Vacation Series: Richmond/Charlottesville, VA with Young Kids Part 2

On Tuesday the kids and I drove west one hour to the fantastic town of Charlottesville, VA.  Fortunately I lived there when I was younger and was able to turn off the GPS and just enjoy myself.  There is an incredible amount to do there with young kids so I had to pick and choose.  Knowing that we’d need to be heading back to Richmond by 1PM (sacred naptime) we only had time for a few activities.  The first stop was to pick up bagels from Bodo’s- a necessity anytime we are in town.

The 2nd stop was the VA Discovery Museum and it was well worth the drive. Summer 2014 496 Summer 2014 490 Summer 2014 471 Summer 2014 487 Summer 2014 482 Summer 2014 475 Summer 2014 480Everything is relative of course and if you are coming from a big city or if your kids are older than 6 this may not be worth your time.  For us, coming from rural Southern Maryland where there are almost no opportunities for young kids, this was a goldmine.  My almost 3 year old loved everything about this place.  She ran from the art room to the historic cabin replica, to the giant doll house, to the pirate ship.  My 13 month old loved the giant donkey/stable display, the garden (in which you can plant plastic carrots, etc.), and watching all the other children.  Right outside on the downtown mall there is a small merry-g0-round in which every seat is actually a small horse.  It’s free and my daughter was pretty sure she had never found anything better.

It was lovely to reunite with an old friend and take on Christian’s Pizza before our time in C’ville was over.    Here we are strolling along the downtown mall with our potty seat at the ready.

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Vacation Series: Richmond, VA with Young Kids Part 1

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Vacationing with young kids looks like this.

When your children are young the thought of taking them on summer vacation can make you want to run for the hills.  It isn’t just the short attention spans, the thought of carrying a potty seat with you to all destinations, or the fact that staying in a hotel room is not a viable option.

It’s also the realization that young children come with lots of STUFF.  A double stroller, a stool so that the potty in the rental house can be reached, a baby gate (not kidding here people) so that the baby does not find the bright orange Spic N’ Span cleaner under the non-babyproofed kitchen cabinet, and some kind of a portable highchair.  You must realize there will be no room for souvenirs on this vacation or perhaps any other for the next 5 years.  There will be no room for a 5th pair of underwear or the good camera.  By day 5 we will be in dirty underwear taking photos with our phones, and remembering that traveling with kids is a completely unpredictable and exhausting experience.

We potty-trained our daughter 2 weeks ago and although she is doing great, she is not comfortable going in public without her own Sesame Street potty seat which we clip to the stroller whenever we leave the house.  I try not to think about the ramifications of this too much.  I just use my anti-bacterial wipes and hope to avoid roundworms, rotavirus, crabs, and everything else.  When you have a 2 year old, it’s the best you can do.

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Stonewall Jackson Shrine

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Our rental house porch.

Our vacation to Richmond, VA began wonderfully.  We stopped off at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine near Fredericksburg, VA (what, you’ve never heard of it?) which was where he died in 1863.  We spent a few moments feeling thankful for modern medicine before arriving at our rental house which we discovered through AirBnB.

On Monday morning we headed over to the Meadow Farm Museum at Crump Park.  The playground was fantastic, there were small plastic vehicles the kids could climb in and pretend to drive including a train and fire truck.  My kids would have happily stayed in those two attractions all day.

In addition there was more of a traditional playground with swings (including baby/toddler swings), slides, and a hand-cranked platform.  Some part of the playground area was in the shade at all times. If you have time for a walk up the hill you can find many animals at the Meadow Farm- admission for admiring the animals is free and they currently have some adorable baby lambs.  My daughter also enjoyed the duck pond that we passed on the way.

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Meadow Farm, Glen Allen, VA

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Wildflowers at Crump Park

When we got back to the rental house it became clear that we wouldn’t be spending much time in it this week.  Although relatively clutter-free, we did not anticipate the rickety lamps and old-lady tables.  Our children discovered these immediately and went in for the kill.  The lamps were put in the closet and the tables were stacked on other furniture.  Although I had contemplated bringing outlet covers from home I decided that was just ridiculous.  Turns out that wasn’t a ridiculous idea at all.  We managed to borrow some from a colleague and they are the only reason I am able to cook food when home alone with my kids.  It’s as if my baby has a death wish.  Electricity?  Yes, please!


In a frantic attempt to escape to a more kid-friendly zone we headed off to the Tuckahoe Area Library.  It was a thing of beauty.  Not only was the children’s department as large as my entire library back home but it overlooked a lovely outdoor walking path.  The windows were huge, there was light everywhere, the volume of books put a smile on my face.  We missed storytime but the kids had a great time playing with all the different activities and reading together on the comfortable furniture.

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The entrance to the children’s department. Inside this rocket ship is a starry sky. We blasted off several times.

Vacation is a wonderful thing.  This one is a bit epic and so there will be further installments when I can get to them.  The bottom line though is that Richmond is a fantastic destination with young kids- we are loving it.

When Your Kids Are Older (Like 8)

Take a minute to consider how far your family has come.  Are you able to successfully transfer your laundry from the washer to the dryer in three minutes of uninterrupted bliss?  If there is anyone in the house under 4 years of age then chances are good that some kind of screaming/crying/pottying on oneself/falling down the stairs/stubbing a toe/tantrum ensues whenever you attempt this.  If you remember these times but no longer have to deal with them you should give yourself a point for progress.

When you hand your child a crayon and some paper do they color?  For more than 2 minutes?  Success again!  A point for you.

Have you been able to take the child locks off your kitchen cabinets?  Do you find yourself without a changing table in your home?  Has it been a while since you said, “Good grief, where did all these boogers come from?”  Does your bathroom smell like poop less than 100% of the time?

Have you stopped finding microscopic socks in the crannies of your washer?  Do you no longer find surprise items in your purse or pockets?  Here’s a big one:  Is your car without car seats?  Are all members of the family able to sit unassisted in the chairs that came with the kitchen table?  Has it been a while since you’ve seen Duplo blocks, Mega blocks, Little People, Sesame Street anyting, stacking cups, sippy cups, and compartmentalized kid plates?

Have you moved beyond footie pajamas?

Does your child still kiss you on the lips?

Do they still revel in their nakedness?

Do they still think you’re perfect?

When you become a parent no one tells you that you’ve just entered a new realm of complete vulnerability.  Or that you will feel things 5x more than you ever did before.  Or that when you hear about a school shooting you will instantly become choked with fear and agony and despair- for all the children whose chances just ended but more for their parents whose pain you can imagine across a multitude of miles.

They never tell you that although you may have loved you have never loved like this.

So you decide to roll with the large shiny blob of snot on your shoulder and you scoop your preschooler up off the floor in between washing the slimy dishes and baking another loaf of bread.  You cover her with kisses and then you go rub your cheek on your baby’s soft hair while listening to him coo like a dove.

One day the child locks will be gone and we will all ride in the car with regular seatbelts. We will cook one dinner (instead of 3 different ones) and my kids will cut up their own food and put it in their own mouths.  We will stay outside for more than 15 minutes on cold winter days and I will eventually forget the words to Rainbow Connection.  We will be able to do things as a family that I’ve never even imagined (because who has time?) like bake together and play board games.  We will write plays and have puppet shows and race our sleds in the winter.  We will have inside family jokes, our kids will help set up the tent when we camp, and one day we will watch them participate in things such as spelling bees and jogathons.

I’ll be ready for all that when it comes.  I certainly will not lament the loss of the poop sprayer attached to the back of my toilet.  I will pass my stack of cloth diapers on to the next person quite cheerfully and without any sense of loss.  My sippy cups?  When the time comes they can be yours if you’d like them.

But the moment right before her bath when my daughter unabashedly shakes her naked butt for every person in the house, and the sound of infectious baby laughter when I tickle the bottom of my son’s feet-  I can’t imagine not having those.

One day I’ll pull the final sodden baby sock out of the washer.  Thank goodness it will be impossible for me to realize it is the last time.

Daylight SAVINGS Time?

20140313-162246.jpg“Daylight savings never saved us anything and Thanksgiving time never gave us anything and Autumn’s peak only made us wish for spring….”  Eddie from Ohio 

Before I was a parent I was a person.  And as a person I could adjust twice a year to the bizarre custom known as Daylight Savings Time (DST).  Now I am a parent.  Of two.  And while the Autumnal DST seemed to help our family schedule, this whole process of springing forward is worse than a C-section recovery.

Daylight savings time is the epitome of frustration for many of the parents I know.  Just when you have it all figured out, just when naptime finally happens many hours before dinner, just when the kids are finally going to bed by 8, DST comes to wreak havoc on family life.  

It makes me wish I had saved one of those stress balls that were so popular in the 90’s.  Or that I had all my materials already gathered for my future cob house.  Some manual mud and straw mixing could do wonders.  Better still would be some grandparents within 1000 miles.  What I’d give to be able to drop my kids off with the grandparents….

After a couple days of attempting to come to terms with the unfortunate affliction that is DST, after increased quantities of caffine and endless minutes spent listening to Harry Potter audiobooks (much to my husband’s chagrin), after falling asleep last night at 9PM without brushing my teeth and still wearing my slippers, I have finally realized something that makes me feel much better.

I am not alone.  If you have young children it is highly likely that you are sporking yourself in the eyeball right along with me.  Thank you.  I like to think we will persevere over time.  And in the meantime, they tell me spring is on the way.  One brave frontyard  daffodil has started to peek out- let’s hope it’s a trendsetter.

20140313-162232.jpgWe have taken down our paper snowflakes and put up our spring flowers made of tissue paper.  When my toddler reminds me, “I don’t WANT to go to BED!” I just look at them hanging from the woodstove pipe and breathe.  We’ll get it all sorted out again.  Just in time to fall back………

The Details

Last night my baby slept for 10 hours straight.  This was unprecedented to say the least.  He finally slept longer than 3 hours at a time!  I wanted to embrace this new set of circumstances and yet….. it was awfully strange.  At 2 AM I began regular breathing checks as I crouched over the crib listening for breath and putting my hand on his back when I didn’t hear anything right away. When he finally roused at 6AM I was thankful and exhausted.  And that is exactly why parents get gray hair before non-parents.  Children get you coming and going.

This morning I was taking my weekly shower when I heard someone fiddling with the doorknob.  Yes, it was my toddler who just recently became quite adept at doorknobs.  She marched up to the shower, flung open the curtain and greeted me exuberantly.  “Hi Mommy!”

“Hi honey.  Where’s Daddy?”

“Making my oatmeal in the kitchen.”

“Hmm.  It’s probably ready- why don’t you go see?  Shut the door behind you please.”

{Sounds of a baby crawling my way- is he in the bathroom?  In the doorway?}

“Wait!  Don’t shut the door!  Do not shut it!”  {Toddler’s footsteps pound toward the kitchen.}

{Baby spots me in the shower, gets a look of glee and begins pulling up on the shower curtain.}

“Husband!!!”  {Husband arrives perplexed.}  “The children are overthrowing my alone time.”

“Well, why did you leave the door open?”

{Lengthy sputtering on my part before the door closes and my husband is heard chuckling all the way to the kitchen.}

This is life with two children.  And a husband.

When I stepped out of the shower the baby was immediately thrust into my arms for a diaper change.  The smell left no doubt as to why my husband chose to pass him off.  So the amount of time spent being and feeling clean = less than 1 minute.  Having developed a bit of a 6th sense about poop I turned to my daughter.  Sure enough she was following suit.  My children are generally united in their bathroom habits.

While changing my daughter who refuses to use the potty (probably this is karmic punishment for previous bad deeds on my part) my baby once again crawled into the bathroom.  When I turned around he was pulling up on the potty.  The POTTY.  Gross.  To conclude: My daughter, who should be using a potty, won’t go anywhere near it and my baby wants nothing more than to commune with it whenever possible.  And by commune I do mean eat.

By the time we began to eat the oatmeal lovingly prepared by my husband it had congealed into a solid.  Solid like a desk is solid.  Well, that’s nothing new.  We dug in.

What to Buy 2nd Time Parents

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABaby showers for first time parents are one thing.  Baby showers for 2nd time parents are another.  I imagine showers for consequent children are different still.  First time parents need the things they’ve had no opportunity or reason to collect until now.  baby stuff 008Things like baby blankets, a baby development book, diapers, clothes, and toys. First time parents are willing to consider the Boppy OR the Breast Friend, the Baby Bjorn OR the Ergo because they’re not going to know what will work for them until they try.

Baby stuff 016Second time parents have had the opportunity to learn what things worked for them and what didn’t.  It is possible they found a lot of things that didn’t work for them.  Therefore they probably have a short list of things they want and money is most likely at the top of the list.  There is no reason to buy them things  they won’t use.  Also since gift-givers can’t possibly know everything the parents have amassed since baby #1 came along, it is a bit of a gamble to buy anything at all.  They probably already have a bouncy seat, a play gym, a pack ‘n play, an infant car carrier, a baby bathtub, crib sheets, plush toys, and rubber coated spoons.  They may also possess baby gates, an exersaucer, a baby food maker, pacifiers, and baby nail clippers.  But here’s the thing:  2nd time parents still need things.  They just may not know what they need until the need arises.  Therefore send money. stuff 004

If you’re not a grandparent don’t worry about the 2nd baby not getting special things.  Chances are pretty good that they will.  Worry instead about getting things that will be used.  A chest full of special things to be passed down to a child is valuable.  And yet 2nd time parents would probably prefer some diapers.

Practical Gift Suggestions for 2nd Time Parents {if the kids are close together in age}

1.  Money.

2.  Target gift cards.

3.  A quality dust buster that can be cleaned easily.

(Do not skimp.)

4.  A double stroller.

(It’s the only way I get anywhere.  We have a sit and stand variety.  It’s this one.)

5.  Pre-made freezable meals that can be delivered to the parents during baby’s first month.

(Parents of a newborn who also have a toddler do not have the time or energy to cook or shop.  If you do not bring them food they may subsist entirely on Saltines and peanut butter.  Really.  Try to go for quantity over quality if you need to.)

6.  Activities for the older child that can be completed somewhat INDEPENDENTLY.

(Babies nurse a lot and toddlers don’t love being abandoned 8 times a day.  Help a momma out and inquire what kinds of activities the toddler is able to do.  Then buy them.)

7.  Washcloths.

(This was actually one of the best shower gifts we got for our first kid.  I am still using them after every meal to wipe off sticky faces.  We’ve had to replenish the supply of course but they have been wonderful to have.  They sell stacks of them at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Buy 2.)

8.  A treat for each parent catered to their likes.

(The baby is going to get everything they need from the parents.  But who will take care of the sleep-deprived parents?  In our case we would have like dark chocolate for me and some specialty coffee for my husband.)

9.  Bibs.

(Certainly there may be some left over from kid #1 but the velcro may have worn out and the stains are likely beyond the rescuing powers of Shout.  Our favorites were by Aden and Anais and can be found here.  Babies start eating food around 6 months. We found these burpy bibs to be a perfect size for 6 months and up and the coverage is excellent.  The packs of small cloth bibs don’t really fit after about 9 months.)

10.  Your friendship.Late Winter Early Spring 2013 080

(Is that the cheesiest or what?  Truly though it is HARD being a parent.  First time parent, second time parent, all of it.  Some days you just wish somebody (anybody!) would show up and hold your child long enough for you to use the bathroom or have a snack or switch the laundry.  Other days you realize that if you don’t get to talk to an adult real soon you’re just going to lose it.  Be a friend.  Keep in touch with new parents- there is probably something they need if you are willing to ask.)

Consider:  Baby lotions, shampoos, and diaper creams.  The packaging is cute but no parent really wants 20 of those sample size tubes rolling all over the bathroom and many of them smell very strongly.  Parents may have diaper preferences- ask before buying.

Then and Now

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Together time

On the more challenging days of being a stay at home parent it is easy to lament about the things you used to have before you reproduced.  These things include the freedom to close the door when using the bathroom, the ability to go grocery shopping in under half an hour, the dozen eggs that used to last 2 weeks in the fridge.

My chiropractor asks me why I’m not doing my back stretches.  I try to explain that my toddler sees stretching as an opportunity to gleefully jump on my back and so I come out of the situation worse for wear.  He asks if there is a way I can prevent that.  I just laugh and laugh.

At lunch today I noticed that the wall next to my baby’s highchair has the remains of at least a half dozen meals on it.  Speckles of dried blueberries, beef stew, and zucchini paint a vibrant landscape.  Instead of finding this alarming I consider adding Food Art to our weekly activity list and I leave the food where it is.  Like you, I am concerned when I read that last sentence but I’m also realistic.  It is unlikely that I will spent the precious moments of this elusive double nap scrubbing food off of yet another surface.  Double naps are for pondering the changes brought on by two tiny tots in less than 2 years.  For remembering what was and appreciating what is.  For taking a few moments for stillness.  And gratitude.


Mirror faces

I kind of love that last week’s food is drying on my walls.  I love that my glasses are forever crooked thanks to my head-bonking toddler and my exploratory baby.  When I find plastic kitchen implements stuffed into my back pockets I know they were put there with love by a little girl who wanted me to feel included.

Does my bathroom always smell like poop?  Yes.  Do we manage to use 10,000 tiny bowls over the course of the day?  Yes.  Do I have more of a relationship with my baby food maker than I do with my husband at the moment?  Possibly.  Am I ok with this?  You bet.

I had my time for me.  I had it all through my twenties and it was AMAZING.  In my thirties now I have no trouble acknowledging that my “me” time is on hold.  It’s what happens, it’s the next chapter.  The chapter where my family joins in my adventures.  Where we have battles over potties and sleepless nights with sick children, and


Learning to live.

carpets full of crunchy Puffs that get stepped on and ground in like sand.  We also

have sock wars, family music night, mornings full of laughter, evenings that find us practicing our bird calls, and moment after moment of sheer delight.

With all the sweetness in my toothy boy’s smile and all the shine in my daughter’s hair and all the generosity that pours off my husband like water, we are a family.  And sometimes families smell like poop.