It’s been on the calendar for months, but Ryan’s work is crazy during this season, so I’m certain he’s going to have to cancel our trip. A week out, he mentions our plans to go to Nashville randomly while driving home one night, and I’m surprised and thrilled that he’s still planning on going. Madness ensues as I begin to make last-minute arrangements for…well, for everything.
The girls despise being in the car, so Ryan and I are both nervous about the half-day drive ahead of us. Our car is screen-less and we don’t own a portable DVD player. We resolve to use my work iPad (of which the girls don’t know yet — on purpose) and to try to teach them not to touch it. When we’re finally loaded up and ready to go, I laugh at Ryan’s technical rigging to hold the device during the trip; his pride isn’t hurt by my chuckling, and I can’t blame him because it works. Monsters, Inc., The Jungle Book, half of The Peanuts Movie and countless snacks later and we’re almost there without one complaint from the backseat.
“I have to go potty!” breaks our record about half an hour outside our destination, but we’re so thrilled with the rest of the trip that it doesn’t phase us. Plus, truthfully, it gives me an chance to spritz the flowers we’re carting along with us. They have to last four days, and we’re already two days in. I’m a woman obsessed. They. Will. Not. Die. Not on my watch.
Emma Vance doesn’t remember her previous travels, and this is Cricket’s first time in a hotel. It’s like staying in a castle to them, and their enthusiasm is contagious. The little flower garden out front helps to perpetuate the fairytale-colored glasses the girls view the building with, and they beg to pick a bud every time we come and go. (And we come and go quite a bit.)
We scrub up a bit, change and play just a little, then it’s off to explore this great city. “Are we going to see the cowboys now?” E.V. asks eagerly. I nod, “Yep, after just a few errands.”
However, she’s passed out before we get to our first stop, resting up for the cowboys she’s anxious to see. Ryan sneaks into a barbershop for a last-minute haircut while I stay with the girls in the car. Cricket is awake and antsy, so she sneaks in behind him to play a bit inside. Emma Vance wakes up as soon as Ryan’s head is freshly shorn, and her mood matches the blue skies outside. We walk around a bit and shop, landing for dinner at Burger Up. The woman and her high school daughter next to us chat a bit about how time flies, about how we parent these days and about how cute the girls are. I don’t disagree. The second our bill is paid, E.V. reminds us that we promised her a strawberry popsicle if she ate her meal. So now we’re on a mission. Luckily we can easily trace the crowd of popsicle-bearing people to its source, and E.V. practically squeals at the sight of our destination.
Two strawberry, one chai and one pineapple mint popsicles purchased and we’re a happy bunch. It’s beyond perfect weather out, so we stroll through a park with our pops leisurely, stopping to pet dogs and chat with strangers and pick dandelions along the way. This city is so friendly. It’s like the good weather is contagious, and I love it.
It’s time for cowboys, so we head downtown. It’s been a few years since either of us has been to Nashville, but we both remember lots of honky tonks and cowboy hats, and we figure that will satisfy E.V.’s curiosity. We drive the slow, touristy drive along Broadway, and much to our dismay, there isn’t a cowboy hat in sight. Not even one of the pink snakeskin, bedazzled bachelorette-ing sort. Emma Vance is disappointed, but we try to make the best of the drive by enjoying the (drunken) crowds filling up the sidewalks and hanging out balconies. All our car windows are open, and we continually are stopped at red lights next to cycle trolleys filled with tipsy women — with Woo Girls — and they engage with our toddlers at every chance. One trolley full of wasted moms even throws the girls necklaces Mardi Gras-style, and for the rest of the trip our kids act like the beads are worth a million dollars.
Back at the castle-hotel, the Cricket passes out quickly, but the recently-napped E.V. takes three bananas and 15 minutes of The Princess Bride to wind down properly. The next morning she wakes up and ask me, “Mom, remember last night when we watched Mustardcup?” ;)
We’ve weighed out our options and decided to visit the Nashville Zoo on our short trip. The girls are excited and have been asking what animals they’ll see all morning. I ask them what they want to see. “A unicorn!” my eldest replies. “A koala bear!” Cricket chirps. We will be seeing neither today.
But we do see animals, and the girls are giddy. The monkeys put on a swinging show for us, the flamingoes are gorgeous, the reptile room is fascinating, the giraffes seem larger than life…they love it all. The skies are still blue as can be, and our family is a cheerful bunch while we explore the crowded zoo.
My favorite part was seeing the orange flamingoes, which I mention to Emma Vance in the car as we leave. I ask her what her favorite part was, and she replies, “The food.” Ryan and I both belly laugh. This is our first festivity of this type, and E.V. tasted everything that caught her eye — hotdogs and giant pretzels and frozen bananas and “Daddy’s favorite dessert, what’s it called again?” (Dippin’ Dots). I learn something new about Ryan — that although he highly prefers vanilla ice cream, he prefers chocolate Dippin’ Dots. I would have NEVER guessed that in a million years. I suppose there are still some things left to discover about one another even after 14 years together.
We’re at the zoo until mid-afternoon, until we’re all exhausted. We regroup at the hotel for a bit, waiting for the sitter to arrive. She’s a dream. A friend has recommended a nanny service to us, and they’ve sent us their best. Her name is Whitney, and the girls are instantly obsessed. They might as well push us out of the hotel lobby so that they can begin their night with her. (She’s with us the next day, too, and she brings cupcakes with her. The girls cry for her as we drive home and ask about her when they wake up in Atlanta. We love her. What a blessing.)
We force the girls to hug us and pretend like they’re going to miss us as we actually do leave the hotel lobby. We’re free for the night with no plans. How unusual! We revisit the areas of town we enjoyed last night, and then end up on 12th Avenue. We love the energy and personality of the area, and so we park and walk to dinner. We choose The Flip Side, a 50s-inspired diner with a hipster vibe that boasts an only-chicken menu. Ryan orders tater tot nachos (which we aptly nickname tot-chos) to start and The Elvis (the aforementioned fried chicken topped with bananas, peanut butter and maple bacon) for dinner. What IS this crazy place? We laugh at just about everything we’re experiencing and every topic of conversation. It’s awesome. And even more awesome is the fact that the girls are happy and sleeping when we get home. Win-win.
We don’t want our long weekend to end. We’ve got an agenda this afternoon, but this morning we’re exploring downtown Franklin with the girls. We love it here — the homey, walkable vibe and friendly people. Ryan has his heart set on chicken salad + pie from Merridee’s Breadbasket, but when we arrive it’s closed. He’s let down, but we make the best of it and grab a country breakfast next door at Puckett’s instead. Next time, dear. We walk the sidewalks a bit, jumping and looking in windows and gathering leaves and such. It’s the best Sunday stroll we’ve had in a while. Thank you, Franklin. You never disappoint.
The afternoon is filled with some to-dos, and the evening is filled with…well, more to come on that. Thank you, Brandon, for capturing our family and our celebration. We love ya’ — and your hometown, too.
We pull away around bedtime, and the girls are cozied up in their carseats with yet another movie to keep them happy. Soon enough they’ve dozed off, and it’s just Ryan and I again. Podcast on, sky as black as can be, we make the long drive home, happy for such a good weekend away, sad that it’s over. We love Nashville and everything it has to offer, and now our girls do, too. In fact, Cricket’s first words this morning were of “Mashvilled” and “Miss Whitney” and “the zoo.” We will be back, that is for sure.