Sunday, June 17, 2012

Family Fun-cation

For three months now my girls have been counting down the days until our summer family vacation. In typical Hannah fashion, my second daughter has recounted almost daily the list of adventures she couldn't wait to embark on when my three siblings and their families convened with us at my parents' house this June, creating a 22 person family gathering, with a total of 11 cousins present.

The long-awaited expedition was off to a shaky start last Friday night. Elijah woke with a cough and an ear infection. We didn't succeed in pulling out of the driveway until 10:30pm, which was a less than ideal way to begin a seven-hour journey with five kids. Then Hannah and Toby began running fevers, and within two hours I joined them in the world of headaches, body aches, and general delirium. We pulled into my parents' driveway just as dawn was breaking. The chirping birds cued even our feverish children to wake and demand breakfast. I was thankful when my mom tended the older kids and Elijah and I could crash for a few hours.

Saturday was dedicated entirely to recovering from our travel and fevers, but by Sunday we were finally ready to meet up with the rest of my family (who had been hiding from our germs at my sister's house) and enjoy ourselves. Actually, enjoy might not be the right word for dressing 21 people up in coordinating outfits, lining them up outside in 90 degree heat, and snapping family portraits, but it certainly was an accomplishment.

Monday we met up at a county park to let the kids try a little fishing. Every child successfully caught something with gills, except poor Emma. She seems to get the short end of the stick more often than not. My brother, who was helping with the baiting and reeling, felt awful for Emma and prolonged the trip in hopes she would finally come up with a fish, but instead Emma only witnessed Hannah catch her second fish while her own line remained limp.

Tuesday our whole troop headed to Living History Farms and spent the day visiting working farms and shops from the 1800's time period. Our first stop was a 1700 Indian farm. My eight-year-old nephew saw the corn husk dolls there and informed our guide, "Those sure are ugly!" Toby chased the chickens at the log cabin and stood in awe of the 400lb sow on the 1900 farm. Naomi couldn't fill her eyes enough with the massive but gentle work horses. Emma laughed at the snorting piglets, and Hannah hungrily eyed the wheat-filled cinnamon rolls that the skirted ladies pulled out of their iron cook stove.

In the little town we clopped along wooden sidewalks to the broom works, where we watched a lady hand crafting brooms, the blacksmith, the general store where Toby attempted to swipe an iron train model from behind the glass counter, the drug store where each child took turns grinding cinnamon with a mortar and pestle, the print shop, and the doctor's office where we learned that you were probably better off at home in 1875.

"This is the best, best, best day ever!" Hannah glowed as we headed back to the parking lot.

Wednesday morning we took at a slower pace, letting the kids run free in the fenced-in backyard. It seems however that some adult supervision is still required. Toby's four-year-old cousin showed him how to open the gate, and, after Grandpa had wired it shut, his eight-year-old cousin showed him how to climb over it. Toby also picked a couple of Grandma's green tomatoes. This displeased Grandma, but she was glad he had at least left the red one alone. Ten minutes later he returned to inform her, "Grandma, this big red potato just fell off your potato tree!"

That evening we visited another county park to go for canoe rides, roast marshmallows, and try another round of fishing. This time Emma was the first to pull in a little fish. Her eyes just glowed with pride, and we all breathed a little sigh of relief at her eventual success. My sister-in-law stayed busy keeping Toby out of the water and the fire, and wiping him up after he devoured the first s'more of his lifetime.

Hannah was quick to layer on the praise after her first canoe ride. "So would you go again?" I asked.

"Oh, only a hundred, hundred times!" she swooned.

Thursday morning I woke early to dress the three girls, pack their lunch, and ship them off to a children's opera with my mom, my sister, my two sisters-in-law, and two of their cousins. I stayed at home with my boys, who would have made my time at the opera miserable anyway. It was nice to have a quiet house to ourselves while my girls had an awesome time getting a backstage tour of the opera house with their cousins.

Thursday afternoon was dedicated to a nine-cousin backyard water fight. Toby missed out on that one due to a nap, but given his distaste for water I don't think he minded that. He preferred to pass the time that evening amusing his extended family with bizarre scenarios involving chocolate consumption.

"Have you ever, ever eaten a chocolate rug before?" he asked his aunt, with a mischievous grin. When she gave an encouraging laugh he ramped up the questions to the next delightful notch of wildly odd ponderings. "Have you ever, ever eaten a chocolate-milk chair handle?!" he queried, giggling giddily at his own question.

Emma, though amused, shook her head at her brother. "I don't even know what a chair handle is," she remarked.

Friday afternoon my sister with her two sons, my parents, and Matt and I with our five kids, braved a water park. We took turns helping the girls, holding Elijah, and attempting to coax Toby into the water.

"Mommy!" Toby called out to me at one point, "I saw somebody with no somethings on her!" Yes indeed, I saw a few of them there too.

I tried to walk Toby slowly into the water, but he clung to my neck with all his might and yelled out, "This does NOT look like fun!" The girls splashed and laughed for a full two hours while Toby sat with his feet dry and firmly planted on the cement deck. There were some trains rumbling by with impressive force just outside the fence, and this at least redeemed the experience a little for Toby.

Just as we were deciding to leave, Toby's psyche received a sudden and unexpected jolt of bravery. Taking his daddy's hand, he willing waded out into water for the fist time in his life. Much to our astonishment and his, he enjoyed it. But just as he was finding his duck feet, the lifeguards blew their whistles for a pool check, and Toby had to leave the water. Maybe it's better he ended on a happy note, it might keep him coming back for more.

Upon returning to Grandma and Grandpa's house, we received another shock. A robin was caught in a net that had been draped over my parents' raspberry bushes. His foot was tangled in the netting and he was dangling from a leg that was clearly broken from his struggle. My girls all felt terrible for the poor little bird which they quickly named "Diamond."

He fluttered about furiously as I approached him, then sank to despair and sat calmly as I wrapped a towel around him and held him still. We snipped his foot free from the netting and set him on the grass. He rested then, seeming to understand that we had helped him and there was no need for fear. His leg was no use to him anymore, but within an hour he had flown away, and I was relieved that whether he lives or not at least my girls can believe that he did.

Elijah spent his week learning to sit independently, popping his first tooth through, and increasing his tolerance for rice cereal feedings. When it came time to pack our bags and say good-byes on Saturday, I met some resistance. "Well, Toby," I sighed, "Are you ready to go home today?"

"No!" he declared without hesitation.

I can't blame him. I don't believe we've ever had a week filled with so much family, fun, and first experiences. I would have stayed longer if I could have, but Matt's job has called us back to real life. And after a week of constant activity and very little sleep, there is something appealing about a routine day of sitting in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and my blog. Alas, not for long though. I still have some big goals for this summer: Elijah needs to learn to sleep in a crib, Toby needs to learn to use the potty consistently, Emma's got some intense speech therapy coming up, and Naomi and Hannah both need to learn to swim, ride a bike, and hit a ball with a bat. Back to work I go.

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