Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And a Good Time Was Had by All

We are about half way through our Spring Break, easily one of our most favorite times of the year.   Carlos is off work, too, so we take advantage of the time to soak up tons of family fun.  Today we picnicked at the zoo.  We weren't the only ones, by a long shot.  In fact, I have never seen our zoo so crowded!  They had row after row of people parking on the grass, and the lines were astounding.  It reminded me of Disneyworld, except our zoo's attractions are considerably more limited.  Another feature that reminded me of Disney was the abundance of shrieking, worn out kidlets being marched firmly on by tight-lipped parents grimly insisting, "You will have a good time!"

Yikes.  I think every parent has had times where they are sacrificing time, energy and money to do something special, and then feel as though the kids don't even appreciate it.  I understand the frustration.  I know that their intentions are good, but I have learned that successful outings with four small kidlets depend on more than good intentions.  Timing is everything.

That refers to the time of day, of course.  For us, mornings are good.  Early afternoons are not bad.  Late afternoons and, not usually.  If I am doing something only marginally fun, like grocery shopping, it is crucial that I hit that sweet spot of after-breakfast-before lunch.  Ignoring nap time is just asking for trouble.  Goodness, I get cranky when I am tired.  Pushing my children beyond their limits is not fair to anyone.  Even with fun stuff, they expend an incredible amount of energy, and if they are depleted, it becomes more manic than magical.

Fuel is a must.  I confess, I like junk food, and indulge myself and my kids.  However, I also know that too much sugar, too many artificial colors, not enough protein, not enough water results in misery.  Many of us grew up where special occasions meant candy or ice cream and other sweets.  Those memories are sweet in several ways, but balance is important.  For our picnic today, I brought homemade sandwiches and fresh blueberries.  We also added some not-healthy chips.  Oh, well.  Even so, I knew that they had real food before we went exploring, and that they weren't going to have a sugar meltdown.

Timing is also everything when it comes to the pace and scope of activity.  The biggest key is adjusting your expectations.  Fun may not look like you imagined it would.  There is no prize for rushing through and saying that you saw every animal at the zoo, or rode the most rides at the amusement park.  Let the kidlets set the pace.  That may mean an interminably long time watching the ducks, and missing the lions altogether.  It may mean chasing leaves for several minutes, or skipping the other side of the park, or watching a caterpillar make it all the way across the sidewalk.  It is easier to remember with toddlers, but still important for older kids, too.

If your goal is really to have fun together, you must be present.  Pay attention.  Put your phone away.  Look into their eyes and listen.  Join in silliness.  Let go of any burdens that are trying to weigh down your thoughts and emotions.  Wherever you are, be all there.  Kids take their emotional cues from us, which is still more reason to breathe in peace and let go of tension.

Can't you just see the joy?
Have an exit strategy.  I never know how much of the zoo we will actually see.  We may spend a couple of hours at the caves, petting zoo and climbing rock and miss the rest of the zoo altogether.  I do know what we will do on the way out, though.  My kidlets adore the carrousel, and are more than happy to head toward the exit when it is time to go, knowing that we will get a ride on the way out.  It is much easier to leave when we know that we are headed to more fun.

If we are paying attention and not trying to impose an agenda, we will recognize when the fun reaches the saturation point and when to leave.  Allowing time to transition from big energy to a relaxing bath or quiet time is important, too.

I am so glad we still have a few more days of Spring Break, and I hope you are having as much fun as we are.  <3


Hippie Housewife said...

So true. So so true. All of my childhood memories of amusement parks, zoos, gardens, and so on involve long hours of walking, going without food, and feeling miserable in the name of "having fun" and "doing it all". A couple hours of actual fun would have been far more (positively!) memorable than long days of forced "fun".

On a side note, I absolutely adore your son's hair. Mine had similar hair until last year and I still secretly miss it. ;)

granny2five said...

Joel does look like he's having a good time, but I had to laugh at Carlos in the background on both pictures. Him? Not so much!

dulce de leche said...

Thanks so much! We've had to consciously tell ourselves that if we have a good time we've gotten our money's worth.

He doesn't like it when some people think he is a girl, but he really wants his hair to stay long, and we like it, too. :)

Poor Carlos--he didn't take allergy meds and was feeling awful by the time we got home. And Ariana was focused on adjusting her belt and was not smiling in that pic, either!

GrammyK said...

Fantastic wisdom!! Thanks for sharing!! I can't wait to go to the zoo again!! We live so far away right now--and the last time we went we got chickenpox! My youngest continually asks if certain animals are real or pretend since so much of what he sees on movies/cartoons are imaginary. Going to the zoo this spring (yes I have determined we will go!) will be a real treat for him! :-)

Most of my boys have gone through the long hair stage--or are still going through it. I do have a rule that if they want to grow it out it must look "kept". If they can't keep it looking nice on their own then it's gotta go. :-) There's nothing worse than getting our big family ready to go somewhere and looking over to see an unkempt mop-head who hasn't brushed his hair for a week!! (yes, that does happen around here!) Son #3 is still growing his out for dreadlocks. It's ready now but there just isn't enough time to make the dreads. They say that it'll be an 8 hour job! Yikes. And Son #4 has requested growing his out and he's still getting the hang of grooming. :-)

Anyway, love the pictures and sage advice. :-) Your blog is a haven of peace and acceptance in my crazy life. :-)

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much, GrammyK! I will have to talk to you about dreads--I am a bit chicken to try them, but very interested. I hope you all have a marvelous time at the zoo! Many hugs to you, dear lady, for your comments and for your awesome blogs. I love reading them, and hearing about your beautiful family. <3