Family Travel + Fatherhood = Life as a Sherpa

 

Par for the course.

Par for the course.

Magnus Ver Magnusson has nothing on me. Sure, the dude has won four of those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions. And, yes, he can do crazy-ass stuff like drag a car with his bare hands and lift kegs full of lead (or something like that). I’m sure he could even bench-press all 185 pounds of my Italian-Jewish self, without so much as breaking a sweat.

That said, there is NO WAY the Icelandic He-Man can carry more crap than I carry on Villano family vacations.

Whenever we go away (and despite my steadfast beliefs in equal parenting and obliterating traditional gender roles), I automatically assume the role of Sherpa, schlepping everything from suitcases to diaper bags, car seats to inflatable pools.

Most of the time, I’m also carrying the baby.

Like competing for the title of World’s Strongest Man, these efforts require a number of sophisticated skills. For starters, they require strong fingers, especially when you’re carrying a grocery bag on each one. Second, they require balance; it’s hard work fumbling for keys when you’re lugging a suitcase and a 20-month old with the other hand.

Finally, being the family bellhop requires a good sense of humor, since inevitably you will find yourself pushing a plastic shopping cart of princess dolls through a crowded airport.

For years, I thought this phenomenon was something only I experienced. Then, this past weekend, at a party celebrating L’s fourth birthday, I found myself in a circle with three other dads, talking about family travel. And the truth came out.

One dad talked of a recent trip during which he was tasked with carrying seven suitcases by himself. “I was holding one with my teeth,” he admitted proudly.

Another Dad joked about the ridiculousness that ensues when he and his wife travel with their twins—and the boys’ twin car seats. “We have these special car seat bags you can wear like backpacks,” he said. “I usually wear one on the front and one on the back.”

The more the four of us shared, the more we all realized we were in the same exact boat.

Which, of course, begs the question: Why? Why is it that family travel + fatherhood = life as a Sherpa? Why does a vacation with kids prompt us dudes to do our best Magnus Ver Magnusson impressions? Most important, if we dads always are carrying the majority of gear on family vacations, why aren’t we more ripped?

I’m not suggesting that our wives carry more stuff. I’m also not saying that we all should hire full-time servants like the family on “Downton Abbey.” Really, I think it’s time we dads got our own television show—the modern-day, daddy-centric version of World’s Strongest Man.

The concept is simple: Over the course of a season, the dad who lugs the most stuff through a busy airport—without dropping it—wins a title.

If the show were serialized, I’d watch every week. And with more practice (which, BTW, totally would benefit my family on trips), I might even compete. If I close my eyes, I can almost see the Wikipedia page now: “Matt Villano, World’s Strongest Traveling Dad.” Who needs a Pulitzer with a distinction like that?

Exploring San Francisco’s New-and-Improved Exploratorium

Exploring. At a place made for it.

Exploring. At a place made for it.

It took explorer Sir Edmund Hillary two years of trying before he became the first climber to summit Mount Everest in 1953.

Judging from our family’s recent visit to the Exploratorium in its new digs in San Francisco, it could take us just as long to explore all there is to see at our home city’s most exciting science museum.

I went with the girls and my parents (we usually call them Grammy and Grampy Power). We visited last week, exactly one week after the facility opened in Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. All told, we spent the better part of three hours there. During that time, we didn’t even get to see one third of the museum.

Granted, part of this was because we were moving at toddler speed; that is to say, we lingered at every exhibit for at least five minutes so little R could get a sense of what it was, what it did, and whether it was going to scare the bejeezus out of her.

But, really, our experience proves a much simpler truth: This museum is HUGE.

In other words, if you’re visiting with your kids a) allow a full day and swing by the café for lunch and b) don’t be a Clark Griswold about seeing everything because it’s virtually impossible.

As is the case with most museums, certain exhibits likely will resonate with different kids differently. L, who turns four at the end of May, *loved* all of the magnetic stuff—she spent 20 minutes building washer bridges between two powerful magnets and another 20 at a different magnet exhibit, making afros out of magnetized sand. R, on the other hand, who just celebrated her 19-month birthday, showed little to no interest in the magnets, and preferred getting creative with wooden blocks (see that picture, with Grampy Power, above).

That said, both of my kids loved the “Listening” exhibits; the Villano family went all Von Trapp and spent an extended jam session in the xylophone room that had onlookers (horrified or) in stitches.

Another favorite among the pint-sized members of our family: The “fog bridge” outside the museum, a public sculpture that replicates the sensation of walking through an active fog bank.

My only complaint about the new Exploratorium: The place needs more changing tables.

Yes, every women’s room had at least one. The men’s rooms, however, were another story. I understand the age-old assumptions about traditional gender roles. But, scientists, it’s San Francisco! And in the name of Frank Oppenheimer, we dads like to change a few nappies every once in a while, too.

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