Milwaukee Mini-Vacation Meditation...and Then Some!

My husband was supposed to go to Sri Lanka this summer - a highly unusual destination for most, but not so much for him. You see, he heads up MissionGuides, a ministry that leads people on short-term trips. His primary fields are Trinidad and Sri Lanka, and it was time this summer for a trek literally halfway around the globe. However, the trip was postponed until 2011, and we quickly realized that meant Jeff had "found" some vacation time!

But we didn't know this enough ahead of time to plan or budget for a big trip akin to our 2008 Laura Ingalls Tour. So we opted instead to simply take a long weekend visit to Milwaukee, the largest city in our state.

I actually lived in a near-downtown Milwaukee suburb until I was 11; Jeff visited often enough as a boy because he lived just an hour away. And the girls have been there - kind of - a number of times, but really just for visits with friends and family in their homes. So, aside from the day-trip the girls and I took to the zoo earlier this summer to meet up with my elementary school friend, they'd never seen any of the city's attractions.

Partly that was just logistical; Milwaukee is well over two hours from here and, since there are lots of great places to visit much closer, it didn't seem worth our effort to go all that way. But it was also partly by design because I saw no need to take preschool-aged children on such a relatively long trip to venues that they likely wouldn't get much out of or even enjoy.

You see, I'm "not big" (that's an understatement!) on what I see as a prevalent parental practice of shoving kids into experiences that are beyond their developmental levels - just why are infants going to movies and two-year olds flying to Disney?! Our culture pushes kids to grow up too quickly as it is, and I don't want to contribute to that in my girls' lives. Plus, I can think of no more stressful parenting endeavor than trying to placate a young child who is bored out of his mind or wailing about being (unfairly) dragged to places designed for older children and adults. I am not a martyr!

But now - at eight and nine - the girls are at ages where we can reasonably consider some of the things we've purposely put off thus far. And, while some of what we did this past weekend was still a bit over their heads (i.e., they don't care to read all the narration at a museum - which actually turned out to be to their advantage), they were generally ready to have fun and even learn (and retain) something from the places we visited.

Jeff had the day off work on Friday, but we decided to just enjoy a slow day here - and he and the girls did some indoor camping that night - before heading off on Saturday morning for our first destination: the Milwaukee Public Museum.

If you're ever in the Milwaukee area - and have kids who can manage a large museum! - I generally recommend it because it's well-done and features exhibits from around the entire world.

Some displays - the "Old Milwaukee Lady" whom the girls loved (as much as Jeff and I did years ago!), the Native American Buffalo Hunt, and the igloo, to name just a few - are exactly the same as they were when Jeff and I came as kids. But they're well-maintained so they spoke "nostalgia," not "worn-out."

Other areas - the butterfly exhibit and rain forest simulation, for example - are relatively new and equally as impressive. When we were there, most of the hundreds of butterflies weren't interested in landing on us - and Rachel felt nervous at all the "fluttering" - but Abigail eventually made a few friends and Rachel enjoyed "non-fluttery" parts of the exhibit. And, in the rain forest area, both girls cooed over a cute model capybara, an animal we all just recently learned of through one of the girl's literature books, Capyboppy by Bill Peet.

My one beef with the museum - and a rather substantial one, I think, despite my legitimate praises above - was its incessant, in-your-face evolutionary perspective about everything...in big, BOLD letters. Now, that didn't take me by surprise since it's a secular museum whose employees probably never consider alternate theories for our origins; in fact, I daresay they probably don't even understand that evolution is just a theory because they've likely been taught - incorrectly, even according to the scientific method at its best - that it's "fact." I see such unwitting bias almost daily in one way or another as we attempt to live a biblically-based life here and knew the museum would tout the evolutionary "party line." But it stood out to me in bas-relief this time because of an Answers in Genesis (AIG) piece called "Feedback: Please Stop the Hate," upon which I'd happened in my Facebook scrolling just the day before.

In the article, the AIG editorial staff responds to and debunks the criticism leveled against AIG's Creation Museum by an especially hostile sociologist. The whole piece is worth reading, but what most stood out to me was the fact that the researcher notes she felt "uncomfortable" being at the Creation Museum because she is a proponent of evolution. In reply, AIG wrote, "...Do people consider the opposing side? When creationists are forced to go to secular schools where the religion of secular humanism...(and its subset of evolution)...is forced onto unsuspecting children - or go to secular museums, hear secular news reports, etc. - do people not consider that we too get rather uncomfortable? For someone such as Dr. Barton to pay lip-service for equality so much in her writings, she doesn't seem to mind neglecting the equality of creationists."

Amen and amen! My family and I must daily swim upstream against the premises of the false science of evolution - and it is blatantly shoved in our faces at museums (and, as it turns out, places like the zoo we visited the next day, too) - with nary a thought given to how "uncomfortable" it makes us feel. We're supposed to be constantly "tolerant" of all sorts of supposed "diversity" - yet no one considers any tolerance of or accommodation for Bible-believing Christians. Now I know Jesus said we'd be persecuted so I understand what's going on from a spiritual perspective. But, on a purely human level, it would have been very easy for the museum to replace their absolutist phrasing with alternatives such as "Many scientists believe..." (since not all - by a long shot! - Ph.D. level scientists are evolutionists) or "One theory is that..." Easy...but too hard, apparently, to even consider.

That was a thorn in my side, but I didn't let it ruin our day because there was much to be enjoyed and learned apart from the evolutionary proselytizing. And then, after three packed hours and to appease tired feet all around, we headed out for dinner and then to our hotel.

Now, I knew I had three guidelines in choosing our accommodations: first, it had to be (relatively, as far as urban hotels go!) reasonably-priced; second, it had to be near the places we wanted to visit; third (and most importantly!), it had to have a pool.

When we took our Laura Ingalls trip - before the girls had started swimming lessons - the hotel pool (and, really, any deep water) made me nervous, and it was all I could do to "merely" hover in the water next to the girls as they paddled around with "floaties" swelling their biceps. But it's amazing what acquiring some skills does for confidence all around, and so I was excited that I wasn't close to worried even though I never went in the water and even when Jeff didn't either. Instead, it was my delight to watch my girls delight.

They went in for over an hour all three days we were there - on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, and Monday morning. Rachel focused on swimming, diving, somersaulting and hand-standing, giving expression to her body- and self-smart tendencies. Abigail, on the other hand, continued to demonstrate her people-smart by initiating conversations and "friendships" with a couple of young girls who were there on Sunday for a party; in particular, she and Gwendalisa really hit it off.

After sleeping in on Sunday morning and enjoying a nice hotel breakfast, we spent the afternoon at the county zoo, another venerable Milwaukee tourist destination about which I also wrote a bit after my June visit there with the girls. This time, we didn't see the amazing lions or polar bear that impressed us last time, but we were struck in particular by some of the Tamarin monkeys, a cute-though-geriatric fennec fox, and an adorable OCD armadillo. The girls also enjoyed the train ride again and were glad to have a turn this time on the carousel, too - and I smiled to see that several kids much older than Rachel and Abigail similarly allowed themselves the freedom to enjoy that simple pleasure as well.

On Monday, we'd first thought we might visit the Mitchell Park Conservatory (a.k.a., The Domes), but we opted instead for a final round of swimming and then headed over to the suburb of St. Francis.

St. Francis doesn't boast any tourist attractions of note...but it is where I lived and went to school until I was 11. So, though not all my memories from that time in my life are pleasant, I'd decided I wanted to take a peek at how things look now. And - because they know all about Jeff's childhood hometown and had previously seen the home in which I lived and the school I attended as a teenager - I wanted the girls to get a glimpse of some of my childhood landmarks as well.

And I saw that, other than an obvious color change - I guess the current owners don't care to make it "stand out" on the block! - not all that much has changed about the house on Shannon Avenue.

In fact, except that my elementary school was torn down and replaced with an assisted living facility, the whole neighborhood is eerily similar to what it was "several" years ago: the decrepit old cemetery across from the school site is still there; the "mansion" on the corner still has the "lilac tunnel" through which we waded our way to and from school; I could still point to playmates' houses; and the park - Greene Park - seems almost to have been left in a time warp. New playground equipment to be sure, but it's in the same location as the old set was, and the pavilion and tennis courts look as if they haven't been improved since I left.

It was weird - but in an encouraging, full-circle kind of way - to have my happy, joyful girls - at the exact ages I was when the most traumatic events of my life occurred - playing in the park that was a refuge for me.

We all had such a nice time that Jeff and I started brainstorming about future vacations while the girls swam on Monday...and we think we've come up with a workable "vacation calendar" for the next 10 years! Obviously, we'll be flexible as circumstances warrant, but it's also very helpful - in terms of budgeting and then juggling Jeff's missions trips and our other commitments - to have a general plan of action.

So, in addition to what we hope continues to be an annual foray to Lake Lundgren, occasional trips for at least the girls and me to Texas, and some shorter, "long weekend" family trips (i.e., Chicago, Minneapolis, Great America, etc.) in our "off years," we've decided to take a "big trip" every other year:
  • 2020 (18 and 19) - the girls' graduation trip (!) to a place of their choosing (perhaps somewhere in Europe or - since they'll be pretty fluent in Spanish by then - Latin America)
Oh, by the way, in case you're wondering: Yes, this weekend - and all these planned trips - do count as "school." Field trips always count...and home learning doesn't always happen at home.


Nikki Olivier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nikki Olivier said...

HI Tina, me again :-) Just wanted to say thanks for popping over. In case you don't read my reply I feel I should let you know we haven't chosen a curriculum yet. I came across MFW when investigating possible Charlotte Mason curriculums and somehow found your blog too! I do hope you'll continue to follow our blog though-I look forward to getting to know you!

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