"I cannot believe you are making me get up early and do something EDUCATIONAL on the very first day of summer!" my second son nearly screams at me. "I want to go swimming and get up late and hang out with my friends! How could you be so mean?"
"What are we going to DO there?" my daughter asks suspiciously. "What is there to see? How long will I be in the car?"
The oldest is quicker to give in, and he simply sighs in exasperation. "Mom, you know the two of them will just argue all day, just like they always do. Are you sure that you want to do this?"
In spite of the loud protests, unnecessary drama and concerns, I declare, in a very Mom-like fashion, that we are, indeed, going to Hildene, as a celebration of the first day of summer. I state emphatically that Manchester, Vermont, can be driven to -- and back -- in less time than we drive for lacrosse games. I also note that I’ve been wanting to visit their gardens of peonies for at least seven years -- and that their spring sports schedules have not allowed it. I explain that having one day with just mom and kids together, to finally start off our summer, should be seen in a much more positive light by grateful, good children.
I try to soften my unreasonable parental demands on their all-important summer schedules (much of which will dramatically affect my ability to work, not to mention my own ideas of fun, but they have not yet processed this fact in their brains). I tell them they can sleep in a bit, and that we don’t really have to leave until 10 a.m. I sweeten it even more by adding a breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts -- and yes, the pun here rings entirely too true, as their choices at this place defy nutritional guidelines. When the oldest asks if he can drive, I eagerly agree, figuring it’s the embodiment of the "two birds with one stone" -- more fun for him and checking off his required driving time.
Picnic lunches packed, requisite electronic gadgetry all charged and loaded into the car, and two incredibly sad-looking dogs peering out mournfully from the mudroom entry, we set off with instructions being called out by Faith, our cars GPS system. (As I follow the electronic voice with pretty much blind faith, it seemed only appropriate that the voice have a name that matched.)
At the 100-mile view on top of Route 9, I force them all to lift their heads up from their phones and Kindles and appreciate the view -- although I do admonish the 15-year-old driver to keep his eyes on the road this one time instead. Going across the mountains and up the state border, I broach a few family subjects that seem easier to discuss while in a car: summer expectations for chores, limits on electronic screen time, the importance of reading Š and late Father’s Day surprises, August vacation plans, upcoming family visits, and Fourth of July parties.
We start our Hildene tour with my middle son happily (and correctly) answering which number president Abraham Lincoln was. "Sixteen!" he pronounces, and settles in to listen.
Over the next three hours or so, we consider presidential history and race relations. We admire sweeping, majestic views and the beauty of hundreds of peonies in bloom. The older two use their phones to snap-chat and Instagram their friends. My daughter happily jumps from brick to brick, imagining the size of Abraham Lincoln’s original home as it is embedded in the ground in front of his son Robert’s 4,000-square-foot mansion.
Throughout our visit, I struggle to answer the nine-year-old’s questions of why we needed something called an emancipation proclamation: "Why would someone think it is OK to own somebody else? That just doesn’t make any sense." I wonder how to thoughtfully respond to the 13-year-old’s memories of taking Amtrak a few years ago and the work the porters did for us, comparing it to the Pullman porter’s stories we just heard.
We have about an hour we can spend in downtown Manchester, a town we somehow never seem to have visited for any other reason. We stumble upon the general store -- where I inwardly groan, even as all three kids eagerly breathe in as one. "Mom! Look at all the candy!" Remembering the balance we are trying for on this trip, I cave. At the same time, I ask them to exercise some restraint as I decide that one bag per child makes more sense than listening to "It’s not fair!" complaints later.
Coming home, I ask them for their "two good things of the day."
"The Pullman Car," says one, and all eagerly agree.
"Just seeing the place was really cool," says another.
"Driving, that was definitely good, too -- after the Pullman Car," says the oldest.
I can’t resist noting that the candy did not make their list? They all answer honestly that they like that too -- but the other things were even better.
So it was not so terrible to be doing this trip, with mom, before the summer really begins in earnest, I press the second child? He laughs at me and says it was "actually a pretty good day."
What more can I ask for?
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.