My five-year-old daughter and I visit my mom -- her 79-year-old grandmother -- every week. We also go to restaurants together and share holidays. But there is something missing these days, too.
When she was younger, my mother happily joined us for outings that required some stamina, like Disneyland trips, or full day visits to zoos and museums.
These days, arthritis limits her ability to walk very far or stand very long. Macular degeneration in her eyes makes night driving and direct sunlight uncomfortable. As she admits, "I miss going more places, but I feel my limits."
This left me wondering -- how can I plan outings for my energetic young daughter and her grandmother that both can appreciate together? I want to respect my mother's limitations, but not throw in the towel just yet. It's a challenge though. My daughter wants action! Adventures! Rides! Goofy fun destinations! What kind of place will provide all that while accommodating my mother's limitations?
Voila! This weekend, the answer magically presented itself. I discovered one of San Francisco's quirkiest attractions: Ride the Ducks!
Is it a car? A boat? Turns out, it's both. In the heart of San Francisco's famous Fisherman's Wharf is the Ride the Ducks! walk-up kiosk. Visitors can purchase tickets for a unique 90-minute tour of the city - by land and by sea - aboard amphibious vehicles called "the ducks."
Attention passengers: you've gotta get your quacker on.
My daughter was doing her happy dance when she donned this bright yellow duckbill noisemaker strung on a green cord. She loved having permission to honk wildly for no reason at all. She really loved getting grandma to honk with her. (Grandma said, "I feel silly!" but she laughed and complied.)
The driver entertained us with jokes and interesting trivia about San Francisco's famous neighborhoods, buildings and people. Grandma reflected sentimentally on her childhood as we drove through the historic Italian neighborhood of North Beach. My daughter looked wide-eyed at tall skyscrapers and pointed with excitement at the hanging red lanterns and dragon kites of Chinatown.
A multi-generational bonding moment came as we passed AT&T ballpark, home of our favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. Seeing my daughter and mother light up and scream "YAAAY GIANTS!" at the same time? Perfect.
Our tour eventually brought us to the edge of San Francisco Bay. We stopped at the top of a launch ramp and received a quick lesson on water rescues and floatation devices from the driver/captain. Before we could fixate on the overhead life preservers for too long, we entered the bay with a splash.
It was a picture perfect ride on a late Indian summer day. We passed kayakers, sailboats, and massive military ships. There were postcard perfect views in every direction. Favorite moment? When the Captain invites kids to put on his hat and have a turn steering the boat. Proud grandma alert!
After the ride and a lovely lunch on the wharf, we headed home. It hit me: what a success! Grandma was happy and not too tired. My kid loved all of it, especially having grandma there with us.
Finding family-friendly destinations that work for all generations of a family can be challenging, but here are a few tips:
- Plan the outing as a series of short, discreet activities, preferably flexible ones. If anyone is too tired or cranky to go continue, you will have shared in at least one event together.
- If you've chosen an activity that may tire a grandparent, break it up. You don't need to cover the entire natural history museum on one trip, for example. You can also mix a walking period with an ice cream and people-watching break, or a sit down visit to the museum theater.
- Have grandparents and grandchildren plot the day together -- it becomes their special trip, even if you're handling the logistics.
- Bring simple snacks, water, and any medications a child or grandparent might need on an outing.
- If possible, choose an activity and/or location where the grandparent has personal stories and experiences to share ("when I was your age, my parents brought me to this very spot to fish").
- Don't try to over-direct your child's time with their grandparent(s). Let it unfold. They may have special ways of connecting and making their own shared memories.
What types of activities and destinations have you discovered that allow you to share good times with family across the generations?
When she is not busy quacking up, Diana Dull Akers is a Shine Parenting Guru, mother, sociologist and freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.