A Note To My Son About Our Vacation to the Grand Canyon


There’s a place I used to go before I had a kid—the place you go in your head when you look at the Grand Canyon or a beautiful cathedral.  The place you go when you are just quietly thinking and taking everything in.  To go to that place means to be swept away by the beauty of something and to be swept away means to temporarily leave the mundane, regular world for the ethereal wonder of whatever you are looking at, except that if you have a young toddler and you are swept away by the beauty of the grand canyon, that is when your toddler will fall into the grand canyon, and if you are swept away by the beauty of an intricate cathedral, that is the moment your toddler will wander out of the cathedral and right into traffic.

grand canyon

We are here right now—we are at the Grand Canyon and spent forty minutes getting to a point that was supposed to have a beautiful sunset.  And you stepped out of the shuttle and immediately announced that you were cold and that you would like to go back to the hotel to watch River Monsters, a fishing show on Animal Planet that I occasionally let you watch both because I dislike most children’s programming and because you are particularly taken with anything involving marine life.

“I want to go back to the hotel,” you say, crying.

“We can’t.”

“I want to.”

And I don’t know how to continue this argument because I have no good, tangible reason for why we should watch the sunset other than that I want to.  I want to watch the sunset and you want to watch River Monsters.

And so, with thirty minutes of daylight left, I sit next to you on the ground and say literally the only thing I think might help, which is, “We can’t go back to the hotel because during the day the hotel is full of spiders.”

And for the first time since I had begun trying to calm you down, you listen.  You ask me why it is full of spiders and I answer that it is full of spiders because that’s how hotels make extra money—that since most hotel rooms just sit empty during the day the management rents them out to spiders and other nocturnal animals who sleep there during the day and then evacuate in the evening before any of the people arrive back.

“So we can’t go back early,” I say patiently, intermittently glancing at the canyon.  “Because all the spiders and animals are still there.”

“Snakes?” you ask.

“Some snakes,” I say.

You nod, pleased because, in addition to marine life, snakes and spiders are both things you like a great deal.

“In our beds?” you ask.

“No,” I explain.  “The hotel puts out tiny beds for them.  Dozens of tiny beds with tiny pillows and tiny blankets and then housekeeping cleans them up before we get back.”  A woman in a green windbreaker looks at me out of the corner of her eye like maybe I am a lunatic.

“And they leave when it’s night?” you ask.  I glance at the sun, which is quickly setting.  I glance at the canyon.  I really want to look at the canyon—I flew across the country to look at the canyon—but you are so happy and calm and I know that suddenly abandoning you and this ridiculous story to look at the sunset is going to break whatever spell has been cast.

“Always,” I say.  “They leave as soon as it’s night, so that’s why we never see them.  And housekeeping cleans up everything.  All the webs.  Any snakeskins.  When we get back the room will look just how we left it—you won’t be able to tell anyone has been there at all.  That’s part of what makes hotels so fantastic.”

And you nod, completely satisfied.  At this point you are sitting on your father’s lap and I tell him that if he wants he can grab a few minutes of the sunset while I watch you but he says that he is fine where he is.  We can’t leave you to be swept up by the beauty of the canyon so we try to allow ourselves to be swept up by having a toddler, something which is at times extremely frustrating and only moments later beautiful and fantastic.  The three of us sit together, glancing up occasionally at the sun which is setting over one of the wonders of the natural world. (From what I saw, yes, it was really beautiful and nice!)  We do see some of it, although not in the way I had envisioned or hoped.  But most of having a kid is accepting that things will not go quite how you had envisioned they’d go.

grand canyon us theuglyvolvo

An hour or so later we return to the hotel where it is warm and you excitedly check the room to see if there are any snakes or spiders lingering, the same way you checked at Christmas for signs that Santa had come.  You excitedly announce to us that no, like I had promised they are completely gone and I smile and say, “I told you.”  By the time we get settled in it is later than any of us expected and I’m not even sure this hotel has the channel that plays River Monsters; so quietly, and without much fanfare, the three of us fall asleep.

 *         *          *


Thanks for reading.  Happy mother’s day.  If you are so inclined I have a book coming out about the first two years of parenthood called Welcome to the Club, which you can order through Barnes and Noble, Amazon or Indiebound.  It makes a fantastic mother’s day gift for forgetful people because you can literally order it 4 AM the morning of mother’s day and go, “Oh, I totally remembered mother’s day and ordered it waaaay in advance, it just won’t come out until late September, but in the meantime here are some peonies that I definitely bought three hours ago and please know that regardless of my inability to remember holidays and buy gifts, I love you.”  


13 CommentsComment

  1. Yes. Being swept up by the toddler instead of the sunset. Because that moment of peace is just as beautiful and fleeting. Love this.

  2. What a fantastic post! Thank you, for sharing and also for putting into words why it’s so hard to get ‘into the moment’ when you have little kids with you. I’ve been wondering if I’d just lost my sense of the larger world. But I think you’re right – it’s kind of inherent in the parenting contract that your responsibility for making sure they don’t fall into the grand canyon is still in force, even when the sunset is beautiful.

  3. Excellent story. I wish I’d tried it on my boys when they were small. Would’ve bought me so much time!

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    I feel like you are writing what’s in my heart. Thank you.

  5. Yes , in my experience serene moments and toddlers don’t generally gel that well. But then you get the ones that do and it is magical😊

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    Cory Schneider

    We could not stop laughing or crying at the beauty of what you are experiencing both with your son and the Grand Canyon. And besides, I now know why I jkeep away from hotel rooms during the day.

    Thanks for the chuckles and tears.

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      Just read this because I am waaaay behind on checking my inboxed messages. Thanks, Cory! 🙂

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    Hannah D

    I’m definitely not crying. It’s allergies. This was beyond beautiful.

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    middle sistah

    absolutely gorgeous

    I actually saw his face the whole time while I read this.

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      awww, thanks 🙂 Sorry I’m just getting to all these comments now. Didn’t read the e-mail at first and was like “who’s this creepy person telling me they can see my son’s face???”

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    So beautiful. One of the most important things I’ve had to learn having a child is to slow down and accept that things are almost never going to happen as you pictured them, and that’s okay, because they may be as good or better, just different. And sometimes I just have to let her take the lead.

    Also, the things that you feel will be exciting or interesting to them may fall flat. Or scare them. My daughter did great meeting Mickey and the gang and Disney when she was two, so I thought meeting Baymax, whom she adores, would be so great. She was even wearing the little Baymax skirt I made. Surprise! Baymax is apparently super scary in person and the few pictures I have are blurry. But Ariel, who we met almost as an afterthought, was incredible. She spent the whole meeting sitting next to her with this look of adoration as Ariel talked and held her stuffed kitty. I’m learning that my disappointments are mine and to keep an open mind as to where the special moments may happen.

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    Lisa Rubenstein

    Absolutely perfect. I loved this.

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