New England Days

We’ve been here, there and everywhere since the post many weeks ago.

Before we hit the road for our summer travels, Katie and her two sidekicks came to visit. Our last several visits with them were riddled with sickness, so we started prayers and elderberry early to boost our immune systems. Annabelle was skeptical about how successful their visit would be.
“Remember when Kezi visited and she pushed me over when I was reading a book?”
“You were 11 months old and she was giving you a hug because she loved you.”
“But remember when she visited and then she cried and tried to run away to Colorado?”
“You were both 6 and now you’re 9. You’ve both grown as people.”
”But remember when—.”
There were a few bumps in the road, but the first full day they played together for a solid eight hours without issue so overall it was a win. As I said to Katie, it’s hard work forcing people to be best friends. There’s no forcing with us. We’re on year 31 and still going strong.

Next it was time for our annual summer trip to Massachusetts. There was a kerfuffle and delay upon delay at the airport so we screeched into Gate B23 as the first passengers were boarding. I HATE arriving to the gate that late. I want time to get coffee and snacks, wander around Hudson News and listen in on the phone conversations of fellow passengers. I started a sinus infection the morning before the flight so the change in air pressure was a real delight, but the Lord gave us the gift of the only empty seat on the plane being in our row so I could spread out and moan without disturbing anyone. It’s the little things.

The next morning I was reunited with my favorite baby boy, Oliver. He was not as thrilled to see me and barely looked in my direction. My questions about what a cow says interfered with his train playing and throwing wooden soldiers. It wasn’t until I gave him chips (my favorite form of bribery) and played with him in a puddle that he really came around. I also sang him an original composition called “Oh, If I was a Koliver” about a little boy named Oliver who wears a koala costume. Tune into the Top 10 hits to hear it for yourself.

This year was the seventh annual Aunt Camp. The campers are 9, 7, and 2.
We went to the zoo which had a deer petting area. I could have stayed there for hours.
I took Koliver on the train and carousel as part of my mission to win him over. We talked about “up and down and ’round and ’round” which are words that speak to his heart.

Grandma’s health is really going downhill, so I spent a few overnights with her to help with some basic needs and calm her anxiety.

She can’t drive anymore which means she is constantly asking for others to take her from drives around town. When I called to tell her we were coming, she asked specifically that Christopher take her for a drive. She didn’t know that he’s a terrible driver. Or maybe she does and that’s how she wants to go. Either way, we all went for a drive together and stopped at an Italian bakery where Grandpa used to buy us pastries many years ago. Grandma’s go-to game is Rummy. All her children and grandchildren know how to play. I can’t begin to count the number of games I’ve played with her. She was feeling so bad it didn’t seem like we’d play this visit. I don’t know how many more times we’ll see her so I came to terms with the fact that AB would never play it with her. Miracle of miracles, she perked up after a nap and they got to play a few rounds. It was so special.By the last night of our visit, Koilver had been completely won over. He was so deliriously tired he couldn’t remember our names but I’ll forgive him. Elizabeth and I had been having a funnest aunt competition and he was the lucky recipient of our affections. It takes a lot of energy to be the center of everyones world. He waved his arms in our general direction and sadly said, “Those names go home?” I wanted to stuck him in my suitcase and take him home.

sea the world

Last Friday, Annabelle and I took a trip to SeaWorld with church. Twenty-three children from the 3rd-5th grade Sunday school classes, four parent chaperones and one saintly children’s director boarded a charter bus and headed south.

The director gave a little speech before we left about behavior expectations, and she mentioned how while there was a bathroom on the bus, it didn’t need to be used all the time. I love her and she’s great with kids, but that statement was throwing pearls before swine. Every single child visited the bathroom at least once, if not three times. None of them could resist the urge to use a small bathroom on wheels while going 72mph. I know that each child went to the bathroom several times because they all asked me for permission to go. I was sitting closest to the children by a mere 8 inches. The next chaperone was less than one literal footstep away, but I was the first point of contact and was therefore the one who got asked every single question. Every time they needed something from the overhead compartment, asked to go to the bathroom, had a question about snacks, needed help with their charger, asked about the bathroom, wanted to know how much longer before we got there, was there anyone in the bathroom, etc etc etc, they asked me. I didn’t know I would be doubling as a flight attendant when I signed up to go. My friend and fellow chaperone was hunkered down in the front seat with her book and thanks to my hard work, she got through 175 pages without one disruption. 

I’ll tell you what else I didn’t know when I signed up- the sleep hours or lack thereof. I wasn’t expecting a spa environment, but I also wasn’t expecting to be told by the SeaWorld workers that they’d be waking us up at 6am to start the day. That was conveniently left out of all Caren’s planning emails. 

We got there right before SeaWorld closed for the day. Two workers were assigned to our girls group for the night and they gave us a private tour of the park. The boys group slept by the beluga whales and we slept by the dolphins. The whole time I thought about how when I was younger I wanted to be a dolphin trainer thanks to Lisa Frank. My younger self would not have believed my good luck in spending a night with the dolphins. They never stopped swimming and with the exhibit dark but the tank lit up, it was extremely relaxing. I loved it.

We weren’t allowed to go up to the bathroom alone while the park was closed, so the employees had to accompany 18 girls and all our accouterments up the walkway to the bathroom to change. We left a little trail of socks and underwear in our wake. Some of the girls were organized. My child dropped her shirt in the toilet and left her pajamas on the counter of the public bathroom. That’s why she didn’t go on this trip without me.On Saturday, we split up according to who wanted to do what and our group was the low key group. Shocker shocker, AB was in the low-key group. We went on a few rides, but mostly we enjoyed the animals. My fellow chaperone, Sarah Beth, and I had those girls in line. Everyone had a buddy and we were constantly counting heads. One adult was in the back of the group and one in the front. No one would get lost one our watch!We had eight girls in the morning and eight girls several hours later when we joined up with one of the other groups.

No one did get lost on our watch, but someone got lost mere minutes after we joined up with the boys and that someone was my Annabelle. My little ball of anxiety and worry, lost in a crowd. I’m not going to assign blame but if I was, I’d point your attention to the third chaperone who took over as our leader.  He booked it into the crowd walking so fast there was no way to keep the children together. The system Sarah Beth and I had perfected with our girls went out the window and into the sea turtle tank. Somehow in the shuffle, Sesame ended up ahead of the group. I went back to look, the dad went ahead and Sarah Beth stayed with a gaggle of children all giving advice on what to do. Thank the Lord, Annabelle was not alone. She was with her buddy and together they found a janitor and were borrowing his phone to call me when they saw the rest of our group. I have never been so thankful I drilled my phone number into her head for such a time as this. I didn’t tell Christopher about the small mishap until we got home. “BTW, I did lose your one and only offspring, but here she is safe and sound!”(God was in a crazy mood when He designed the stingray face.)

I went to SeaWorld when I was around 15 and have told Annabelle stories about the orca show and beluga whales for years. I love getting to bring her to the same experiences I had.

We returned home with all 23 children, four parents, one saintly children’s director, several new stuffed animals from the gift shop and the free souvenir of having lost a child. 

recent happenings

The week of Thanksgiving, we packed the car with an unnecessary amount of bags and suitcases and headed south for the week. On the day we arrived in Florida, our old home in NY got 6 feet of snow. Instead of sledding and throwing snowballs, AB was frolicking in the sea. The water was very rough and at one point I had to grab onto her head so she didn’t float away, but she had the time of her life.

We spend the afternoon with Grandma Connie. She is hysterical and a jewelry inspiration, two things I look for in a friend. She’s never wearing less than eight pieces of jewelry at a time. She jangles as she walks. She’s really kept up with the technological times. She texts, has a facebook account, an Alexa in the bedroom and a Bixby in the living room. She did say her son “took a moving picture” when telling us about a video he took so some old habits die hard.

After Grandma’s, we drove to Universal Studios and Harry Potter World. Annabelle was equally excited to see her cousins as she was to see Harry’s world. She adores them.

Several years ago I had star small roles in a Christmas Carol musical. Aaron was Scrooge and Elizabeth was two other big roles. It was actually a very big production that took months of preparation. It was during that show that I started my illustrious career as a stage manager. Last weekend, Sesame was in The Christmas Carol as a townsperson and an errand girl. It was a very full-circle moment.I put makeup on her for the show and she looked too grown up. At the same time, I was very proud of how good her eyelashes looked with mascara.

I used my fancy Seint makeup on her and put the palette in her bag in case one of the backstage moms needed to touch it up. When I was going through her bag later, the makeup had little fingerholes poked in it. No more fancee makeup for her! Drugstore makeup is where it’s at for her stage career.

Aunt Camp Twenty-Two

We barely squeezed in Aunt Camp at the end of our Massachusetts visit but we got it done. We’re like the USPS. Neither snow nor rain nor a shmandemic or a grandmother in the ICU will keep us from our tradition.

Last year Oliver was but a newborn in a Snoo. This year he was touching dead rabbits out in the yard and he ate a dead worm. Some people these days don’t like to hear this, but I file that under BOYS WILL BE BOYS. We never dealt with such shenanigans when we only had girls at Aunt Camp. Annabelle made it her goal to give him “safety and civilization lessons.”

He doesn’t sit still for long but he does love reading. I read him both Where’s Baby? and Harvard Business Review.

It took the girls a little while to get back into their groove of how to play together, but once they did they had fun. We went to the children’s science museum, I brought crafts and we went out for a girls-only lunch. We went to the farm to visit the goats. Oliver was more interested in checking out who was in the ladies’ bathroom which was not in line with the civilization portion of AB’s classes.

I wanted to make the kids custom shirts but I didn’t order them in time so I had this made into a pin made instead. You need a magnifying glass to see that it has one of their names in each scoop of ice cream.

I don’t know how long they’ll wear matching dresses but we’re going to embrace it for as long as we can.

visitors here and visitors there

Evidently, this has turned into a once-a-season blog. It’s been so long since I logged in that I’m shocked I got the password correct on the first try.

I can barely remember what has happened in the last few months. School starts in under two weeks which is absurd. It feels like we did nothing but I know we did things. I’ve told Christopher several times that this was the fastest summer and I don’t think we’ve ever had a shorter summer vacation. He tells me that summer is the same length every year. Thank you, Mr. Calendar. Don’t bring up realistic timelines when I’m discussing my sad feelings about lazy summer days being almost over.

The Texas relatives come up for a visit and the cousins went to Winshape camp together. Annabelle didn’t want to hold my hand but she was all about holding Emory’s hand.

Sesame was thrilled that all the cousins came. She talked about it for months and has asked several times when they can come back.

Immediately after that excitement, we went north for our summer visit. No trip home is complete without a stop At the Sign of the Lemon. It’s the best frozen lemonade in all the land.

We went to the beach twice. I hate the taste of salt water with a passion and am perfectly content to not get water on any part of my body above my waist, but I could spend all day at the beach. We found the best purple shells and bits of sea glass. Annabelle found a piece of sea glass the size of my palm that I am fairly certain hasn’t crossed the line from a chunk of broken glass to sea glass, but she’s so proud of it that we brought it home anyway.

Erika’s brother Wesley has reached moderate tiktok “fame” on his account. He recently was at a convention where he was frequently recognized. With a great amount of flair, dramatics, and a dash of exaggeration, he told Erika, “People would come up to me and try telling me they like my work but they’d get flustered being in my presence and stumble over their words. Someone in my shoes needs to reassure them that I too am human. I am happy to share an elevator with them and answer their questions. I’ll spend time with anyone.” That’s how it can feel when I go home. There are so many people to see and I have to spend as much time with as many as I can.

I was reunited with baby Oliver. We hadn’t seen him since Aaron’s wedding in December so I had to make him like me again in the best way I know how: I bribed him with food. It worked great until Grammy asked me to put sunscreen on his face and he was NOT PLEASED. I handed over a lot of crackers to make up for that offense.

All the sibs and grandchildren got together. Daniel missed the bearded brother memo. Last month Grandma fell and broke a few bones. She’s bounced back and forth between rehab and the hospital for the last few weeks. We got to see her once in rehab and I planned several more visits, but they all got canceled when she was rushed back to the ICU. She was there for several days and every time I tried to visit something came up and I couldn’t. I thought she was going to die before I got to see her. After several days Mom and I were able to visit for a few hours. She was far from her normal chipper self. I brushed her hair (she hasn’t been able to see Christine the hairdresser in several weeks and her hair needed some TLC) and lotioned her up. I found out later she didn’t remember we were there, but it’s a sweet memory for me.
We were able to see her back at rehab the day before we left and she looked so much better. She had no recollection of her time in the hospital, but she could remember all the details of the trip she thought she had taken to Africa in that time. She’s always wanted to visit Africa but never made it there. While she was really in a hospital in New England, she was visiting an African village in her head. “They were such nice people. So nice! I wasn’t sure if they’d like me since I have such an Italian last name, but we got along so well! Everyone in Africa is so nice!”

The Single Ladies Club had a get-together to celebrate Joanna’s birthday.

I didn’t know this guy would be my seatmate when I volunteered to sit in the back of Autumn’s car on the way to the restaurant. He didn’t find any of our jokes humerus. What a bonehead.

spring break ’22

This is the first school year that Annabelle has started with the “my friends are_________ so can we” talk. She’s seldom flustered if they do or have something she doesn’t, but it was very obvious that she wanted to do something for spring break when she found out the others were all going on vacation. I had no plans for spring break beyond sleeping in. That was the extent of my planning. When I realized AB thought I had Big Plans I tried to up my game. I talked to my grandmother in Florida about visiting her but that didn’t work out. I had to come up with something else. I wrote activities on popsicle sticks and put them in a jar for her to pick out each morning. Every morning we’d do yard work or a spring cleaning inside then we’d do the special activity in the afternoon. We went to the arcade and did a scavenger hunt in our backyard. We had a morning movie marathon. We had a playdate. One day we went to a drive-through safari. We did get to sleep in too. Every morning Sesame would come into my bed for snuggles. “MAMA! I’m here for snugs!” It’s was my favorite part of the week.

On Saturday we drove to Florida and visited the outdoor Tallahassee Museum. We couldn’t have asked for a prettier day.

Annabelle went on the kids zipline. She was so serious the whole time and didn’t appreciate it when I let out the smallest amount of cheerleader. She’s starting to get embarrassed when I’m too enthusiastic which makes me want to pull out the confetti cannons and be all the more enthusiastic.

They had several animals in enclosures very similar to the animals’ natural habitats. They were so much nicer than cement and iron fence exhibits. There was a red fox hanging out in a tree and a black bear swimming in the lake.

There was a caterpillar on a leaf that captured AB’s attention. We drove several hours and spent several dollars for her to latch onto something we could have seen for free at home.

If only I had known that all she needed for spring break entertainment was a caterpillar! I’m writing that on a popsicle stick next year.