Lucy the elephant is no ordinary pachyderm. In fact, my kids and I have climbed inside her. Built in 1881, Lucy is the oldest example of Zoomorhpic Architecture. Over the last 130+ years, Lucy has served citizens and visitors of Margate, New Jersey as a tourist attraction, hotel, a tavern and even a home. Lucy is just one of the quirky attractions I was able to experience with my kids because I made the choice to set my inhibitions aside and go exploring.
We Have All Been There
For the 10 years my husband was in the military, I was a stay-at-home mom and during that time we lived in 6 states, from Ohio to Texas. With his profession of choice, we didn’t have the luxury of deciding where we were going to live. Each time he got his next assignment, it was hard not to judge the city we would soon call home. My first thoughts were: New Jersey is dirty, South Texas is hot and Ohio is boring. My husband’s working hours were long and often unpredictable, and he spent a lot of time away from us. I had two choices during those tough times. I could:
1. Be apprehensive about exploring a new city with three kids, decide to stay inside my own little bubble in the immediate vicinity of our house, and drown in my own boredom and misery,
2. Be brave. Get out of my comfort zone and take some chances, finding more smiles and fun places to discover with my kids than I did meltdowns and regret.
My only sane choice was the latter, and it was the best decision I ever made. Was I nervous about going on exploration missions as the only adult with three kids under age 6? You bet. Did I sometimes make the plans and then cancel at the last minute because I didn’t think I could handle it? Absolutely. But I took it slow. I started with our neighborhood and slowly traveled a little farther away each time.
Because I decided to bravely explore our new cities, I can tell you about the time my kids and I saw baby sea turtles getting released into the ocean on South Padre Island, TX. I know exactly where to go in New Jersey to get some good pizza (don’t even think about going to a chain restaurant), and learned not to judge a diner by its looks. I learned that Ohioans are perhaps the most friendly, thoughtful, down to earth people I’ve ever met.
Each time you go on an adventure you’ll learn something new, and before too long, you’ll be an expert Mom Explorer.
You Can Do It: Tips for Getting Out
My bravery has only grown over the years. It has taught me that with a little planning and preparation, getting out and going on an adventure doesn’t have to send you into a panic attack, dreading long lines, big crowds and little fun. Here are some tips that helped me learn to take chances, and I hope they do the same for you.
- Start small. Don’t over-schedule yourself or try to tackle the biggest places first. Crowds can often mean stress. Start with the local strawberry patch, or library story time, then work your way up to the big popular attractions that draw crowds. When you get adept, you may even find yourself venturing across state lines with renewed confidence.
- Do your research. No matter what city you live in, you’ll find a hyper local publication that can help you find the right place for you to visit. Just search online for “(city you’re exploring) kids things to do.” Don’t be afraid to go through a few pages of search results to find some local blogs and websites. If you can’t find anything that way, try Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll be surprised at the resources you find. Once you’ve found some good resources, ask the locals where they go. You may end up going off the beaten path a little to find the small family owned restaurant with a special kids’ dessert menu, or the pool that has the best water slide in the county. Once you’ve found some good resources, find out where the locals go. Go off the beaten path and find the small family owned restaurants or find out which pool or park is the best from people who have been to them all.
- Be prepared for disaster. There is a happy medium in between expecting your family to act like the Cleavers, and expecting them to act like the Simpsons. Find that happy place and embrace it. You might have to deal with an explosive diaper in a restaurant with no changing area, or the king of all temper tantrums in the middle of a crowd, but don’t let that deter you from taking a deep breath, and moving on.
- Slow down, and don’t over-schedule yourself. Make a plan for what things you would like to see and do, and then be ok with the idea that you might not be able to see and do them all. Take your time and let the kids set the pace. You’ll have a much more pleasant experience.
So my final tip is this: just get out! Get out of your bubble. You can do it! Each time you go on an adventure you’ll learn something new, and before too long, you’ll be an expert Mom Explorer. You may smile one day when someone asks you, “What is there to do around here with kids?”. You will know just what to tell them! Looking back on your adventures, the disasters and the triumphs, what will stand out is the incredible memories you’ve made because you learned to take chances. And someday, your kids will thank you for teaching them to not be scared to explore this great big world we live in.
by Debbie Aiken
Debbie Aiken knows both sides of the coin. She began her adventuring mom journey as a military wife and stay-at-home. 11 years later, she graduated from Oglethorpe University and started a new adventure. As Assistant Communications Director of Oglethorpe University, Debbie has now turned her love of words into a thriving career. Her passion for family adventure still remains and keeps her constantly finding new ways to make memories with her husband and three children.