Once a week throughout the year, Hannah and I live the grandparents’ dream and head an hour south to Massachusetts to spend the afternoon with our preschool grandsons, Owen and Max. In warm weather we have parks and lakes while in winter we turn to indoor fun centers: Loch Ness Fun Center in Chelmsford, Imajine That in Lawrence, or One Stop Fun in Westford.
This winter, we have an entire week of days with the boys since they are coming to southern California to hang out with their Omi and Poppa. Our plan is to take the boys for daily “adventures” while our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip get some time to hike or head to the beach.
Prior to the boys’ arrival, Hannah and I take in the Carpinteria Bluffs to learn whether this is a place for preschoolers. With the few seals that we see far below the bluffs, that this is not the active experience we’d like for Owen and Max. Preschool compatibility index – Not really.
Though this has been the rainiest February since Noah and his Ark, we have a sunny Sunday to take Owen and Max to the Carpinteria Beach just ten miles south of Santa Barbara. With our guys, we know they love the filling of sand in their buckets, then dumping it all; then filling and dumping on and on.
A tennis ball and fat bat as well as a Frisbee keep them on the move. At the beach volleyball court, they make up their own game of throwing the ball over the net and trying to catch it. The ocean water in February is fine for surfers in wet suits, but we all are just fine going to the water’s edge. Preschool compatibility index – Off the charts.
Monday is a day when the rain gods bark, You’ve been bitching about the drought for six years; so tell me, what is your problem when I give you Biblical rains! On such days, the universe provides the Sea Center on Stearn’s Wharf on the Santa Barbara beachfront for Owen and Max.
Pulling onto the half mile wooden wharf itself, we have free parking for the first 90 minutes. After, it’s $2.50/hour. You can bet Dan and Hannah will make this an 85-minute visit. For $7.50 each for seniors and $6 for kids age 2-12, the Sea Center begins with the boys petting baby sand sharks, sea anemones, and star fish. That lasts for about five minutes and then the boys are off.
The movie about sharks and the marine fishing vessel experience hold no interest for our guys. It’s running around which they love! As we move to the top floor, a barnacled large gray whale model dominates the airspace; this wows them for a good 15 seconds, and then run they do.
What does interest Owen and Max is the Marine Puppet Theater with stuffed animals such as a gray whale, hammerhead shark, two kinds of turtles, a purple squid, and octopus. Though they never put on a play for us, they imagine with the stuffed animals, run about, tug over their favorite (the purple squid), and spend more time there than any other place at the Sea Center.
Hannah and I feel that the $27 admission fees are money well-spent supporting the Natural History Museum of Santa Barbara, of which the Sea Center is a part. But…. Preschool compatibility index – Not so much; it’s a dry place on a misty day, but the place is more for interested adults and school age kids with a marine bent.
Tuesday, when it rains with preschoolers at the cottage, our choices of outdoor activities are limited. Molly and Tip take the boys to story hour at the Montecito Library. Later in the afternoon we adults watch The Best of Men DVD (PBS – Outstanding) while Max naps and Owen watches Dinosaur Train.
But by 3P, the sun comes out and we have the chance to give Molly and Tip their daily break (daily bread?). Lookout Park on the Pacific here in Summerland is just down the hill from our cottage. Walking with Owen and Max the half mile through town to the beach, we have a playground with a climbing wall, slides, and swings.
The train track gives Hannah an idea from her childhood. She has Owen and Max put pennies on the track itself to be crushed by the next passing Amtrak train. The boys are learning the meaning of watched pot never boils. Eventually distracted, the Amtrak train roars through and delivers in a big way – squashed coins beyond recognition. Preschool compatibility index – Late afternoon playground time after a day of rain – elixir for the whole family.
Wednesday, the sun comes out and we are off to the Santa Barbara Zoo. While Molly and Tip hike Romero Canyon in nearby Montecito, we drive the six miles to the Zoo just off the main beach in Santa Barbara. To save the $7 for parking we park across the street from the Zoo entrance at Dwight Murphy Field. Tickets for 2-12 year-olds are $10 and seniors get in for $13 each. Money well spent.
The boys really love running anywhere – this time in a park setting. Seeing the colorful parrots, the boys’ interest lasts about twenty seconds. Let’s go is their refrain as Owen leads, Max follows and repeats whatever his big brother says. They never stop. We see flamingos, foxes, gibbons, elephants, condors, snow leopards, and alligators. Surprising to me, Max has a fascination with the zoo map as he points out where we’ll go next.
But the Santa Barbara Zoo delivers in three big ways. First, there are the lions that perch on manmade boulders at eye level. Though they don’t roar, that doesn’t stop Owen and Max from communicating with them with their own best king-of-the-jungle roars.
Then there is the herd of giraffes. Regal and stately, they are so much more impressive than what we see in books. Later we hit the gorilla compound. At lunch time the gorilla picks at his celery, beans, and lettuce through a grate in the ground, which, I am guessing, is to improve his dexterity and to teach him to eat in a civilized manner.
A mid-zoo playground with a climbing spider web and a hill for sledding down on pieces of cardboard grabs the boys’ attention. After three hours of running, we and they are pooped. Preschool compatibility index – You’re in the running for grandparents of the year if you take your grandkids to the Santa Barbara Zoo.
On Thursday, our Owen and Max activity is hiking the San Ysidro Trail in nearby Montecito, California with their parents. When hiking with preschoolers, Hannah and I have the one important ingredient today to make this activity fly – parents like Molly and Tip. This four-mile round trip to a rocking waterfall needs playful parents who can distract their boys when they get weary.
For much of the way, Tip carries nearly 3-year-old, 40+ pound Max in a backpack. Such endurance is out of my league. Owen, five in July, walks and runs most of the four miles, often holding the hand of his mother Molly. Preschool compatibility index – Only try with athletic, vigilant, and relentlessly positive parents. It’s too much for us alone. Click here for that blog.
On Friday, we rest as Hannah recuperates from her fall from the above trail the day before.
Grandparents the world over will nod their heads and know that it’s been gold to have five days with our Dynamo Duo.