Friday, July 30, 2021

Why do we do this to ourselves? Parenting at the Parks Post #1 - Rushmore

When my grandmother took her five children to Italy for an extended stay she kept a journal throughout the entire trip, which she later edited and had bound into a book she gifted to her children so that they could remember the journey. Many of us have taken a copy of my grandmother's bound journal with us to Italy to see the beauty she saw. Her description of the events were beautiful and made the entire trip sound idyllic.

This is not that journal.

How my grandmother took five children across the Atlantic is beyond me. I have two and our four day trek to the national parks in South Dakota just about killed all of us. It would be easy for me to curate pictures and make it look like we had a beautiful adventure on social media. In fact, we probably will do that - and the shutterfly album we make from the trip will capture the glowing highlights. Then again, I believe in realism, so the memory book will probably also capture moments that I’m sure, later, will either make us laugh or remind us to never travel with children again.

Because I believe in the idea of "you have to laugh or you'll cry” and I use writing to process my feelings, the next series of posts will capture our adventures, misadventures, and survival strategies. #parentingintheparks


Our third day was blocked off to visit Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. This was, of course, planned to occur after a full day of rock scrambling in the BadLands and it would be our third day of exploring South Dakota in the 100+ degree heat. What could go wrong? 

We dragged our children through the throngs of tourists to see the man-made artistic representation of the dead white men that survived our country. (I was surprised to learn that the original plans for Rushmore included a much more diverse group of heroes, yet the final plans only included the four presidents.) Our children, along with every other child on the path, reacted the same way to the iconic monument - with prolonged whines, desperate calls for food as though they had not been fed in days or weeks, and with feeble voices begging for medical attention to care for their weak legs, stomachs, heads, arms, or undesignated body part. We strolled past a family desperately trying to jam their toddler’s boneless body into the stroller. My daughter burst out laughing when she heard another parent say “I told you to eat breakfast this morning” at the shock that other parents use the same lines we do. Apparently her parents are not that original after all. A family with teenage boys were reprimanded by their father who begged them to just “let mom have her moment and stop complaining. Pretend to be interested.” I continued to look around frantically, assuming that the whines echoing off the mountain were my own children’s, only to find that it was a chorus of collective, whining voices from every child present - making it impossible to tell which was my child. Oh wait, my child was the one sitting down and refusing to move. Well, one of the kids refused to move. She wasn’t alone.

I felt such solidarity with these other parents. We are not alone. We may be dragging our children through 100+ heat in an attempt to experience the world and to be good parents. Memories! We want them to have memories! And to learn outside of books! And although yes, as parents we are miserable in the heat as well and possibly find the ranger talk on the tedious process of just how the monument was scripted a bit longer than necessary, we need to set a good example. Those expensive plane tickets we bought to get us out here are not going to waste. And so, we bribe, and cajole, and use our “I mean business” voices. And when one random parent in the crowd gets down in their child’s face to use the “I’m not kidding, you touch your brother one more time and you won’t get ice cream” voice all the kids around them shape up because they can’t tell the difference between these tired parents’ voices and ours either. We’re all in this hot, whiny, memorable family experience together. 

And so, as we sat down to eat our overly expensive park food I decided we needed a survival plan. Something novel. Something to make us laugh. Something to make us possibly survive the awfulness that this trip was becoming...

... stay tuned for our solution