When I was Mila's age and Jordan was Cruz's, my dad worked in Charles City, a little river town about a half hour from home. Mom stayed home with us and about once a week in the summertime, she would pack a picnic lunch and we would head to Charles City to join Dad on his lunch break. I don't have my own memories of these picnics, but the pictures Mom has of a few of these excursions are some of my favorites from my childhood. Pictures of Jordan and I, Jordan standing on the picnic table, scared to death of the geese surrounding our table, and me on all fours, likely crawling through their poop, chasing the ducks with a big toothy grin on my face.
Dad didn't stay working in Charles City, and our weekly trips north on Highway 3 ended shortly thereafter. That is, until the last few years ago, when Mom and I decided to take a trip to a string of greenhouses just north of Charles City. We fell in love with this perfect day trip, with the sweet people and the gorgeous flowers at Stillwater Greenhouse, and with the sweet little blond boy in tow. Every early May, we'd pack up a picnic and stop at this little park by the river on the way to hunt for flowers. I know I say it a lot, but these kind of traditions mean so much to me as they become these perfect little timestamps of familiarity and growth. Every year, I recall how Cruz has changed from one trip to the next and the new things he has learned from the previous year.
This year, though, our tradition felt a whole lot different. It was our first year taking both babes along for the ride, which meant more packing, more planning, and more patience for all parties involved. Beau was gone for the weekend on a guys' trip and I struggled to tackle groceries, baths, and bedtime on my own. I packed the kids' lunchies with the perfect picnic foods, only to forget them in the fridge. I felt exhausted before we even pulled out of the driveway, and was worried the strong winds would dampen our park time. For a second or two, I even questioned why I bother with adventures like these. Saturday cartoons and bowls of dry cereal sounded better and better all the time.
When we pulled into Charles City, we decided to turn left instead of right, heading to a side of the river with lots more green space for Mila to roam. It was much prettier than the side we've went to in the past, with picnic tables strewn across the lawn, a nice walking bridge, and several crab trees blossoming their fragrant hues of pink and lacy white. I immediately recognized the location from those pictures of our lunch dates with Dad and I'm sure my mom went on a time warp thinking back to ducks and stale bread, Jordan on picnic tables and his fearless sister waddling with the best of them. We replaced forgotten lunchies with happy meals from McDonalds, and set up a little spread on a picnic table while the ducks and geese meandered by waiting for their turn.
A little older than her mommy was and able to travel on foot, Mila wasted no time getting acquainted with the ducks, pointing, waving, and giving them her best "cack cack" call. She looked like a little farm girl in her bib overalls, and was quite pleased with the freedom she felt chasing ducks on that big open lawn. The wind had died down and the sun felt the warmest it has this year, making for rosy cheeks and new blond curls I expect to bleach out much like her brother's used to.
Cruz wasn't afraid of the ducks either and loved throwing them pieces of bread. Mila, she just ate it. He was determined that they see every piece he threw, and when they missed one, he'd chase them and try to throw a new piece as close as he could to their beaks. This chase only made them waddle away a bit faster, but Cruz kept pressing on. That is until Mila got a little too close to a mother goose and her babies. Mila loves her some babies and we knew we were in for it when that mama made her way to land, three little geese babies waddling right behind her. Until this afternoon, I had no idea that geese can hiss like cats. I said something along the lines of getting attacked and to that, Cruz ran to safety as fast as he could! He was completely willing to let Mila take the fall for that one!
If you look closely at this picture, you can catch a glimpse of the little bread eater...
It may have not started quite the way I expected, but thanks to a new park, a couple of Happy Meals, and a village of hungry ducks, we had the best adventure. It felt special to be at a place that my parents had made a tradition, and to now watch my own experience the same. Sometimes, it takes a little work, but moments like these make it all worth it.
More pictures from our duck hunting adventure...