Probably the biggest understatement in the history of understatements is, “Life changes when you have children.”
When my first child was born, my mom advised me to “strap him on and go.” As in, carry on with my life as I would normally live it, and bring my new son along for the ride to learn about the world.
It sounded really good at the time. I blame the massive amounts of hormones.
Plus, I wanted to believe it. I didn’t want to give up my pre-kids penchant for taking unscripted adventures, and enjoying all the things that make me, me.
I loved spontaneously hopping on a BART train to go and explore a part of San Francisco, or popping into a museum, followed by wandering until I found a nice little spot to have something to eat and people-watch.
I once locked eyes with Harry Connick Jr. on one of these little expeditions. I still kind of mentally swoon a little bit remembering it.
I looked forward to sharing this with my son. Not the swooning part—the adventures.
In my mommy fantasy, I blissfully planned expeditions to my favorite museums to engage in a little shared go-go-ga-ga over some Gauguin.
What a cosmopolitan little kiddo I would have, whose little brain would just soak in the cubists, and follow it up with some dim sum in Chinatown.
I’ll pause here while you laugh at me. It’s O.K.
Are you done?
Yes, clearly I was deluded—sort of.
The adventures don’t have to stop when you have children, but they do change.
First things first, it wasn’t all about what I wanted to do anymore. I think I kind of glazed over the part where I acknowledged my child is a person, not an appendage, or a really cute accessory.
There are naps to consider—some do them on the go, some do not—and they get tired fast, and so do you! Some children gamely try anything on their plate; some do not.
Add in a sibling or two and “unscripted” is beyond laughable.
A few years into my new adventures in parenthood, my children and I do take (some) of the adventures I have always loved to take, and I'm happy to say they love it. But, we do so with some adjustments.
1. I plan.
At my children’s young age, “spontaneous” doesn’t work so well.
If I want to leave the house for an extended expedition before 9 a.m., and actually walk out the door before 11 a.m., I have learned to take care of all the things I can take care of ahead of time.
Bags can be packed, maps printed, car filled up, clothes set out, tickets printed, etc. the night prior. So, when we invariably have some sort of slow moving child (or mom) morning delay, it’s no big deal, and doesn’t start our time together in a meltdown (theirs or mine).
Take it from me, it also pays to map out the restaurants and (cleaner) bathrooms available where you are going.
If you can, have a cover location available if the place you were supposed to go to doesn’t pan out, or is completely boring, so that the whole adventure isn’t a frustrating (and expensive) wash out.
I also try and prepare my kids ahead of time for what might be expected of them on the adventure we are taking.
Are there manners they will especially have to use, like inside voices, or looking with our eyes and not our fingers? I let them know what my expectations are, and those of the places we are going, and practice them before we get there.
I do not enjoy a child running amok in a gallery, before or since having kids, so I make sure that that child is not my child.
If my kids can’t handle crowds, I don’t take them when there will be big crowds.
Sometimes it helps to have some company, to have back-up and extra hands, but sometimes I've found it can make things more complicated and stressful. Know how your family best operates, or at the very least go with families (and family members) that operate similarly.
2. It has to be fun for everyone.
I haven’t been to a lot of adult art museums since my boys came along, although I was able to strap on my first son very early on and he napped through a few galleries as an infant.
We do go to museums, but mainly the ones we frequent at our stage is where we don’t risk being tackled by a docent if we get a little too “experiential” with the exhibit.
I still work on going to the art museums, and going to hear live music, but for now I take advantage of family programs, when they expect and plan for their littlest patrons.
Funny, I barely notice the adventures I can't take anymore, or have to wait until they are older to attempt, because there are so many new adventures we have taken that I never would have taken on my own.
Who knew, for example, that I would enjoy a barn full of old—I mean vintage—tractors?
I’ve learned that I’m not so much showing them my world, as they are showing me our world through their eyes.
That's the adventure I enjoy these days.
3. It’s not always the destination, but the journey.
Another thing about taking adventures that I have learned from my kids is that it not always where you are going that turns out to be the most fun part.
Recently my kids and I grabbed some free passes from the Contra Costa Library’s program to go visit the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco for the first time.
My kids and I enjoyed it, but when I asked them that night around the dinner table what their favorite part of the adventure was that day, they both announced, “riding the BART train!”
Kids! Glad those tickets were free.
Rest assured, the adventures don’t stop when you have kids. There is never a dull moment, and I’ve found, my kids share my love for exploration and adventure.
It’s not what I expected, but so much better than I imagined.