Friday, August 31, 2012

Long Vacation

This summer, we did a lot of vacationing. We made it to Chincoteague and Cape May in July, and spent the last 3 weeks in Kansas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. That's more than the two to three weeks we typically take. The idea was that Ed and I would both work some during evenings and we would plan a few days where we could work in the afternoon. Ed's dad joined us for the California leg of the adventure.

Two things that enabled us to have a drawn out vacation this were (1) willing employers and (2) home exchanges. The first meant we could work on projects even though we weren't present in the office (and I was able to complete a quick-turnaround project and keep other projects moving forward) and the second meant that our costs were greatly reduced. This made the vacation easier in some respect - we knew we would be doing work so were geared up to do it, but it also meant that we didn't have a lot of down time at night to process the day. Next time, I'd like to talk my nieces into coming and playing with Connor and Helen for four hours each day while Ed and I both worked. That would make the evenings a lot lighter - and Connor and Helen would love to have Anna and Emily along. That probably won't happen, but a girl can dream, right?

One thing that I didn't think through well enough was Connor and Helen's perspective. From my perspective, being on vacation is fun and different. I can see things I don't normally see. I can connect with far away friends. In general, it's revitalizing. But Connor and Helen's life is different than mine. Essentially, their life thrives on rhythm and their life is a vacation. Every day they have the opportunity to explore parks and do the things they want. And every day is pretty darn secure. It starts with a predictable breakfast, continues with an established rhythm of inside and outside time, includes time at the pool, and then ends with a dinner they probably recognize and a bed they know is theirs (except Connor, who has routinely taken to sleeping beneath a plastic climbing structure we store in the basement playroom - his cozy nest, he calls it).

Vacation to Connor and Helen is disruptive. They sleep with each other, they face new culinary challenges, and eventually, they really have no idea what day it is and they start to get a little fritzy. By our last week of vacation, Helen was rapidly deteriorating. She didn't want to sleep with Connor, nobody every did anything she wanted, and she did NOT like the ocean (even though she would have a ball at the ocean once she arrived). I oscillated between thinking I should be really understanding and cutting her some slack and thinking I needed to be stricter to give her more structure. My instability did not help the situation. This is something I'm going to rethink before we do this next summer.

Connor was a trooper. More than once, he commented that he had the best day of his life, and he really soaked up many of the experiences. Caution, though, is the theme of the day with Connor. On our last full day in California, we went to Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes. The scenery was just what you'd expect in California, and stunning. What we did not expect was the rather steep hike down to the beach - and the sign that warned of rattlesnakes. Ed thought Connor might refuse to go down the hill, but a casual discussion about how it was hot and rattlesnakes were probably hiding in whatever shady spot they could find off the trail seemed to keep him in motion. I have no idea if that's true about rattlesnakes, but it seemed reasonable and after the car ride we took to get to the beach, there was nothing that was going to stop us from actually stepping foot on it!

It was our lucky day, because as we headed off from the beach, we stopped at the Redondo Beach pier and walked into a restaurant that was serving clams and fries for half price. That is Helen and Connor's favorite meal. Ed and I were treated to half price salmon, raw oysters (which were disappointingly not very salty - no oyster beats Chincoteague!), and nut encrusted brie, along with half price drinks. We sat watching stingrays and schools of large fish swim beneath a pier that we had nearly to ourselves. Outdoor dining at its finest.

On our first morning back, Helen slept until 10:15 when I sent the babysitter up to wake her. I think Helen was really happy to be home.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012


We've been traveling around San Diego with my father-in-law's GPS. Occasionally, it provides directions Ed is willing to follow. More often, it provides an excellent source of argument for Helen and Connor.

"I call holding the GPS!"

It has also provided a bit of comic relief.

A few days ago Helen hollered to Ed "Watch out for the fork in the road! It's coming up. And a knife, too."

Unlike the built-in GPS in our car at home, this GPS shows both the speed limit and the rate of travel for the car. From Connor, we hear "Dad, you're going 56 miles per hour and the speed limit is 55. I hope you don't get a big speeding ticket!".

For the love of backseat driving everywhere,

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mom on Vacation

We're in the middle of vacation (but my home is under the watchful eye of the folks I swapped with), and I'm starting to understand why my mother was the least nuts of all of us about traveling. As it turns out, when you're the mom on vacation, you have to smile - a lot. Because each day offers a new day full of adventure, and unknown food, and u-turns, and at least one child in the backseat falling asleep on her shoulder. This is more tiring than you might imagine.

You have to be the one who keeps it together when everyone else is melting down because they've had too many days of being out of their routine. You have to absorb a lot of negative energy, rather than sending it back out in the universe. This might cause you to snap, once. And if you do, in the morning, you have to pull it back together and rally for a new day.

The mom on the vacation is the one that remembers to put hats on each of her children, grab her own hat, and grab the camera bag. She also carries her water bottle and every time she has access to ice, she pops the top and adds more ice because one of her children prefers ICE COLD WATER!

If you are the mom on vacation, you have to know when to walk slowly, when to race everyone to the next destination, and when to let things slide. You have to figure out when your children should be put into separate bedrooms so bedtime can be salvaged for half the crew.

You have to figure out when to jump out of bed in the morning because the other adults need sleep more than you. And, just like at home, you have to be ready to provide middle-of-the-night assistance.

But when you are the mom on vacation, you must also remember that the reason your children whine to you, at times, is because you're their touchstone. You're the person who rights their ship, as needed.
And even when your hips are hurting so bad you can hardly sit down because the bed you are sleeping on is too soft, you have to figure out a way to right those ships. Because you never know what vacation memory your children will keep with them when they're old, and you really hope it's the one you're smiling in.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy 7th Birthday, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Every time I turn the calendar on another year of your life, I think “we made it”. And this year was no different. We made it, Connor, through a year of public school. And even though you were the one stuck attending classes, I do mean we. We made it through a few rough patches where you really did try and develop an unpleasant side, and we made it through brilliant days as well. All par for the course, I suppose.

You love games and sports, and everything is a competition. This makes me crazy. It’s hard to convince you sometimes that taking batting practice and tossing the ball would be a lot better use of our time than trying to figure out ghost runners, batting orders, strikes, balls, outs, and scores. Tonight, in fact, when you told me you really wanted to play a game of baseball, I told you “then go find 9 more children!”.

Connor, your mind is doing crazy things these days. These things are simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. Your mind lives in a world of extremes, as far as I can tell. Your dad summed it up perfectly the other night when he told some friends that a conversation with you at a baseball game would go like this:

C: What happened?

The player was out. The fielder caught the ball in the air.

C: So, you mean because the ball did not touch the ground before the fielder caught it, the batter was out?

Yes. If the ball hits the ground first, it’s a hit. If the ball is caught before hitting the ground, the player is out.

C: But the player can get out if the fielder throws the ball to first base and the first baseman catches it before the player gets there, even if it wasn't caught in the air.

Yes. That is correct.

C: But what happens if the player hits the ball and the ball goes really, really high – higher than the stadium. And then, before the fielder catches it, he sings a verse of a song, twirls around on his right foot, and claps 3 times. Then, he catches the ball before it has time to hit the ground, because it was so high up in the air.

At this point, Ed starts to explain why the scenario described is not possible, and becomes annoyed. My answer? “The player is out. The fielder caught the ball before it hit the ground.”

Seriously. What goes on in that head? Where does this stuff come from?

We cannot keep your nose out of a book. We’re the parents who have taken to saying “Connor, you need to put that book down right now, answer my question, and then get ready for bed”. You’re the kid who responds, barely looking up, “huh”? I must remind myself of the days that reading was a chore to try and not go nuts in these many, many instances.

You do not like Helen to tell you what to do. Unfortunately for all of us, bossing people around is not a trait she can suppress easily. So instead, you walk around grumpy at the site of her commands.

Your birthday happened to fall on a family vacation to Rock Springs Family Camp. My family attended this camp when I was little, so it was a real joy to see you running from archery, to horseback riding, to fishing, to the rifle range, to canoeing. You were definitely in your element, and having your two oldest cousins there was icing on the cake.

As it turns out, 6 was good. Six was a year of getting ready by yourself, brushing your teeth by yourself, and generally becoming much more independent. But you're still young enough to want to sleep in my bed on your birthday, which I still find to be pretty sweet.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting Around on Vacation

Ed and I are on the brink of an enormous parenting milestone. We can almost bike to the beach with our children. At present, Helen is still riding the trail-a-bike behind Ed, but my backseat has been put to rest in the shed until I have time to pass it along to the next person. This is possible, because Connor is rocking his own wheels these days.

I love it. And not just because my bike is 25 pounds lighter!

We also added kayaks back into to our list of great things to do in Chincoteague. It felt great to visit Snug Harbor for the first time in 6 years and paddle around. This was one of those activities that Ed and I have always loved, but we've been afraid to take the kids. This year, we gritted our teeth and just said "we're doing it". It was totally the right call.

As usual, our arms gave out well before our alloted time on the ocean. Next year, maybe we'll make the whole morning. Another Chincoteague milestone of being given a paddle with kayak rental still seems a few years off for Helen and Connor.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting Bigger, Measurements by Mr. Whippy

In general, I like to travel to new places. There are just too many great places to see, and I'll never get to see them all. However, there's also a certain charm to revisiting old places. Ed and I briefly considered bailing on Chincoteague this year, but found a note Connor had written in the craft room on a wipe board about how much he loves Chincoteague and especially Captain Barry. Once we found that, our fate was sealed. Off to 'Teague we'd go.

The first year we took Helen to Chincoteague, she spontaneously hugged a wooden ice cream cone at Mr. Whippy's (2009). She repeated the feat in 2011. This year, our friend's daughter got in on the action as well - which I think means she's obligated to come with us every year from here on out so I can keep recreating the photo! Next year, I'm guessing Helen will be taller than the sign!

Here's Helen through the years.



2012, with Luna

2012, with Luna

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Happy (Almost) 58 Months, Helen

Dear Helen,

If there is an almost 5 year old on this planet who knows themself better than you know yourself, I have yet to meet her or him. You walk through life so full of confidence, so ready to attempt things you cannot do, and so sure that every person you meet loves you. And the occasional shock that one of these things might be misguided at any point in time hardly slows you down.

Let's face it, Helen, your life is easy. You get to see Connor do everything before you do it, carefully studying what people tell him. You also get to be among the older children in your cohort - given your October birthday. It almost seems unfair.

But you don't waste your advantages. You use them for good. You find the quiet person in class to love, you delight at telling anyone and everyone that they are your best friend and watching them light up, you wear your heart on your sleeve and share your disarming smile so freely that in general, people treat you very gently.

The only downside you have is that you rarely stop talking. This is good, of course, because I need not watch you to know what's going on, but it's also very tiring. Last Saturday, I went to the market. Connor joined me for a really lovely trip. You rattled to your dad so much during that hour Connor and I were gone that by the time I came home, your dad was demanding a plan on how we were going to accomplish our weekend jobs. Because your dad? He needed a break.

You are wise beyond your years. On float night last weekend, you and Connor were floating around the pool on an enormous float. A few minutes before that, some game of King of the Mountain was being played, but once it was just you and Connor, you spotted your opportunity. You laid down on the float and as soon as you noticed he was off-balance, you gave him a shove and he plopped right into the water. You laughed louder and with more delight than I have ever seen a child laugh, and the smile on your face is something I hope I never forget. Your dad and I were laughing too, and then I noticed another look cross your face. You realized that as soon as Connor got on that float, you were done for - and so you slid off. Laughing all the way to the water. You knew your time on that float was over, and it was totally worth it. Well done, Helen, well done.

You have become a strong swimmer over this past month, really taking a leap forward when we were in Cape May with your cousins. You came back and attacked the diving board, learning how to do a front dive, and a hurdle. Mostly, though, you like to grab your knees for a cannon ball, or spread your arms like a helicopter, jump, twist, and crash into the water. Over, and over, and can do this. Such fun.

You have reminded me this past month not only how fun the diving board is, but how fun it is to run into the ocean at dusk with all your clothes on - not giving a hoot if you come out a mess.

Everyone whose life you touch is so lucky. Even if they don't realize it at first.

With love,