Adventures large, small, and in be-‘tween

When my three kids were younger, summers seemed to stretch endlessly before us like the horizon on Lake Superior. But the limitlessness was deceptive. To ensure that each family member carved out time for their favorite activities before August ended, I began making an annual summer to-do list, just like Arthur did in a second season episode of my all-time favorite PBS Kids show, Arthur.

Some activities have reappeared every year, like attending theater camp. Some were entrepreneurial: organize a lemonade stand. Others harkened back to my own childhood: eat at the A&W drive-in restaurant, and catch a double feature at the drive-in movie theater.

My daughter, Louisa, is now 17, and my sons Sebastian and Elias are 15 and 12, respectively. It’s fun to think about the activities that used to amuse them and consider how many of their interests have changed as they’ve grown. I recognize that I’ve changed as well. As I’ve juggled my various roles as family cruise director, taxi driver, and camp counselor, I’ve placed more responsibility on them for organizing their activities, as they have become more independent.

Dad’s Eye View

Minneapolis dad Michael Hartford can relate. He took on the role of expedition leader as he and his twin sons developed their list of favorite things to do in the Twin Cities; the results are detailed in Hartford’s handy and helpful guidebook, Dad’s Eye View: 52 Family Adventures in the Twin Cities. The book was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2011, when Hartford’s sons were nine years-old. Since then, Hartford says, family outings have become both smaller and bigger—smaller because sons Jack and Peter often prefer to spend time relaxing with their friends, and bigger because they are now physically strong enough to take on challenges like backpacking with their Boy Scout troop.

“They’re more skeptical of my ideas now. If I see something that I think we should try, I really have to market it,” Hartford says. “We have to negotiate things: ‘we’ll try this one new thing if I can do something I know you guys like.’ When they were little, I could throw them into the car and take them anyplace. They didn’t have a choice.”

Hartford’s book is divided into seasons, and each of the 52 entries contains a description of his family’s experience of a particular place, attraction, or event, plus tips about price, the location of restrooms, and suggested questions to stimulate family discussions. Some of the places in the book are still favorites, like the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Mill City Museum, but the activities the boys are drawn to are different because they are older and have longer attention spans.

“They get more out of things now, and they have a lot more insights,” Hartford says. “They have harder questions to answer, too. If I’m not paying attention to things, then I can’t answer any questions they come up with—and they’re skeptical of my answers anyway.”

New favorite spots for Jack and Peter include the Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade in Minneapolis, and the many climbing walls at Vertical Endeavors.

“Lately, they like anything they can bring a friend to; it seems like at this age they’re more interested in doing things with buddies,” Hartford says.

When Hartford takes his nearly teenaged sons—and their friends—on adventures now, they are able to venture off on their own for longer periods of time because they don’t need as much supervision. Hartford encourages that independence; he will often bring a book or explore by himself, and then meet up with the boys and their friends to discuss what they experienced or learned.

Although Hartford doesn’t have any concrete plans for writing a new book, he has been taking notes as his family has expanded their adventures beyond the Twin Cities to include state and regional parks, and historic sites like the Lower Sioux Agency interpretive center in Morton. They camp and hike a couple times a year at Interstate State Park, two adjacent state parks on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, and last year they spent the day canoeing on the Cannon River with other boys and parents.

Wherever parents and tweens decide to venture, Hartford offers this piece of advice: “Be open to being surprised.”

That seems like the perfect philosophy to adopt as the weeks of summer wane. In fact, I’m going to put it at the top of my summer 2013 to-do list. I think Arthur would approve.


Joy Riggs is a mother of three teenagers. She lives in Northfield. Send comments or questions to jriggs@mnparent.com.