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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
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
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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