Last week wifey and I drove Dar and his 2-year-old brother, who I’ll call R, to Wyoming, for vacay in Yellowstone National Park. How’d that go?
When wifey and I were planning our summer, we liked the idea of visiting national parks for Dar. Not because of camping – the boys are a little young for that. It’s more because we can drive and not fly to parks; we are haunted by on-airplane meltdowns of the past. We hate to bother people or provoke stares, and parks are open places where Dar can sound his barbaric yawp and run on trails as he does in our home park, Tilden. Yellowstone was our third road trip of the summer, after Yosemite and Sequoia. You might think that the 13-hour drive from the Bay Area to West Yellowstone would be a deterrent, but if we’d chosen to fly, we’d have changed planes in Salt Lake (or somewhere) and with the car rental…not a lot of time difference. And the boys are often good in cars…often.
Dar will ride along in his car seat for hours, and he’ll “tee-tee-tee” with happiness for, say, a good hour of it. That’s our 4-year-old emitting random noises that no one can understand, just spurting, burbling phonemes with the regular flow of, say, the Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone. Sometimes I’ll say to wifey, you know, we pay for this, and sometimes we will pay, for no discernible reason, as Dar goes on freakout in that seat for another half-hour. At that point, we don’t care, the way we should, about him getting his words right, and instead we just throw food at him: O’s (cheerios), fishes (crackers), bread, juice, or even toys, anything we think will help. Sometimes Dar will accept these; more often he will push them away or even kick his mother’s seat in protest (not our favorite). Unlike his brother, Dar seems to think – has always thought – that if he receives any object in the car seat, he has to throw it to the floor. It’s weird. Perhaps in imitation of his brother, these days we can sometimes get him to hold a snack cup of O’s for a little while as he eats them.
Dar can be a model passenger, just staring out the window. His brother constantly demands PBS videos on the iPad, and even wants to hold the iPad at times, and Dar, God bless him, isn’t possessive about the iPad and doesn’t seem to care when R is hogging it. Occasionally, I’ll forget to lock all the windows, and Dar will open his, and if (speed + temperature) > 160, as is often true when using Highway 80 in Nevada, I can’t exactly allow that window to stay open, and when I close and lock it, that can lead to some serious fussing.
Our summer of national parks has taught us that Dar is far less interested in walking down unfamiliar trails than the familiar ones at Tilden. During our first full day in Yellowstone, we walked around Mammoth Hot Springs, and Dar dragged and dragged his feet. “Come on, Dar, come here, let’s go!” we said lightly about 100 times. Trying to provoke jealousy of his brother doesn’t usually work. Holding his hand can work, but he rejects that about half the time, and angles his body so as to make that a serious struggle. After about an hour on their very awesome boardwalks, where you get close-up views of these otherworldly burbly terraces and springs, Dar went on a full meltdown, to the point where I had to put R in the carrier, walk back to the car, and bring the car around…and his mother had to carry him at least 100 steps of the way. I hate to see dozens of people staring while wifey holds this giant shrieking 4-year-old all over the front of her body…and how are we going to do this when he’s 7? Right now, people still laugh, “Oh I get it, I had kids that age too.” Will they still say that when Dar acts this way at 10?
After a similar experience at Norris Springs the next day, wifey and I said to each other, look, we’ll just leave them in the car, you’ll jump out for five minutes and check out the awesome spring/thing, then I’ll do the same. As soon as we’d settled on that travel style, I tried something new: consciously staying behind Dar on trails, staying with R while wifey walked ahead of us, holding Dar’s hand. This worked so well that I decided Dar must hate me.
It’s really hard to know how much Dar – or his brother – appreciates the flora and fauna and features at this age, or perhaps any age. Dar did linger at a place called Emerald Spring, staring at the hot, sulfur-smelly ice-blue water for almost 20 minutes, which I take as a hopeful sign. At night, mercifully, Dar mostly slept well, except for one night, where his brother woke him around 5, and while his brother went back down, Dar walked around the room “tee-tee-tee”-ing. So I took Dar on a little sunrise voyage around Yellowstone while his mom and bro slept. That was a little…headache-inducing, but pretty, see?
That night, we almost busted out some melatonin we had with us, but we’ve resisted drugs for Dar this far (always, not just on this trip), and so we decided to bear it, and Dar slept okay, praise the Cheyenne Great Spirit.
This Yellowstone trip was the first time his 25-month-old brother repeatedly said “uh-oh, Dawa” (his approximation of his brother’s name). This would happen when R noticed Dar on meltdown, or when Dar was just lollygagging to the point of near-breakdancing. I would say to R, “Dar is fine, nothing to worry about,” even though neither of those are really true, and for all I know he already senses that. In our hotel rooms in West Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, R shouted “Dawa! DAWA!” in an unprecedented and generally futile effort to get his brother’s attention. What do you say to such a child? I said to R, “Don’t worry, Dar hears you, but he doesn’t want to look right now.” I pictured R shouting such things all his life, like Tom Cruise yelling “Raymond!” to Dustin Hoffman’s brick wall. Sigh.
What’d we do? We saw Old Faithful and its nearby geysers, the Black Sand Basin, a petrified tree, many elk and bison, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb, the Mud Volcano, Dragon’s Mouth, the Lower Geyser Basin, the Midway Geyser Basin including the Grand Prismatic Spring which is really quite something, Mammoth, the Canyon, Norris, many other picturesque pools/springs, and Biscuit Basin where some young Europeans stepped off the boardwalk and took pictures on the edge of a hot spring until some lady walked by and yelled in a Southern accent, “When the ground breaks and you fall in and go to the hospital they will not only treat your burns but arrest you so get your butts out of there and stop ruining it for the rest of us!” I’d spent the whole trip looking for smiles from Dar and R (and they happened), but that moment was my big smile.
On the way home, we spent the Fourth of July in Jackson Hole, which was everything you want your small-town Fourth to be from your Norman Rockwell paintings and John Mellencamp videos of parades and fireworks. Besides that, the whole town is touristed up like Sedona or Santa Fe, but with this very mountain-cattle-ranch vibe: antlers, horseshoes, cowboy hats, rope, caribou, bison imagery (there’s a bison on Wyoming’s flag), and knot-wood fixtures everywhere: headboards and lamps and balconies and public benches. It’s not unlike Texas, except that Texas doesn’t really have a city center with four galleries on every block, nor is Texas in any way mountainous, while in Jackson you’re surrounded by hills (there’s a ski resort there) and you can often see the spectacular Tetons in the distance. Dar spent hours “tee-tee-tee”-ing around the central square while wifey and I watched him and his brother and ate huckleberry ice cream. People looked at Dar a little funny. I think he’s reaching the age where people with experience of typical 4-year-olds are realizing there’s something wrong. Oh well. If anyone says anything, I’m ready with, “Uh, should he not leave the house?”
The day after the Fourth, we lazed around Jackson in the morning, then drove to Salt Lake City, staying a block from the awesome Children’s Discovery Museum. (If it distracts both my bambinos for more than an hour, it’s awesome.) The Sunday drive from SLC to Berkeley took about 11 hours, though it would have been more like 9 if we hadn’t had traffic from Tahoe to Vallejo. Nevada is perhaps the most boring and certainly the most lifeless of the 50 states (as soon as you cross into Idaho, you see they’re at least growing crops) – I mean, come on, it’s barely a state, really more of a California after-thought, named by people who never saw it, based on a mountain range that California’s Spanish settlers named after their own mountains in Southern Spain. I mean, The Silver State? Really? After we were already The Golden State? Come on, Nevada, aren’t you tired of being our Sancho Panza? I bring this up because despite the extreme tedium of the 400 miles between Wendover and Reno, Dar handled them like a champ, “tee-tee-tee”-ing and just observing, while his brother went on freakout way too many times to mention. By the time we drove into the inner Bay Area (and the temperature lowered 30 degrees in 30 minutes, which wasn’t so unlike sunset in Yellowstone), we had an announcement for both boys: Dar officially won the Better-Behaved Brother Award. Not just for the day, but for the whole trip – that final 12 hours of calmness really put him over the top. You see how much you can win, we told them, just by doing nothing? We made the requisite joke about Team USA in the World Cup, sighed, hoped not to extend that analogy, and drove home.