There is a window, albeit a relatively small one, during which kids seem to blossom into the concept of a family vacation. We're at a point in time where family vacations can be more about the kids and having them relish the experience.
We've just returned from two weeks of fireworks and lighthouses along the Pacific coast. Every other year (give or take) we spend the July 4th holiday with our friends who live in Vancouver, Washington. Vancouver still believes in celebrating the 4th in the traditional way, which means blowing optional body parts to kingdom come. Who needs an old finger, anyway? It works for us, though, because we're the guests. This means we don't have to go out there and risk contact with these IED's in patriotic wrappings. Not unless we really want to. Thus we spent our 4th having (literally) front-row seats for one of the best 4th spectacles you'll ever see. This is primarily because not only were we setting off fireworks in our own cul-de-sac, but we got to watch every other street in Vancouver light off their boomers as well. Had we stopped to listen, we might even have heard the show they have every year at Fort Vancouver. But we couldn't because our hosts like to open their windows and play patriotic CDs (they have a 25-disc player!) as loudly as they can.
But the 4th was only a sliver of our time spent in Vancouver this year. For a whole week we imposed on their hospitality, whilst our girls attended Hogwarts Owl Camp this year. Yes, you heard me. Our goddaughter, who is exactly one year older than our Jelly Woodyette, got to be a "Prefect In Training" (or, as we preferred to call her, a "PIT"), and the Woodyettes were willing camperettes. It involved a lot of work on the part of someone-who-shall-not-be-named-in-this-blog-but-whom-we-call-"neighbor"-just-in-case-my-daughters-are-reading-this-post. Doodle had a pretty good time with the crafts and the games of Field Quidditch, but Jelly had the time of her life. They even had camp tee shirts and vests, complete with badges. Jelly loves any activity where you can completely immerse yourself in some other world, and Hogwarts is one of her favorites. They had enough fun that the Inner Dad didn't even mind those occasions when he was required to assist. I was pretty much the official photographer/videographer for much of the camp, and was also an ad hoc camp counsellor when things like a nature hike were called for. Not a huge problem, though, with a camp of three.
Jelly also loved our lighthouse tour on the way back down the coast. We started at the southern peninsula in Washington and worked our way down through several lighthouses in Oregon, ending our tour with the lighthouse in Crescent City, California. I'm sure Jelly loved looking at the lighthouses themselves, but what she really loved was the opportunity to "hike" out to see them. Most of the lighthouses we saw don't have terribly convenient parking where you can just sit in the car, point, and say, "Ok, kids, that's what a lighthouse looks like." No, most of them require some sort of hike. And Jelly loves hikes.
"Daddy! Can we take this trail?"
[Daddy looks at a dirt path leading into a stand of trees that's probably inhabited with rattlesnakes and gophers the size of HumVees]
"No, Sweetie. Let's stick to this (paved, varmint-proof) trail here."
I am also happy to report that there were only a couple of houses that Mrs. Woody couldn't see on this trip. She's the true lighthouse afficcionado in our family, and the tour was primarily her idea. She knew, having done her research, that some of them just aren't terribly wheelchair accessible, but she wanted us to see them (and, of course, document them) anyway. I compensated somewhat by buying her commemorative spoons of every lighthouse I could find along the way.
We also visited one of our favorite places in Oregon: the Tillamook Cheese factory. Tillamook cheese is famous, and it was one of our stops during our honeymoon eleven years ago. We couldn't wait to return and take our kidlings through the tour (which is, for the record, wheelchair accessible). The kids were appropriately fascinated, right up to the part where Doodle managed to get a big glob of BubbleGum ice cream on her sister's shirt. Fortunately that waited until the tour was over and all we had left was the gift shop.
We also had some time to consider where we might like to retire in a few (hah!) years. In fact, Mrs. Woody and I discussed it so much that Jelly pulled me aside one evening with a worried look on her face. "Daddy? Why are you and Mommy talking about moving?" I hastened to reassure her that Mommy and Daddy are only planning for a kid-free future and realize that we can't afford to live in California on a fixed income. "By the time we're ready to move, Sweetheart," I told her, "you'll be on your own, or may even have your own family. We plan to leave no forwarding address." I didn't really say that last part, but I was thinking it.
So we're home now. Mrs. Woody picked up a nasty infection somewhere along the way and is recovering from that, but we are otherwise glad to be home. It's nice to pick up and leave for awhile, but it's also nice to come home. Home is (for the Woodys, at least) our haven; our refuge from the world. Having been out amongst the world for a couple of weeks, our love for home has simply magnified.
Of course, it's about time now to begin planning our next vacation. We'd better hurry. That window is already closing fast, and our vacations will once again be mostly for Mom and Dad.
Not that we won't enjoy that.