As an obsessive hobby forges its way into a career path, I’m left with precious little time to savor the very elements that helped me get here. Sometimes, you just need to return to the place that reaffirms things. I stood on the crest of the hill where I have stood a hundred times before, camera in hand, soaking in the final rays of the day’s sun. Nature’s warming filter was quickly falling behind the orchard. I walked into the maze of sunflowers and in tandem, the colorful flower heads and my own followed the sun’s path. All of the day’s issues were solved in that very moment. I came up here thoughtful and head home thankful.
In a modern world where entertainment is so often technologically driven, yesterday we had a reprieve. The Xbox was yanked from the wall and Netflix would have to wait. We were going to Brownstone Discovery Park. To put this place into perspective, imagine a playground like no other. It’s one of the most unplugged places I have ever seen and no one is complaining. In a frame of a few hours, my kids jumped off of huge walls, zip-lined into a beautiful water-filled quarry, climbed rock walls, trampolined with a huge splash and got catapulted too.
The park is situated in the middle of an industrial park, so it’s beauty in truly unexpected. Walking into the park, you are met on all sides by giant cavernous walls. The contents of the giant hole were once hollowed out over the centuries until brownstone reached its peak as a building material in the late 1800’s. It was quarried until the flood of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938 made the space unable to mine. It sat collecting junk cars in its depths over the years making it an eyesore. In 2007, the space was reborn.
Brownstone’s renaissance happened due to a creative mind and a relentless industrious process. This version of Rome wasn’t built in one day. In fact, the process has been slow and steady over the years. Seeing it transform since our very fist visit years ago has been nothing short of amazing. Upon walking into the park, the kids eyes became as big as saucers as they were treated to a view unlike any other. They grabbed their life jackets and the fun began.
I can imagine that envisioning the success of this sort of place was a big risk. It goes against the typical big box store mentality. In fact, that’s why I like it so much. We live in a time when we know what’s in the aisle of a store before we even enter its doors. The world had become predictable and life has a way of trying to be dull. People need to rediscover the capabilities of their physical and inventive selves. We are often passengers of a very well traveled ride. Brownstone takes us out of that mindset. Here, we seem to become our own vehicle for adventure. Any outcome is of our own volition.
The people here seem to be happy too. As the visitor blissfully plays, they are carefully watched and safeguarded. The employees seem to work in pleasant tune with each other throughout the day while ensuring the safety of their visitors. They act as guidance counselors as timid jumpers peer over the zip line field. They are the heart of this place.
We left tired and happy that we were slathered in sun block all day. The world needs more places like Brownstone. Its benefits outweigh the risk in creating such enterprises. One leaves with his or her imagination open and energized. Families and friends can bond here via the physical contest Brownstone provides. The quarry playground achieves its goals because it’s not afraid to be outside the box. This enlightened playground pulls its visitors outside the box too. We’ll be back soon for more inspiration.
The wait till summer countdown usually begins in the final days of April break. The kids eagerly cross the days of the calendar awaiting that final day when all the notebooks can get tossed into a dumpster. The liberation of my newly crowned eight grader was undeniable. So on the sweltering 100 degree day in July, one would have expected to find us frolicking at a beach or indulging at the Dare Serv. Rather, we were wandering the aisles of Target armed with the printed school supply list buying pencils. What? The circus must have come to town and taken residence in our home. By all counts, our home has lost its normal rhythm. Instead, I have clowns staying up all night, and a mom walking the tightrope. Our schedule that took us all year to master, was thrown out the window overnight. A three ring circus ensues in what was once a well oiled machine. In between lots of photo jobs, endless drives settling kids around town and long road trips to races, the lunacy has become routine. Things that I never seem to waiver from, like this blog and the gym teeter on the endangered list. While i love sleeping in, a cattle prod may be a good purchase to wake help my kids up in the mornings. It may also prove handy in getting my husband detached from the couch during his three week love affair with the Tour de Eternity...oh I mean the Tour de France. Anyone know where to purchase one? The search for school supplies on a hot summer day was a brief yet comforting reminder that our regularly scheduled routine will someday return. When that day comes, we'll miss having breakfast at noon. I hope everyone out there is enjoying their own summer under the big top.
ps...Michael...thanks for the Tour's new nickname.
I have driven by the barn on Route 77 hundreds of times. I always admired it, reason being that I liked the basketball hoop. I can imagine that it’s pretty difficult to dribble a ball in the grass below. It’s one of those idle thoughts that meaner through my mind every time I pass this scene. On the Fourth of July we passed the barn once again on the way to grandmas house. This time the loft door was open and it was brimming with freshly baled hay. “Stop”, I said while tugging at Chris sleeve as he drove. Looking at me. I knew he had no plans of slowing down. I dug my nails firmly into his leg barking, “Stop already! Less than 20 seconds later, the sensor had captured the photo and we were off to Guilford. He continued the drive, affirming to himself that I had taken the world's most boring photo ever. Meanwhile, I thought differently, relishing in the new look the barn had acquired. Don’t let the things that you find irresistible slip you by. Usually, opportunity is a fleeting possibility. There’s something for everyone out there. Grasp it if you want to live fully.
In that elusive rulebook of parenting, were often told not to live vicariously through our children. Here’s the truth. That’s the biggest load of hog wash I have ever heard. There isn’t one parent that sits emotionless on their child’s life journey. No matter how big or small the leap your child takes, a parent feels its every nuance. When Peter asked (I mean begged) to race 13.1 miles on one of New England toughest courses this weekend, my eyebrows furled high. My rule, not to let my son race any distance longer than his age was in serious jeopardy. There are steadfast rules about kids racing longer distances and for many a good reason. Peter had never raced further than a 10k. His grandma a runner herself, peered strait into the eyes of the race director and said, “Trust me, he’ll be ok”. She raised a boy just like him and she knew where this was going. With a promise that we would run with him, the decision was made. The boy leaped from side to side with his official race bib in his hands as if he had just found Wonka’s golden ticket. “Mom!!! I’m doing my first half-marathon!” The night was spent warning him of the hills that lay ahead, but any experienced runner knows that no one can tell another runner what it really feels like to race. 5 AM came quickly. We had all slept restlessly dreaming of bizarre prerace scenarios of being unable to find the starting line or forgetting our running shoes. The house, full of Schultens, was a busy hive of activity in the dawn hour. Cheerios were being consumed, race numbers were pinned, energy gels were being situated, all with a constant background noise of flushing toilets (yes, better than race-site Porto lets). We would soon stand on Main Street in Waitsfield, Vermont listening to our nation’s anthem. Rather than having his family watch from the sidelines, they would surround him among the many runners. His aunties, grandma, grandpa, mom and dad would be there to see him through. He watched the starter reach a pistol to the sky and the last thing I would hear him say would be, “Mom, is it going to shoot a real bullet?” And then he was gone, I mean really gone. I furled my brow again thinking, “Oh no, he’s out too fast”. The fantastic rural scenery passed by, with a constant imaginary photo shutter releasing in my mind. I would catch a fleeting glimpse of the boy at the 5 mile turn-around. I was sure the monstrous hill at 8 miles would be his demise sending him running back to me. At the 9 mile water station, I asked the volunteer if he had seen a little kid running in a blue shirt. His reply, “Good luck catching him, he’s got 5 minutes on you.” It had never felt so good to be beaten. With every passing stride, I beamed a huge smile knowing that just ahead, a boy’s life was being lived to the absolute fullest. Call it vicarious. Hell, call it pure unadulterated joy, it's all good to me. Two hours and seven minutes later, it would be done. The race organizer would turn to Peter’s grandma with a stern look and say, “You were supposed to run with him.” Then she smiled and finished her thought, “But he smoked you.” She laughed, as she would tousle his hair playfully.
And that was it. We are afforded many moments in our lives to be with our children during their growing up years. They are not all perfect. The moments where we see them realize their own potential are undoubtedly the very best moments of our adult lives. So when your daughter writes an amazing book, or your son plays the perfect solo, celebrate with them to the fullest, because in turn, you are getting the most out of your life.