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This article by Caroline Calogero was prepared for the March 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Cherish the Golden Years

Here’s to the golden age of childhood, those sweet

happy years from ages 5 to 11. The broken nights and messy diapers

of babies and toddlers are past. You can leave the house without lugging

a stroller and enough provisions to last a week in the desert. Your

child speaks reasonable English, uses the toilet, and has finally

discarded the beloved Binky.

The emotional uproar of adolescence seems safely removed, no more

than faint thunder heard off in the distance. Sure, clouds could move

in your direction and cancel the picnic, but they could just as easily

head the other way.

This golden age is the ideal time for family trips to museums, sports

events, and even a pilgrimage to Disney’s worlds. Kids are enthusiastic

about outings and proud to be in the company of their parents. They

seldom use the word "whatever" when reacting to an announcement

that the family is planning to spend the day at a top-of-the-line

amusement park with a gate price of $52 per person.

These age limits are not hard and fast. Some little ones are fully

portable at age three. My easy going niece, Marie Ann, is pushing

13 and still likes to travel with the family. Yet Joni Mitchell might

have been talking to parents when she sang, "You don’t know what

you’ve got ’til it’s gone." So this is your wake up call. Ignore

soccer practice, cancel a music lesson, and pack the car. Choose a

destination, buckle up those kids, and go while you can.

Remember an outing with children is a different animal than one limited

only to those old enough to vote. But if going anywhere alone is out

of the question until years after the IRA has run dry, read on. Some

strategies are in order.

First, plan, plan, plan. Call the museum, park, or stadium to make

absolutely certain it is open the day you want to go and that advance

tickets aren’t required or sold out.

Second, plan to be prepared to disregard all plans. Opinion is split

on whether to inform kids in advance about an outing. Rain happens.

So does stomach flu. Some folks like to share the joy of anticipation

with the youngsters. Other less courageous types prefer to give them

the thrill of surprise, the illusion of spontaneity. The latter option

eliminates lots of tears if the mission has to be scrubbed at the

last minute.

During the car ride explain your expectations for good behavior. ("There

will be no running or shouting, Egbert and Eleanor.") Reinforce

the standards before exiting the auto. ("Remember, Egbert and

Eleanor…") Remain secure in the knowledge that these rules will

be broken.

The car ride is also the last possible moment to clarify your policy

on buying souvenirs. Reasonable parental approaches range from "choose

your heart’s delight" to "we already have enough junk at home."

Make a decision and stick to it.

No matter how careful you are about nutrition at home, fast food,

car trips, and kids go together. Appreciate the Zen of drive through.

Think of the positives, such as lycopene in the ketchup, rather than

the fat content.

A word of caution to aid in selecting your destination.

If you have chosen a place that you have been aching to see for years,

a place with lots of adult appeal, such as Duke Gardens or the Museum

of Modern Art, take a hard look at your expectations and lower them.

You will be there for less time than you anticipate and you will cover

more ground. Embrace the pace.

Kids seldom care to read the explanatory signage before each exhibit.

Consider the trip exploratory in nature. You can return once your

nest has emptied and see things in a more leisurely style.

Be prepared to spend lots of time in front of whatever really interests

your child. At the Liberty Science Museum a few years ago, my four-year-old

strapped Velcro to her palms and climbed up and down a carpeted wedge

for what seemed like an eternity in imitation of a fly on a wall.

And the lowly fly took on a whole new aspect.

Savor holding small sweaty hands and the brief stage where you matter

so much that your kids are desperate to share every new discovery.

For a recent trip with my family, which now includes both golden agers

and teens, we employed a divide and conquer strategy. We took the

little kids on a ride into Princeton on the Dinky and caught a glimpse

of the Princeton University Art Museum. We left the teens in the house

to a few hours of junk food, video games, and instant messaging.

For the storm clouds that mark the end of the golden age do have a

silver lining. Just as kids grow old enough to protest going on another

outing with their hopelessly uncool parents, they’re also old enough

to stay home on their own.

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