Day Trippers Part 2 — Up in the Valley

Fall 2009:

Sometimes a cough is only a cough. Penelope’s face wasn’t a blueberry hue or even a cotton-candy pink. Sure, banana cookie crumbs fleck her eyelashes, but otherwise she resembles none of the four major food groups. I exhale and tell myself to knock it off.

I glance at the dashboard and notice I’m driving five miles below the speed limit, my hands planted at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel as I learned in driver’s education class and proceeded to ignore for the next 27 years. Despite the caution, someone roars out of a Quik-Chek and cuts me off. A torrent streak of invectives lodge in my throat, but I miraculously catch myself, letting out a mix of staccato grunts that sound like our old air conditioner just before it sputtered and died.

Except for one wrong turn — thanks Mapquest! — the remainder of the drive to Valley Forge proves uneventful. Upon hitting the exit and spotting the first sign for the park, I check the rearview mirror again to discover Penelope has opted to skip the park and visit the Land of Nod, a cigar-stub-sized hunk of cheese stick dangling from her fingers. Now I face a dilemma: Drive around and let her snooze, or park, risk waking her and having to deal with a cranky toddler all day. I quickly decide I’ve always wanted to tour the communities surrounding Valley Forge, and drive aimlessly around hoping I don’t get lost.

An hour staggers by before I pull into a parking space at Valley Forge. Penelope rubs her eyes with the back of her hand and grins. She’s in an ebullient mood as I hug her and slide her into the “Penelope pack.” I hoist her on my back, and we trudge up a hill to the museum.

Once we enter the museum, Penelope bleats an unqualified “Yin Yan Yao!” I rush past the gift shop to search for a bathroom. Now, I will never quite understand why I did this, but I walk into the men’s room and enter a stall before I try removing Penelope from her carrier. I quickly discover the utter folly of trying to loosen the pack in a confined space, and wonder how Superman manages to change clothes in a phone booth without trashing it. I grab the stall door with one hand and clamp the other onto Penelope thus escaping a horrible fate involving blood or toilet water. I retreat from the stall and back up to the sink counter where I carefully slide the pack off and spin around to catch Penelope without further incident.

Once we’re finished there, we hit the park trail. The clouds threaten, but are glorious to watch as they roll beyond the hills. I pose Penelope next to cannon for a photo – not because I have an affinity for artillery, but because my parents once posed me beside a cannon. Come to think of it, the photograph is of my mother attempting to stuff me into the mouth of the cannon.

We wander about inspecting the log huts and wonder about the fortitude needed to survive a brutal winter with these accommodations. I inspect the monuments and markers. Penelope finds a beautiful leaf and gathers an admirable rock collection. We are sharing a perfect afternoon admiring the wonders of man and nature. The clouds drizzle briefly, and Penelope and I find shelter under National Memorial Arch, where I teach Penelope how to throw an echo. We wait for the rain to dissipate giggling and cheering as we yelled “HELLO-O-O-O!!!”

Later I take Penelope to lunch at a nearby Cheesecake Factory. The hostess leads us to the back of the restaurant and hands me three menus. I smile and hand one back to her.

“Oh, isn’t anyone joining you?” she asks surprised. She’s apparently expecting a Mom to appear.

“Nope, just the two of us today.” As if I can’t handle a two year old on my own.

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