Last week, we took our family on a trip to Boston. Dustin said it was to celebrate summer. We knew what he really had in mind: His favorite baseball team, the San Diego Padres, was playing the Red Sox at Fenway.
Our first stop, however, was Harvard and the Museum of Natural History, where I might have set a record for the speediest walk through any set of exhibits. (Here’s my imitation of Lindell at the museum, “Mom, look at the giraffe! Mom, come look at the moose! Mom, I’m in the other room now; come look at the monkeys! Mom, I’m back at the giraffe! Mom! Where are you?”) The good news was that what would have been a $36 admission was free for us, thanks to a partnership between Blue Star Families and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has arranged free admission for military families to more than 600 museums across the country from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
On our way into the museum, I took a picture of Ford, 10, and Lindell, 4, standing in front of the bones of a dodo bird. It was a staged picture not unlike hundreds of others that families have stored away in shoe boxes and on hard drives. The boys were posed, arms folded across their chest, and on their faces, the most unnatural, contrived smiles.
As soon as I snapped the picture, I thought of all the similar photographs of me and my brothers: standing at the Grand Canyon, by a farm in Missouri, on a beach in Florida. Those moments were but a mere blink, the rest of the vacations largely forgotten.
I stared at my camera and was sad. The boys — in particular, Lindell — ran off, and I was left with the picture. I thought: Someday the boys will be grown, and all I will have is this.
Next came the aforementioned chasing Lindell, but also many attempts at keeping the boys away from the gift shop (which wouldn’t be free). When we left the museum, it was sprinkling. We got on the wrong subway (or T) line several times, went the wrong direction, and finally emerged from the belly of Boston onto the streets outside Fenway Park to a total downpour. There were a few tense moments where we fought about who was not carrying their share of backpacks, sweatshirts and cameras (answer: everyone except me). Then there was that hasty decision when I bought expensive ponchos that were really just white trash bags (this after Dustin said, “Let’s buy a box of cheap trash bags to use as ponchos,” and I said, “I’m not wearing a trash bag to the game!”).
When we got to Fenway, the game was delayed. We left to find lunch at a burger joint Dustin had heard about. Only, we walked one block too far south and west in the rain. By the time we found Tasty Burger, we were basically right back where we had started.
Finally, after lunch, we were at the game. In the rain. There would be no more pictures. At one point, during another rain delay, Lindell said (far too loudly), “Do you think Stephen King is here today? Because I’d like to give him a hug,” proving once again that you can take the kid out of Bangor, but not the Bangor out of the kid. In Bangor, a boy can feel like he knows everyone. But we were in the big city now. Did Lindell not notice that, unlike at home, we had not passed a single familiar face on the streets of Boston? Maybe it was for the best.
All that rain and all those delays, however, did not stop us from spending a portion of the boys’ college tuition on snacks, ice cream and water. (Wait, didn’t we just eat lunch?)
We dragged ourselves back to the hotel where there was no indoor pool (Hey, Dustin, don’t you know that is the kids’ favorite part?) and fell into bed to sleep.
The next morning, we woke up to do it all again, this time at the New England Aquarium, which does not participate in the free-for-military museums program. When I heard our total admission price, I knew what was ahead of me: Dustin would get his money’s worth by reading every last sentence on every plaque, and I would chase Lindell through the museum while acting as a human clothing rack holding everyone’s shed rain gear.
But first we had to find the parking garage. Dustin passed it twice, prompting the “audience” in the back seat to yell, “This time, try a little bit harder” (Ford) and “Use the force, Dad!” (Owen). Lindell (un)helpfully added, “Didn’t we just pass this a minute ago?”
At lunch, I looked over at Dustin and smiled. We were both exhausted and broke. Were these the moments my childhood vacation photos left out? Were these the times we had forgotten?
If so, well, Dustin and I, we will always have that posed photo at the free museum in front of the dodo bird. And I suspect that will be enough.