As a working mom, I find it difficult to arrange for time to have outings with my growing children so they can experience and explore the world. For instance, this year I wanted desperately to have a trip to the beach with my two-year-old twins and another family. We planned the date and time, my husband arranged to have the day off, and everything was working out smoothly until the weather decided to be unusually cold and rainy for August. We had to revise our plans so we didn’t waste the day; however, the other family also had a last minute family emergency so it was just my husband and I along with our twin girls.
Earlier in the summer, we arranged for a day at the zoo. It ended up being an hour at the zoo and two and a half hours total driving to and from the zoo. The Petting Coral had a limited amount of animals for my children to enjoy petting. In fact, it was just a pen full of goats. The goats were much bigger than my girls were, so neither of the girls wanted to touch the animals. In fact, one of my twins simply ran around in the pen and looked over the animals with scientific curiosity – which is a huge feat for a two-year-old – and the other twin refused to leave the safety of her father’s arms. The budgie atrium was a little more successful. The shy twin who wanted to stay in her father’s arms refused to even come into the atrium to see the birds until I’ve been inside the atrium with the other twin for a good ten minutes – and she still refused to leave her father’s arms. The other twin ran around peering into the faces of the colorful birds, chatting up the other children in the atrium, and – much to her mother’s dismay – nearly stomped one poor bird looking for some seeds to nibble on.
The aquarium held the interest of both girls a lot better than the first two stops. They thoroughly enjoyed watching the penguins waddle and swim in the water and exclaimed over the fish, sharks, and brightly colored starfish. The entire walk through the aquarium was with the girls fastened safely in their tandem double stroller. They didn’t seem to mind, which was a blessing, but it also required my husband and I to keep the momentum and interest going or complaints started coming from the stroller that would echo loudly around the enclosed space and alerted the other patrons of our disgruntled children.
Next, we walked past Monkey Island. It was a warm, humid day so the monkeys were more interested in hanging out than doing fun acrobatics in the nets and trees on their island to entertain our children. We were separated from the island by a moat – for lack of a better term – and the girls could hardly see the black-furred monkeys as they lounged in their enclosure. After that disappointment, we moved on to the African and South American animals. My husband was excited to see the wild boars that are native to his country, Mali. The girls were not very interested, but again they were in the stroller that was much lower than the tall grasses and fencing around the boar enclosure. They were much more excited to see the lone tiger in its glass pen. It seemed to be excited to see us, too. Golden eyes bright, the tiger would pace back and forth in its pen and rub its cheek against the glass, leaving a trail of slobber behind. The petting pen for pygmy goats was far too stinky to encourage us to stop and the camel was impressively tall, which did little to entice the girls to ride it. There was only one lioness who didn’t look pleased to see us, then it was time to go.
The second trip toward the end of summer was at a children’s museum in Allegan County, Michigan. It was a small museum that had educational and cultural activities for children ages 1 to 12. They also have special events on weekends with themes from clowns to Star Wars. There was less driving to this outing and we went earlier in the day since the museum closes down at 5pm. This trip replaced the trip to the beach because of the unusual weather.
The girls felt comfortable enough at the museum to go running in and dip their fingers right into all the new toys and activities available to them. In fact, once we let them lose, it took them a couple of minutes to figure out what they wanted to try first. There were colored shapes that they could fit into an easel to help children match shapes and colors. They plucked up the pieces from their container and ran around with them for awhile until they found the firefighters hats and put those on. That gave me a photo opportunity I couldn’t pass up. There was a fire engine to go with the hats, so we sat them in it and I took several photos. Then, they moved past the mirrors that made you thin, fat, short, tall, and wavy to enter the music section. We spent a good time there banging away on the xylophones.
Then, my taller twin found a wheeled circle with a seat in it, so I helped her try it while her sister continued to pound on the xylophone. She sat down and put her feet up on the bar and I showed her how to grasp the handles on the wheels and helped her to move the wheels. That was fun for her for all of one minute, and then she was quite done. So I had to chase her all the way back toward the front of the museum where she discovered a table full of sand with shovels and cool toys that would do different things as the sand flowed through them. The other twin soon joined us and sand was flying everywhere. I managed to get a few more pictures before all of us were feeling gritty with sand. Who needs the beach? This sand was not wet, did not have any…surprises, and had far better toys than the old standby of pail and shovel. I think the twins stayed at this table for the majority of our stay. While they were occupied with creating their own beach, we managed to meet another couple with a little two-year-old girl who were visiting family at Muskrat Lake and proceeded to engage in parental comparisons on potty training, mannerisms, and developmental break-throughs.
After watching the girls fling sand, I was bored and wandered back to the area where they initially found the firefighters hats. I found two sombreros and put a black and gold one on one twin’s head. She forgot about the sand for a moment and ran around the area showing off her new hat. The other twin wanted one too, but the only one left was huge. It weighed close to her weight and was red and silver. I put it on her head carefully and she moved around stiffly – probably afraid she will tip over if she moved too fast. Another photo opportunity was captured – much to the delight of my Facebook pals – and we moved on to the bubbles section.
Toward the back of the museum, there was a table with soapy water in it. In the soapy water there were plastic tubes fused together in a circle with a handle. If you pull it up slowly from the water, a bubble will form. However, there was a trick to it. If you didn’t know how to pull the handle through the air just right to make the bubble close up and float in the air, the bubble you started would simply pop and send little ribbons of soapy water everywhere. I was not a fast student. The girls, the floor, and I were very soapy by the time I managed to get the knack of it. Even one twin had to be taken to the bathroom to have her eye flushed because she had so much soap in it and it was starting to sting.
The last stop was in a room by the back door where there was a box of clothing for dressing up, a mirror, and a picnic table for the parents to plop down on in exhaustion. The girls would bring me various pieces of clothes for me to put on them over their own clothes and I would dress them and make suggestions on various accessories to find. One twin had a broken tiara, a pair of fairy wings that was looking a little ratty, and a pink velvet princess skirt. The other twin had deer antlers, a bent wand, and a blue velvet princess skirt. The way they preened in front of the mirror and declared themselves “beautiful” and “princess[es]” was quite cute, and let me know just how easy Halloween will be for me this year.
Unlike the easy exit from our zoo trip, our exit from the museum was done quickly, but not very quietly. The girls were used to having a nap between 2:30 and 4pm. At 3:20, we had to depart because one twin started screaming, throwing herself on the floor in a tantrum, and generally making a scene. She ran out of steam and was in need of a nap. The other twin had always needed less sleep and wasn’t in the least bit affected by the lack of a nap. So, dragging and then carrying a screaming, kicking daughter and gently guiding one meek, quiet daughter out the back door, we left the museum.
The different experiences at our day trips allowed me to learn very important things about my children. They need space and freedom to explore for them to enjoy themselves and get the most of their experience. Just walking through looking at exhibits is definitely not for them at this age. Long drives are also a negative. While they mostly behaved on the long drive to the zoo, it was also because we were providing them with French fries. The shorter drive to the museum didn’t need that incentive. In addition, foregoing a nap to give them entertainment was not a good idea at all. They are still too young and active to go without the much-needed sleep. I’m used to pushing myself through 5 days a week on 4-5 hours of sleep, but children a couple of hours short of their normal 12 hours of sleep are unmanageable and cranky.
On the agenda for next summer, we will definitely plan time at the beach and we might see how they do at Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park one day. Of course, the latter will be dependent on how well they do at the fair rides this fall.