First, you measure your ingredients Noah...
But Dad? The egg? Can I do it?
Son, I think we better let Ava handle it this time. Your mom likes her brownies to be extra chewy.
That's right Noah. Back away from the bowl. This is serious business. You're just the assistant to the chef - which is me.
God help me. Please don't let me smack her with my spoon.
You're not smiling anymore are you?
Kids, kids... let's focus and make magic here. This brown gooey mush is going to make everyone happy again. Watch this...
But Dad... I wanted to mix the gooey.
Mom. Are you paying attention to this? I didn't get to do anything!
Hang in there Noah. The assistant always gets to test the chef's masterpiece first.
Here you go buddy.
Dad you were right. Mom is soo going to love this.
While we were outside saying our good-byes for our quick trip down south to Galveston, the kids were heating up in the car. Ava, dressed for the beach, was wondering when the AC would turn on.
And Noah sat patiently, always appreciative for riding in the car. But this time had no idea it'd be for 5 hours. After rummaging through their beach-themed road-trip bag [books, puzzles, crayons and notebooks] the two fell asleep with the lull of the drive as Aaron and I caught up after one month's of solid hard work preparing for this business trip.
The kids woke up in time for diaper changes and lunch at our usual pit stop. The food is home-cooking - nothing spectacular. But we adore their selection of sweets in the Country Store and games at the table.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were in heaven. To simply stretch. Plop the kids on a king size bed, and roll around. The kids each received a pirate bag with some loot [goggles, water guns, rubber duckies, etc.] And when reality came back, Noah called Grandma to let her know we arrived safely [another travel habit that has turned into a family tradition].
The next day was all work for me. I launched a new redesigned website and had the opportunity to speak with the organization's members to demonstrate the new online tools I created. While I was networking, Aaron and the kids took advantage of the conference and hotel amenities, beginning with the Make & Take craft project offered at the conference. Each of the kids made me a necklace, which I proudly displayed throughout the weekend with my work clothes.
Aaron braved the beach and the aquarium with the kids all by himself and returned by the afternoon with enough time for me to join in on the family fun. We swam in the resort's man-made beach with sand barged in from Florida and soaked in the sun. Afterwards we went to the playground, splash park, pool and bounce house...
We made smores and the kids loved every last chocolately bite before dinner. It's vacation I reminded myself. A little extra sweet is ok.
In fact, Ava so kindly reminded me that she could now have M&Ms. [Back in May, on our first family beach trip, Ava had M&Ms for the first time. I told her she could have these treats "only at the beach" with the intention that we won't be back until next year. I didn't realize my business trip would lead us to one - so soon.] And so... she did. And I realized for the first time how careful I have to be when setting such specific rules [ahem...].
We really enjoyed the hotel experience with the kids. Sharing a bed. Ordering in. Watching TV! But after two long days of work and little time for play, we decided to take a detour on our way home and visit the boardwalk town of Kemah. Less than half an hour away from Galveston, we fell in love with this little wonderland and enjoyed what summers are made of...street magic, carnival music, train rides, games, ice-cream, and the sun setting over the rippling water...
And as you already know - we are intrigued by carousels. Back home, our antique tin carousels sit behind a glass cabinet door, taunting the kids to crack it open for a quick glance almost every other day. Their patience was finally rewarded when we got them tickets to ride the most beautifully lit carousel that ever spun into a summer's night.
While the kids were choosing their horses, Aaron and I looked at each other. Exhaled. And simultaneously understood what the entire month of July had accumulated to: tag-team parenting so that I could work full-time, win a client's business, and make my family proud of me. The energy to do this? Came from the pleasure and joy of having them all join me on my very own carousel...That is always spinning in one direction...
We've all been behind on catching naps... thanks to Mama whose been off of her routine for the past 3, 4 or more [I don't know, it's a blur] weeks. I have missed sleeping through the night, because quite frankly, I haven't been even sleeping... or does dropping on my pillow several times a week at 6am-ish only to be woken up at 8am-ish count?
It's been a tough month for all of us... and we wouldn't change a thing. We're all working hard together, covering for each other when we need to. Because even as parents, there are other roles that sometimes take the lead. Aaron has been an exceptional partner through this...motivating and empowering me to pursue my work that I'm passionate about - even if that means making a pit stop for me from taco bell at 2:30am last night. [Hey, at least I didn't ask for him to bake brownies this time :)
Being a work-from-home-mom for almost 3 years now has so many pluses and minuses - that by the time I add it all up, I get a huge smile on face. And that's only because I see the smiles on every one elses. The kids have been so patient with my constant phrase, "Mommy has to finish working" and have been enjoying the adventures of Aaron taking them on "fatherly" outings [car dealerships... HomeDepot....] so that I can work uninterrupted.
But those interruptions.. are so priceless and inspire me so much. They will knock on my office door with their tiny fists and slide puzzle pieces underneath for me to catch. And occasionally, I get bribed to open the door with bluebell sandwich icecreams. And when they do make it through on their own [because I forget to lock it], they squeal with excitement... [Noah stumble's towards me] and Ava politely asks if she can see what I'm working on.
I always let her. It is so important to me, as a Mom, that my kids see me working towards my goals and a bigger picture. She'll climb into my lap, turn my swivel chair, and draw on my arms with a highlighter. Notes fly off the table, my last line written gets deleted and my stash of chocolates gets discovered.
And when I speak to my client on the phone, and explain why I've missed a deadline [or more], they always laugh with me, and ask me to bring the kids over to our next meeting :)
With a new writing job starting next week to add to all of the charades - I think we are all beyond delirum and loving every minute of it. But we do need to catch up on some rest.. [and by that, I mean going on a roadtrip with a toddler and infant in the car!] and we'll be back next week to tell you all about it!
Hmmm... what's this shiny red bubble?
Does it pop?
Oops. It did. How do I get this off? Wow - cool. Look what I just did...
Hold it right there buddy!
That's ok Ava. Let's all paint together...
We need some more colors. Ava, do you know what happens when you mix blue with yellow?
I'm done with my picture. What do you guys think?
Um, Dad? I know what you're thinking. But it's really not as bad as it looks.
Were we suppose to use paper?
We took a little detour from the Galleria's play area this past Saturday, and instead, ventured inside Slappy's Puppet Playhouse to watch a marionette puppet show! In the past, we've always popped in to let the kids play with the wooden toys, castles and puzzles on display while Aaron and I would catch our breaths from chasing and shielding Ava & Noah through the germy Jungle play zone.
The Hammers and their 2 beautiful girls joined us for the 10:30am show for The Little Mermaid. The setup inside of the "theater" is small, quaint, and homemade - just like it should be. The intro by the stage manager was sincere but painfully long. After 20 minutes... the curtains finally lifted and the anticipation grabbed our attention...
The production, performed by a live-cast, had a modern-day take on the Disney story I was expecting. The dialogue was catered for older kids [I'm guessing over 6] more so than our little art-goers we are trying to introduce into the theater scene.
So, Ava couldn't keep up. Triton causing waves, a mermaid crying for what she couldn't have, Prince Eric's arranged marriage to Shirley Temple and songs from various decades added more confusion than I was use to. Ava deferred her attention to the little girl next to her she'd rather be running and playing with, Maya, who was entranced by the spectacle and unmoved by Ava's interruptions. I had to deflect Ava's gaze with a bowl of Kix. Then juice. And try to explain why "Michelle" was crying for a prince. [And for the first time, I actually stopped to think about the varying degrees of messages we were exposing our kids to. If you're desperate, go make a deal with the sea witch. Lovely.]
Noah, upon finishing his bottle, was determined to walk and socialize - from the front row. I'm not sure how it ended, but it did - with Ava wondering where the curtains for the exit were. We hit the play area as fast as we could until our stomachs pulled us towards the Grand Lux Cafe for lunch. This was a new place recommended by our friends - and I must say, it is wonderful! Family-friendly, courteous, and a delightful menu that pleased everyone at our table.
Back home, Ava asked me to read her the mermaid bubble book during bath time. "Whooshing and swooshing, they go for a mermaid swim..." On Sunday morning, she asked to go swimming. I usually say "I don't think that's a good idea" or that the UV rays are too strong after 11am - but for some reason, I let her - thinking about how much mermaids have been on her mind lately.
Aaron lathered the sunscreen thick and before we knew it, Ava found her gills and started swimming by herself! [With the help of inner floaties of course]. She balanced her feet below her, waved her hands underwater and moved above water like a tiny pink motorboat from one end of the pool to the other, collecting balls for Noah. We praised, clapped, splashed and cheered. I don't know how much of yesterday's performance she saw for it to have any kind of impact over her ambition to learn how to swim. Maybe it was the pictures of Sandy swimming with dolphins? Or the visit to the splash park and our You Can Do Anything Ava mantra we chanted over and over last week?
Maybe it was all of that. Or maybe it wasn't - and the sheer beauty of having patience instead? Her diligence to swim almost daily within the boundaries we set for her [no more than 20 minutes, before the sun gets too hot, wear a floation device and sunscreen!] - gave her the encouragement she needed to finally do so on her own will and time. And it also gave her insight on the value of practice and working hard for what you love.
No deals with a sea witch or courting a prince necessary.
After getting the kids fastened and settled with books in their car seats, I drove off not anticipating the next moment. That's how most of our days are. Transitioning from one to the next. This evening, we had library books due and a 40% off coupon from Half-Price books burning in my pocket. Aaron, a natural big kid at heart, loves to make a production out of good news - for the sole reason that he just loves to make people happy. I noticed him grinning from the corner of my eye as I was driving out of our neighborhood. He flashed an envelope that he had picked up from the mailbox on his way out the door.
"Guess what?" he said, while dangling fate. It was a letter from The da Vinci School - where Ava had attended camp in June and anticipates in returning this fall for "school." This letter would dictate whether or not she's been accepted. This letter will determine a year's worth of comings and goings. I turned the wheel to pull over, but didn't make it. I just pressed on the brakes, turned to him, and teasingly smacked his arms to hurry up. "Open it, open it, open it" I managed to sound out. But he took his time - trying to be civil about opening a letter - even though I know inside he wanted to rip it open and scream like a girl at a New Kids on the Block concert. Ava & Noah in their usual "yeah we're going shopping" attitudes sat patiently listening to Ava's favorite soundtrack from The Sound of Music with no idea what kind of mischief their parents were up to.
We both scanned the first page fast, our eyes looking for that one word that beckons squeals. Unfortunately, our greeting didn't read "congratulations!" but instead, "As you know..." Aaron flipped to the second page where a hand written note from the director informed us that too many siblings have enrolled into the program this year and that she hopes they may consider Ava for placement in '09-'10.
Aaron grabbed my face with both hands - kissed it - and with the most sincere voice apologized on behalf of the school. We both spun a few times in our seats - letting the wave of parental anxiety pass us.
I allowed myself to get disappointed, upset - and mostly, feel guilty for not having done more [like placing her on other waiting lists]. The letter in our hands crushed our hearts a tiny bit. Because it was just yesterday at breakfast when I was telling her about 2 events I had planned for her and I to do together in the coming weeks. "Won't that be fun Ava?" I asked knowing what her response would be. Except, she paralyzed me with, "... and Ava goes to school..."
Ava goes to school. Like Pinocchio, Ava is also a little adventurer who desperately wants to see the world - and be like all the other 2 year olds - no matter how much I want to hold onto her and beg her not to grow up so fast. While consumed with all this parental guilt, the song Maria played in the background, and all of a sudden I am smiling.
"How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?" sang the chorus. A moon beam! What an incredible way to describe our blessings. So how do you? How do you hold onto lights destined for the skies?
Our little moon beams, bursts of energy we instinctly know we can't have all to ourselves - but instead be guided by their glittering rays they leave behind when they are ready to go.
Ava has many years of schooling ahead of her - her not attending this year is a blessing for all of us. For starters, I'll get to teach, create, play, and learn with her first through these toddler years. While camp first introduced her to rocket ships - I'm already on the plight of teaching her about the solar system! And I'm already thinking of the calendar year and how I can prepare themes for each month so that we can coordinate art projects and field trips around town...
And while the "siblings" of current da Vinci students may have earned themselves seats this school year- there is one particular sibling I know, sweet 1 yr old Noah, that has earned himself the best seat in the house...
... on top of a moon beam.
So on Ava's first visit to a splash park - she must have felt the same bliss. And we witnessed that complete moment of - oh what do they call it, sweet childhood innocence? Not noticing anyone around her [except for us to occasionally laugh with] - Ava ran around as if she had the entire place to herself, splashed in puddles made by the sprays, and squealed when she found herself under cold water. I was in awe - but more so grateful for her to be able to express her free spirit - which is something I will never be able to create or give her. Instead, it's hers to embrace and experience and enjoy... until change happens.
Last week that change happened when she returned for the first time this summer. As we pulled into the parking lot, Ava saw all the kids having fun. By the time we reached the wet area, she disappeared behind our legs. I was crushed.
I can't understand - but know I have to eventually - that children discover themselves in this big world and suddenly become shy or [gulp] intimidated by their surroundings - [big gulp] preventing them from being themselves - [start tearing] and expressing their free spirit. Sure we could try to prepare them by encouraging social environments - and we do. But I wasn't prepared for this. She had so much fun last year - What did she see that I didn't?
That night, Ava struggled with her fork at the dinner table. She caved, threw down her fork and whined, "I can't do it." I snapped. And told her with conviction and crescendo, "You CAN do it. You CAN do anything." Louder and louder, we shouted this mantra together and I felt so much better. I think Ava did too - an opportunity to yell [with permission] at the top of her lungs was fun for her.
The very next day, my family came over for an evening picnic at the splash park. I was willing to give this another try. This time, when I pulled into the parking lot, Ava said, "I'm going to say hi to my friends." And instantly, I was comforted by her confidence. The three of them [Ava, Noah, & Humzah] ventured into the wet playground area as soon as their swimmers hit their bottoms. Humzah and Noah were instantly chilled by the subtle evening breeze. Which meant - Wagma [who is 7 months pregnant] and her husband Masaud, soaked themselves in their work clothes, running through cold sprays and only stopping to catch a rainbow forming in the sky from our view...
And Ava? .... she frolicked and flailed like a fish out of water with her stomach on the ground... but smiling all the way. Maybe it was because it was later in the evening - and the park was sparingly crowded unlike the day before. Maybe it was the group of familiar faces and her cousin Humzah being there... to hold her hand...
Or maybe.... it just took a day to awaken that free spirit so rightfully hers...
While I thought Ava lost some of her fearlessness and comfort - she gained it all back when Grandma spotted an ice-cream truck near by. Its melody ringing from the curbside, my Mom took Ava's hand to begin the tradition of 10 years she did for us - and bought us all ice-cream. The only person running this time was me - looking for my camera - so that I could capture the very image that summarized my childhood so perfectly. With or without water...
Nothing Fishy About It Tips
You have to go at least once - but with the way our heat index rises, you'll be visiting often. There's something fun about being sprayed versus wadding in your own pool. There are several locations in Dallas near a rec center. They are open from 8-8. We love the Lake Highlands splash park near our favorite library.
Go early. Or go late. For some reason, every time we go, there are waves of youth, families, or parties. Whatever the occasion - it's busy! We had great luck going at 7 - the kids can't take more than 15 minutes anyway.
Is it worth going? Of course, because there's a place to picnic, swing, slide, and people watch. After sitting in the heat, you'll be jumping in the splash park too.
Bring change for the ice-cream truck. I don't condone sweetening the sweet tooth - but I do condone starting a family tradition that is...