Camp Dad & Mom

Tucson staycation with the 3-year-old for a week of family fun

|By Oakley Hall

With a week between summer camp and school starting, my husband, Chris, and I worried about how to balance work and childcare. We couldn’t exactly tell kiddo, “Hot dogs are in the fridge, pull some weeds, take a nap at noon, and put the dishes away while we’re out.” For one thing, she’d skip the hot dogs and just eat ketchup.

Fortunately, an idea struck me—take advantage of the situation to get quality time with our favorite kid. Chris took Monday and Tuesday off. I took Thursday and Friday. And Chris’ mom was eager for a day, so she covered Wednesday.

Game-day Monday

Day 1: Dad

Thrifting

The adventure started with thrift store hunting. Dad got the thrill of the hunt for a bargain, and kiddo got the excitement of discovery. A Hogwarts T-shirt for Mom (thanks, guys!!) and Rush Hour Traffic Jam Logic Game for Dad (er—the kid…) were the top treasures.

Game store

Jazzed about the puzzle, Isle of Games became their next stop. We’re regulars at this locally owned game store. It boasts a great selection of board games, puzzles, and other trinkets. And the owners are great.

A kid enjoys a game from Isle of Games in Tucson, AZ
Game time courtesy of Isle of Games

The prize Chris bought was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. It’s perfect for our family. He’s especially into board games, and we’re all Harry Potter nerds. Seriously—kiddo decided to go by Hermione when she was a toddler (and we’ve indulged enough that it’s now a full-fledged nickname).

Tuesday at the park

Day 2: Dad

Zoo

Hermione loves the Reid Park Zoo. She’s been enthralled by the place since her first visit. She talked about it for days using the simple vocab she’d had at the time: “zoo” and “otter.”

So, when Dad told her they’d be visiting the zoo the night before, she was thrilled! What she didn’t know is that she’d get to hand-feed one of the animal residents. That’s right—Dad hooked her up with the Giraffe Encounter. Cool parent points!

The Giraffe Encounter at Reid Park Zoo

Video evidence shows Hermione methodically doling out lettuce, while the poor giraffe stretched its tongue to the max trying to snag the snack faster. The two of them fumbled once, but Hermione retrieved the fallen veggie and tried again. She handed off the rest of the giraffe’s salad without a hitch, making observations about the giant animal’s tongue. Snack delivery complete. Memory achieved.

Park

Once kiddo was back in action post-nap, the duo headed to Udall Park. It’s one of our go-to spots since it’s conveniently located, walkable, and has tennis courts. The big win here was the firefighter pole. With Dad’s help, Hermione picked up the know-how and confidence to slide down all by herself. So, she did again and again and again. Chris looked proud as he recounted the event.

Working Wednesday

Day 3: Grandma

Mom and Dad went to work while kiddo spent time with her grandma. Highlights include splashing in the pool and—rumor has it—a movie and cake.

Déjà vu Thursday

Day 4: Mom

Tennis

Overlapping with Dad’s itinerary, kiddo and I returned to the park—this time to the tennis courts to meet my aunt. We hardly needed the net, sticking mostly to drilling and practicing forehands and backhands on one side of the court. Having fun while making contact was the objective. Mission accomplished.

Farm

Overlapping with Dad’s itinerary a bit more, the three of us went to feed animals, this time at a friend’s farm. While I can’t recommend all Tucsonans and visitors storm my friends’ place, I can absolutely vouch for the fun of getting up close and personal with farm animals. One spot to do this on my radar is Funny Foot Farm. There, I intend to get in on the Kangaroo Experience.

Finding farm fresh eggs in Tucson, AZ
Farm day success!

Garden

I needed to pick something up from Mesquite Valley Growers, so I thought we’d meander around plants and call that good for the soul or something. But then I remembered a cool flower I’d heard about and started searching for it. Enter Jody, a friendly employee who gave us a golf-cart ride to the balloon flower.

After we found the natural bouquet of balloons, Jody offered to take us to meet cats and turtles. It turns out the Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary is on site. This is where Jody and one other employee take care of abandoned cats, which are all up for adoption. There were about 30 cats that day, plus two resident turtles.

The sanctuary—set back amid a dwarf citrus forest—has an added-on fenced-in cat playground. We entered through the kitchen and saw half a dozen cats roaming (or lazing) about on cat trees and counters.

The mesquite valley cat sanctuary in Tucson, AZ
Cats taking a snooze at the Mesquite Valley Cat Sanctuary

Jody identified the outgoing cats. The ones darting away made their skittishness obvious. She gave Hermione hibiscus pedals to feed the turtles, as well as flakes to feed fish in a little pond.

Every flavor Friday

Day 5: Mom

Orchard

We were up and at ’em early Friday to meet one of my buddies for a trip to Apple Annie’s pick-your-own fruit orchard in Willcox.

Upon arrival, we were blessed with the powerfully enticing, sweet scent of baking pies. That alone sold us on an early dessert. But first, we’d pick—peaches were our target. We got the lowdown from a cashier on what to find where.

“Honestly, there are a lot of varieties—almost 20,” she said. “They’re all really good. You can taste them off the tree. We just ask you don’t make a meal out of it.”

We walked, smelled, reached, tasted, gathered, and learned. My main takeaway was that Red Globe is the best!

Fresh peaches at Apple Annie's in Wilcox, AZ
Fresh peaches at Apple Annie’s Orchard

At one point, I noticed a tree cordoned off by tape. Curious, I investigated. Once I knew why, I called down the row for kiddo and friend to come and see.

I asked Hermione, “What is it?”

“A waffle!” she answered.

Apparently, she’d never seen a honeycomb before.

Paying for our slice of pie back in the shop, I noticed honey sticks for sale and bought a couple for later. The three of us shared a slice of warm peach pie à la mode, which brought happiness with every bite.

Music lessons

I woke Hermione from her nap by offering her a taste from a honey stick. She was ready to go in a heartbeat. We set out to Tucson Music Lessons, a professional home studio in northwest Tucson. I’d told her we’d get to play music but didn’t elaborate since I’d been struggling to get her to play her own drum set.

Stuart met us in the driveway with a sunny smile and greeted us both by name.

Two drum kits, a keyboard, several guitars, and other equipment were set up inside. Stuart dove right into the lesson by leading a warm-up on a drum pad. He then provided both of us with headphones and guided her to the kit.

I could list off the technical communication best-practices I noticed, like making himself eye-level and redirecting off-topic requests like a pro, but what really matters is that Stuart was able to engage Hermione in a positive, authentic way that got her pumped about making music.

I’d tried on several occasions to share drumming with this kid—showing her videos of other kids playing, counting games, even putting “Let It Go” on repeat to get her to jam. I’d always had to coax her to play. But, here with Stuart, she was focused and having a blast!

When we left, I pulled out the remainder of the Apple Annie’s honey stick… because what better time to get a kid hopped up on sugar than right before hopping it out at a trampoline park?

Trampoline park

Hermione’s reaction to this news was the best. She exclaimed with eyebrows high, fingers splayed, and all sincerity, “I am so surprised!”

AZ Air Time in Tucson, AZ
AZ Air Time

As planned, we had an excellent time at AZ Air Time jumping, playing catch and whacking each other with dodgeballs, running up the ramps, leaping into a foam pit, and bouncing in the inflatable house. I got the feeling that it met her every hope and dream.

And, on the way home, she proved the music lessons met my every hope and dream by asking when we’d get to go back.

Sonoran Desert Saturday

Day 6: Dad & Mom

Desert museum

We successfully made it through the school gap but weren’t ready to end the getaway vibe. Fortunately, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was hosting Harry Otter night.

After finishing a round of our new board game, I put on my new Hogwarts tee and drew a lightning bolt scar on my forehead. Kiddo wore her HP dress, and Dad donned a Fantastic Beasts tee. We grabbed the wand and headed out.

I enjoyed watching Hermione’s observations click into place. She commented on other guests wearing HP gear in the parking lot.

When we reached the entrance, she saw the house banners and exclaimed, “It’s Gryffindor! And, and—are we going to Hogwarts!?”

Obviously, Chris and I cracked up; her awe amplified the fun.

Harry Potter Night at the Sonoran Desert Museum
Harry Potter Night at the Sonoran Desert Museum

HP-themed stations dotted the grounds, including a photo booth, face painting, trivia, and planting with Professor Sprout. The decorations added to the ambiance. Still, the main attraction was the museum itself. Among the critters, we saw otters, bighorn sheep, snakes, a scorpion, and birds (including an owl, which may or may not have been a magical mail carrier).

We were up against bedtime, so we had to leave much of the grounds unexplored, including Stingray Touch and the Packrat Playhouse. Another day.

Going forward

Chris and I will face school breaks for the next umpteen years. No worries, though—we’re covered. Check out this lengthy list of fun things to do in Tucson.