After an (absolutely) (delightful) drive though Canada we arrived in Vermont for a week at the Tyler Place.
When I was growing up our family vacations consisted of a two-week car trip; sometimes north, sometimes south. My father would plan an itinerary to include as many historical house tours and national forests as could be packed into fourteen days; my mother would stock the car with books and granola bars and off we'd go. We camped a lot or stayed in motels, preferably the old 50s kind with a pool in the parking lot. They were very good trips (in retrospect - family tradition has it that I bitched my way through most of it) although now my only clear memories are of the food because I am the sort of person who has forgotten everything about my first mother-in-law apart from her pickled red cabbage.
[Montreal could be one of my favorite cities for any number of reasons but the truth is that I developed a passion for the place when I was six years old on the strength of two superb lunches there: a chicken pot pie that thirty-plus years later I can describe down to the last leaf of tarragon and a bowl of Potage St.Germain that was as life altering as pea soup can be. From other trips I remember fried shrimp and sweet tea and okra and green tomatoes. Chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches in Maine. Maryland crab cakes of course. A dining hall in the Smoky Mountains that had a really nice beef vegetable soup. Fudge on Mackinac Island. Even as an adult (or maybe especially as an adult?) I tend to perseverate about food, like the tomato and onion and blue cheese salad that I ordered three days in a row on Maui and when my boss asked whether we enjoyed our honeymoon the very first thing I said was, "I had the best salad." He looked at me funny.]
Anyway, my point is that this is how we would travel when I was a child and that - plus a week in a rental house at Rehoboth every summer - was the extent of my personal experience with family vacations. So when Julie went to the Tyler Place resort three years ago and sent me an urgent telegram immediately upon her return saying "SELL ALL AVAILABLE KIDNEYS stop COME HERE NEXT YEAR stop WEATHER FINE AND OH MY GOD THE STAFF MEMBERS WHO ARE NOT BUSY REMOVING YOUR CHILDREN TO EXHAUST THEM WITH CAMP SONGS AND NATURE HIKES ARE ASKING IF THEY CAN BRING YOU SOMETHING FROM THE BAR OR TELLING YOU THAT TODAY'S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM IS CARAMEL TURTLE FUDGE" I was interested but I didn't totally get the concept.
It goes like this:
You pay $x per person per day (rates vary depending upon how old the kids are and where you stay) in exchange for which the nice people at Tyler Place make everything about your life completely perfect for an entire week. You reserve one of the dozens of different cabins (some little, some really big; some new, some nicely patina'd) which ring an incredibly beautiful bay on the Vermont/Canadian border. Kids are divided into groups like summer camp and the big ones spend mornings (8:30 to 1:30) and evenings (5:30 to 8:30) with their counselors doing things like swimming and boat rides and pirate treasure hunts and campfires and arts and crafts. Little kids have similar hours (less naps and bedtime as needed) at their own playhouse and they go for walks and hay rides and make play dough with their parents' helper. And they feed them. Did I mention they feed the kids? Breakfast lunch snacks and dinner are handled by the counselors, which... words fail me. I think that alone would have made it all worthwhile but if you have been doing the math with me you will notice that in addition to not having to hassle with meals the schedule leaves eight hours a day for the parents to do anything they want. So that's the deal and it sounded pretty good to me so we went last year and it was awesome. Seriously. Amazing.
I think, somehow, this year was even better. Kind of like Harry Potter's room of requirements, they provide whatever it is you need most at the moment. Last year I slept a lot. Caroline and Edward were eighteen months old and had yet to sleep through the night - EVER - and I was so tired I was growing transparent. So as soon as their parents' helper wheeled them away I would collapse into a boneless heap and just... sleep.
But this year I was feeling much more zesty so I signed us up (singularly jointly and collectively - they have activities for every taste and familial combination) for a bunch of things, starting with the guided canoe trip for Steve and me. We had a great time. Well, great until the bracing Scotch mist turned into a driving rain and the bay we had to cross turned all Deadliest Catch on us. I swear that I could have made it the rest of the way but admit I was grateful when the entire group was rescued by pontoon boat. I also admit that I spent the next three days unable to lift my arms above my shoulders. Paddling is hard.
After that the weather cleared and Steve took a sailing lesson
which was apparently comprehensive enough that it took a mere thirty minutes of instruction before he decided that he was competent to take me for a spin around the bay. I fully expected to need another pontoon rescue but I guess the Hobie cat is amateur proof and I only had to paddle a little to get us back into the dock.
After I indulged his Aubrey-Maturin Steve agreed to play basketball with me. You can tell how seriously he took our game by the fact that he is wearing flip-flops and he didn't stop laughing (at me) the entire time.
For the official and extremely public record: I beat him at Horse. I happen to have a killer lay-up, which Steve very rudely referred to as a weird short person under-basket toss but against which he was nonetheless helpless.
The rest of the week we played mini golf and found ourselves alone in the cabin at ten in the morning and rode around on bikes and went swimming and drank too much one night and went to Montreal for lunch without the children (you have to be a Formula One fan to appreciate this photo but look where we drove - Steve DIED.)
Meanwhile Caroline and Edward:
and they swam
and Edward got to try out a tractor.
One day they went to a toddler yoga class. Caroline wanted nothing to do with it, so their parents' helper (wonderful Emma) got down a dollhouse for her. As Emma was helping Edward get into his half spinal twist everyone started shouting Eeek! and Emma discovered that Caroline had climbed into the dollhouse and gotten well and truly stuck, head out the window a la Alice and everything. Three people tried to see if the roof came off and Caroline said, "I'm upset!" and Emma eventually told her that she had gotten herself in there so she needed to find a way to get herself back out again. So Caroline twisted her head and slid out like an oyster and there was much rejoicing. Emma told me that sometimes you need to be a little firm with Caroline. I consider this the understatement of the century; also I loved the fact that I was not the person who had to figure out how to get Caroline out of a dollhouse.
Patrick bloomed. He made friends (and introduced them! to me! with relevant details about them like their names and where they were staying!) He ate more than just bread. When questioned in the evening he admitted that he enjoyed everything including the lake, which was arguably pretty damned cold. One afternoon he even had a play date. At the end of the week the counselors gave awards to all of the kids. Patrick was named King of the Sandcastle. When we got home last night he put his certificate on his bedroom wall and said, "You know, it's surprising but this is the first international recognition I have gotten for my work."
So that was Vermont.
And then we drove home as fast as we could under the Great Lakes (stopping to visit family in Vermont and Ohio) and the children did not come completely unglued until Eau Claire.
A very very nice trip except for the last two hours and who can ever say more than that?
PS On an administrative note my computer died so I have been incommunicado since last week and will continue to be so until my hard drive is replaced this week. If you have emailed me I'll get back to you.
PPS I would add my usual defensive caveat about the fact that Tyler Place is pricey but after spending seven days on the road I have concluded that all travel with children is expensive and for what you get (everything) Tyler is actually a pretty good deal. We went to Niagara Falls on the way home (pictures to follow) and they charged us ten freaking dollars just to park for thirty minutes. Scandalous.
PPPS Steve thinks it is strange that I remember with such passionate clarity decades later things I have eaten. Do you remember meals?