Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Day with Daddy

Ever since we arrived in Iowa, and that was about 2 1/2 months ago, Michelle has been with the boys 24/7. It's enough to wear out the sturdiest, most constitutionally strong individual.

Despite generous support from her mother and sister, Michelle is at wit's end most days when I return from work. She's a little less patient with the children, her voice is a little more shrill, and she has a bit of a feral look in her eyes. I should know what I'm describing, because I've been there, too.

In short, like any caring, conscientious parent, Michelle needs a break from time to time. But with our lives a bit dysfunctional with a new house that needs fixing and living with her family in the interim, it's been hard to get that respite.

I wish I could say that I had this great idea to give her some relief. But the fact is one Sunday about a month ago, relief was pretty much thrown at me. Michelle needed her time, and that meant I needed to find some time with the boys, by myself.

I like being with my children. I like it a lot. But I admit I don't jump at the opportunity to watch over them for a day, because it's hard to keep them occupied for that long. Necessity, meet desperation. Desperation, meet creative thinking. Creative thinking, meet Grandma.

Grandma is what we did my first time (in Iowa, that is) of full-day watching. I packed those kids in the car, and off we went to Grandma's farm, about an hour away. Going to Grandma's serves two purposes: One is instant assistance with the boys, and from someone who adores the little buggers, to boot. Two, is there is always yummy food, and plenty of it. Fat, happy and assisted. What's not to like?

The second time daddy day care occurred, I took the boys to Davenport. The main impetus, I sheepishly admit, is I read that the local Chick Fil-A had a 50s-themed party, and there'd be ice cream and activities. I'll take a serving of planned activities, please. After that, I had only a vague idea what we'd do and still most of the day lay ahead of me. Thankfully, there is a fair amount to do in Davenport. We went to a dinosaur museum with an Imax theater, where we watched a documentary (with scientists!) about tornadoes. (I got to eat popcorn, thus making my day complete.) Then, we went t the city's botanical gardens, which, to me, seemed more like a park, albeit a very nice one. The children swung, ran and played, and we even witnessed a wedding at a giant fountain. Despite the random planning, this, too, was a good day.

The third Sunday I had the children, we had bought our home in Mt. Vernon. That meant we had closed, and thus were poor. So, the activities remained local. I took the boys to a playground, we tromped around downtown, ordered a Hawaiian pizza and lemonade and walked around the Cornell College campus, where the boys made piles of leaves and picked up sticks (bless them in their simplicity). Before I knew it, five hours had passed by the time we walked to the house.

Last weekend, I went for the big enchilada. For some time, I've been intrigued by Palisades Kepler, a state park just four miles from Mt. V. Would it have real natural beauty or would it be more of an exaggerated preserve? We are in Iowa, after all, and – nothing against my adopted state – but I really wasn't sure what I'd get.

We got ready to go. Water? Check. Fruit for a snack? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Baby backpack? Check. Shoes, not flip flops? Check. Children? Check.

Then, I got a little ambitious. Hot dog buns, hot dogs, charcoal briquettes, Gatorade, yogurt. Packed.

We were ready to meet Mr. Kepler.

Kepler State Park is beautiful. Quite. You enter on a narrow road amidst a dense thicket of trees, the canopies shading the road. Soon, you are winding around, a peaceful forest surrounding you. There are hiking trails left and right, camp sites, picnic areas, meadows, gorges. The road ends as it snakes along the Cedar River, and that's where we alighted. I loaded Isaiah into the backpack and off we went on a hike. Nathaniel immediately picked up some sticks, waving them around like light sabres, reflecting his current obsession with Star Wars. The trail hugged a rise along the river, opening up gorgeous views of the lazily flowing waters, with 40-foot bluffs as the backdrop on the opposite bank. A couple drifted in a boat, fishing. A boy walked on the bank with his dog. The birds chirped. The trees swayed in the breeze. Peaceful.

We all enjoyed our little hike, returned to our site and feasted on hot dogs, blueberries and Gatorade. After we ate, the boys ran around in the grass, and Nathaniel searched for Nicholas the bunny, from the Richard Scarry book, wondering aloud why he had failed to join us for lunch.

Hot yet happy, we returned home, and I put the boys down for a nap. I thought about how much fun we'd had, and how simple it all was – and how fulfilling. Truly, I can't wait when the boys are a little older, and I can take them camping.

At Kepler, of course.

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