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Forget scuba diving in icy waters or bungee jumping in New Zealand. For real adventure travel, try taking a 2-year-old on vacation. Before the birth of our son, Spencer, my husband, Chad, and I were avid travelers. Since then, our only vacations — if you can call them that — have been to visit relatives. But after Chad accepted an offer to move from the Department of Justice to a big law firm, we decided that in the interval between jobs, we ought to take a family trip, just the three of us. The problem: Where do you go with a 2-year-old in the springtime? Certainly not Paris. Disney World seemed an obvious choice, until we realized a three-night stay would cost around $2,000. Not only that, Spencer’s too little to brag to his friends about getting to go to Disney World — or to give us any credit as parents for being cool enough to take him there. Instead, we cast about for a destination within a three-hour drive of Washington, D.C. — the outer limit that Spencer will spend strapped in a car seat without going nuts — and we settled on Williamsburg, Va. Since we were driving, we also decided to bring our dog, Foxie, who quivers in fear of the kennel every time she sees our suitcases. As a destination for those traveling with small children, Williamsburg has several things to recommend it: a large, traffic-free historical district perfect for strolling; proximity to an amusement park, Busch Gardens; and a plethora of restaurants with children’s menus and complimentary crayons. To plan the trip, we turned to the Internet and found a promising-sounding hotel, the Sheraton Four Points, through Williamsburg Online (http://www.williamsburg.com/). At $89 a night, the hotel boasted it was “across the street from the historic district,” allowed dogs, and let children under 12 eat free. We were sold. Turns out, the hotel is actually across the street from a horse pasture. While technically part of the historic district, the pasture is not exactly a noteworthy site. But it’s pretty, and Spencer, who is fanatically interested in animals of all sorts, was delighted with the proximity of horses. It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we arrived, with blooming dogwoods dotting the woods and beds of tulips in full glory. We promptly set out for a walk, heading for Duke of Gloucester Street (known as “DOG Street” to the locals), the main drag of the historical district. Surprisingly uncheesy, the street bills itself as a living museum and features authentic period shops such as an apothecary, blacksmith, and bakery, plus lots of taverns that looked like excellent places to drink ale all night, had we visited a few years earlier (or known where to find a baby sitter). We decided against forking over $32 per adult (children under 6 are free) for a pass that would have allowed us to tour the inside of the buildings such as the governor’s mansion and capitol, figuring Spencer would (a) attempt to throw all priceless antiques within range and (b) whine and squirm when we wouldn’t let him. The view from the outside would suffice just fine, we concluded, as we slowly made our way up and down the street, toddler and dog stopping every 10 feet or so to poke and sniff assorted pebbles and leaves on the ground. As one might expect from a toddler, Spencer lost interest in watching costumed tradespeople making saddles, furniture, and shoes using 18th century methods after about five seconds. Debating the possibility of a free America with a Thomas Jefferson impersonator — go figure — held even less appeal. But he was absolutely captivated by a fife and drum marching band that appeared out of nowhere and began marching down the street. Like Colonial Pied Pipers, the red-coated band was trailed by small boys and parents pushing strollers. Spencer and I joined the stroller brigade and followed the band to the end of the street, while Chad had to carry the cowering Foxie, a 25-pound Shiba Inu, who seemed to think the marching band was an invading army or some kind of enormous, many-footed beast. As the shadows grew long, we decided to head back to the hotel. Already hungry, Spencer threw his first tantrum of the trip. He didn’t want to walk, he didn’t want to ride in the stroller. What he wanted to do was pick up pieces of gravel and throw them. He started shrieking and let his body go limp, like a pint-sized WTO protester being hauled off by riot police. Avoiding eye contact with onlookers, Chad and I dragged him back to the hotel for dinner. For a place that advertises free meals for kids, the Sheraton’s Bones restaurant fell short on the standard amenities. For one thing, there were no free crayons, and no place mats to color on (the horror!). And the service was slow — a fatal flaw when you’ve got an antsy toddler desperate to escape his booster seat. Even Spencer’s free meal — chicken nuggets and fries for $3.95 — didn’t seem such a good deal after Chad and I paid $16 apiece for the house speciality, ribs, which were decidedly mediocre. After burning through the supply of toys in the diaper bag, dumping out the sugar packets, and overturning the salt shaker, Spencer had had enough. With another tantrum looming, Spencer and I beat a hasty retreat to the lobby, while Chad finished his meal alone. The hotel room itself, with two double beds, was pleasant enough, though a little worn around the edges. At bedtime, we pushed Spencer’s bed against the wall, then used the room’s two straight-backed chairs to barricade the other side. But at 2:30 a.m. came a clunk, then a pitiful little wail. Spencer had rolled off the bed, and was wedged on the floor next to a chair. Still half asleep, I groped for him in the dark and pulled him out by his feet. He was unhurt but plenty startled, and didn’t calm down until I got in bed with him. The next morning, as we were wondering why we thought a family vacation was a good idea anyway, we headed off to Busch Gardens, three miles east of Williamsburg. Built in the middle of a forest and around a river, the park is truly lovely, with vibrant beds of flowers and tinkling fountains around every bend. The park is divided into five villages, modeled after England, Scotland, France, Germany, and Italy (a sixth, Ireland, opens later this spring). But lest the cobblestone streets and Tudor buildings fool you into believing you’ve been transported to Europe — if everything in Europe were somehow made both exceedingly cute and clean, that is — the illusion is soon undermined by the shrieks from riders on the Loch Ness Monster and Apollo’s Chariot roller coasters zooming overhead. Although age 2 is no doubt on the young side to visit, there were enough toddler-suited activities to keep Spencer joyfully entertained the entire day, and enough pretty scenery that Chad and I enjoyed being there as well. (Admission is $39; children under 3 are free.) The biggest hit was a petting zoo of enormously fat goats, which stoically tolerated lunges and grabs from excited small children. (Later, we read that petting zoos are an excellent place to contract E. coli. This one, though, was staffed by a hawk-eyed attendant whose sole job was to sweep up goat poo.) Spencer also loved a three-story treehouse with slides and cargo nets, and riding a steam-powered train that circles the park. As for Chad and me, we finally got a break after Spencer, worn out from all the action, fell asleep in his stroller for an hour and a half. We parked in a shady corner of a terraced outdoor cafe in “Italy,” where we drank coffee and stared at a fountain, finally relaxed. For dinner that night, we found a wonderfully child-friendly restaurant, the Beach House Grill on 2nd Street. Almost everyone in the place had at least one little kid in tow, and no wonder. The cloth-covered tables were topped with butcher-block paper and came complete with crayons in a blue plastic bowl. A deck of cards was also included. We ordered Spencer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was served on thick, home-made white bread and garnished with melon chunks and strawberries — one of the best-looking children’s entrees we’d ever seen at a restaurant. The adult fare was almost as good. Chad’s crab cakes were flavorful and fresh, though a little mushy, while I had a Jack Daniels- and black pepper-seasoned rib-eye steak, ordered medium but served rare. On the side were fabulous chunky mashed potatoes and saut�ed zucchini and summer squash. The next day, we set off for Yorktown, site of the Revolutionary War battle where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington. A battlefield is a very fine place to take a small child and a dog — both were equally oblivious to the historical significance, and both enjoyed the freedom of wandering around a very large and all-but-empty field. The many cannons and still-visible trenches made it possible for Chad and me to get some feel for the original battle. There was, of course, also a visitors center, which, according to the guidebook, contains all sorts of fascinating exhibits — fascinating to adults, that is, not to 2-year-olds. Resigned, we skipped it. By noon, we were starving, and stopped at the first restaurant we found, the altogether fabulous Nick’s Seafood Pavilion, which is worth the trip alone if you’re an aficionado of kitsch. Established in 1944, Nick’s reminded me of my grandmother’s house 30 years ago. The ceiling is deep blue, adorned with silver sparkles and lit by incredibly ornate crystal chandeliers. Every nook and cranny was jammed full of bad reproductions of classical statuary and ancient Greek mosaics, not to mention an Easter-egg Christmas tree and a regular Christmas tree, seasons be damned. Best of all, the 50-something waitresses wear little fezzes, Turkish vests, and short, puffy skirts — a cross between the wardrobes of a Shriner and of Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie.” It was here that Spencer staged his final, blowout tantrum of the trip. We ordered him fish, figuring that since he likes fish sticks, he’d probably like the fried flounder. He didn’t. He ate about two french fries, raided my salad for the tomatoes and cheese, and refused to even try his enormous hunk of fish. And here was my mistake: Forgetting the toddler creed of “What’s mine is mine, even if I don’t want it,” I helped myself to some of his leftovers. He began shrieking in outrage, totally beyond logic as only a 2-year-old can be. Pointing out that he still had a piece of fish the size of a shoe on his plate, or even offering to return the pilfered bits, did nothing to placate him. “Mine! Mine!” he screamed, his body rigid, “Mommy! My fish!” All across the half-filled restaurant, heads turned to stare. His own catfish barely touched, Chad scooped up Spencer and took him outside. Left alone at the suddenly too-quiet table, I picked at my salad. As the waitress came to clear the plates (including poor Chad’s uneaten lunch), she peered at me kindly from underneath her fez. “Don’t you wish you had half of his energy?” she asked, as I laughed ruefully. “But you know what?” she continued. “I’ve got a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, and I’d have mine back that age in an instant. At least you’re still in charge of what they do. They can’t ignore you or take the car and stay out late.” “Are you telling me it doesn’t get easier?” I moaned. But out the window, I could see Spencer, his good humor already restored, holding Chad’s hand and jumping in puddles in the parking lot. And I thought about his sweet smell after a bath, and how funny he thinks it is to push his nose and say “beep beep,” and the way he runs headlong into my open arms yelling “Mommy!” and I thought maybe I’m not in such a hurry for him to grow up after all. Jenna Greene is news editor atLegal Times.

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