Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not literally, of course.

A few days ago, Gemma went to a birthday party at one of those indoor establishments that house giant inflatable playthings and climbing walls and mazes. One of the giant inflatable playthings is a huge slide and I knew Gemma was a little nervous about going on it. I had reminded her that the last time she had been was a couple years ago, so she would probably feel more confident this time.

She returned home with cheeks still flushed (it's a 20-minute drive, mind you, after a 30-minute pizza/cake session) and pronounced the birthday party the best ever. Hours later, as she walked to her bedroom for the night, she was still talking about the first time she sat at the top of the slide.

Playing along, I asked, "And were you nervous?"

Eyes big and face solemn, she replied, "Yes. But then I held Molly's hand we went down together."

This time, however, she added something new to the story.

"I screamed my head off," she said. With just a slight pause, then she added, half-rolling her eyes, "Well, not literally, of course."

I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes went wide. My jaw dropped just enough to open my lips which were already curving into a proud smile.

Sensing she was on the right track, Gemma turned to me and in a very matter-of-fact tone said, "Because, you know, if I literally screamed my head off, it would have popped off and I'd be dead. I don't think you can literally scream your head off?"

I fell to my knees and wrapped her in a big hug, whispering, "I am so proud of you, my smart girl. You have learned a lesson that too many adults don't understand."

She proceeded to regale me with things that could and couldn't literally happen.

Joel came into the room a little while later and I recounted our exchange. Feeling a renewed sense of peace in parenting, I finished by saying, "This day could not end any better. My work here is done."

Not literally, of course.

Orlando, part 6: Sea World

A couple things: 1) I love Sea World. Yes, I've watched Blackfish, and no, I don't want to talk about how zoos aren't very nice for animals because they need wide open spaces and natural habitats and blah blah blah. The fact is, I'd never actually see these animals in person were it not for such establishments. So yes, I love Sea World. 2) This was the day Joel began to feel not very well, so yes there are fewer pictures.

We hit the new penguin exhibit right away, since my brother-in-law said that the wait gets long pretty quickly. Lucky for us, we waited long enough for them to open the doors. I was a bit confused - are we going on a ride? I thought we were just going to see some penguins? Turns out it's both. You take a little ride, following some animated adventure of a penguin just being hatched. You spin and glide around and then the music swells and the narration tells you he's joining his family and your car spins and this curtain goes up and BAM, there's a whole huge glass window with real live penguins running around on ice. I cannot do it justice, but I'm not going to lie - I got a little choked up. When I say I hate birds, I exclude birds of prey, penguins, and birds taller than me. This just makes sense. Also, I reserve the right to accept birds on a case by case basis. Parakeets will NEVER be accepted.

So then you step off your car or whatever it's called that you're riding in, and you stand behind a short glass barrier and you are literally (and you know I use that word sparingly) a foot away from penguins. There they walk and dive and swim right past you. It was amazing. I loved it. Also, it was freezing in there. Again, literally. Good thing we were accustomed to Orlando's frigid winter and had brought jackets accordingly. My sister-in-law Katherine told us how, in the summer, it can become quite uncomfortable. Having come prepared, we were able to enjoy quite a lot of time in there. It was really amazing.

I am a big believer in feeding the animals. I will pay insane amounts of money for sardines or crackers or whatever they feed the animals, and then insist we all de-cootie our hands with soap and water, but in the meantime we WILL feed these animals.

Like a complete amateur, I disregarded the sign to watch out for seagulls, and at our first feeding stop (the sea lions), I was showing my kids how to hold out the fish and the toss it out too the basking sea lions. The sardine left my hand in what was surely going to be an expert arc when a cunning seagull who had obviously been studying my technique from his nearby lair, launched himself and incepted the food. As if the birding community has completely given up on impressing me. Oh I hate them so much. So I used that as an example of what, obviously, NOT to do. Oh I hate them so much.

 Cute girl, hanging with some sea lions.
 look - you can see those birds taking off. oh i hate them.
 I'm pretty sure this guy got SOME fish.
 Nice pose, Mr. C. Lion
basking in the sun (both of them)

walrus and sea lion show
 entertained (not the guy in the background)

 the walrus is like the most epic slug ever.
watching a manatee is perhaps the most zen feeling

We concluded the day by watching a training session with the Orca whales. While there wasn't an actual show (while they work on the stadium), we got to see them closer than we would have, otherwise. It was really beautiful, and a nice way to end our visit to the park. 

I'm quite proud of this shot, thank you very much
Friday, April 4, 2014

Orlando, part 5: More Harry Potter

I couldn't figure out why we had so few pictures of Harry Potter World (aka Universal's Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and then it occurred to me: I never uploaded the pictures we took with our actual camera, not just our phones. Dir.

Prepare for the onslaught (and rest assured I'm not posting ALL of our photos because that would be ridiculous).

Applauding the Hogwarts choir, or something.

From how many angles can we photograph Hogwarts?

Ride in Seuss-land. Ainsleigh didn't trust the cartoon colors and slow pace -
she was sure there was a hidden upside-down section somewhere.

We got to Jurassic world in time to see a dinosaur hatch!
"'s not real," Donovan said. 

Being entertained by the stunt show.

outside Poseidon's Fury

Angle 2: Whole family outside Hogwarts

Hogwarts Express, with a Gemma who just won't quit the poses

Angle 3 - this is what we paid for!

Ropes course



Angle 4 - seriously, it's really fantastic.

Angle 5 - night time!

Bonus angle: with Katherine and Ryan

Hogsmeade. Obviously I'm out of order. Who cares.
storming Honeydukes (the candy shoppe)
Angle 6: "waiting" in line
(not really waiting - letting people pass us so we could walk slowly and soak up the whole scene)
Joel shot over his shoulder to catch this gem of us on "Flight of the Hippogriff"
man, i love that kid.

Hoodlums in a back alleyway
last call. delish.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Donovan's goats

Sometimes I read back over entries I made when Donovan was two and three and four and laugh over his antics and imagination. Sometimes I wonder if he'll ever be that funny again. And then there are nights like tonight where I think he only gets better.

As I mentioned previously, he does a pretty amusing goat impression. I'll have to actually record it. But anyway, he was talking about his day and mentioned "his goats." Ainsleigh nodded along, as if this were old news. Joel and I looked at each other, confused, and I asked for clarification.

"Oh yeah," Donovan said. "I've got a bunch of goats." He starts ticking them off his fingers, "There's Jimmy and Larry and Jimmy's best friend Frederick and Larry's girlfriend Kari and I've got 10 goats  named Gary..."

I was amused by the imagination he has that decides he's going to have pet goats, but I almost couldn't breathe from laughing at the idea of him naming goats and then getting to a clump of ten and saying, "Ok, you're all going to be named Gary."

Donovan doesn't lack for imagination. He often entertains his sisters by latching onto an idea and then going with it (common subject: ninjas, penguins, gerbils, secret agents). Long after I have tired of the story, his sisters listen rapturously. The kid doesn't lack for self-confidence, and that's a good thing.

Later, as he galloped upstairs to brush his teeth, making goat noises along the way, we heard him calling his goats and then yelling, "Bad goat, Jimmy!" I don't know what Jimmy did, but maybe he's the one who keeps leaving Donovan's underwear on the floor.

Dono turns 9

There is a little boy at church who reminds me of Donovan when he was younger. Sometimes I just stare at this kid, to see how he moves, the curve of his cheek, the mischievous sparkle in his eye. I listen for his deep, husky voice laced with the speech impediment common in toddlers and I find myself both giggling and choking back tears. I don't know this little boy very well, but I love him. And it isn't surprising to me in the least to hear that when Donovan goes over to their house for his piano lesson, this little boy climbs up next to him and gazes adoringly at Dono. They are two peas in a pod, those two, though my pea is getting older.

I tell myself that, just as I look at this little boy and long to be able to visit 2-year-old Donovan for just a day, there will come a time I will want to visit my 9-year-old Donovan, and I should enjoy what I have now. And I do. I love that this boy takes his birthday very seriously. This year Joel and I activated (that makes it sound pretty futuristic) about 50 glow sticks to leave a birthday message on his floor. As I began his birthday breakfast plans (pancakes and bacon, please), Dono stumbled, pajama-ed and bedheaded, into the kitchen to wrap his arms around my waist and murmur, "Thank you for my birthday surprise, Mommy. I love it!"
I love that he still calls me Mommy. I wonder when he will transition to just mom, so I capture each one in my mind, each one a little gift that tells me he is still young and mine.

At school, because of allergies, our options for birthday treats are limited. So Donovan opted to bring mustaches for his class. It was hilarious. The teacher even took a picture for me. Then, the next day for his party, Donovan and four of his friends mustached-up and went to the movies. I've got to say that taking five boys (plus my girls) to the movies is actually a pretty great birthday party. Joel drove the girls and I drove the boys. Immediately, the topic was farting. I didn't say a word, figuring they were boys and this was Donovan's party, so I would just ignore it. About five minutes in, though, Donovan said, "Ok guys, maybe we should tone down the farting talk. It might get too stinky in here for my mom." I loved him so much in that moment, for understanding a simple principle of respect and recognizing how to have fun without getting out-of-control.

The movie was fun and as we drove home, I wondered what kinds of games we should play when we get home. Pictionary? Charades? Oh wait, these are boys. Let's just hand them stomp rockets. And after a while, point to the trampoline. Boys are awesome this way.

Donovan was quite specific about what kind of cake he wanted. "I want a chocolate marshmallow cake, so can you do four layers of cake and three layers of marshmallow and then cover the whole thing in chocolate frosting?" Why yes, yes I can. And the family pronounced the toasted marshmallow frosting the best ever. I have to say it was delicious, if you're into sugary things.

My boy is getting older. I can hardly believe this tall, athletic, intelligent and curious 9 year old was once small and husky. He's still mischievous and sometimes frustrating, but it balances out the sweet and affectionate to make for an all-around awesome kid. The night before his birthday, I kissed him goodnight and whispered in his ear, "Having babies hurts more than anything, but you were totally worth it. I feel lucky to have you every day, even when you make annoying sounds."

He grinned with his eyes closed and snuggled down in his bed, then tipped his head back and opened his mouth, emitting his best goat impression.

Orlando, part 4: Harry Potter World

(ugh - two months later and I'm still talking about Orlando? yikes.)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is really just a section of Universal's Islands of Adventure. What is this, a Tyler Perry movie: Universal's Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World of Harry Potter...? So we'll just call it Harry Potter World, with a side of some other stuff. And besides, let's face it, the Harry Potter section is the reason we went to IoA in the first place. Oh wait, I'm sorry, UIoAWWoHP.

The older two brought their Gryffindor scarves I knitted a couple years ago but, upon my recommendation, left their wands at home so as not to lose/break/havethemstolen since they are way better than anything we could have purchased there, thanks to my extremely talented Uncle Terry, no disrespect Mr. Ollivander.

Not to be a snob (which you know is like when someone says, "not to be rude," or "not to sound racist," and you know that what follows is going to be exactly that), but Universal just felt different than the Disney properties. It's just...different. Not quite as...well...Disney. But we quickly made our way to Harry Potter World and I didn't care any more.

We knew Gemma wouldn't be able to ride on the "Forbidden Journey" within the walls of Hogwarts, so we first stopped at the Flight of the Hippogriff. This was an excellent move because she loved it, and we got to see Hagrid's hut. 
I am not sure what is happening in this picture except that Ainsleigh
gets bonus points for looking normal while her siblings do what they do.

I'm going to call this our Hippogriff Selfie. Some teenage girl sat next to Joel
and I didn't know for whom to feel sorry.

The castle was so much fun just to walk through that we were kind of bummed that there wasn't a line. So we went on it again, just to walk slowly through the whole thing. The details are really great and you feel like this actually could be where the kids went to school. I can't imagine what it would be like to dream up some an amazing world and then see it realized. I can't tell you how many appreciative slow-claps I gave to that brilliant mastermind.

The ride itself, holy cow. It was unlike any ride I've ever been on. I can't really describe it except to say I was thrilled and a bit nauseous at the same time. We then zipped in to the Three Broomsticks for our first taste of Butterbeer and some delicious fish and chips.

It was even better than we had hoped.
And I'm talking about the butterbeer AND the fish.

Butterbeer mustache - so delicious.

There ARE other parts to Islands of Adventure, but this is just about the only other picture we took. I mean, after you leave Harry Potter World, what's the point?
We did see a stunt show that totally blew the kids' minds. We rode the Spider-Man ride and they loved that. Gemma was furious that she wasn't tall enough to go on any of the "upside down rollercoasters." She kept wanting to sneak onto "the Hulk." She promised she'd be back when she was 10 so she could ride. I hope the rest of us get to go.