A case for patience on the family trip

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

We came. We saw. We weathered one of the biggest tantrums of 2015. And we experienced magic.

There’s really no other way to describe tonight’s experience at Lime Kiln Point State Park here on the San Juan Islands. The outing had it all: Smiles, tears, shrieks of terror, and screams of joy.

In the end, the experience was a classic case study about the yin and yang of family travel, a picture-perfect snapshot of how bad can become good, a fitting demonstration of why we moms and dads must practice patience above all else.

The night began around 4:30 p.m., when Powerwoman and I decided it might be fun to pack a picnic dinner and head to the park for a little whale-watching. This spot, on the west side of San Juan island along Haro Strait, is renowned as one of the best places in the islands to see Orcas from shore. We had heard reports of whales on that side of the island and thought we might get lucky.

We packed a dinner. We drove to the park. We got to the trailhead. We started hiking. For the first few minutes, everyone was happy. R was singing. L was counting clouds.

Then, at the picnic table, as we broke out our meal, disaster struck: BEES! HARASSING US!

My wife and I didn’t mind the little buggers. The girls, however, FREAKED OUT. R started flailing her arms and moaning. L started crying uncontrollably and shrieking like a banshee. Just as Powerwoman and I started contemplating pulling the rip cord and heading back toward the car, the whales arrived.

In that moment, we were faced with a dilemma: Flee the situation to pacify the children or stick it out to pursue our objective of seeing whales? After much deliberation, we decided to stick it out.

The moments that immediately followed that decision were horrendous. L’s anxiety prompted blood-curdling screams—shouts so loud some onlookers wondered if they should call the cops. R, in an attempt to flee a nagging bee, lost a flip-flip into the ocean (thankfully I was able to retrieve it without injuring myself).

Gradually, however, once we put the food away, the bees stopped swarming, and the girls’ terror dissipated, too. As the kids calmed down, more whales came. And more. And more after those. Some surfaced no more than 30 feet from where we were sitting.

After about 30 minutes of whale crossing, it became clear we were witnessing something pretty rare: An entire pod of Orcas passing by “together.”

In response to this spectacle, the kids’ moods changed completely. Instead of yelping in terror, they were cheering for more whales. Instead of yelling, “Bees!” they exclaimed, “Another dorsal fin!” every time one surfaced in front of us. Instead of insisting that we go home, they were begging us to stick around for more.

When we finally did leave, in the car on the way home, the “whale show” (as they called it) was all they wanted to talk about. The incredible sighting made us grown-ups forget all about the bee incident, too. It was as if the bad stuff never happened.

The lesson? When traveling with little ones, sometimes a little heaven is worth a whole lot of hell.

I’m not suggesting parents turn deaf ears to miserable kids and subject their children to hours of horrendous conditions every day. I am, however, saying that every now and again, we moms and dads might be rewarded for practicing patience in particularly taxing situations.

Identifying those situations isn’t easy; heck, they’re probably going to be different for every family. But when you do manage to stick ‘em out, persevering can have its benefits—for everyone involved.

The beauty of a drop-in indoor playground

Travelers of all kinds understand the importance of letting kids burn off steam during a family vacation. The practice wins children time to let their imaginations wander. In turn, it also keeps everyone sane.

Inside A Place to Play.

Inside A Place to Play.

This is precisely why we love A Place to Play here on San Juan Island in Washington State.

The facility, literally one block from the ferry slip in Friday Harbor, amounts to a REALLY COOL indoor playground. It has a variety of themed creative play areas (including one where kids can use makeshift crab pots to catch stuffed crab). It’s spotlessly clean. The employees are patient (even when a certain 3-year-old mixes water and magic sand). Heck, the joint even sells snacks. Add in the cost—$7.50 per child per hour for the first hour, a total of $7.50 per family after that—and the place is a dream.

Rules of the road at A Place to Play are simple. Most of the time, children must be accompanied by a responsible supervising adult. The grown-up can’t leave at any point in the visit. If kids want to snack, they must do so in the dinette area. That’s pretty much it.

Of course there are exceptions. Once a month, A Place to Play hosts Date Night, during which the facility brings in some additional staff to watch (and feed) kids for three hours while moms and dads enjoy some quality grown-up time. This promotion is as much (if not more) for locals as it is for tourists. Perhaps the only downside is that it’s not cheap; it will cost us $40 to send both girls there Friday.

(To be honest, though, I’d pay twice that for a few solo hours with my bride on a family trip. Especially considering our wedding anniversary is Sunday.)

The concept and set-up behind A Place to Play makes so much sense, I have to wonder why these sorts of facilities don’t exist in every city. We certainly would use them. And I bet we’re not alone.

%d bloggers like this: