I hadn’t been planning to do anything special for Labor Day weekend. We spent the last weekend of July at the beach, and I took the kids to San Diego in mid-August, so summer had already featured a lot of getting away. But our sitter had put in for the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day off, so it dawned on me about a week and a half ago that I was either finding a sub, or looking at a 5-day stretch with the kiddos.
I actually wound up doing both. I decided to take my two boys for a last-summer-fling-before-school-starts road trip on Thursday and Friday. I found a sitter to take care of the baby (my husband couldn’t get away until mid-day Friday). The boys and I drove down to Ocean City, MD, where some cousins were staying for the week. We played with them, had some beach time, and did another round at a kiddie amusement park. There was live music at my outdoor hotel restaurant on the beach, and happy hour specials. Since I didn’t have a baby with me, everything seemed remarkably easy. I could eat with both hands! We took an evening dip in the pool and then watched Gator Boys until we all passed out. I intended to read after they fell asleep, but the last time I saw on the clock was 9:12… and then 7:30 a.m. Wow.
Friday we drove to Mount Vernon to tour George Washington’s old mansion. It was quite hot, but we still enjoyed sitting on the porch facing the Potomac, where there was a bit of a breeze. We ate at Logan’s Roadhouse near our hotel in Manassas for dinner, and again I had the sense of how easy life would be with two kids, neither of whom were babies. Even though the 2-year-old is in the throes of potty training, so I spent a lot of time in bathroom stalls, the kids could sit and color at dinner and eat without my watching them every single second.
But I missed the baby, of course, and I soon saw her — looking like she’d grown in the 36 hours we’d been apart. My husband and Ruth came down to DC via train, and out to the Vienna stop on the Metro, where we picked them up around 8:30 p.m. The kids had this joyous shrieking reunion. I realized that even though I think of Ruthie as a baby, she’s already one of their playmates. The kids were thrilled to be back together with one of their own. We celebrated with chocolate shakes from the drive-through at McDonalds.
We all slept through the night in our hotel room, thank goodness. In the morning, we hit the Bull Run battlefields, where people were commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 2nd battle of Bull Run (which happened the last week of August 1862). There were men in costume, horses, and the kids got to see a Civil War-era gun get loaded. Then it was off to Shenandoah National Park. We did two hikes on Saturday, saw several stunning overlooks along Skyline Drive, and even made it to the top of a mountain where my boys made me quite nervous by scrambling over the rocks (Ruth rode in the backpack my husband carried; Sam wasn’t so sure about walking the whole way so my husband wound up putting him on his shoulders too. So that’s 50 lbs of kid — and lots of exclamations from anyone coming the other way on the trail about the two-kid combo!)
We had to stay out in Woodstock VA, since that’s the only place I could get a hotel, and this last night did not go quite so smoothly. The boys wanted to stay up late watching Star Wars — and they still don’t get the concept of live TV (you mean you can’t just go back to the beginning of the movie if you started watching at 8:20?) Ruth threatened to scream every time I walked away from her crib. Crying it out isn’t really an option in a full hotel. I spent a solid 40 minutes putting her down, seeing her climb up and throw her pacifier over the side, retrieving it, putting her back down, seeing her climb up again, etc. Eventually everyone went to sleep, but not before our calling an audible that we’d end this vacation on Sunday.
Sunday was rainy, but we decided to hike anyway. On the drive into Shenandoah National Park, we got sidetracked by what seemed like a military re-enactment. Thinking this was another Bull Run thing, we drove in and found ourselves at the new cadet orientation for the Virginia Military Institute, which was a little awkward, in that we didn’t have a cadet we were there to cheer on. Whoops.
We eventually extracted ourselves and went to the park, where we did two hikes. The first one went fine. The second one, down to a water fall, ended in tears on the long climb back up. Like, basically all three kids were in tears demanding to be carried, which is something when you have only two adults. But we made it, and then made the 4.5 hour drive home with very few problems. It is rare that you make up time on I-495 and I-95, but we did!
Having spent a lot of time traveling with little kids this summer, I can see that it is full of highs and lows — always in the same day, and often within the same hour. But I like traveling and I like experiencing new things, and if I wait until the kids are older, I’ll miss a lot of time that we could spend exploring the world. I’m glad we got one last chance to wring every last drop from summer. It has been quite a summer, with all kinds of memories to savor, from being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show to judging a pie-baking contest to running on the Jersey shore boardwalk to biking through the Lehigh Gorge with the kids in tow. How have you finished off this summer? What’s your favorite memory?
Photo from Shenandoah National Park courtesy of flickr user Westher