My husband had to work over this holiday weekend, so the kids and I opted to take one last opportunity before school starts to get out of Dodge.  We packed up the car early Saturday morning thinking we were out-smarting the holiday traffic.  We were not only mistaken, but we sat in stop and go traffic for so very long that I developed a seat-belt tan line across my chest.  I’ve decided that, if asked, I would tell whomever inquired that I’d made too many recent public appearances wearing my Ms. America sash, and would have to either renounce my crown or stop wearing cleavage-revealing clothing.

Yes, I DID hear the hush roar through the crowd.

No, I am NOT Ms. America nor am I likely to wear a contestant sash on any day but Halloween.  I’m not against the dress-up scholarship programs…it’s just not MY style.

But I digress…

My sister and her family moved to Vancouver, WA from Portland, OR the week before New Years 2011.  My family and I were their first house guests, only 3 days after they moved in.  No, we’re not rude. We were invited to come help unpack and watch the baby while my sister and her husband ran back and forth between Portland and Vancouver.

One of my first orders of business with my then 7-year-old twins and their 7-year-old son was to dust off the scooters and go exploring around the new neighborhood.  We scootered to the new elementary school my nephew would be attending and checked out the play ground.  We scootered around their development and found a fun little play ground and some relatively ‘safe’ woods in which to play.  We scootered until the late December sun set and the chill got too great to explore.

We next made it back down to Vancouver at the start of summer.  Really, barely summer at all, but the rain clouds had parted for a few days and we took advantage of it again to go explore.  Before we headed down I-5, I did a little research on things to do with kids in Vancouver, WA.  I actually found several places that really sounded like fun and was looking forward to the adventure.  The kids and I used every spare moment we had to explore by foot and/or scooter to see where our own power could take us.  On our first day there, we went on a five-mile journey that looped us southwest from their home through three schools, two parks and a couple of strip malls.  The next day, we looped northeast and discovered a place to not walk, ride or scooter alone which lead to a great discussion on safety practices for sidewalk-less and shoulder-less roads. We also explored an awesome new park that is only a few miles away from the home base.  In our first two explorations, I had a BB hunting contest.  We find BB’s everywhere when we’re out exploring, so I decided to use that to my advantage.  There were three different water-feature parks we wanted to explore, and the kid with the most BB’s at the end of our two days of explorations got to choose which water-feature park we all would explore that afternoon.  My son won the contest and chose Esther Short Park in the heart of downtown Vancouver with a cool stone fountain, gazebo and really cool playground.  My sister and the baby agreed to come, and we had a great afternoon together. I got some great photos of the kids playing together and even got to walk the baby through the water and play in the fountain.  Great memories all around.  Our trip came to an end too soon, but before we left, we made a plan for where we wanted to explore on our next trip.

Here we are, getting ready to return home to the Seattle area again tomorrow morning.  We only got here yesterday, and it was a really rushed trip.  We did a quick 3.5 mile round trip scooter ride to the nearest elementary school in the early afternoon after we arrived.  After a three and a half hour drive, the kids and I were all raring to get out and stretch our legs.  The kids had a great time at the playgrounds and again on the ride home.  Today we explored the park with lake, playground and sprinkler park that we’d had our eyes on last time we came to town.  I wished I could have convinced my sister and brother-in-law to join us. An extra set of grown-up eyes and hands when supervising three eight year olds in the water would have been handy, both from the extra set of eyeballs perspective and from the not-wanting-to-have-my-wallet/keys-or-other-personal-items-stolen perspective.  Still, it was an 83 degree day in the beautiful sunshine. The park had lots of shade trees for those hiding from the sun and plenty of calm water to play in for the rest of us basking in the sun, enjoying the warm sand and otherwise appreciating the day.  I saw smiles on the kids faces bigger than I’d seen all summer, mostly because they were so excited to be experiencing this place together for the first time.

Walking and/or scootering (or a combination thereof for those looking for a less tedious way to get out of the house with kids) from your home base is an EXCELLENT way to help a kid feel bigger and less insignificant when he’s new to a town than simply by exploring it from the back seat of your parents car.  Getting somewhere on your own power is a GREAT means of giving a kid ownership of his neighborhood and wherever his feet can take him.

Here’s my quandary: Why is it I’m so much more apt to explore my sisters new town than my own.  Yes, I have lived in my town for twelve years now, and in that time, I’ve cycled and walked from one end to the other. There are neighborhoods I wouldn’t consider entering alone, day OR night.  Is there a point at which one knows too much about their ‘hood to want to get to know it better?  I KNOW there are parks, historical monuments and markers and other points of interest still to discover in my home town.  I don’t doubt that if I spent a fraction of the time I’ve dedicated to finding fun in Vancouver on finding fun near home, I would fall in love with my home town again. Yet, I am not remotely interested in doing so.  Am I jaded?  Possibly.  Am I trying to impart enthusiasm to my sister and her family for their new surroundings that I wish I still had for my own hometown?  Most likely.  Can I go home and try to behave as if I am new to my ‘hood? Not realistically. But for the sake of my kids, their future childhood memories and their wide-eyed innocence, I will seek out new adventures, experiences and explorations a little closer to home.  Heck, we live in the Seattle area.  If I expand my definition of ‘hood to include the entire Seattle area, then HECK YEAH! There’s much to still explore and many great adventures ahead.

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