Jan 3, 2007

Erin Go Zoinks!

Everyone told us we were crazy for taking our toddlers to Ireland. Pubs and cliffs aren’t typical desired destinations for parents accompanied by unrestrained and often unreasonable offspring. Amos was two and a half, Etta was just 9 months old. Amos was a seasoned traveler, Etta had never been on a plane. We were going over for a wedding and when the festivities were behind us we’d be bed & breakfast hopping for seven days in a rental car.

There’s not much you can do to plan for a smooth trip when you’re traveling with such young and volatile folk. I did a few things that anyone could have viewed as wise choices. I stuffed little surprises into pants pockets and extra nylon compartments. I loaded up on familiar snacks and juice boxes. I brought Amos’s favorite pillow case so that each foreign bed could be outfitted familiarly. But there was one thing I did unknowingly that, in retrospect, was probably the greatest single contributing factor to the success of our venture. I allowed my two and a half year old to become a total Scooby Doo junkie.

Every night after dinner in the months leading up to our trip, between ads for “I want this” and “I want that,” Amos was glued to episodes of Scooby Doo. Of course it looked like Amos was just watching the groovy teenage gang meddle and provoke bad guys to say “and we would have gotten away with it, too.” It turns out he was doing much more in those half hour couch potato study sessions. With the help of the whole gang, my little boy was actually honing his castle-creeping and ghost-hunting skills.

It’s hard to excite young children about the gems of difference and culinary treats offered by a new country. I remember my father framing an entire month long holiday in Great Britain with a story about Bonnie Prince Charlie. I was eleven and polite enough to act interested even though I kept thinking it had something to do with ‘my Bonnie lies over the ocean.’ Does it? I’m still not sure, but the song does remind me of Scotland and the sour smell of car sickness mixed with pine air freshener.

How do you get a two and a half year old to be excited that you’re entering county Cork (yippee!), arriving at the woolens shop just minutes before closing (woohoo!), or that the Cliffs of Moher have been enveloped in fog for the last few weeks and we are lucky to be able to see their enormous brown profiles today (yesssss!)? Even the otherwise titillating ‘hoof-and-mouth-disease’ subplot of our vacation failed to spark an interest in Amos who was too young to enjoy my inspired ramblings about the probability of booming success for local doormat and antiseptic manufacturers.

Thatched roofs, spray painted sheep, and green green grass only get you so far--especially when much of these things are barely discernible from the near non-existent vantage point offered by the low plastic car seat contraptions into which our young children were strapped much of the time. Every now and then our car would round a bend and we’d enter the center of a slow-moving herd of cattle. That was pretty good. If it hadn’t been for our stumbling onto the gold mine of Scooby Doo references, we would have been aiming for those unbudging bovine roadblocks every day.

On one rainy day reserved for driving windy cliff roads, the fog helped Joe (husband/navigator) decide that we should stop by the Ailwee Caves instead. Descending into the slippery drippy caves surrounded by smooth blast mark textures and mottled browns, Amos began babbling about it being like on Scooby Doo. When a member of our tour let out a moan that echoed, bad-guy-like, all around us and through the tunnels Amos said “Maybe it’s a ghost pirate.” All we needed were some old abandoned coal carts. We didn’t find any of those (a small metal dumpster came close) but it didn’t matter; he was plugged in and ready for a mystery.

Castles were next. I’m sure there is a lot of fascinating history about territorial disputes and bloody battles and feudal systems, but not for us--not on this trip. We didn’t get to stroll intellectually through castles and ruins, reading explanations and educating ourselves on histories, battles, and various bloody events. But we did get to investigate shadowy corners, spooky staircases, and creaky doors. We considered roped-off rooms, dusty relics, and even peeked behind tapestries. At one point we were in a whitewashed turret with a trap door, and a British woman who thought Amos was cute asked “who do you suppose is down there?” Without missing a beat or picking up on any lack of sincerity in her tone, Amos just shrugged and said “probably Daphne.”

As the Mystery Gang, we were not regular tourists who have to be led around by official tour guides, rather, we were teaching them about their own castles. “There’s no ghosts or pirates or ghost pirates or werewolves” Amos would say to every person with a shiny name tag, shaking his head importantly. The guides were usually happy to hear this. There was no indication that they considered us to be meddling or pesky.

In addition to helping flesh out the substance of our journey, the Scooby Doo phenomenon also helped hasten our transitions. We were able to hurry along every entry into our rent-a-teensy-car by announcing that we were loading up the Mystery Van. We’d do roll call:


“Here!” Joe would say.

“Daphne? ”

“Here!” I’d say.

Of course I always wanted to be femme fatale Daphne, and I wrestled over the title with my 9 month old daughter, who didn’t know the difference yet. I’d encourage my son to decide that Etta was Velma so I could be pretty Daphne even though she’s ditzy and fluffy and generally helpless, and I really wouldn’t mind legs like Velma’s or hair as thick and there was that one Hawaiian episode that had Velma in a bikini top and hula skirt and she really was sort of hot...but I digress. Everyone knows that no one wants to be brainy, four-eyed Velma.

“Shaggy! Shaggy? Shaggy?” We’d say until Amos would allow himself to be buckled into the unupholstered car seat device and would reply “Here!”


“She’s here” Amos would say, helping his sister who was completely oblivious to everything especially the fact that we were dissing her royally.

Sometimes we’d call for Scooby and get a “ruff” in response.

It’s not surprising that Amos was Shaggy. Amos idolizes Joe, who has shoulder length hair and a beard and is fond of birkenstocks and who usually lopes along agreeably. Plus Shaggy is Scooby’s closest ally and there’s that whole kid/dog thing. Cute as it was, Amos’s affinity towards Shaggy did prove to have one major downside:

While Fred wears long sleeves and an ascot, Daphne’s got tights, and Velma has that chunky orange sweater, Shaggy only ever wears a green tee shirt and brown pants.

We were in Ireland in April; a bone-chilly and rainy week. We’d left some pretty mild weather behind in Brooklyn but were loaded with warm coats and hats.

“Shaggy doesn’t wear a hat or a coat” was Amos’s mantra whenever we were suiting up to brave the cold. Shaggy doesn’t wear a hat or a coat, so Amos wouldn’t wear a hat or a coat. Case closed. Silly to think otherwise.

At least Shaggy wears shoes I decided to decide at one point in a gravel parking lot a good distance from our next castle. I was much more relaxed about it after that--even though I kept having to entertain the disapproving you-crazy-American stares of old, tweedy, bundled-up passers-by.

Later on I learned that we were actually carrying the key to bypassing this particular obstacle. Buried deep in the zippered compartment of one of our duffels was a Scooby coloring book I’d packed to bring out if we became desperate for distraction/bribery/silence/entertain-ment. Because things were going so smoothly, most of the emergency gifts were still packed away, so I decided to pull this one out on our second-to-last night to let it earn its keep, so to speak (I didn’t think every gift should get a free round trip journey to Ireland without having to be trotted out at some point).

I should have remembered the parenting advice to flip through and approve of new books or videos before exposing young children to them. Had I even partly done this Amos would have had a much warmer trip. Lo and behold this particular coloring book featured a ski-lodge caper and the whole gang wears hats and coats. Amos’s eyes lit up when he saw this...and he agreed to wear his woolens on our last day.

Am I proud that my two and a half year old child watches so much tv? That’s hard to answer. I can say now that any guilt I have is slowly being replaced by amazement in the ways he enhances his own experiences by meshing his imaginary life with these familiar characters. Isn't television really just souped-up story-telling? (between the commercials, of course). The druids and the leprechauns would have watched television if it had been around then, and so would the O’Whoozits and the McSomebodys for that matter.

I do know this: Scooby Doo prepared Amos for Ireland. I couldn’t have anticipated it, but it did. I’d like to take credit for planning it, but I won’t. We’re taking the gang to Italy in the Summer and I’m hoping the Scooby mysteries will still apply. I’d like another crack at being Daphne before Etta wises up.

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