Thursday, July 9, 2009

Almost A Vacation

Last year, the Memorial Day weekend "vacation" to Santa Barbara was, well, pretty much a disaster, as documented here.

A friend and father of three's comment was, "Now you know the difference between a vacation and a trip."

Ever since then, I've set the bar for my expectations of vacations with the kids pretty low. So this past 3-day July 4th weekend trip, to Newport Beach, was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn't exactly categorize it as a vacation ... I think that's years away for this family ... but there were moments when it actually felt like one.

I'm not sure what, exactly, was so different this time. It probably helped that for the first two days, we were accompanied by another family, who were easygoing about the agenda, and have a very patient (with my kids, anyway) almost-second-grader. So there was a playmate along for the pool and the meals.

It undoubtedly helped that the kids were a year older. Though they're still apt to spin from perfectly pleasant and manageable into demon children throwing fits over the smallest thing -- he insists on three books at bedtime, not two, and she can't find a pajama top that doesn't bother her -- their fits are at least fewer and farther between.

This time, for whatever reason, they were able to appreciate being on a trip more.

They adored running down the carpeted, wide hallways of the hotel (call me a bad parent, but Iwas content to let them run as long as they didn't do so at the pool or in the lobby). They marveled at the fold-out couch on which they slept. And they were content to hang out in the pool a good long while -- I'm talking hours -- even though they can't swim yet. Thing 2 actually thinks what she does in the pool is swimming, and I'm not going to spoil the illusion just yet, but it seems to involve putting her face in the water and blowing bubbles. Thing 1 is happy just to ride in his inflatable boat and be pushed around in it, or to be thrown up in the air and then caught by daddy as he splashes down.

They were fairly patient awaiting lunch at Wilma's Patio on Marine Avenue; the crayons and pictures kept them going, between trips to the bathroom past the dolphin sculptures. And the after-lunch visit to a place called Dad's for a treat of a Balboa Bar -- vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and coated with your choice of topping -- the kids went for chocolate sprinkles AND rainbow sprinkles -- was about as good as a childhood treat gets. They didn't even mind when mom and dad shared the bars with them (the bars were nearly bigger than the kids' heads).

They were full of wide-eyed wonderment as they rode the tiny ferry from Balboa Island to the Balboa Peninsula. It holds three cars and maybe thirty people, and takes all of five minutes, if that, but it's a lovely ride across the bay -- more of a channel, really -- with enough speed to get the wind in their hair, and plenty of other boats to look at. On arrival, there was a carousel, which is always just the ticket for Thing 2 (she just adores them). They played arcade games at the Fun Zone and were overjoyed to keep winning tickets that, with more donated by some very considerate strangers, allowed them to obtain cheap plastic toys. (There was the requisite fit when a plastic bracelet broke about thirty seconds after it went on, but happily, the lady at the prize counter was nice enough to replace it). And there was some wildlife to be seen nearby, a few pelicans and a seal who was soon dubbed "Sealie."

They were fed pizza dinner one night, chicken and tacos the second, and though there were the usual cranky restaurant moments waiting for the meal, and far too many hikes to the bathroom,they did okay.
But perhaps the highlight of the trip for Late Blooming Mom came that second night. Even though my stomach was a bit upset, so I was propped up in a chair enduring indigestion, I got to watch Late Blooming Dad snuggle with the kids on the sofa bed while they took in "A Capital Fourth." We kept telling them fireworks were coming, but I think they were the most dazzled earlier in the show when, luckily for us, Big Bird and the crew of Muppets from Sesame Street appeared to sing their greatest hits and celebrate the show's 40th anniversary. The expressions of delight on the kids' faces as their favorite characters from the show sang songs they knew from the CDs and videos we've shown them, here in a new context, were beautiful to behold.

Sunday found us at the Discovery Museum in Santa Ana, and we suddenly hit trip overload. The kids were cranky and difficult despite the many buttons to push and wheels to turn, and were only slightly better after a late lunch. Yet a post-museum trip to Pinkberry down the street for frozen yogurt restored everyone's good mood, and the kids were even up for visiting kids' furniture stores on the way home, where they frolicked on bunk beds complete with slides and tents. (No, we won't be getting one of those).
Though I was still whupped by the end, I didn't come back with knots in my stomach, resentful at the kids for having wasted our money or for having dashed my expectations of a nice family weekend away. And I had to admit there were more than a few moments, this time, when both Late Blooming Dad and I enjoyed our children. Yay.

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