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.
"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!"
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.
"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.
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.
"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.