Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

Family Time in Austin, Texas January 13, 2016

I had a work conference last week that took me to Austin, TX. We had originally planned to leave the kids with my parents, but we changed our minds and decided everyone could use a little sunshine and fun. This post is what we did with the kids, so if you’re looking for fun things to do with children in Austin, maybe you’ll get some ideas. I’ll follow up with a logistics post soon, and I’m planning a post on what the boys learned.

What we did:

Thursday: Due to the time difference and the fact that our kids are early risers anyway, we were up before the sun on our first day in Austin. Our AirBnB was near Ladybird Lake, so we walked there and enjoyed learning about the neighborhood, which seems to be undergoing a tremendous amount of gentrification. Once we got to the lake, we ambled along in the early morning fog. Some college crew teams were preparing for a regatta and we enjoyed seeing the groups of boats (skaalls?) go by. We checked out a community garden and marveled at the City of Austin Code Enforcement vehicles that didn’t seem to be out enforcing any codes. (Walked about 3 miles, older boys walking, Porter in the stroller.)

We ventured out to the Austin Zoo, which is not a reciprocal zoo with the National Zoo. It was small, but we had a nice picnic, only mildly threatened by peacocks. The grey wolves were impressive (as it’s a rescue zoo, they end up with a lot of animals that people are trying to keep as pets. Yikes!). We rode the train, and Gilbert asked the conductor if he could go up to the front after the ride was over and look at the throttle and horns. He got to do a thorough examination.

After that, the kids were tired, so we took the scenic route back to Austin while all three of them slept in the backseat. We got turned around a few times, but we managed to end up at Roy Guerrero Park on the recommendation of a woman we had met on the plane. It truly was a fun playground and the boys, refreshed from naps played enthusiastically for an hour and a half. There’s also a secret beach at Guerrero Park, but we couldn’t find it, and we were getting hungry.

I went to the conference in the evening, while Patrick read lots of Charlotte’s Web.

Friday: I had to go to the conference all day. My paper went over well, and I got a chance to talk with a lot of people in my field. Always inspiring.

Patrick took the kids to Woom Bikes which imports German bikes for kids. These are super special because in the US, kids bikes have to have back pedal brakes, but this makes the bike really heavy and difficulty for children to maneuver. Patrick wanted to try Seamus on a hand-brake bike with gears. He loved it, and Gilbert was incredibly envious that he wasn’t tall enough to try it too.

After the bike shop, they checked out the Children’s Museum, the Thinkery. Despite the fact that there were several school groups there, they were able to explore and enjoy. A machine to launch airplanes was a hit, as was a big glass wall with lots of different paints and painting implements. Porter liked the infant/toddler area, but he was also able to play in some of the other areas as well. It was well worth a visit.

They picked me up from the conference right before dinner, and we called it an early night.

Saturday: We went to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens. This was surprisingly fun for the kids! There is a prehistoric garden where there are castings of dinosaur footprints and plants that make it look like the dinosaur era. There were a lot of Swedish settlers in South Texas, I suppose, because the pioneer garden had a lot of information about various Swedish families. The one-room schoolhouse was fascinating for the boys. Gilbert was really into the composting garden, and Seamus liked the order of the Japanese Garden. Porter was enchanted with the Koi Pond, so we need to make another trip to the National Arboretum. It was a little chilly on Saturday, but the sunshine was gorgeous and being out in the morning meant we were the only people in the gardens.

We met my friend and her husband for brunch. The older boys were kind of tired so they didn’t eat as much as usual and were not as boisterous. It was lots of fun to see her, and she had an uncanny ability to talk about the very thing that the kids had noticed at each place. For instance, about the zoo, she commented, “What about that giant Yorkshire pig?” And that was the very thing the boys were still talking about!

After brunch, we decided another car nap was in order, so we headed south to the Alamo and Riverwalk in San Antonio. It’s about an hour and 10 minute drive. Many people say the Alamo is much smaller than they imagined, but I’ve always found it interesting. The thickness of the walls, the interior room for women and children, etc. All very interesting. They had a Bowie knife, Davy Crockett’s rifle, and some other miscellany. The grounds had some re-enactors that the boys got to see up close and look at the tents. Seamus was curious about how the Mexican Army was able to get their ladders up to the walls. The cannons lining the grounds were also a big hit!

We meandered down to the riverwalk, and watched the ducks and boats for a while. Patrick was impressed with how touristy it was. Loads of people were out walking around. So much of Texas is present in the works that I study that I found it fascinating to walk around and see the places as tourist locales, historical monuments, and contested spaces. We got a hot chocolates for the kids and espresso for the adults at a little coffee shop (Sip). The espresso came with a small glass of sparkling water, which made it very festive.

On the way back to Austin, we stopped at Buc-ee’s, on the recommendation of my friend’s husband. Only in Texas will you find an interstate convenience store like that. All the East Coast Wawa aficionados would be put to shame. Bucky the Beaver is in full costume to greet you as you enter, and the bathrooms are the cleanest I have been in on the interstate.

Sunday: Whew. We were getting a little tired. I did some more conference stuff, and we took a little down time. After the conference was over, we went to the Flagship Whole Foods, got a package of berries, and went to the rooftop playground and plaza. The older boys were in heaven as there were 5 or 6 other boys their age playing tag on the play equipment. We considered making another stop at the Statehouse, the Texas History Museum, or the Umholf Sculpture Garden, but we were needing down time. We went back to our AirBnB, sat outside in the sunshine, and timed the boys as they ran, skipped, and galloped around the cottage.


One Response to “Family Time in Austin, Texas”

  1. Linda St Clair Says:

    I couldn’t believe how much stuff you managed to get to in just a few days. But, I guess the secret beach is still a secret. That almost makes it more fun that you didn’t find it.

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