fish movements with his hands for months and months afterward. This year, he’s making baby sea otter noises to call me (sea otter mama) when he wants to snuggle. The tidal wave window is wonderful. The touch pools and children’s hands-on areas up stairs are wonderful. The kelp forest is wonderful. Really, it’s all wonderful!
Of course, the beach itself is beautiful, and this year we saw dolphins, seals, and otters offshore. We collected dried kelp and pebbles to place around our sand castle just like the decorator crab places on his shell. It was California at its best.
Monterey has a fabulous Dennis the Menace playground as well for more outdoor fun.
If you can go, you should go! The experience carries over into my son’s life for months afterward and provides countless opportunities for learning as we talk about what we saw, act out what we saw, and do art projects about what we saw.
It’s all about the sand for my son – a chance to dig and scoop and pile and destroy for hours. He doesn’t want to go near the waves, which is fine by me. For me, it’s about the long, flat beach, the cool air, beach combing, and walking, walking, walking. This was only our second time at Morro Bay but both times I’ve been able to collect numerous small, unbroken sand dollars, with the help of friends. For a few hours, I can pretend that I’m back in college, working on the Oregon coast for a summer, where sand dollar hunting was one of my favorite pastimes. I bring the little treasures home, rinse them, and set them out on trays in the sun to dry and bleach naturally and then use for various projects. This really is a wonderful beach for kids and families, away from the crazy crowds of Southern California, with plenty of opportunities for interaction with nature. We love the Central Coast.
Should you visit the Getty Center with a small child? Maybe. My memories of the Getty Center had been of peaceful, cool days strolling through the galleries and enjoying the gardens at a slow, meandering pace. Of course, that was nine years ago, before parenthood. We finally went back, this time with a three-year-old boy in tow. When he was a baby and toddler, we lived in Houston and could usually manage an hour or so of calm when we visited the Museum of Fine Arts or the Menil. He’d even point out artwork that he liked (Van Gogh’s self-portrait was a favorite), staring intensely at it or comparing it to farm animals. We should have realized those days are over when we visited Hearst Castle last year, but we tried again. We tried to view the illuminated manuscripts, but his intentionally loud statements about poop forced us to leave the gallery in embarrassment. He wasn’t impressed with the gardens, either. We thought he would have plenty of room to get out and run, but he didn’t want to leave the stroller. We promised him fountains, but they had all been turned off due to the drought. He did like a few things, though: the tram ride up from the parking area, the children’s band that was playing on the lawn, and the yogurt parfait and handmade potato chips in the cafeteria!
My sister and I were teens the summer our family went to Yellowstone, and our mom spent much of her time in the cabin instead of touring the sites with us and our dad. We all wanted her to come along, but now I understand why she may have wanted to stay behind. Beyond the fact that she didn’t really enjoy being away from home, she also loved, craved, needed quiet time, time to write and think. Staying behind at the lodgings while we went out was her one chance for a bit of solitude during our road trips, even if it meant missing a geyser or a bison herd.
Such were my own plans this June when I found a remote cabin for us to rent in the Black Hills. I would bring the laptop and try to get back into the groove of writing while my husband and son rode the 1880 Train, went to Jewel Cave, and visited the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. They could have fun while I had solitude – and perhaps most important, solitude in a peaceful place that was not my own home, because at home it’s all too easy to be distracted by all of the other tasks and projects piling up around me.
I have several hours a week to myself when my son goes to preschool, but my most productive period of writing was when my son was an infant and I hired a babysitter at home for four hours a week. I locked myself in an upstairs bedroom and wrote. I wouldn’t leave that bedroom because I didn’t want to risk setting off another round of separation anxiety. But now when he is gone, I have the entire house to myself, and so I can roam and gaze at my clutter, the art projects, boxes of supplies for the Montessori course I took recently – and sitting down to write is easily put off.
Nothing I could write or photograph or paint or make with my hands even comes close to the amazing, creative journey of parenthood. But beyond parenting itself, motherhood has opened me up to a stronger sense of creativity than I have ever felt. And with all of these new ideas to pursue, new plans to implement, I am often unable to complete the course due to lack of energy and time.
So I quite happily settled myself at the old wooden table in the historic cabin with a wide view out over a green field, racing to put as many words onto the screen as I could while the guys were out. There was nothing I could distract myself with, other than attempting to light a fire with newspapers from the 1990s and making countless cups of tea. They were gone much longer than I expected, and while I relished my hours of quiet, I was very happy for their hugs when they returned.
Between rain and cold wind, and day trips into the Black Hills, we did actually manage to get our son to one of his scheduled mornings at Art in the Park through Rapid City Parks & Rec. He and his cousin joined others of their height and size to make prints with vegetables in the picnic shelter (and do sidewalk chalk.) I liked the cauliflower clouds he made, and I was impressed with the pizza box drying rack that their teacher put together. But mostly, I was happy to find such a fun summer program run by the city, for a relatively modest price. I may do this kind of art with him at home on a regular basis, but I know that many parents can’t or don’t, and it cheers me to see the classes offered.
I took my son out early one June morning for a stroll in the meadow near our rented cabin. It was foggy and grey and beautiful, a wonderful time to be outdoors in the Black Hills. I planned to follow an old road bed over a slight hill and see where it went. I took his little hand and he bravely crossed a cattle guard for the first time, placing his feet carefully on the metal bars so he wouldn’t twist an ankle. He seemed braver than I remembered being as a child when I had to walk across cattle guards, something I still don’t like to do. I was proud of him.
We crossed the gravel road and entered the field. Within a few steps, he was unhappily demanding to go back to the cabin. “I don’t like it out here!” he proclaimed. The grass was wet and so his shoes, feet, and pant cuffs were getting wet. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the horizon. The field was full of yellow dandelions and the very tall grass was a lush green that we don’t ever see in the brown, dusty desert where we live. Perfect conditions to me, but not to him. He began to cry even harder and so I turned back reluctantly, leaving behind my hopes of a beautiful morning walk. I knew all of it was unfamiliar to him, and I knew it must be a bit overwhelming on a sensory level. I remembered our hike the week before and was again saddened by his reaction to being outdoors in a place that I love.
But the next day, when his cousins visited, he very happily followed them back into that field, way out into the deep grass that reached nearly to his waist in places. He even sat down in the tall grass and sprawled out on his stomach, rolling in the grass like a puppy, picking dandelions to show me. The sky was gray with an impending thunderstorm, but he didn’t mind. I was confused by his sudden change of attitude, but also very happy to see him enjoying himself. This time, he was the one who didn’t want to leave the grassy field when we finally had to seek shelter from the storm.