Waking up on the Wrong Side of the Grand Canyon

It was one of those days that occasionally happen when raising little ones. Alex was around three or so and Sarah was about eight years old. We were traveling as a family in Arizona and staying at the fabulous Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

Alex - Age 4

Our adventure that day was to rise early and make the journey to the Grand Canyon and back. Along the way we would see the colorful rocks of Sedona, the Indian cliff dwellings, and of course one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Grand Canyon. It would be my first time there and I was excited to share the experience with the family. Sue and I prepared the kids for what they would see in an effort to build their anticipation of this marvel of nature. We hoped it would make the long journey worth the wait.

But this was not to be Alex’s day. Maybe it was the hassle of travel or being taken out of the shallow swimming pool he enjoyed at the Biltmore, but there just was no pleasing him this day.

The stop at the cliff dwellings north of Phoenix held some promise for a change of attitude as he liked Indian stories but he remained unsettled. He was in search of an unknown satisfaction that eluded him. He continually complained and griped and moped and it put a damper on travels for all of us. Three year olds are intelligent enough to know the right buttons to push and yet just out of the reach of reason to negotiate a settlement. We couldn’t determine just what it was he “wanted”. Obviously, a trip to the Grand Canyon (whatever that meant to him) wasn’t it.  Sarah made the best of it and was fascinated by the unusual scenery and the various exhibits along the way.

We finally reached the tourist trap area just south of the Grand Canyon and I stopped at a souvenir shop to pick up a toy tomahawk or Indian headdress – hoping to get his mind shifted to the adventure of the day. It only bought momentary interest. Finally, we made it to the parking lot at the Grand Canyon rim and were excited for what we were about to see. We paused to gather our thoughts after the long drive – cameras were  ready, a word of caution about the dangers and about staying behind the ropes, and another word about the wonders of nature and the privilege to be able to travel.

We walked toward the rim and the scene collectively took our breath away – that is, all of us except Alex who at his young age turned to me and said, “Dad, you brought me all this way to see a hole in the ground?!  Dad!, it’s just a big hole!”

The rest of us made the best of it and explored various observation points though constantly dogged by Alex’s negativity. It was a day when you continually weighed your choices for parental action. If I spank him early in the day, even when you know travel can be tiring and confining for a kid – it associates family trips with spankings and it could simply serve to lock in the bad tone for the day. You’re never guaranteed a good spanking will fix a rotten attitude. Or, do you try to work through the situation hoping something about the adventure will turn the corner on his outlook?

On the ride home we pulled into a family restaurant for an early dinner. While three of us shared our impressions and marveled at the sights of the day, Alex remained mired in his “off day” madness and now complained about what he wanted to eat and then threw something in anger. Well, that was the final straw and I told him his attitude and actions were wrong and unacceptable and now the time had come for the long forecast spanking. I pulled his booster seat away from the table, placed him across my lap and gave him a firm spanking within the bounds of good taste.

It was all I could do to hold in my laughter when he turned to look up at me and without missing a beat let everyone around us know the three-year old was still in charge as he said, “Now look what you’ve done . . . I’m crying!”

Better Travel Day - Trafalgar Square - London 1996

It was one of those traveling days. Someday, I’ll return to the Grand Canyon with him. I hope it’s a day when he wants to take along his kids to see the wonderful sights. That day, I’ll be content to sit the back seat and sneak candy to my grand kids.

But, as I mentioned, it was an off day – not an off week and certainly not an off person. Alex enjoys the fun of just being a kid. The next day, I took the family to an Old Western Town which featured animals, cowboys, a chuck wagon dinner and stories of the Wild West. We roamed the grounds and enjoyed the various attractions including an opportunity to pan for gold.

Alex was in a great mood. He carried his new tomahawk everywhere and was fascinated by the cowboys with their chaps and lariats. Somehow, he knew about gold and quickly picked up on the process of panning. Put some pebbles in a tin pan with a screen on the bottom and watch for gold. Unknown to him, the schtick for the attraction was that a few pebbles were covered with water-soluble brown paint so the constant shaking in the pan and splashing of the water would slowly wash off and reveal a gold painted rock underneath.

Alex was intent at loading up the rocks, filling it with water and vigorously shaking it in search of gold. Maybe he was looking for redemption for the Grand Canyon incident but panning for gold now became his life’s work. It wasn’t long before the abrasions of the washing revealed glimpses of gold and he shook with more resolve. And then, with wide-eyed wonder, he turned to me across the way and without regard to anyone else in the area shouted at the top of his voice, “Dad, we’re rich! We’re rich!”

What a difference a day makes.

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5 thoughts on “Waking up on the Wrong Side of the Grand Canyon

  1. Great story. I remember taking the boys to California. We flew into LA and stayed at a Marriott Residence Inn that had a kitchen and lots of room and a pool. We had activities planned every day for the kids to enjoy. The first evening we were there, the boys spotted some other kids playing tennis. They said they wanted to try that and so we looked into it and it turned out the hotel had rackets they could rent and balls they could play with. That was the day we arrived in Los Angeles. The boys were around 7 and 8 years old. After we got them set up with the tennis, I went back to the suite to “get settled”. The boys came back later on and were all excited stating that they had so much fun. This was the first time they had ever played tennis, or held rackets for that matter. The next day we were going the Disneyland. I was so excited for them to experience it because the last time they were at Disney World, they were way too young to remember much of the trip. They both looked at Craig and I and said they didn’t really want to go to Disneyland, they just wanted to play tennis. Of course, we “forced” them to go on the activities we had planned all week, and for the most part they had a good time, but they couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and play tennis. At the time, I was so aggravated that we spent all this money and all this time planning a trip and they really didn’t have the reaction we expected to the planned activities. But they both have a life long love of tennis, played on their high school team (Matt was captain) and still play to this day. Who knew? Sometimes the best laid plans…

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