Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Oh, My Zuzu.

It's been four years of this girl, and I still can't get enough of her.

Birthdays bring up all the complicated and mushy feelings of time slipping away, and there's a part of me that would like to keep her four years old forever. But as the book says, if I kept her little, I'd miss out on all she's going to be, and another part of me can't wait to see where this girl of mine will go.

We had a birthday party for her last Saturday, with just four of her special friends and two very special guests: Queen Elsa and Princess Anna. It was Kind Of A Big Deal, though she got a little starstruck and hugged Anna good-bye but wouldn't hug Elsa after sitting next to her and simply beaming up at her for a brief moment.

She pretended not to remember the plot of Frozen, though she has reenacted it countless times with her sister and her little characters, and she wasn't too sure about dancing at first. And yet, she told me breathlessly that this was "the best party EVER!" and she was completely in awe of her cake (which I can't take credit for making--I totally outsourced it).

Really, though, her life was basically made that morning when I gave her the fake hair Elsa braid on a barrette that I bought at Hobby Lobby with a 40% off coupon. I probably could have just given her the fake hair and skipped the party and she would have been pretty freaking happy.

And now she's four... and next year is kindergarten... and she's so brave and so fearless and yet, in so many ways, still just a baby.

She still lights up our lives with her enthusiasm and her sense of humor cracks us up. She says things that shock me (like when she remarked, on our way to the zoo, that when she was a baby in my tummy, she peeked out my privates (OMG WTF, RIGHT?)) and things that melt my heart (like when she woke up the day after her birthday and the first thing she said in her little sleepy voice was "I love you, Mommy"). She'll call me "Mother" (pronounced more like "mutter") in the haughtiest tone, and then turn around and want to snuggle. She'll push Coco's buttons and make her fuss, but she's also quick to run and comfort her if she stumbles.

She's brought us joy and eased our grief in her own way, and I will forever be grateful for the moment that this rainbow baby entered the world.

Here's to four years of Zuzu and all the magic that she's made of.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hotel California

On Tuesday we said good-bye to Tahoe and made the drive to Lana and Barry's home in Sacramento. The girls were pretty wiped out and slept most of the way in the car, though they were awake (and antsy) by the end of the trip. Coco kept yelling, "Uppa! Uppa!" and "All done!" and was pretty pissed that no one would take her out of her carseat. Zuzu did less yelling and more whining: "Are we at Taylyn's house yet? Where is Taylyn's house?" so between the two of them, the last thirty minutes of the drive basically made me want to stab sharpened pencils in my ears.

At last we arrived at Lana and Barry's house, which is ginormous. It's so big that they don't even use all of the space--the formal living room and dining room are completely empty and Taylyn uses it to practice tumbling. They spend all their time in the great room/kitchen or outside on the back patio overlooking the pool. If I lived there, I'd do the same!

In addition to an office-turned-guest-room with the addition of a murphy bed, and a huge former billiards room that has been transformed into the toy/play room of my children's dreams, they also have a theatre room downstairs with lounge recliners and a huge screen. It's total lux, though Lana says they rarely use the theatre room because they prefer to watch movies outside with the huge movie screen Barry made out of PVC pipe. Because that's the kind of thing you can do in California as you hang out in your beautifully landscaped yard with your pool and your fire pit.

Anyway, we enjoyed our time at their house as much as Tahoe, and the girls probably even more because they had unlimited access to all of Taylyn's toys and their first introduction to the wonder of American Girl dolls and their vast number of accessories.

I took my coffee outside and streamed a yoga video on my phone and did yoga on the lawn in the morning, which is totally what I would do every morning if I lived in California.

We spent our days sipping sangria or sampling craft brews and hanging out poolside and had delicious dinners outdoors on the patio each night. The temperatures got up over 100 each day, but it never felt that hot (because California is magical) and one evening was chilly enough that we warmed our feet at the fire pit.

The girls didn't nap well (or, in Zuzu's case, at all) so they went to bed early (at least the second night we were there--Zuzu has such a hard time settling down when she's excited or in a new place, and since she'd snoozed in the car on the drive over, I couldn't get her to fall asleep before 10:00pm and I was so pissed because I'd wanted to sit out on the patio and watch a movie so we started bedtime at 8:30pm because she was obviously exhausted from swimming all afternoon, but she was determined to sleep down in Taylyn's room, and then THAT was a bust so we went upstairs to the guest room and she still couldn't relax).

It was a nice, relaxing end to a really great vacation. The only thing I wish had been different would have been getting to see a few more friends I'd hoped to meet up with while we were out there. I have two friends, both named Lindsey, that I'd hoped to see, and it just didn't work out. I'd also like to have been able to keep driving south to see my friends Renel, Melanie, and Amelia, but it just didn't work for this trip. I guess we'll just have to go back to California! (What a hardship.)

The girls were pretty good for the flight home. Coco was a little more difficult to manage and she pooped her pants on the plane, so she only gets a B, but Zuzu gets an A for actually napping on the way home! 

The flight home from Sacramento was longer than our flight to San Francisco because you can't get a direct flight from Sac to STL, so we had to land in Phoenix, though we didn't have to change planes. This added a little over an hour to our trip, and five hours is a long time to be on a plane.

Zuzu insisted on wearing the new Elsa nightgown she received as a birthday gift from Lana, and even though it hadn't been washed, she got pretty insistent, so I decided not to fight that battle and just let her wear it. She got so many compliments on it from random people at the airport that I can't imagine she'll ever want to travel in anything else! A bunch of different grandparent-looking-people told me how cute my kids were, and as long as we kept Coco fed and Zuzu supplied with markers, they were easy to travel with.

I actually got antsier than anyone else on the flight home. I was stuck in the middle seat and Coco was stepping on me and demanding food and we hit some turbulence that had my stomach feeling weird and I kind of had a headache and I'd just changed Coco's poop diaper in a bathroom using the toilet lid for a changing table (gag gag gag) and I needed to get the heck OFF that airplane.

When we landed in St. Louis, David headed out to get the car from long term parking while I waited with the girls at baggage claim to collect suitcases and carseats (I should have gotten a photo of David carrying both carseats on his back while also rolling a suitcase). They were in that awful tired + wired stage and just running around like crazy people and I was kind of done parenting. Once we'd gotten our bags and everyone else from our flight had cleared out, we were still waiting for David to return with the car (it felt like it took FOREVER) and the girls just ran around chasing each other in a pretty empty terminal. I did intervene when Coco tried climbing on the rent-a-carts, which infuriated her so much that she SPIT at me (so charming), but mostly I just let them dramatically reenact scenes from Frozen and just chase each other in circles. Some guys outside smoking were actually laughing at them through the window.

Overall, it was a really great family vacation. These ages of almost-four and almost-two are so much fun because of their excitement and enthusiasm about pretty much everything. We definitely had challenging moments, but I always feel so much gratitude that these girls are here and that we are fortunate enough to do things like taking family vacations and braiding pig tails and snuggling for nap time and making cheese faces for photos.

California Dreamin'

The second half of our vacation was spent with David's aunt and uncle, Lana and Barry, and their two kids, Kailer and Taylyn. Lana is just eight years older than David, and since he spent so much time at his grandparents' when he was growing up, they were practically raised like brother and sister. Barry's family is from Sacramento and that's where they live now (kind of crazy backstory: Lana and Barry met in New Orleans at a Mardi Gras parade when Lana was still living in St. Louis and Barry was finishing medical school at Tulane). Anyway, Barry's family has a house in Tahoe, so we drove their from Oakland to meet up with them and stay at the Tahoe house for a few days.

It was a long drive (especially because the girls really only slept for the first half of it, and then we got a lot of chatter/whining from the backseat--Coco basically spent the last half hour of the trip yelling, "Uppa! Uppa! All done!" which was somewhat cute at first but she got increasingly angry about it so we were all feeling pretty exasperated and ready to get the heck out of the rented RAV4 by the time we got to Tahoe City and stopped at the grocery store.

It was great to see everybody, and Zuzu was super excited to hang out with her cousins. 

Coco, as expected, took a little longer to warm up, but by the time she went to bed Saturday night, she made the rounds to everybody with her little lips puckered up for good night kisses.

The next day Lana and I went for a walk/run with Coco in the jogging stroller, and then we all headed out to "Rock Beach" (also known as Carnelian Bay Beach), which is within walking distance of the Tahoe house. 

Zuzu kept calling Lake Tahoe "the ocean!" which made us laugh, but she had a good time swimming and throwing rocks and playing with her cousins. Coco would get in the water and then her eyes would get super big and she'd say "Coooooold!" (Accurate!).

We came back from the beach to have lunch, then Coco went down for a nap and everybody else went to play miniature golf. I assured David that I was MORE than happy to stay back at the house with the sleeping baby, and then I spent an hour or so relaxing in the hammock and reading on the deck and just staring up at the tall trees and the blue, blue sky. It was fantastic.

That night we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant on the waterfront. You'll recall that Zuzu went swimming, then played miniature golf, and spent zero minutes napping. By the time we sat down at dinner, she was not exactly her most charming self. 

She was bound and determined to order a hot dog (gag gag gag me) off the kids menu, and when she received that hot dog, she said, "I'm not eating THIS PART!" and put the whole hot dog off to the side while she at the bun. (I would complain about paying $8 for my kid to eat a hotdog bun, but Barry and Lana treated us to dinner).

At one point, Coco's sandal came partly off and she was crying about it and saying, "Zuzu" when Zuzu (for once) hadn't actually had anything to do with it, and Zuzu started SCREAMING across the table at me that she DID NOT DO ANY-FING TO COCO and I was glad we were sitting outside, but we still got some looks from other diners.

A guy was there playing guitar and Zuzu asked (after eating her hotdog bun) if she could dance. At this point, I figured as long as she wasn't screaming we were doing well, so I said sure. They did some dancing (also known as spinning in circles) and played some ring around the rosy and were a general nuisance to the wait staff and probably a few other diners, although one woman who'd obviously had a few drinks knelt down and talked enthusiastically with them for a few minutes. It was a nice restaurant and my vegetarian ravioli was delish, but I was relieved when we were all finished and ready to get out of there.

The Tahoe house had one bedroom downstairs with two twin beds and two bedrooms upstairs. Lana and Barry slept in the master suite with Kailer on the daybed in there. David and I took the other room upstairs with Coco in a pack & play. 

The plan (Taylyn's idea, I think) was for Taylyn and Zuzu to sleep downstairs by themselves, but of course that never panned out. Zuzu has such a hard time settling down to go to sleep, and when I read to her and tried to get her to doze off in the twin bed, she kept saying, "Are you going to stay here, Mommy?" and finally said, "I want to sleep upstairs with Mommy and Daddy." So the three of us shared a bed for the vacation. I actually don't mind sleeping with her at all--she's sweet and snuggly and as much as I love her, I swear I love her 10% more when she's sleeping--but I do really like it when she goes to bed at least an hour before we do.

Our next full day in Tahoe, we went to Sand Harbor to swim (ha) and play. 

The water was even more frigid than it had been at the rock beach. Splashes felt like needles. I later did some googling and determined that surface temperature of the lake was somewhere around 53 degrees. I found it to be unbearably cold, and even the kids couldn't get in it for more than a few minutes before they were back on the sand with their teeth chattering. 

Coco and I had a lovely time just lounging and snuggling under an umbrella, and I was sure she was going to doze off on my lap, but she held out for a late nap back at the house.

The only downside to the beach was that the air was so perfect it was easy to forget how much sun you were getting, because you don't get so hot. Perhaps the Midwest is actually protecting our skin when the prime hours for UV rays are also those in which it's so hot and humid that being outside feels pretty miserable? At any rate, I was trying to be super vigilant about applying sunscreen, but Zuuz's cheeks still got a little pink. I was not mother-henning over David, though, and between the altitude, the sun exposure, and probably drinking too much beer and not enough water in general while we were in Tahoe, he stood up as we were getting ready to leave the beach and suddenly felt woozy and sick. I ended up having to drive the rental car back to the house with a brief stop at the grocery store to get 7UP, Gatorade, and Smart Water, as he had turned totally gray and looked like he was going to barf.

He ended up taking a nap with Coco in the cool, dark bedroom, and then drinking all the Smart Water and by dinner time he felt back to himself.

I tried to be good about drinking water, and even brought my trusty stainless steel Starbucks cup with the straw out there with me, but I find it much harder to drink lots of water on vacation when you're always on the go and it's not always convenient to pee. And also when you just feel like it's a good idea to be day drinking a beer or sangria because it's vacation. I'm making a conscious effort to drink more of it now that I'm home though, because I know I feel the difference. (Super boring water talk over now.)

Dinner at Tahoe was an outdoor affair back at the house, and I told David that the cost of living in California might be crazy, but you are really paying for the weather. It was just so freaking beautiful, even when it was hot. The sun felt hotter in Tahoe, but the breeze felt cooler, and there's something so awesome about wearing shorts and swim suits during the day and snuggling up outside in sweatshirts and blankets to watch an outdoor movie on the deck in the evening. 

Plus you have mountains and beaches and desert all within an easy drive of each other--it's really pretty great. I haven't spent much time out east, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the West Coast Best Coast camp.

It was also so sweet to see Zuzu and Coco with their big cousins. Kailer and Taylyn were patient and kind with the girls and laughed a lot at their antics (even their bratty behavior). At eight years old, Taylyn was the perfect age to entertain the girls and enjoy playing with them, and Kailer (who is almost twelve) kept an eye on all the little girls. It truly made for a more relaxing vacation than I had expected! It also made me wish we lived closer, or that it was easier (and cheaper) to fly from St. Louis to Sacramento. I have such fond memories of playing with my cousins when I was little, and I wish the girls had some who lived closer. Of course, it also makes me appreciate the good friends we have and the way that friends can really feel like family. (Particularly when the parents have decided that they are betrothed.)

Our last night in Tahoe we got so chilly outside that we came inside to play silly board games and we let all the kids stay up way too late because we were enjoying ourselves so much that no one wanted to stop playing Family Feud to put the kiddos to bed.

Also, I totally let the kids get on California time and I'm finding that switching back to being two hours earlier is waaaaay harder than staying up late (even for me and David!).

In short, I would absolutely take a vacation house in Tahoe, we're all sleeping in until at least 8:30am Central Standard Time, and I would also like to have an eight-to twelve-year-old Mother's Helper move in with me to entertain my children so that I can read more novels.

Coco and I were both sad to say good bye to beautiful Tahoe.