KEEPING IT SIMPLE

There’s nothing quite like traveling to force a bit of introspection.

I’m not sure why. I can only guess that by removing the monotonous domestic duties of day-to-day life, one’s mind is left to reflect with the leftover brainpower.

On this trip, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the kids and our approach to our parenting.

This parenting focus could also be because we spent yesterday in and around Dutch Pennsylvania or Amish Country, where differences in parenting approaches are certainly pretty stark.

I mean, for a minute it seemed a bit like child labour was the theme of the day.

At the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery we learned that the family patriarch literally designed child-sized machinery so that his brood of children could join him working in his bakery as soon as their gross motor skills would allow.

Then we learned that Amish children only undertake formal schooling until eighth grade, and that there’s a distinct emphasis on discouraging anything that is considered ‘too worldly’.

Meanwhile we’re busting our guts to try to literally expose our four- and six-year-old to…the world.

More than that, we’re paving the way for them. While we’re doing this world-exposing, we’re making sure at all times that they’re comfortable – well fed, well rested, entertained and climate-controlled.

See, yesterday was not simply a day spent in and around Lancaster County. It was a meticulously planned and researched itinerary whereby I put a lot of thought into balancing activities in which I knew Hoff and I would be genuinely interested, but also those that I knew we could sell to the kids as well.

So we started at the Pretzel Bakery as noted. The thinking here was – Hoff and I like pretzels and food history, the kids like playdough. Pretzels have a rich history. Shaping pretzels is kind of like playing with playdough. And there you have it – balance.

Then we headed for an Amish buggy ride and visit to an Amish farm for some homemade cookies and lemonade. Hoff and I like beautiful rural scenery, the kids like animals and sugar-laden baked goods. Balance.

Then we threw caution to the wind and opted for proper a tour of an Amish home and farm. We figured the kids might be a bit ratty and disinterested, but it was only a thirty-minute tour so we screwed our courage to the sticking place and signed up. Hoping against hope that the kids would at least remain quiet-ish and not spill drink on any hand-sewn quilts, or knock over any gas lanterns and burn the place down in the process.

Which they didn’t. They were fine. A little wiggly, but fine. The tour guide took to pointing out to the Boy Child which pieces of furniture he could sit on and which were priceless historical artifacts and best avoided, so everyone was – by and large – pretty happy.

And by way of compromise, we ended our day with a ride on the Strasburg Railroad, the oldest continuing operating railroad in the US, because hey – kids love trains…don’t they?

Not necessarily, as it turns out. Or maybe they had train-fatigue after the 130-odd Subway trips we took in NYC.

Because it was at this unlikely point that the kids became particularly unruly. They didn’t really seem to care the President Abraham Lincoln had ridden this very railroad, and somehow seemed more content by putting their dirty feet on the meticulously maintained 100+ year old upholstered seating, despite the PA announcement imploring passengers to definitely not do that.

So, in an attempt to distract from the seat-wrecking and general close-proximity sibling-warfare, I improvised and proceeded to conduct a quiz, using the content of the Amish house and farm tour, to distract the kids.

This was partially to reinforce my own understanding of the material and partially out of morbid curiosity as to how much information they had actually absorbed – which I suspected was mainly only the fact that they don’t have electricity therefore NO NINTENDO. The end.

But not for the first time that day, I was wrong.

Do the Amish people go to church in a church?

No, they take turns to have everyone in their house.

Are the Amish people allowed to have power points in their homes?

No.

How about batteries?

Yes.

How do they power their lamps then?

Gas.

And on it went. Hoff and I looked at each other, dumbstruck. We could’ve sworn they weren’t listening, only surviving. As it turns out, they’d taken quite a lot in, you just couldn’t tell from their faces. I suspect there’ll be a lot of frustrated/pleasantly surprised educators in their futures.

The whole thing was really hammered home later that night, when we got back to the hotel and Hoff proceeded to ready the kids for a trip to the hotel pool, as promised.

The Boy Child was concerned that he should put some clothes on to go in the lifts to the pool, presumably because he hadn’t clocked any other half-dressed hotel guests on his travels thus far. I told him to put a t-shirt on with his board shorts if he was concerned.

“What about my bare feet though?” he queried.

But before I could answer, he appeared to appease himself.

“Maybe they’ll just think we’re Amish.”

Say what now?

“You know, because they don’t wear shoes in summer…? Because they’re feet are tough from all their hard work…? So they don’t need to….? Don’t you remember what the lady told us mum?”

It’s possible I need to stop over-thinking.

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