(Mind the gap)
We returned from our first trip up to North Conway with the kids and I'm still recovering. Pre-kids, we spent a lot of time up there in the White Mountains -- leisure time -- it's a beautiful place to visit in all seasons. [But make no mistake, for all its quaint galleries, shops and cafes, it’s still New Hampshire: Motorcyclists with mullets where helmets should be. Gunracks. At the local general store, you can buy a steak-and-cheese and some cherry bombs from the nice lady with the lower back tattoo. Sites in the woods off Route 16: A tipped-over school bus. Tumble down shacks with “private property” signs, its occupants likely holed up inside with rifles, challenging the government to just try to smoke them out. Live Free or Die.]
Anyway, we headed north to take the kids to Storyland with the Kielys who were vacationing there with their kids for the week. Years ago, when we spent a weekend up there with the Kielys – pre-children – we eyed the Storyland signs with a sense of forboding. “One day we’re going to have to go there with our kids. Shit.” Indeed, Storyland is one of the inevitabilities of parenthood in the New England area; it's an outing that is faced with deep resignation and a smidgen of dread. It is a fantastic wonderland for kids. For kids. If you’re over the age of six, you need to suck it up and go to your happy place lest you go completely mad.
Alas, this storied land is a three hour ride from Boston, and despite all our cheap distractions and iPod strategies, toddler insurrection set in: “Where are we going.” “When are we going to get there.” “I want to get out.” “Mama, I want you to hold me.” “Will you take off my shoes.” “I have to pee again.” Oh my God. Is it too early to start drinking? A DVD player with headphones was our savior. (Thank you, Lynnie.)
When we finally checked into our hotel and headed off to the park, Caroline and Paulie acted like we were dragging them to the oral surgeon: "I don't want to go." "I want to go home."
“C’mon, guys, it’s Storyland. Look alive!”
Thankfully, once they spotted Conor and Katherine out front, the gloom and doom lifted and they ran amok with delight. They tackled the treehouse playground, took a train ride, went on a pirate ship, visited Cinderella's Castle. They suspiciously eyed a very brunette Cinderella. "Cinderella has blonde hair," they said to the tune of "Who is this bogus imposter?"
(Woo hoo, Boulos)
Then, of course there were the rides. The teacups, the tilt-a-whirl, the flying fish. Every ride spins. And since the kiddos were still too little to go on the rides themselves, we had to accompany them. We grew more glassy-eyed and woozy with each attraction. It was like the Paragon Carousel x 50.
What's happened to us? I used to love rollercoasters and spinning rides. My favorite ride at Canobie Lake was the Turkish Twist, a ride that spun around so fiercely your body would literally cling to the wall from the centrifugal force. Now I can barely handle Ring around the Rosie.
After a few hours, the incesssant ice-cream-man music was starting to make us twitch so we packed it in. Since Nic and Paul had been up there since last Thursday, they were able to scope out places and restaurants that were the least taxing (i.e, have play areas for kids so the parents can chill)
Nic discovered an outdoor ice cream place with Adirondack chairs and a gigantic playground and when we arrived, the place was incredulously deserted. We parked it on said Adirondack chairs while the kids played. We sipped pinot grigio from some to-go cups and marveled at our good fortune at finding the only spot in town that wasn't crowded. We learned later it was because the entire region was in lock-down in the wake of a triple homicide in Conway a few hours earlier. We had no idea. More rainbow sprinkles? Another glass of pinot? Gunman on the loose. A community in fear.
The shooting had taken place at an Army Barracks store just a few miles from the North Conway Grand where we were staying. We'd passed it on the way into town and I remembered it because it had a "help wanted" sign out front. I remember thinking -- after battling the whiny uprising in the car for 3+ hours -- I could crack the passenger door, drop and roll onto Route 16 and flee into the woods. Then, I could get a part-time job and hide out until the kids calmed down in a few years.
All told, there was a great deal of living and learning on this adventure.
-We learned that Caroline has not inherited James’ ultra-competitive nature. Upon being told she'd won some skee-ball horseracing game, she screamed "No I didn’t!" and had a complete meltdown. She felt badly that the other kids lost.
-We learned family vacations are selfless endeavors requiring a tremendous amount of fortitude and patience. The sooner you realize this, the better off you'll be. I realized this on the ride home, but will be better equipped -- mentally, at least -- next time.
-We also learned that you need a condo, not a hotel room. While the NC Grand was a beautiful, family-friendly place, we were rattling around in the room like dice every night. The kids passed out at 8 p.m. and I usually fall asleep around 1 a.m. We couldn't read because the lights would've woken up the babies. We couldn't pop down to the Mountainside Tavern for a few cocktails. In another gross error of judgment, we rented the movie "Premonition." I thought I’d read somewhere that it was like “What Lies Beneath.” It wasn't. It was hilariously bad. We definitely should’ve rented “I Laid the Nanny II: 2007” as James suggested. I can admit when I’m wrong.
While we ended up finding some enjoyment in the adventure, we'll return better prepared next year, a bit wiser with a greater supply patience. One thing for sure: The kids had the times of their lives -- which was the whole point.