Monday, March 26, 2012

Our First Cave: Day One of First Family Road Trip

The first destination of our family road trip was Longhorn Caverns. This would be the kids' first cave, and our son was really excited. I'm not sure if our not-yet-3-year-old daughter even knew what a cave was.

My husband was pretty excited. He used to do a lot of spelunking when he lived in Nashville, but that was a while ago. I have only a little experience with caves. I've been to Carlsbad once, and my family had visited Longhorn when I was a kid, though I barely remembered it. The best caves I've ever been in were in Israel in these tiny tunnels carved into the limestone that you have to practically slither through, but that's a story for another time.

Longhorn is in a lovely spot in the Hill Country. The kids loved the hilly road leading up to it, shouting "Wheee!" as we went up and down. While we waited for our tour to start, the kids had fun playing on some rocks, and there are hiking trails and picnic areas as well.

Longhorn Caverns were formed by quick-moving water, and it has a lot of smooth surfaces and large rooms. It was used by different groups of people for different things over the last 400 years.

But my favorite fact is that it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. It's 68 degrees down there all the time, so it's like it's air-conditioned. And it's a cave, it's pretty concealed. They had a bar and a dance floor and tables and chairs and everything down there. Today you can rent it out for weddings and events. I've since heard of DJ dance parties being down there.

As far as I was concerned, the caverns were just plain awesome. I pretty much wanted to stay in there. If I were planning a wedding right now, I'd want it down in Longhorn Cavern. (None of our pictures inside the cave came out that great, but you can see lots on their website.)

Both of our kids had a fun time inside the cave, especially Jago, who is 6. Miela did get tired and had to be carried, but it was still worth it for us and she still had fun. Especially with the nice grounds to explore and picnic at, Longhorn Cavern is a great family outing.

I was even able to get an obligatory bluebonnet shot of the kids! (Explanation for non-Texans: Our state flower is the bluebonnet, and they grow all over, especially in Central Texas, often in big clumps. It's common to take portraits surrounded by the flowers.)
After we finished at Longhorn, we headed to South Llano River State Park, which is outside of Junction, to camp for the night. There was a beautiful sea of purple wildflowers.
This was a really nice spot that I hope we visit again in the future. We got there a bit late to explore that evening, and in the morning we were kind of ready to keep driving, but it was a great first night camping!

It was a great start to a great trip!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Daughter Reminds Me That Women Are People, Too

My daughter, Miela, being not quite three years old, does not always get her words right. One place this shows up a lot is in her use of pronouns, in particular with regards to gender.

Most of the time, Miela chooses to use "she" instead of "he," even in places where that's clearly incorrect, like in reference to her brother (who will quickly let her know she is wrong).

That doesn't seem that unusual, given her age, and since she is a girl, she probably has heard she more than he.

But where it gets interesting for me, is when I notice my own unconscious tendencies to correct her.

Certain people or animals or characters are clearly supposed to be he and him, not she and her. Her brother, her dad, my mother's dog, the prince in Cinderella, Kai-lan's wise Grandpa YeYe. I think it's pretty safe to assume all of these are appropriately referred to as "he." So Miela may refer to one of them as her, but I will refer to them as him.

But a plastic elephant? A fuzzy orange monster? An unfamiliar dog across the street? Why the hell do I find myself wanting to refer to these as him? Even after she's just said she about the elephant, sometimes it still feels hard to go along with her choice and stick with she.

This little thing says so much about my ingrained view of the world, and I know I'm not alone in it.

For something to be female, it has to be "special" somehow. It has to be pink, or have a bow or eyelashes. Look at the generic symbols on public restrooms. The men's room shows a person. The women's room shows a person wearing a skirt.

(And let me just put an aside in here that I'm not even going to attempt to make a specific comment about the whole two gender view of the world. I know this doesn't work for a lot of people, and I support that view, and it's related to what I'm talking about, but I don't have clear enough thoughts on that to really say anything, nor do I really feel qualified.)

As has often been noted, it's built into language. It's hard to escape.

I have a very clear memory of being in 4th grade Spanish class and learning the word for boys is "niños" and girls is "niñas" but children, or rather boys and girls together, is "niños." The girls in the class argued about this with the teacher at length. She was sympathetic, but emphasized it was just the way it was. The boys mostly smirked and chuckled.

I remember thinking that there was an entire language where if boys are around, suddenly I don't count.

I'm not trying to pick on Spanish, there are lots of examples in lots of languages. My point is just that we're pretty surrounded by this worldview: males are the norm, females are different.

So here's a genuinely radical idea: stop assuming everything and everyone is male. Male is not normal. Neither is female. We're all basically just people. Or animals. Or cartoon characters or whatever. And actually, none of us are "normal."

And I am completely serious in calling this radical. I believe all big change starts small. And shifting cultural views is freaking ginormous. Be a part of it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our First Family Road Trip!

We just got back home yesterday from our first road trip as a family. In other words, this was the first time my husband and I, as well as our two kids, took an extended trip together, that involved a fair amount of driving. My husband and I finally decided it was time to try it.

See, he and I love road trips and driving. LOVE THEM. We once put most of our stuff in storage and lived mostly out of our van for about 5 months. We drove all over about half the country. It was awesome.

So this is something we've been dying to share with our kids, but, well, we weren't sure we were actually up for doing such a thing with our kids.

Our kids are awesome, but they can also be a bit much. Our son, Jago, age 6, is without a doubt a Spirited Child and has super high energy. His sister Miela, almost 3, is not as spirited as her brother but still pretty darn spunky.

But we finally felt like we were at a place with both kids where they could be ok in the car for longer distances. And they do well enough most of the time with following directions about behavior in public. And most of all, we felt like we could do these things and have more fun times than stressful times.

So we planned out a trip around Central and West Texas, which never took us terribly far from our home in Austin, but gave us a wide variety of stuff to see and do, as well as took us into the desert a little bit, something Jago had been expressing interest in.

We intended to do mostly camping with a couple nights at a hotel, but last minute circumstances caused us to change that slightly, as tends to happen on a road trip.

We planned to never drive more than about 4 hours in a day, and most days were less, and never more than about an hour and a half at a stretch. There are so many good places to stop and do things, even in spacious West Texas, and it's good to remember with young kids that even simple things can become fun and interesting.

Ahead of time I searched online for some music and stories I could download, and I'd like to share my two favorites I found. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is a great radio program I found. It bills itself as "indie music for indie kids" and "for kids and their grownups." Their theme song is by They Might Be Giants. You can download the show as podcasts on iTunes for free!

I found a great site for stories at StoryNory. They have a lovely assortment of stories, but we've mostly listened to fairy tales and myths from around the world. Jago positively loves these stories. He wanted to listen to them almost constantly! And they can all be downloaded for free from their website!

So we set out a week ago for a 6-night road trip, the four of us in our mini-van, to do some exploring and see some new stuff and get out of our regular space. And it was truly a wonderful trip. Completely successful, really. Certainly we learned a couple things, and there were plenty of times I thought the kids were going to drive me nuts (what's new, right?), but mostly it was just lots of fun.

The main thing we learned is that we want to do more! We'll probably do some weekend camping trips to local state parks, but we're also hoping to do more road trips, venturing out farther, perhaps. We did decide we think we'd like to get some kind of camper trailer, so that we don't have to set up and take down our whole deal every single day. That was a bit tiring.

I enjoyed the trip so much, got so much out of it, and took so many pictures (over 700!), I've decided I want to write up every day of our trip with the places we visited. Also I want to encourage other people to go visit and support those awesome places we went. And, I think the Grandmas will love it, too.

So more coming soon!