Growing up an only child, all of my childhood vacation memories are of me and my parents. California to visit my grandparents, Wildwood, New Jersey the same week every August until I was 18 and, a trip to Six Flags in New Jersey. Not to do the amusement park (I would have been riding those rides solo) but instead, for the drive through safari.
I have vivid memories of this safari; namely, sitting in the backseat of the car, thighs stuck to the leather bench seat in the summer heat, little monkeys sitting on the hood of our car as we drove 5 mph through the park, and – the pièce de résistance: a giraffe walking up to our car, bending its long neck down to the passenger window, and my mom rolling down her window and feeding him a piece of gum. (For the record – my parents have no recollection of this happening so perhaps I’m making this up?)
But what I do remember from the Safari was that I thought it was pretty cool.
So when it came time to think of a birthday present this year for our Little Mister, the Safari felt like the perfect gift! 1. He loves animals 2. It was an experience, and would not be another toy in our playroom and 3. We could make a weekend out of it and have an adventure!
Our adventure started with a traffic-filled drive to the middle-of-nowhere New Jersey to a Hampton Inn in the Township of Cranbury. (Can someone please explain these Townships to me? What the heck is a ‘Township’?)
Little Mister is not an experienced hotel visitor so he thought who he was rolling his suitcase up to the front desk. Since we’re still in a pandemic and I have an unvaccinated child, once we got into the room we stayed there: bringing in take out and watching movies on TV.
The next morning we arrived at the gates to the Safari after meticulously reviewing all of the animals we would see, the order we would see them, and how many exactly there were. And let me tell you: it didn’t disappoint. I don’t know who was more excited to see animals…me or the Little Mister. I just couldn’t not believe I was looking at an elephant a few feet away – not caged like a zoo – and I was in New Jersey.
We often had to stop so animals could cross the road in front of our car because they have the right of way (of course). And we were in New Jersey! (Did I mention that we were in New Jersey?)
Our Little Mister could not contain himself. Here were some of his most favorite animals, right in front of him! Lions! Elephants! Giraffes! (My favorite) Tigers! Bears! Rhinos! And a whole lot of gazelle/oryx/eland that literally all look alike. Not to mention about 4 million geese. He was so excited about seeing the geese, I felt we would have driven around a few ponds in Connecticut and has the same effect at the safari that was 3 hours away.
But seriously, this Safari is practically in our backyard (closer than Africa! Cheaper than Disney!).
I highly recommend it! Especially if you take your kids overnight to the lap of luxury also knows as the Hampton Inn.
Here are some highlights:
All this for $9.99/person? Talk about the bargain of the century! If you haven’t been, and you have an animal lover at home, GO. It’s totally worth it!
Last month, we were all invited for dinner at the house of Little Mister’s bestest friend. It was October and still warm, so the plan was to eat outside. However, Mother Nature was like, “Oh no, you’re not!” and it proceeded to be rainy and cold. The soirée became an inside party.
Little Mister asked me before we getting ready to leave, “Do I have to wear my mask inside?”
I hesitated for only a second. We knew the family, and I know how conscientious they are. And I make my family practically live in a bubble, so…
“Not tonight,” I replied.
Little Mister’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “I DON’T??? Hooray! This is the best day ever!”
And my heart broke a little bit.
Never did I imagine that my child’s “best day ever” would be not having to wear a mask at a playdate.
Now that we are back in school in person full time, he is wearing a mask all day long. And guess what? It doesn’t bother him. When we venture out of the house, he puts his mask on while we are still in the car, driving to our destination. At his annual pediatrician’s appointment, she wanted to look in his mouth and asked him to remove his mask quickly. “Will I get the virus if I do?” he asked sincerely.
With the news that the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use on children 5-11 years old, you’d think we’d all be running to get in line. But, I’m not running. Or even fast walking. I’m meandering at a leisurely pace…using the time it takes me to get there gather up as much information as I can.
I should be thrilled! A vaccine! To help prevent COVID! So why am I hesitating? For starters, I am 100% fine doing something to myself, however, when it comes to my child, that’s a different story. What if he has an adverse reaction? Why wasn’t the test group larger? Do they know enough about the effects of the vaccine on the Littles?
Also – but not as important – is Little Mister’s fear of needles and the self-induced anxiety he gives himself whenever he thinks he needs a shot. Someday I’ll tell you about getting the flu shot this year…
A mom friend to whom I was telling about my hesitation, shared this article with me, which is basically the 5-11 COVID-19 Vaccine Guide for Dummies. And I appreciate this non-scientific explanation of what is going on with the vaccine and the young test groups.
Giving the COVID-19 Vaccine to young children is such a personal decision. I’m not sure what the availability of the vaccine will do for the mask mandate in school – will it be removed? Because if the answer is yes, that would definitely sway my decision. Because as much as I want to believe first graders are awesome about mask wearing – and they are pretty good – I know little kids can’t help but be on top of each other…and the few times I’ve been in the school I’ve seen mediocre mask wearing at best by lots of the kids.
I have booked Little Mister an appointment for his first vaccine. We have a few weeks to think it over and make a final decision. If we do it, he’ll be fully vaccinated by Christmas. And a COVID-free holiday sounds amazing!
As a five year old, our child was rather entertaining. Add 2 dogs, a pandemic and general stir craziness, and who knows what’s going to come out of everyone’s mouths.
If someone were a fly on the wall in our house, boy would he get an earful! At any given time, you would hear any of the following:
Little Mister: “Wow, Dad! You were able to pick up Mom without hurting your back!” After Mr. KK hugged me, then squeezed and lifted me off the ground. Thanks, kid.
“No, we don’t kiss with our teeth.” Me, to Bruno, after he lick-bit my nose.
“Wait, is that poop? It looks like poop. Why is there poop? Can you pick it up and smell it?” Me, to Mr. KK, after seeing something brown and suspicious on the floor.
“I’m not very happy with you right now.” Little Mister, to me, about 25 times a day.
“Do you smell that? Was that you?” Me, to any one of the humans or dogs living in my house.
“Ugh, another hug? All you want is hugs.” Little Mister, eye rolling until it hurts, to both of us, constantly.
“Wow, Mom, this is a really good dinner.” Little Mister to me, complimenting my exquisite grilled cheese cooking skills. (Something I do “right”!)
Me: “The rules of the game say that the youngest player goes first, and then next youngest to oldest.” Little Mister: “So it’s me, then Mommy, then Daddy.” Incorrect, but God love ya and I’ll milk it as long as I can.
And bonus point if you’re playing at home for every time you hear an “UGH!” and “Moooooom!” and “That’s not fair!”
When schools shut down in March, the sh*t hit the fan for working parents. When we couldn’t send Little Mister to daycare, we found ourselves juggling who was going to watch/entertain/be at his beck and call every hour of every day. It was exhausting, and we weren’t even dealing with Chromebooks and Google Meets and meltdowns like parents with school-aged children.
We endured the pandemic through spring and summer, while the fall school scheduled loomed over our heads. Would the kids be going back to school? What would learning look like? Did the package stores have enough wine stocked for parents??
As August started and the first day of school drew near, we started getting communications about the school year. And the plan changed by the day. Sometimes by the minute. For the most part, the decision on what the schools would be doing was being driven by the county’s health district. Plans were shared. Parents voted. And finally, options were presented.
And let me tell you: there was no good choice:
• Send your child to school full time and risk expose them to the virus of the century • Keep your child home and risk your sanity while you try and work full time • Opt for a hybrid model and have a combination of the worst of both worlds: exposure and remote learning while you were trying to work
Plus, our Little Mister was starting kindergarten. This was supposed to be the year to experience riding on the bus, learning to share and making friends. But that wasn’t going to happen this year. If we sent him to school, he would be sitting 6 feet away from the next kid, masked and solitary, not interacting or playing or sharing. He was being robbed of a true kindergarten experience.
Since I always work from home (pandemic or not), and it seemed like Mr. KK was going to be my coworker at least through the first half of 2021, we needed to find a solution that fit our work schedules. As a self-proclaimed crazy person during the pandemic, I had ZERO desire to send Little Mister to school. We had been SO diligent all summer and the thought of sending him into a classroom filled with other kids who could have been licking each for all I knew, was terrifying. Plus, we had just started integrating with our parents so they could watch Little Mister, and I didn’t want to bring any risk to our little pandemic bubble.
Our options from our school district were: a hybrid model where kids were in school 2 days, then home for remote learning 3 days, or a fully remote model.
For us, the hybrid model wasn’t going to work. I know Little Mister, and having him be in one place for a few days then transitioning not only his environment but how he was learning, was not going to work. Plus, on the days he had school at home, there would be no live learning; instead, assignments would be posted for the kids to complete. (And if asking him to do schoolwork on his own was anything like us asking him to do workbooks and practice his writing in the Spring, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive. Did you know it could take 1 1/2 hours to write your name 8 times?). Plus, we were lucky: we had been strict with our activities all summer, and we had resources in our corner: my mother-in-law was a retired teacher and willing to help us out with teaching, and my parents would help with after school care.
So we closed our eyes and jumped feet first into the fully remote model. And we haven’t looked back since.
We started by setting up a classroom at Grandma’s house (in Mr. KK’s old bedroom!). We set up a desk with all the supplies he’d need. And Grandma (in full teacher fashion) hopped on Amazon and dug through her teacher boxes and found decorations that would put any in-school classroom to shame. Days of the week! The alphabet! Vowels! Seasonal accents! We had it all.
We wanted to make this experience as close to reality as possible so we created a schedule: we got up, got dressed, ate breakfast and packed our lunch and backpack and went off to “school”. Grandma sits with Little Mister 3 days a week, I do one day and Mr. KK does one day. And while he could navigate pretty well on his own, having someone next to him as a cheerleader and keeping him on task has been beneficial. From what I can tell, Little Mister LOVES school. He raises his hand and participates. He quotes his teacher back to me, which is like the holy grail: he is actually listening to her! He loves being on the computer and learning how to read and spell.
Is it perfect? Nope. Is it working for our child right now, during this particular time? Yes. And that is all that matters.
Plus, we get to hear phrases like, “Don’t worry, Grandma, I’ll get us back on The Meet” and “Ugh, don’t they know how to MUTE?” Ah, a smartass, just like his mom.
With our Little Mister, once if forever. We played Pet Store one day where we set up all of his one million stuffed animals like a store, and I was the customer and he was the owner, and I had to pick out an animal to take home as a pet. He loved it so much, that or the next TWO MONTHS we had to make his bed every morning will all of the animals lined up as the “pet store” for the customers.
Did I mention we had to do this every day? The same animals? In the same order? Did I also mention we likely had to change leaked on sheets a few times a week so we had to strip the entire bed and I had to memorize where the animals went?
Our Little Mister takes after Mr. KK: type A and very particular about everything. One time we were all in the bathroom brushing Little Mister’s teeth and he had little animals positioned around the toothpaste. Well, I knocked the toothpaste over and stood it up, and the Little Mister had to stop brushing his teeth to turn the toothpaste 1/4 millimeter to the right so that it was in the exact right place. I looked at Mr. KK like, “Can you believe this kid?” when he said to me, “I mean, I didn’t want to say anything but you did put the toothpaste in the wrong spot.”
There are two of them!
Back to the stuffed animal toy store.
For two months, the daily making of Little Mister’s bed looked something like this:
There was a method to the madness:
Put on fitted sheet
Line up animals in a very specific order NO CHANGES
Put on flat sheet
Put on comforter
Fold over sheet and comforter on each side to reveal animals
And once everything is in place, the toy store could open its doors and I could go in and buy a new pet for the day!
I will remember this silly game fondly, as it was the beginning of April and we were all home together for what would be a very long time (unbeknownst to us!). But it was new and fun and something we would never have done otherwise.