Monday, August 20
We went to the Shelburne Museum – these Webbs, they were big people locally. I love the Shelburne Museum and this was my third visit. According to our guide book, it’s about to be overtaken in popularity as Vermont’s biggest tourist attraction by the Ben & Jerry’s factory. If this happens it will be a shame and a sin. The Shelburne Museum is fabulous and fabulously odd. It consists of a range of houses from all over America and from different periods reconstructed on a large leafy site. They contain all sorts of odd things from people dressed up in 19th century gear to an excellent collection of impressionist paintings. My favourite building is the lighthouse which was transferred from the lake to the grounds with, I would imagine, quite considerable effort. When it was sold off by the government or Commissioners for Lights or whatever, someone bought it for 5 dollars and very shortly thereafter, sold it on to Ms. Webb for a whopping profit; she forked out 1,300 dollars. The most spectacular thing must be the large steamboat sitting proudly on a large grassy expanse. However, by far the most popular thing with the children was the carousel on which they could have as many turns as they wished. The Princess also suffers slightly from what Mr. Waffle refers to wrongly and unfairly as my “weakness for chintz” meaning that she likes looking around other people’s houses but Mr. Waffle and the boys tired of this activity far too quickly for our liking. Even I find it a bit difficult to work up wild enthusiasm for somewhere just because it’s been around since 1804. Lots of places have been around since 1804. I was quite impressed that it had been moved from New York though (the Princess looked around anxiously and asked whether I thought it was about to move again). Everyone, however, was fascinated by the blacksmith as he worked on making a wrought iron letter for the Princess. Surprisingly, the children were also fascinated by the “settler” who talked about how people managed in the 1700s. Let me tell you one thing, making shirts out of flax is no picnic.
That afternoon we went to the big cheap supermarket out of town and the children had trolleys like little cars; I thought that the boys might expire from happiness. Why can’t we have that here?
Monday was the first day we fully appreciated just how hard our hosts have to work. They put in long days. Their childminder comes to the house at 7. They leave about 7.30. The childminder takes the children to the creche and then brings them home again in the evening just after our friends get in from work. She stays and gives the children dinner which is marvellous. They are blessed with their childminder who is a pleasant, kind, patient woman whom the children adore and whom our Princess wanted to move in with. It’s just as well they have her because each of them is on call one night a month and on back up call another night and they both work one weekend a month. It’s a lot, particularly for demanding jobs where you spend a lot of time on your feet – I suspect hospital doctors are the professionals who use computers least. At one point P asked me, if I would be able to find the on button on their laptop and Mr. Waffle was able to say confidently “she’s worked in offices all her life, I’d say she’ll be alright”. I digress. As well as long hours they have two small children. Their little boy is two and a half and their little girl just over one. I think it’s pretty hard to have it all. And they are so good with those children. P, in particular, maybe just because he’s an American, seems to have endless energy and goodwill (high five again and again and again, no problem). I think J, Mr. Waffle and I are similar in that we, obviously, love our own kids and are prepared to be interested in those of our friends but we’re not natural children people. P is. The children adored him, particularly the boys and Michael went flying out to meet him when he came home from work somewhat to the chagrin of P’s own unfortunate little boy who was exhausted from sharing with all these visitors.
I was struck too by how hard J&P work on politeness with their children. It’s not that I don’t want my children to be polite, of course I do, but they were insisting that when their little boy said sorry, please or thank you, he made eye contact and that he answered all questions clearly and politely. I think that they were setting standards that the Princess even now, alas, fails to meet. I was struck by their success. Maybe this is why the Americans are such polite grown ups. I am tackling the Princess with new vigour.
Tuesday, August 21
We went back to the Shelburne Museum. Our ticket was for two days and I needed more chintz. It was as well that I had a successful morning to sustain me because that afternoon we had a disastrous walk into town. The Princess was tired and crabby and for quite a while she lay down while we discussed strategies to get her moving.
Her father carried her for much of the journey and relations reached a low when in protest at some indignity, she bit him on the shoulder. She’s never done that before and I don’t think she’ll be doing it again either. I gave him a little break from the children and sent him to the supermarket while the Princess, the boys and I went for a walk on Church Street. Inevitably, the Princess had to go to the toilet. Furthermore she would only walk, if I used a form of words known only to her and since I was pushing the boys in the buggy, it was pretty essential that she walked. “Please, please, pretty please walk”.
“I’m begging you here.”
“NO, say what you said before!”
“OK, say ‘it’s a miracle, she’s walking’”.
By the time we got back to the house, I was exhausted and refused to budge so I was able to enjoy the wholly suburban experience of cooking dinner while trying to stop the dog attacking the man who came to mow the grass. Dinner itself passed off peacefully though there was some excitement beforehand when my sous-chef (Mr. Waffle) was flummoxed by the complexity of American equipment and using only his skill and judgement managed to wedge the plug in the sink where it stayed until the heart surgeon later extracted it with a pliers. She doesn’t call her work plumbing for nothing.
Throwing ourselves into the American experience we spent an hour watching the Red Sox with P. Baseball may be like rounders but there seems to be a lot more science involved. I was pleased to note that he was wearing his People’s Republic of Cork t-shirt, the obligatory fashion item for all foreign men who marry women from Cork. But that does remind me of our other American holiday theme song – “Take me out to the ball game”. Does anyone know what Cracker Jack is?
Wednesday, August 22
We went out to hire bicycles. All three of our children threw themselves on the ground and screamed when they realised that nobody was allowed to rent the little pink bicycle with trainer wheels, it wasn’t for rent. It was almost funny. It was certainly very loud. We set ourselves up with two bicycles and little trailers and cycled out around the lake. It was pleasant but a bit chilly. When we stopped for our picnic, Michael snuggled up to me and said pathetically “coat, coat” as we ate ham sandwiches dolefully in a gale force wind. We wrapped the children up in the towels we had brought in case we felt like a dip in the lake (ha!) and put them in their trailers and cycled back, the only mild excitement being when Mr. Waffle’s trailer went adrift leaving poor Daniel sitting gloomily in his trailer on the cycle path. Not maybe an outrageous success.
However, that evening we went out to dinner in the Shelburne Inn with J&P and that was great. J and I went a bit early and had drinks in the library, a chat, a roaring fire and a view over the lake while the men wrestled with the children and joined us later. Dinner was delicious and it was just really nice to have a chance to go out all together. One of the best things about Vermont was the four grown-ups sitting down together every night for dinner and eating and talking all evening. J said that she felt that with all of the pressures of work and children, her social life had been squeezed and I know what she means. It was nice not to have anything to do other than sit and chat, no thinking, I’d better pay some bills or sort out some paperwork or anything.
Thursday, August 23
We went to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. What can I say? They do their best but it’s boring, it’s a factory. I have to say that the fact that our daughter tripped on the concrete path (not their fault, I fully concede) and got the most enormous egg shaped bruise on her forehead when she bounced audibly, did not make me warm to the experience either.
In the afternoon my daughter and I went to town and as well as extra luggage (ouch, the credit card bill), I got a chance to gloat yet again over the purchases I had made in Hatley’s for the children (cute pyjamas, lovely coat) and Danforth pewter (measuring spoons, a Christmas tree ornament, if you laugh at me, I will never love you again, J has already) earlier.
The Princess and I had a heart to heart about life and how no one can ever really have everything he or she wants. I asked “can grown-ups do everything they want?” She thought about this for a while and then said “No, because you want to read your dull books but you can’t because the kiddies are jumping and shouting in your ear and want your attention.” She may be cranky, but she has insight.
That night J was on call. We overheard her talking on the phone. “He is scheduled for emergency open heart surgery at 8.30 in the morning, WHY did he think it would be a good idea to have a shower now?” Much dark muttering followed.
Friday, August 24
We went to the ECHO centre. I see that Senator Leahy has his name in the title. He may not perhaps have Mayor Daley’s presence but you can see that he’s working hard on it. I didn’t have high hopes for the ECHO centre which was a small enough premises describing itself as a “lake aquarium and science centre”. I was completely wrong. Though, mostly, the exhibits were neither high tech nor expensive, it was another example of how something simple done well can work marvellously. The staff made a big difference. There was someone feeding turtles and talking about them, there was a man with a projector in a room with a couple of paper dinosaurs making shapes on a wall, there was a woman encouraging children to touch star fish and sea urchins. All hugely enthusiastic and engaging for the children and grown-ups. There was a water feature pretty like what we had seen in the Children’s Museum in Chicago but this time there were little stools so that I didn’t have to lift the boys up to play with the boats on the ‘river’. There was a fairly high tech dinosaur moving about downstairs but my children got just as much fun out of finding plastic dinosaur bones in a pretend dig site. They got to pretend to be on television. There was a room for small children to wander about in with a miniature boat and a fish tank with a glass circle in the middle that a child shaped head could fit through. Clever. And they stayed there for ages while we chatted able to keep an eye on them in the enclosure. Excellent.
And then, at lunch time, Mr. Waffle minded the children to allow me to have a long lunch with J. After lunch we went back to the pool for one last afternoon before preparing for our long trip back.
I was sad to say goodbye to J and P and their children but I have determined that we will come back in 4 or 5 years to go on a skiing holiday and wouldn’t that be lovely?
I loved America and we had a fantastic holiday. I feel oh so smug for deciding to go. It’s our first holiday with all three children without any parents to help out and it was fine. Even better we had a great time. Even the poor Princess whom jet lag hit hardest. Where will we strike next? Over the Summer I heard that my oldest friend has just been appointed ambassador to an exotic Asian country. Mr. Waffle’s first words on hearing the news were “We’re NOT going to visit” but yet..
Just signing in to say I have read and LOVED every single one of your America posts. This last one had me snorting mineral water through my nose, which was not a pleasant experience, but worth it for the amusement. Thank you! Also, I’m glad you had a great holiday and are poised for more – although it sounds like Mr Waffle needs a good lie-down first.
So strange. I was in Chicago for a weekend while you were there, and I actually thought of you as I passed several Waffle House restaurants. Now I’m feeling a bit awestruck that we were within miles of one another. The next time I find myself in Chicago, I will shoot an e-mail in your direction to study the odds of our being in the same place at the same time TWICE.
I agree with Charlotte — I’ve loved all of these posts as well!
Cracker Jack: caramel-coated popcorn with peanuts. Yum!
I’ve loved these posts too. Briefly flirted with the idea of sending an email to ask if you wanted a couple of nights in sunny London to reassure yourself that there are oher normal children in the world but then reminded myself that a) I’m not a diplomat, ambassador or Pulitzer prize winner and b) I might not be able to cope with reading “it’s such a relief to be around children that make mine look like absolute angels” on your blog!
Seriously these posts have been laugh out loud funny. Looking forward to your next holiday now. Asia here you come….
Oh – and answering questions, period, would be a step forward in our house – let along clearly and politely.
Fabulous. I am so happy you had the energy to write such a thorough recounting of your trip. It was fascinating – you are a latter-day Tocqueville with small children.
One of the most important aspects of Crackerjack is that each box contains a prize! My friends always got the evil tattoos that I coveted, and I ended up with some kind of plastic toy that I couldn’t quite assemble correctly.
i thought you were kidding about Vermont.
You’re not going to believe this, but i spent 3 of my formative years in Shelburne and went to school with one of the Webbs.
You appear to be systematically visiting everywhere I lived in my childhood. let me know when you get to Boston, that’s when the good stuff starts.