Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Seaport Village

The Best Place To Eat?

seaportThat was the question. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world txted Schemennis and he recommended Seaport Village, a totally redone (by the Disney people) collection of shops, parks, and restaurants.

So we waited for the next tour bus to arrive, barely squeezed on and headed off to Seaport Village. The sun was still out, the weather glorious but it seemed like all of San Diego had decided to drive out to Seaport Village. The roads were stuffed like an overstuffed pastry. At least that’s what I thought at the moment. Yes, we were all starving.

We drove by the Cheesecake Factory, (but not THE Cheesecake Factory where Big Bang Penny works), and declared THAT was where we would eat. However, when the bus dropped us off to load about a billion people back on to it, we realized the CCF was a bit of a walk. So, with a few more recommendations, we marched into the village.

Only to have a ‘squirrel’ moment.

IMG_3736 (800x600) (2)Like the dog from the movie, ‘Up’, the moment we saw a big crowd watching a girl play with fire, well, we had to stop. We just HAD to stop. And not only was she playing with fire, but was juggling flaming torches while balancing on supports balancing on a chairs!

While the youngest found a seat on the grass and watched with wide eyes and an open mouth, the rest of us maneuvered so that we could see and not block anyone from seeing. Yes, we are Canadian and we think of those things.

The performer was pretty entertaining, but I watched the crowd as much as her. Little kids, despite being able to play super-duper-Mario-Spaz-brothers-deluxe in HD-3D still found live entertainment compelling. They laughed nervously, worry on their little faces,  when she got a little girl in the audiance to throw knives at her. They cheered IMG_3739 (600x800) (2)when she caught them. They gasped when she dropped one and looked to their parents to see how they should react.

It reminded me how important it is to get the boys out and into the world. Watching Sponge Bob or Adventure Time may be amusing, but there are other things out there, other experiences that don’t have to involve rollercoasters or 942’ long aircraft carriers.

After it was over, the youngest told us he could do that.

The oldest, by now on the verge of starving to death, was keen to make sure she was paid for her troubles. He and his brother made their way through the crowds to deposit money in her hat. It was a point of pride for him and it led to a very cool discussion about business while we walked to find food.

IMG_3909 (600x800) (2)The youngest wanted to start a business where people paid him not the be loud or jump on the furniture or hit them. I thought it was a pretty viable option.

But the oldest’s ideas stunned me. He knew about marketing, about target audiences, about product quality and price points. He talked specifically about the pedi-cab drivers. You have to look presentable, he said, and look like you’re having fun, like you’re enjoying it. Maybe offer not to charge a family for children. Maybe have some water. And know where people would be and where they’d be tired and if it was a hot day, he could probably charge more, and have some sort of shade and …

Good lord, it was amazing. He said he’d get enough money to buy a second cab, then a third, then a hotel (ok, that was a bit of a leap, but still, you have to admire the ambition) and then he would get two hotels and retire to some place warm when mom wouldn’t have to work and where he and his brother could play video games all day long.

There’s some deep thinking going on in that boy’s head and it was so cool to see it leak out a bit.

But we eventually found food, a burger place recommended by Schmennis. All the seats in the little square were full so we had to ask if we could share. IMG_3746 (600x800) (2)Awkward to do for shy Canadians, but I found a couple just leaving and we plopped our bottoms down. Ohhh, so nice.

We ate amazing burgers and fries, the youngest trying to drink two drinks at once, the oldest keeping an eye out for fry-stealing birds and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world glad to be sitting down so her feet could rest.

But the day was far from over.


Traveling With Kids – San Diego – USS Midway

Inside the Belly Of the Beast

IMG_0552 (800x600) (2)Would the USS Midway be fun for anyone but me?

In a text message, Schmennis joked – “Tell the oldest this is a ‘no fun’ area and all personnel caught having fun will be keelhauled. No smiles. None. There’s a morale suppression squad on board and they’re very good at their job.”


The USS Midway is HUGE. It’s hard to believe how huge it is until you walk onto the lower hanger deck (and this is nowhere near the biggest aircraft carrier.) It’s awe-inspiring to see such an amazing feat of engineering. That so much metal could actually float amazes me.  Wooden ships I get. But 64,000 tons of steel made into a ship that’s 972 feet long… come-on, that’s impressive.

It is, however, still shorter than the Empire State, the oldest proudly declares. I ask if the Empire State can float? No. Can the Empire State launch an airstrike that can destroy an entire navy? No. Then my aircraft carrier defeats your building, ha!

There was so much to see and do on board. WW2 vintage planes to look at. Ejection seats to sit in. Stories about epic battles to be read. Cockpits to climb into and stare out at the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, fun facts to be IMG_0554 (800x600) (2)recited to anyone who was near me, jets on the upper deck to gawk at, a tour of the lower deck to go on, and, of course, a flight sim.

For the youngest to have the best time, he needs to be able to touch things, climb on things, climb into things, climb under things, photo-bomb people and be shout instead of talking quietly.

He could do all those here. He must have gone into every cockpit there was.  He even strafed his mom once and, like most boys, he did a pretty good machine gun sound. Apparently mommy was invading his island. I’m pretty sure he also dropped bombs on her, too, but his explosion sounds were less convincing.

IMG_2261 (598x800)The oldest, from the moment he entered the hanger deck, wanted to go on the flight sim.

“Can we go on the flight sim, now?” “What about now?” “How much longer until we can go on the flight sim?” And all of this while we stood in the ticket line.

He was clearly in violation of Schmennis’ ‘no fun’ zone rules, but he loved his sim experience in the Air and Space Museum and this one promised to be even better. Why? He could shoot other planes down. None of this ‘driving into houses’ for sport, this was full-on combat against the Japanese hordes in WW2 (I want to say he flew a Hellcat, but don’t quote me.)

So we climbed in, I assumed the role of gunner, which was not terrible realistic as the Hellcat was a single seat fighter, but whatever. We roared off a jungle airstrip and engaged the enemy. He swerved and dove and rolled as I tried to keep an eye on where enemy planes were and shoot them down.  He laughed and cheered and shouted insults at the enemy.

In the end, we shot down exactly 0 Zeros. 0.

And we got shot down, mostly by other Hellcats, about a dozen times.

As I stumbled out and towards the deck tour, I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn’t from trying to kill other people, that never bothers me, but from his aerial acrobatics. Now understand, I don’t ever get airsick, I don’t get car sick, I don’t get seasick and I can watch any movie in IMAX and not want to throw up afterwards.

But trying to keep an eye on the enemy planes while the oldest spun in wildly erratic (let’s say defensive) maneuvers, it was more than my brain could take. It took me a few moments to get over being queasy.

IMG_3730 (600x800) (2)On the tour of the crew decks, we all had a different experience. Amazingly, it was the youngest who wanted to listen to all of the audio information about the crew and their quarters, about the galleys and messes and elevators and birthing compartments (I know, odd name), and laundry areas  and… well, a lot of stuff.

The rest of us were happy to cherry pick the information.

IMG_3728 (600x800) (2)IMG_3726 (800x600) (2) Me, I loved ‘experiencing’ the ship. The thick IMG_3727 (600x800) (2)paint coated on the walls and floor. The smell of cloves in the dentist’s office. The snaking mass of wires overhead. The signs on the metals walls. The lingering odor of oil and metal and paint and lino. The small space set aside for each sailor. The wooden walls in the captain’s quarters. The solid metal doors that could be sealed to stop flooding or fire from spreading. The horror of being trapped if those doors were shut.

I loved that we had to duck so as to not bang our heads on the hatches. I loved that we also had to lift out feet as well  or trip. It kept me alert. I super loved no one banged their head until the very end. I loved walking up and down the steep, steep stairways and looking down elevator shafts and reading the funny plaques in the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess (they claim, with some justification, that they actually run the ship.) And I loved that there were dozens and dozens of old veterans onboard to answer questions, tell stories and thank us for coming.

IMG_0564 (600x800)But it was a long tour, self-guided, and even though we only got to see a small % of the actual space, it gave us all an idea of what life would be like.

The oldest vowed he would never join the navy. Too claustrophobic. He would, in a second, join the air force if they let him fly planes. The youngest would have gladly joined the navy if he was made captain.

And if they let him play on the elevator and load big shells. I didn’t have to heart to tell them they would also require that he get up on time and keep his room clean.

But the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world couldn’t shake the bad feeling she got on the lower decks. She got a bad feeling in the infirmary. She got a similar feeling in the coliseum in Rome. An unsettling feeling of death and pain.

I find it amazing she is so connected to the world that she can feel such things. I barely feel the world unless I’m hit in the face by a tree branch or trip on a  grass-covered hole.

IMG_2269 (800x599)But by the time we were done with the tour, people were hangry and that was not good, there was still the upper deck and all the shiny jets to see.  An F-14 Tomcat, A-4Skyhawk, F/A-18 Hornet, A8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom, A-6 Intruder (though I had to look up what the A-6 was called), an E-2 Hawkeye, an A-7 Corsair and a bunch of helicopters that I didn’t know the names of.

IMG_0574 (800x600) (2)IMG_2272 (800x598) (2)So, while the boys climbed in and out of another cockpit, while the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world caught a bit of sun, I ran around the flight deck looking at the planes, taking a quick picture, reading the call-signs painted on the sides, and trying to catch a bit of the cool lecture giving by an old F-4 pilot who’d fought over Hanoi.

Oh, I would have loved to spend a MUCH longer time there, but hangries trump planes so we headed off in search of food, leaving the planes and the history behind.

More adventures awaited.



Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Undisclosed Location

Meeting the Mysterious Man

There is a lot that I cannot talk about. National security could be compromised. Names have been changed. Locations disguised. I have signed secrecy agreements.

schmennisBut we finally were able to connect with agent Schmennis. Not his real name. Ex-ninja, ex-navy-seal, ex-delta, ex-Canadian, (his real career cannot be identified), he was our hidden guide to San Diego, texting us with places to go, things to see, kid-friendly locations to eat.

But he was also one of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world’s oldest friends. Someone she would talk to over her fence. Someone she hadn’t seen in years. Would his face still be the same or would the government have performed reconstruction to hide his identity?

IMG_0538 (800x600)We met him at an abandoned merry-go-round on the fringe of Balboa Park. I suspect it was a undisclosed missile silo, but I can’t talk any more about it. A homeless guy wandered up, filled up his bottle with water from the drinking fountain, but I wasn’t fooled. We were being checked out by the NSCIA.

IMG_3689 (800x800)Then Schmennis arrived. Turns out, no reconstructive surgery. He was the same guy, only a little older, and taking on his toughest assignment to date. Raising 5 kids. 5!!!!!!

Ok, so 2 are nearly doing me in. 2. He has 5, two of which are young twins still in diapers. Forget about his missions to mars or his secret deep-sea dives to Atlantis, this was his greatest challenge. He told stories like hauling the twins out of the dishwasher while one of them tried to eat pebbles off the sidewalk and the other one squirmed in his arms like a an agitated cattapiller, and all I could think was wow.

How do parents do it?

While we caught up with him, his two older boys played with ours. I’m constantly amazed that when left to their own devices, when free from iphones that play angry birds, that the boys can make their own fun. This time, it was excavating an ant hill. Not, perhaps, the most friendly thing to do to ants, (and they had just come from the zoo so you would have thought they would be all over not harming living things), but whatever… Ants.

They dug with sticks, they made plans, they laughed and goofed around, sometimes running around the tree that the ants had made their home (why? I have no idea. I think sometimes young boys just need to run. No reason.)

However, the oldest girl, (not much younger than our oldest) wanted nothing to do with ants and digging and running around. She told her dad how bored she was. A LOT. But Schmennis, having survived nuclear war in an alternate dimension didn’t give in to her desire for him to make it all better. He told her to find something to do.

It’s a skill I have yet to master. I’m still all about the problem solving. “Joe, I’m bored.” “Ah, ok, let’s try stuffing your brother into the dryer and see what happens.” I’m still not good at saying, figure it out yourself. It’s something I’m gonna have to learn.

I have to say I liked Schmennis. Like a North Korean guard on a watchtower, he managed to keep an eye on all his wards. None of them got run over by a very small train that goes around Balboa Park, none were killed by the angry ants and with the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world’s help, none of the twins actually swallowed anything toxic or boulder-like.

IMG_3718 (600x800)It was a neat thing to do on what would have otherwise been non-stop touristing. It was good for the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world to catch up with her friend and squish some babies. (You cannot believe how she lights up, how beautiful she is when holding a little one.) It was good for the boys to get a chance to be, well, boys.

And, it was good for me to realize that not having to look after 5 children is a freaking godsend. (shhh. Joe. You can’t say ‘freaking’.)

Now, what to do for food?

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – IHOP Super Powers

Breakfast of Champions and Super Heroes.

There was something odd in the sky today. Kinda round. Yellow-orange. Surrounded by blue sky. I think primitive cultures called it the sun. It was not something I have seen for a while in San Diego.

That made it a perfect day for Seaworld.

But first, remember the #1 rule? Food!!!IMG_0339

So we went to eat at IHOP.

It isn’t as easy to find a place to eat with the boys in tow. Or cheap. If there’s a place that offers kids eat free or kids will be made to wash dishes if they don’t eat what they order, then I’m so there. As it was, we thought the IHOP would be a safe bet.

It was.

The boys got to choose if they wanted pancakes, how their eggs were cooked, if they wanted sausages or bacon, if they wanted brown bread or white, if they wanted juice or milk. Now it’s not like they couldn’t have starbucksdone that at the other restaurants, but here it was easy to point on the menu while the waitress took notes. The loved the power. Soon they’ll be at starbucks ordering a drink, “grande skinny half soy, half skim, iced half mocha, half green tea, no ice, double whip, caramel topping in a ventii cup.”

One of the coolest things about eating here (or not, depending on your POV), was that they put a calorie count on all the food. Pancakes and sausages and 1 cup of syrup was like a billion calories. Who knew?

While we ate, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world tried to arrange to meet a friend from her childhood, a friend that shared a fence with her for years, who knew her through good times and bad, a friend who she hadn’t seen again for a very long while (aka our spy).

Unfortunately, his family had been battling a cold and it was looking dicey that we would be able to all get together. However, today, it looked like he might get a free moment.

While she tried to connect with him, the boys and I worked on something vital to our existence.

Super powers.

What super powers did we have. Not which ones we wanted, which we had.

super powersThe youngest has the ability for his sleeve to find any spill on the table. Even spills he, himself, did not make.

The oldest has the ability hide all interest in all things. Every so often a smile creeps out, but it’s quickly covered up with a shrug even the French would be proud of.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world has the ability to look pretty even at 10am in a pancake house.

I have the ability to make any lineup I’m in the slowest line. Proven time and time and time again.

We came up with other ones like the youngest’s ability to snort milk out his nose if he giggles too much while drinking milk, to the oldest’s ability to be the fastest mouse clicker on the face of the planet.

However, the funniest moment of the morning was when the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world had looked up at me, with a bit of cheese hanging off her lower lip. Being me and being tragically flawed, I laughed. I mean, it looked funny. She still looked pretty, but it was funny.

“I have cheese hanging off my lip, don’t I?” she asked.

I giggled.

She glared at me. “Were you going to tell me?”

“After I finished giggling.”

“So you’d let me walk out with a giant cheese strand dangling from my lip?”

“No. At some point I would have stopped giggling and told you. It might have been in Seaworld though.”

She glared at me.

It looked like we weren’t going to be able to meet her friend, our spy, today.

No matter, it was going to be a great day.

How could it not?