We’re back! And you’ve all been so patient — thank you for putting up with my absence of the past 2 weeks. We have returned from our 6 day, 1500 mile, 10 state, 9 city, whirlwind, east coast extravaganza and I’m now settled back in enough to tell you about it. Many of you may recall our last trip north, a nightmare of herculean proportions that spawned a tidal wave of two-year-old-ness in Zoe and Lucy that didn’t stop until they were knee-deep in their threes. It featured snow-boundedness in a non-childproof house, white-out 5 mph driving on the Jersey Turnpike, 2-yr-olds figuring how to climb out of pack-n-plays that were located in a non-childproofed sewing room and a trip cut short and denied its primary mission due to the worst east-coast snowstorm in history. We were reeling for months afterward. And if you get me started talking about it today, I get anxious as if we’d just returned. One of the only good things to come out of that trip was Dora the Explorer, who babysat for us for months afterward.
So now you’re on the edge of your seats waiting to hear how this trip went, the first one we’ve taken since that last one in January 2005. Well, this may not be as cathartically bloggable (like our beach trip a few months ago) as a horrific trip would be, but I am so pleased to report that the trip was fan-freakin-tastic. Unimaginably so. Great things happened and happened and kept happening, and we returned triumphant, smiling and enhanced, if a little sleep-deprived.
Here are the highlights:
- We headed north via the so-called “western route,” which means rather than retrace our well-worn path of I-95 through Richmond, DC, Baltimore, NJ Tpke, NYC, etc. we were going to go through smallerish towns all the way up. This necessitated a little research on my part for places to stop along the way since I’d never driven it before and we didn’t know anyone in the towns we’d be passing through. Our first goal was Roanoke, Va, 3 hours from Charlotte. Zoe and Lucy are so used to the 2-hr drive between Durham and Charlotte that we figured they’d have no problem making a 3-hr stretch. (Plus we were armed with new books, new toys, new Magic Treehouse audio-books, and new DVDs, so we figured we could overstimulate them into being ok for 3 hours, if it came to that.) Magically, I found an incredible destination outside Roanoke. I say magically because I tried to re-create the googling that led me there (so I could report it to you, of course) and I couldn’t. So, suffice to say, I have no idea how, but I found a FREAKIN ZOO in the middle of nowhere (aka, just outside Roanoke). No-one I’ve talked to has ever heard of it, let alone been there, and there was no-one else there the day we went. But it was possibly the best stretch-your-legs spot I have ever seen. It’s called the Natural Bridge Zoo and it’s in Natural Bridge, Va. A small zoo, with small, chain-link cages, filled with active (ie, not hiding behind rocks so you can’t see them) animals that you’d want to see (ie, not a glorified petting zoo with too many goats). We saw lemurs, white siberian tigers (and playful tiger cubs), giraffes, zebras, gibbons, baboons, camels, elephants, bears, capuchin monkeys, antelopes, mountain lions and more. And they were all visible, and they were all moving, and they were all close to us. We were all thrilled. Especially Zoe and Lucy who got to see their signature animals (we all did, actually: Zoe=Zebra, Lucy=Lion, Mama=Monkey, Papa=Ptiger) in person for the first time. We will definitely be stopping here again. And again.
- The day we drove up (here’s a map of our journey, if you’re interested) we left NC at 10am and made it to CT at 1:30am. 13 hours later, at about 11pm, Lucy pipes up from the back seat, “Boy. This sure is a long drive!” I tell you this to illustrate what angelic driving companions they are. No complaining. No “are we there yet?” No begging for movies. They were dreamboats. I was way more whiny as I drove through Pennsylvania in the pouring rain, with about a million trucks and totally unmarked roads (don’t they have reflective paint in Pennsylvania?). I don’t know how we managed it, but we seem to have been blessed with good traveling kids. Remind me to take advantage of that as years go by, ok? And when they’re globetrotting twentysomethings, you be sure to remind me how I was proud of that when they were 4.
- The day after we arrived, Bob’s sister and mother arranged a get-together playdate thingy for the nine cousins (that would be Zoe and Lucy and their cousins). Ordinarily, this would be a not unusual feature of any trip to visit family. The catch is that this gathering included the kids of the other sister; the one Bob and I haven’t spoken to in 7 years (I’m not going to go into more detail than that because this is a 😀 happy blog 😀 today). So her 5 kids (ranging in age from 14 down to 2) haven’t met Zoe and Lucy before, and likewise, Zoe and Lucy don’t know them. And yet, it was a glorious afternoon. All the kids are adorable and sweet and kind, and they were all really nice to Zoe and Lucy, who did great in a group of lots of kids they didn’t know (or didn’t know well, as in the case of the two other cousins they haven’t seen since the sucky trip in Jan 05). It was something I was wary of leading up to the trip (understatement city, there), and once it was over, I was sorry to see it end. We all were.
- The next day we went apple picking! Went over to the Hudson Valley in NY to see our friends Julie and Richard and their newish hunky baby Elijah and also our friends Betsy and Ken and their awesome house, who doesn’t have a name. Julie and Richard’s next door neighbors had a trampoline which Zoe and Lucy jumped on for about an hour. So much did they love the trampoline that they weren’t even interested in the chicken coop located about 20 feet away. Just jumping. And no one got hurt! Then we had a fabulous lunch at Betsy and Ken’s fabulous house, where Zoe and Lucy sat charmingly at a farmhouse table surrounded by adults talking adult-ly. End of story. They were charming. They ate their lunch. They didn’t get up and run around. They even joined in the conversation a little bit. But I was so proud of them and how grown-up they were. Then we went apple picking! Phillip’s Orchards had hundreds of trees with dozens of apple varieties, and pears too. The trees were so heavy with fruit it was almost grotesque, in a lovely sort of way. See here:
Zoe and Lucy had a great time picking and even eating (their anti-fruit stance is often relaxed when they’re picking the fruit themselves, in the wild), and they climbed every tree they could. I know I’m overusing the word, but the whole day was just charming. Except when Betsy got stung by a bee. That wasn’t so charming.
- Another reason for our trip was to see Bob’s grandfather who is 93 years old but according to my mother, doesn’t look a day over 73. He is physically agile, mentally speedy, twinkly eyed and very very cute. I haven’t had grandparents in a long time (all my grandparents passed away by the time I was 12), and I adore Papa Howard, so when I spend time with him, it makes me crave spending time with him. It’s like, when I’m not seeing him regularly, I’m just living my life, occasionally thinking of him, but you know, not all that often really, because he’s just my grandfather-in-law. But when I’m with him, I just fall into him. And I don’t ever want him to go. And I want to see him again tomorrow. And I want us to go back up to Connecticut next month, so we can see him again. It sounds a little stalkerish, but believe it or not, I think the feeling is mutual. Not the crazy stalker I want to see you all the time part, but the adoration. I’m sure I see it in his eyes — a little extra twinkle just for his grandson’s wife. Which just makes me adore him all the more. Plus, it is totally amazing to me that Zoe and Lucy actually have a Great-Grandfather. I mean, how cool is that? I’m so jealous of them.
Bob with Papa Howard. Two of my favorite people ever.
- Next stop? New York City! We took the girls to play Dora and Bob the Builder at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and we met our good friend Adam and his daughter Polly who is 5 1/2. Zoe and Lucy and Polly love each other. When Polly got there, she walked over to where Zoe and Lucy were already playing, planting vegetables and flowers outside Wendy’s RV, they took about 27 seconds to reacquaint themselves with her and from that moment on, one of them was holding hands with Polly. Then we walked from the museum to the subway — about 4 blocks. The 3 girls held hands the entire way, spreading cheer through the streets of the Upper West Side like colored bouncy balls through San Francisco.
4 blocks they walked like this. At every corner/cross street, Adam would grab one end hand and I would grab the other. Then they would resume their little joyous assault on the walk-ommuters of the Upper West Side.
Then back to Brooklyn (Zoe and Lucy’s first time on the subway — there were lots of performers, it was fast, we went under the river — needless to say, it was a popular part of our trip.) to play on the stoop (Sesame Street style) and eat take-out Thai food with Sheila and precious baby Josephine. (Everyone take a second to send Sheila good Brooklyn apt. sale co-op approval vibes. She needs some.) And Zoe and Lucy’s first sleepover! They slept on the bed in Polly’s room, and Polly slept on an air mattress. They all went to sleep fairly quickly and slept all night. They didn’t stay up all night giggling. They didn’t short-sheet anyone’s bed (although Adam did suggest it). They didn’t tell ghost stories with a Princess flashlight illuminating their chins. They went to sleep and they slept all night. A momentous first for all three of the girls and sort of a “What the hey? Who stole our babies and replaced them with big kids?” kind of thing for us.
- And finally, we arrive at the day when we need to head home. Brooklyn to Charlotte in one shot. Our aim was to make it to DC in time to play and eat dinner at Beth & Gabe’s house in Arlington. We made it by 3:30 and piled into the most kid-friendly house on the east coast. The playroom is filled with dress-up clothes, Little People cities, games, paints, and a kitchen (a real one, in addition to the play one). There’s a big wooden swingset outside, and they arranged for perfect weather. And upstairs are 3 or 4 separate kid enclaves with small tables, dollhouses, books and princesses. Oh and kids! There are kids too! Katie and Ellie and new baby Christopher the angel. And Betsy Lynn came with Clementine and sweet baby Dot. And Zoe and Lucy too. It was zooey! (Hey! A trip bookended by zoos!) And Beth and I got to take each other’s kids to the potty! Ah. Old friends.
Lucky Christopher there on the left. In Katie’s lap. Otherwise, all girls!
Bob fed a full-grown male giraffe (definitely male) that was 16-17 ft tall. It just reached over its fence and ate the petting zoo pellets right out of his hand. (Isn’t Bob so brave? He’s my hero.) Next to him is a very furry donkey who followed us around the zoo. He would bump into us like a rhino when he wanted more food. Zoe and Lucy named him Bonky.
I will actually tell you a tiny bit about the family feud: it’s over religious differences. Mostly that they are pretty religious (in a Mel Gibson kind of way) and we aren’t, although Zoe and Lucy happen to go to a Jewish preschool. So when lunch was served, the cousins said their various family blessings and got ready to eat. Then little Zoe stands up on her chair and declares, “Everybody. Stop. Don’t eat yet. I have to say our blessing.” She then proceeds to sing the Hamotzi, the prayer for the bread. In hebrew. Everyone was rapt. Bob’s mom got teary. It a moment worth about a quazillion bucks.
After dinner and that photo shoot, we left DC at 8:00 pm and made it home around 2:00 in the morning. It was tres bizarre going through Durham without stopping. There was something sweet about it, humming through our recently-old hometown in the middle of the night. Like, I wanted to roll down the windows and breathe deeply with my eyes closed as we drove through the past eight years of my life. I was driving though, so, you know — responsible time. But it didn’t make me feel wistful, or sad (except the part about how we still had 2 hours to go) like I thought it might. I think it was the “not stopping” that was odd. Blowing through like it was just another random town on our route. And in the end, it felt great to walk into our new house and feel like We Were Home. A lovely ending to a surprisingly perfect trip.
Thanks to everyone we saw for all your hospitable hospitality. And the rest of you, those we didn’t get to visit (there aren’t many), thanks again for waiting so patiently while I worked on this travel essay (and then reading it — at least, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you read the whole piece. Don’t worry — only 5 more words!). Now, on to bloggier blogging!