August. The month when people pour out of cities all along the east coast with one goal in mind–to reach Vacationland without killing the rest of the family en route. As we here in Maine want you to enjoy yourself (and spend lots of money) in our fair state, we’ve devised this handy guide for parents.
Age: Infant. Babyhood represents the easiest travel you’ll have for the next 20 years, as your baby is basically a piece of luggage when strapped to the carrier. As long as you feed and change it regularly and don’t forget it on the Mantinicus Island Ferry dock, you’re good.
Age: Toddler/preschool. Do yourself a favor. Don’t go. Put up a kiddie pool and a picture of a pine tree in your back yard and call it good. Traveling with 2-4 year-olds requires more luggage than Hilary took on his expedition to Everest. You will be unable to travel on the interstate because you need to be no less than 3 minutes away from a rest room at all times. You’ll wind up with seven take-home containers full of kiddy meals in your rental’s refrigerator, because your toddler will take one bite and spend the rest of the meal trying to climb off the deck of The Taste of Maine. (Caveat: ignore this advice if you’re meeting up with grandparents. The free babysitting will be worth the rest of the inconvenience.)
Age: Elementary school. Plan ahead for activities. There are several guidebooks on what to do with children in Maine (no, “losing them in the woods” is not an option.) You may be looking forward to a restful week of shopping and sunning at the shore, but your average child spends 7 hours a day getting information crammed into his head and another 2-6 hours getting bombarded with stimulation via the TV/computer/smart phone. “Sitting” and “strolling” are not their strengths. You know that guilty voice in your head that says the kids need more time outdoors? Maine offers you the chance to run them into the ground. Hike up Mount Battie! Kayak on Frenchman’s Bay! Go mountain biking at Sunday River! Rainy day? I suggest the Children’s Museum in Portland or the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. In addition to offering hours of educational fun, both are located near stylish bars where the off-duty parent can relax with drink.
Age: Middle School. This time of life offers a switch to parents who have spent years mouthing apologies to restaurant owners/fellow campers/the clerks at the LL Bean store (pro tip: the live lake trout exhibit is NOT a wading pool.) Once your kids are in middle school, it’s their turn to be embarrassed by you. Not by anything you do, mind; by the sheer fact of your existence. Seek out activities you can do together, yet apart. Stake out opposite sides of Pemaquid beach for the day (they probably won’t drown without your direct supervision.) Let the kids get in line at Red’s Eats 20 minutes before you do, so they can pretend not to know you. Let them loose in the Big Chicken Barn – it’s large enough to keep any number of tweens busy without bumping into their parents. But don’t go too far away, parents! They still want to be close to your wallet.
Age: High school. Peak of the “I’m too cool for this” stage of life, the teen years offer special challenges to parents. You will point out masterpieces at the Farnsworth museum, only to hear, “Yeah, yeah.” “Look, son, the majestic Mount Katahdin!” will be greeted with silence, as your kid is too busy texting to take a look at Acadia. Better stick with activities that enable them to meet and mingle with other teens who share the unfortunate fate of being forced to vacation in Maine, with only a non-stop stream of texts to keep them connected with friends back home. If worse comes to worst, drop them off at the Maine Mall for the day. The Portland Museum of Art (and those stylish bars) are awaiting you.
Age: College. Is it nine months in a dorm room with a roommate who never washes his clothes? Exposure to Western Civ 101? Whatever the reason, your college-aged offspring are now happy to go on holiday with the family. They will cheerfully try strange food in new restaurants, patiently wait for the puffins to appear on the puffin cruise, and be willing to rough it in most any circumstance – as long as your rental house/camp site has wifi – they’re not barbarians. After years of trying to instill appreciation for art and nature into the kids, you may be surprised to be one-upped. “What was that about a hill and a bay?” you’ll say while lunching in Camden. Your English major daughter will surprise you by quoting, “All I could see from where I stood/ Was three long mountains and a wood;/ I turned and looked the other way,/ And saw three islands in a bay.” Your other daughter, the geology major, will describe the forces that formed Maine’s lakes and mountains as you bike through Oxford County.
Who are these delightful people? you will wonder.Sadly, all too soon, they’ll be drawn away by their jobs and travel with friends. But don’t worry, parents – at some point ion the future, your kids will be desperate parents of toddlers themselves, and the whole cycle will begin again. So please, keep visiting Maine! (and bring your money.)
I have three advance reader copies of Through the Evil Days to give away to one lucky commenter. Just the thing to turn to when you’re stuck in Route 1 traffic!