Old Gonzo doesn’t want to trot. At first we thought it was because he didn’t like walking behind Chili Bean, my daughter’s horse, who apparently is suffering mild gastrointestinal woes. So our cowboy leader moves Gonzo to the front of the line. But still, Gonzo is a reluctant trotter.
My kids and I are near the end of the 1½-mile Wood Duck Trail at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney. The route meanders in and out of the woods; skirts wetlands where ducks, geese, and egrets commune; and wends past stretches of prairie with gracefully waving grasses. My daughter Susanna stops suddenly to watch a giant swallowtail butterfly flutter down, back up, and out of sight. I smile when a gasp of awe escapes the mouth that had, moments before, complained of being hot, tired, and in need of something—anything—from the gift shop. Meanwhile, Samuel is ahead of us as usual, just around the path’s next curve, the back of his head barely visible through the tall grasses. He’s been reading the warning signs posted along the trails excitedly, reminding us to “Watch out for copperheads!”—and in the process, likely scaring away this or other examples of native wildlife.
I’ll confess that I have never been a big zoo fan—until recently, that is. I blame the small, sad zoos that I visited as a kid, where skinny, world-weary animals paced in tight quarters. Thankfully, matters have changed dramatically since then, as I discovered during a recent trip to Houston.
After he turned 80, it was difficult to get my Pop to leave the house. I found it hard to accept this sea change in the man who had been my travel mentor. But Pop’s joie de vivre had been stolen by dementia. I longed to awaken his spirit of discovery, and allow my young son to see his grandfather as the man I remembered.
It all started with a trip gone awry. My mom scheduled a much-anticipated French getaway to Paris with an old friend, and then, late in the game, her friend pulled out. But the romantic, Kir Royale and back-alley bistro dreams had already taken hold—staying home in suburbia was not an acceptable alternative. She needed a plan B fast, and luckily, I knew just what to do.
I grew up in a family devoted to road-trips, but they were not just a vacation thing. Weekends often found us heading out to nowhere in particular, assured that my mother or father would find something of interest to share with us along the way.
In the October 2013 issue of Texas Highways, Babs Rodriguez’s account of a fall fishing getaway shows how so many wrongs can make a right. Here’s the full story.
We teach our children to share our world by involving them in our interests. For this columnist that meant making travel a keystone in her son’s life.
Houston suffers from no shortage of museums, but I’ve always thought of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as the grande dame of them all. It was here that I first marveled at the splendor of European masters. As a mother, I’ve found that my appreciation for art is magnified when I experience it through the eyes of my children. So on a recent sunny day, I set out with my three young children for an afternoon at the MFAH and its companion sculpture garden to see what this Houston art institution has to offer for a family visit.
Jill Lawless’ grade-schooler runs a tight ship. Here’s her kid’s dream day downtown.
1. Expect the unexpected
Whether traveling alone or with preschool companions, that’s one rule campers and parents alike ought to abide. After all, just as there’s no accounting for the weather, it’s tough to anticipate the moods and desires of a child far from home. Be flexible, but with a quality playbook, you can limit the shocks and squabbles that can turn a dream trip into a nightmare.
We camped near a dry creek bed in Davis Mountains State Park, my daughter Ursula tucked into her junior-sized sleeping bag, pressed against my side for warmth in the cool night. Through the tent flap, I kept an eye on the spinning galaxies as she slept, listening to her sweet breath coming and going. Then, under those bright stars, a strange noise suddenly intruded, a snuffling near the picnic table. Good thing I put those rocks on the cooler, I thought, big suckers weighing five to six pounds apiece. Our food would be safe. Wrong.