A classic example of mommy anthropomorphism

When we play with Play-Doh, David usually doesn’t ever really form the dough “things”, he just smashes and drops it on the ground and asks me to flatten long pieces into roads for his cars. Meanwhile, his sister constantly tries to sneak tastes the Play-Doh even though, after every time she manages a bit in her mouth, she makes a yucky face and sticks out her tongue. Then instantly does it again.

Usually I give David his toy tools and he uses his drill and plastic hammer to make holes and pound nails into the Play-Doh.

This is maybe his first ever Play-Doh creation. It’s a snowman, he told me.

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Looking at that snowman, I feel totally and completely like a mom. Because, have you ever seen a more beautiful snowman? I have not. It is so perfect. I even thought, for a half a second, about letting it dry out and keeping it forever. On my nightstand.

But then I regained some sense and decided to take a picture instead.

As I raised the camera, David explained, “Mommy, this snowman has sad eyes.”

“Why are his eyes sad?” I asked.

“Because he is exhausted. He doesn’t have any energy.”

And then I was even more impressed. Not only did my son make a snowman, he made perhaps the only snowman his mother could ever relate to. The exhausted, no-energy, lumpy, sort-of-falling-apart-if-it-weren’t-for-that-bolt snowman.

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And then we went to the aquarium

The only thing we had on the agenda of our family lame-cation was a trip to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

We figured we’d need at least one actual activity because toddlers operate in a time warp. That’s where that saying, “the days are long but the years are short” comes from — toddlers mess with the time-space continuum. You can have 38 activities planned that take a half-hour each, and if you try to do them with a toddler it’ll all be done in 25 minutes. Even faster if you have a whole group of toddlers. Even our lame-cation needed an activity.

Tom and I were really excited about the aquarium. Both kids go wild for the fish tanks in the pediatrician’s waiting room, a nearby park has a small aquarium that my kids love, and Mary Virginia sleeps with a flying fish Beanie Baby. Tom and I talked up the aquarium a LOT to David, and his reaction was a little weird. He didn’t want to go to the aquarium because he didn’t want to swim with the crabs.

We told him that he wouldn’t be swimming with crabs; we were just LOOKING at the crabs and fish. But he was still wary. I’m not sure where the worry came from. Maybe since we’d just spent so much time in the pool? Maybe from the Magic School Bus book that takes the kids into the ocean where they do, in fact, swim with crabs? I even told him that one of the rules of the aquarium is that you cannot go in the water. But he kept mentioning it.

The aquarium was a 45-minute drive from our hotel, so we packed up and were on the road after breakfast to maximize time with the fish.

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If you’re thinking of taking your kids to the Virginia Aquarium, or any sort of museum for that matter, here’s my one tidbit of advice: after you pay for your tickets, blindfold your kids and run them past the gift shop. Nothing in the aquarium, nothing in the big wide ocean could compete with the knick knacks and tchotchkes in the gift shop. And if you go during Christmas there will also be Christmas trees loaded with fake wrapped presents. Try to explain to a three-year old why in the world a person would wrap an empty box for the sake of decoration.

After we forced our kids out of the gift shop, they were sort of like, “Eh, whatever.”

They were interested, but they weren’t exploding with euphoria like I thought they would be. I mean, you should see them in the pediatrician’s office. They LOSE THEIR MINDS looking at the three goldfish swim around. For some reason David walked past each exhibit and looked at the fish like he was checking them off the list. Every now and then something would grab their attention, but he was only interested, not totally and completely fascinated.

Tom and I, though? We loved it. The exhibits were all really great and interesting.

Then we saw the crocodile.

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That picture up there? David’s smile is a little misleading. David was petrified of the crocodile. And it was 30 percent because IT WAS A CROCODILE and crocodiles are really creepy. But the other 70 percent was my fault. We had been looking at tanks of fish and then turned the corner and BOOM! There was a crocodile. Right there, right by the glass, and it was swimming. I flipped my lid. I grabbed David and rushed to the glass.

CHECK THIS OUT! LOOK AT THIS CROCODILE! SEE HOW SHARP HIS TEETH ARE!?? ISN’T THAT INCREDIBLE!??!?!?

And then David started crying because he thought I was going to throw him in the water with the crocodile.

I had to take him away, hug him, apologize, and promise that Mommy would never, never make him look at, touch, and especially not swim with any crocodile ever.

Tom and I wanted to look at the croc for a long time, IT WAS SO COOL! But we had to take shifts because our kids think that, given the chance, we’d feed them to a crocodile.

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Sticking with that theme, David didn’t want to look at the sharks, either. When we were at the shark tank he actually asked to go back to the plastic sharks in the exhibits because those wouldn’t bite him.

BUT. We had a really fun time. If I had to do it all over again, I would. The volunteers and staff were really helpful, and the facility was amazing. We saw Komodo dragons, snakes, otters, sea turtles, sharks, jelly fish, and touched sting rays and horseshoe crabs. (Actually. I was the only Krieger who had the nerve to touch any of the animals. Tom, I’m looking at you.) We had meltdowns because Tom and I didn’t realize how close we were to lunch, and we made messes in the exhibits, and I learned that sting rays give live birth! And pythons cuddle with other pythons when they’re cold!

The kids’ favorite part was, surprisingly, the aviary…which I wanted to skip because the aviary was outdoor and it was freezing and rainy. Oh, who can forget the gift shop? Huge fans of the gift shop. My kids left the aquarium chanting: Gift Shop for President!

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It’s funny that the most expensive part of the lame-cation was the one part that wasn’t a total slam-dunk with the kids. Maybe we should have taken them to PetSmart to see the gerbils instead.

My advice to parents if you’re considering a trip: to smuggle in a few snacks, avoid the gift shop, and somehow convince your kids that you will not feed them to the crocodiles. And when you figure out how to do that, let me know. We could use some tips.

The Krieger family lame-cation

A few weeks ago Tom was looking at his schedule for the rest of the year and realized he had a bunch of vacation days he needed to use before the end of the year. Since one of the rules of the Krieger family is that letting vacation time go to waste is a crime, he started trying to figure out the best way to use it.

We thought of a bunch of ideas. We thought about a road trip to summit a peak, we thought about just staying home, we thought about heading to the mountains. But everything just seemed a lot less fun since it’s so cold outside, and I’m really insufferable when I’m cold.

There’s an indoor waterpark near Richmond, so we decided that was the way to go — until we did a little research. It seemed fun, but like it would be a lot more fun if our kids were older. Then Tom said, sort of dismissively, “You know, our kids don’t need all this. They’d be just as happy with any indoor pool.”

And I was like, dude. You are a genius.

So we decided to go to Newport News to stay in a hotel just for the indoor pool.

I told that whole long story because just saying, “We went to Newport News to stay in a hotel for the indoor pool” sounds lame, right? And telling the story justifies it. That is how our Krieger family lame-cation was born. WE ARE NOT LAME! But we did go to a hotel an hour away for the indoor pool.

We went to the Residence Inn at the Newport News Airport where we got an awesome two-bedroom suite for free thanks to hotel points. And, thanks to hotel points, a few free meals at the hotel, and our unshakeable frugality, our lame-cation was under $100.

And, thanks to our awesome kids, our lame-cation was actually incredible. It was our first-ever vacation as a family of four, and start-to-finish, including wake-ups at dawn, it was, maybe, one of my favorite vacations ever.

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We arrived late Sunday night, and spent the first hour and a half trying to get our kids to sleep. At 9:45 p.m., with both kids finally asleep, Tom and I had a husband-wife pep-talk about how, even if our kids don’t sleep, we were still going to rally and make the best of our lame-cation.

The next morning they woke up and I don’t think their reaction would have been better if they’d woken up in the Magical Kingdom in Disney World. They ran around the hotel shrieking. David COULD NOT believe it. He ran into the bathroom and came out announcing, “MOMMY, THEY HAVE A BATHTUB IN HERE! DID YOU KNOW WE HAD A BATHTUB!?!??!?!?”

Hotel rooms are totally different for kids than adults. Because David was amazed by the tub, and I walked in the room and was like, “Tom. Be quiet. Do you hear that? SHHH!Do you hear that tickticktick? I think that’s the ice machine making a tickticktick. I can’t survive in these circumstances. GET ME A NEW ROOM!!!”

But, ok, David was right. The hotel was awesome. Tom finagled our way into a two-bedroom suite (usually you don’t qualify for two bedrooms if you’re using points) and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back.

We turned the heat up to 76, and I’ve never been happier.

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(This is the ONLY picture of me all weekend.)

We ate breakfast in the lobby and were in the pool before 9 a.m.

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See David’s face? That’s what his face looked like the entire time.

He jumped in the pool, jumped in the pool, jumped in the pool, and jumped in the pool. Then begged Tom to throw him in the pool.

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We swam for almost two hours when Mary Virginia suddenly started crying and motioning to the side of the pool. She climbed out then waved her hand and said, “Bye, bye pool!”

Then she walked over to the windows and tried to push them open and get out. That’s a little bit hilarious, right? The girl is 18 months old and she was acting like she’d just called an Uber to come get her.

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Meanwhile, when we told David it was time to go he wrote the pool a sonnet and vowed that he would return.

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In true lame-cation style, we went to the mall and got lunch at Chick-fil-A and let the kids play in the play area.

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[See the blur in the bottom right? That's David falling.]

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But that’s not lame, right? Because Chick-fil-A is delicious! And the kids were thrilled with the play area! Why is there so much pressure to go on creative and wild adventures? THIS WAS NOT LAME!

My kids, who hate naps, took three-hour naps.

After more pool and dinner, we wrestled, popped a bag of popcorn and showed the kids how to throw it in the air and catch it with your mouth. Then we told the kids the best thing about staying in a hotel room. You don’t have to crawl under the couch to pick up all that spilled popcorn.

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The kids dove into bed. And me? I was in bed by 8 p.m., knitting and watching Real Housewives while Tom looked at spreadsheets and compiled data.

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I recommend lame-cations. If you can do it, do it. Every family needs to drop agendas and just be together. It was like a 48-hour date with my kids and my husband, a time to just enjoy them. We don’t ever really do that, we always have somewhere to be and we’re always a little late and a little hurried. Tom and I are always tag-teaming with the kids and just trying to get through the day. So this was a shift. A break. And it was especially nice at this busy time of year.

Also, I just can’t say enough about the luxury of setting the thermostat at 76.