Monthly Archives: July 2013

Water Park WonderPictureWhat is it about water parks?  They are the Mecca of kid-friendly fun and family vacations.  They are crowded and noisy and stressful to adults.  They are wondrous and wet and wild to children and teens.  They can entertain, frustrate or terrify in equal parts depending on who you go with and how tired you are when you get there.  We happen to live in the home town of the original Schlitterbahnn, which according to the Travel Channel is one of the top ten best water parks in the world.  How about that?  Such a lofty title for a locally-owned and operated business in our little town.   So, naturally, whenever friends or family from out of town come to visit, a trip to this legendary land of aquatic marvels is on the agenda.  Not that we mind going – season passes are always on our Christmas list.  The difference in these trips is this – when we go as locals who have a pass and can return whenever we feel like it, the schedule is much more lax.  We show up at one of the older parts of the park as soon as it opens with our ice chests and packed lunches.  We play in the areas that are least crowded and appeal to us that day.  Then, we leave shortly after lunch, thus avoiding the crowds and craziness.  When people who can’t return multiple times pay full price for a ticket, that plan is not a working one.

My nieces are here visiting, and so today was the day for their aquatic extravaganza.  Given that I don’t work on Mondays and there is no way my mother-in-law (who we call Oma) can chase all the kids alone (they are here without their parents this trip) and my husband had to work (somehow, taking a day off was an absolute impossibility today – chicken), I was nominated for the adventure at hand.  Can you feel the enthusiasm radiating from me?

All three of my kids have managed to have a massive allergy attack in the past two days, especially the little one, so they woke up this morning with runny noses and bleary eyes.  I was up half the night with the Bug since she crawled into bed with us around 3:30am and spent the remainder of sleep time snoring, kicking or wrapping her arm as tightly as she could around my neck.  Cute?  Somewhat. Uncomfortable?  Absolutely.

We spent yesterday at a trampoline park and the day before at a huge reunion party at the river, so everyone was exhausted before we even got into our swimsuits.  I stumbled into the kitchen to wrap leftover pizza and sandwiches, fruit, chips, goldfish crackers and buck sticks in bags for the cooler along with water and my protein shake for lunch.  I chased kids and threatened them into their bathing suits and flip flops as I guzzled my current protein shake – today was Day 1 of my 21-Day weight loss meal plan, because I have a plan and a schedule to stick to regardless of how poor and impractical the timing of it is, thank you very much.  These hips won’t shrink themselves, you know.

I managed to cram kids, towels, an ice chest and wagon into the suburban and away we went to pick up Oma and any cousins who weren’t already with us.  We pulled into the parking lot, unloaded, and headed into line a full 30 minutes before the park even opened.  Yep, we were on our way.  I stood in line doing the 100-squat mommy workout of picking the toddler up, putting the toddler down, picking the toddler up, putting the toddler down (repeat, repeat, repeat, because it never gets old), the lunging in multiple directions dance of grabbing various children as they attempt to kill each other, jump around and crash into other people surrounding them, and the head tilt with sympathetic voice apologies to all those around who are getting hit with bags, wagon handles and flying shoes as we wait.

I stood melting and muttering in line – just me, my three kids, two nieces, one nephew, my mother-in-law and approximately five thousand tourists.  I seriously think this must be a glimpse of one of the lower levels of hell.  And let’s just ponder a few things, shall we?  We have plenty of time, so here goes.  Why don’t people have their money out when they get to the window?  Why does no one ever seem to know just how many members of their party there are?  Why can teenage girls who get to enter without a parent not do math, therefore taking five times as long as the average human to pay for everything?  And why, for the love of Pete, does Schlitterbahnn not have a season pass holder line so they can expedite our butts on through there? Take a note from Disney, people!  After 27 minutes of waiting, I was nearing lunatic status.  We were early!  What the heck? Plus, I started to panic a little, since I got really light-headed and couldn’t feel my hands.  Apparently, a protein shake and green coffee bean supplement do not a substantial breakfast make.  Shocking, I know.

We made it in, counted heads, sun screened bodies and faces (to the tune of protests), pulled hair into ponytails (to even louder protests) and formed groups and safety buddies.  I helped Oma and Bug find the kiddie area, then schlepped it back and forth up and down hills to pull and carry all of our belongings to the optimal table.  I felt like a pack mule, and I’m sure looked about as happy as one.  One of my trips, I ran into the older set of kids and actually told them that at some point I better get to ride something because I pay for everything and so far was not having any fun.  Yep.  Take a note, friends.  That is Mother of the Year fodder right there.  Put it on the nomination reel.

I ran check-in for each group of kids.  I set up our table.  I made sure everyone was hydrating.  I nodded enthusiastically enough to do any bobble head proud to every call of, “Mommy, watch me!” and, “Mommy, watch me, again!”  My middle son, Drew, and younger niece, Aly, were circling around the baby pool and small slides, behaving quite nicely, I must say.  I called them over and asked, “You guys wanna go do a big ride?”  The way their faces lit up galvanized me into action with more energy than I had actually in my body.  So off we went, to stand in line for the Dragon’s Revenge.  It’s not actually very fun to stand in line for a ride with two seven-year-olds.  They have a lot of trouble keeping their hands to themselves and have no concept of time.  Still, we got very silly and chatty, and the wait wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  This is the point at which my day began to change.  There is comradery among people waiting for a fun ride, and I found myself smiling and chatting with my line-mates to pass the time.  The kids got their double tube, I got mine, and we began the trek up the hill to the ride entrance. Watching them work out the multiple variations of ways to carry the tube between them was quite amusing.

We wound our way through the castle archway and water pouring and spraying the path.  We exclaimed over the props and warning signs of impending dragon danger and doom.  We giggled and danced in excitement as we got closer to the front of the line.  We watched the riders ahead of us shoot up the slide and out of sight.  I chuckled to myself a few times as the petite teen lifeguard struggled her way through pushing and shoving tubes with heavier riders, some of whom had to stand up and help her.  Aly and Drew agreed that I should go first, so I could watch them at the end of the ride.  My mood was rapidly uplifting and changing for the better.

Finally, we were at the front of the line.  I sat in my double tube (alone, since the cousins were riding together) and the sweet young life guard gave me a shove.  Oh, my relief that she was able to move me along without too much effort or multiple tries!  I waved at the kids as I shot out of the entrance and up the first incline (how do they manage that so well?  It feels like magic. Yes, I know it’s water pressure.  Let me have this moment.).  I found myself laughing out loud as I hurtled through space and slide.  I caught my breath as I entered the first dark tunnel, letting it out in a startled huff as I exploded into the sunlight.  This pattern repeated several times along the ride, some tunnels with the addition of flashing lights, fake “fire” and fog or mists.  Each time I rounded a bend or flew through a water spray I laughed harder.  I felt myself let go – of my weariness and irritation, of my stress over this week’s schedule (it’s going to be a doozy), of my resentment of the myriad of things on my list that at some point bring resentment forth in me, of my expectations and my to-do list and my self-criticisms.  I soared in my tube and I found my wonder again.  I remembered why, as a child and even young adult, I loved coming to the water park.  I remembered why it’s a blessing to have these days and times with my children and the children in my family to create memories and celebrate fun.  I remembered….and I laughed….and I felt a level of freedom and gratitude I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I floated down the final stretch of the ride, coming to a stop by yet another cute life guard (this time a guy) who helped me out of my tube and told me to have a nice day.  As I thanked him, I thought, “I most certainly will”.  Then I turned to watch my son and my niece shoot down their final descent.  I know their shining faces mirrored my own.  And that gave me such joy.

The rest of my day was very different from the first part.  My heart sang a new song, and I saw the attractions and participants in a new light.  Instead of screams of the unruly, I heard squeals of the delighted.  Instead of pushing crowds, I saw eager fun-seekers.  Instead of rude tourists, I focused on the polite manners that I did witness.   Instead of a protein shake, I had pizza and buck sticks and cherries for lunch.  I swam and wrestled and slid and jumped. I smiled and sunned and people-watched and played.  I even joined in the frenzy and ended the day with my own cup of Dipping Dots (chocolate, is any other kind worth the calories?).

I’ll do Day 1 over tomorrow.
I’ll be a grown-up tomorrow.
And I’ll think about today with a smile.

Solidarity, sisters.  Our time of wonder is far from over.

John Deere PrincessLet me begin by saying that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a country girl.  Yes, I am from Texas, born and raised in the Lone Star State, with no plans to ever live elsewhere.  I am a first generation American, child of an immigrant on my mother’s side (insert shout out to my Armenian peeps here.  No, we are not related to the Kardashians.  Or Cher – and now many of you now posses knowledge of Cher’s lineage that you may not have had before.  You’re welcome).  My dad is from California.  How they ended up together and in Texas, of all places, is an incredible story, quite amazing, actually.  However, it has nothing to do with today’s anecdote, so we’ll skip that part for now.

The point of that detour over to my heritage is to clarify a few things:

1) I grew up in a pretty cultured setting as far as my home life, despite our geographic location of a smallish town in West/Central Texas.

2) My roots are very Old World – my grandmother lived with us for the entirety of my childhood (bless my daddy’s heart) up until we lost her last month.  Multi-generational is a way of life, not just a concept.

3) I learned from-scratch cooking of the full gamut of Armenian and Middle Eastern food from a very young age.  I never even tasted Ranch dressing until Junior High.

4) Both my mother and grandmother speak five languages, which makes me a massive underachiever, even though I speak two.  It also, unfortunately, did not stop me from acquiring a Texas accent.  Unfair, I know.

5) I have incredibly eclectic taste in music, literature and art.

6) I don’t do yard work.

Got you there, didn’t I?  Let me explain.  Part of being raised by someone like my mother, who is from a very traditional, very old family and culture, means that gender roles tend to be more defined than in the good ol’ U.S. of A.  Don’t get me wrong – the two women who raised me and influenced my life in phenomenal ways are shining examples of brilliance, talent, innovation, hard work, courage and fierce love.  They encouraged me to grow and push boundaries and become my absolute best at every turn, whether I felt like it or not (sometimes with kindness and gentle words, other times in more forceful ways).  So don’t think I received coddling or any thoughts of being “just a girl”.

No one ever told me I couldn’t push a mower or run a weed eater.  It just wasn’t expected.  My brother and dad had that chore.  Fine with me – it’s really hot in Texas.  No argument here.  (FYI: I also don’t change flat tires or kill scorpions, but those are other issues).

So, when my sweet husband (who is the child of a single mom who did do yard work) asked me to pitch in and help speed the mowing process along a few weeks ago, I cheerfully (ok, not cheerfully, but with less attitude than you might think) agreed.  His reasoning was that we are a team, and after all, he helps put away dishes and laundry, so fair’s fair.  Not wanting to squash the whole help-me-out-with-the-inside-stuff motivated me to plaster a pleasant look on my face and be agreeable.

Plus, we have a riding lawn mower, so how hard can this be?  He was the one with the weed whacker.  That did not look fun at all.

After listening intently to all the instructions on running the lovely green and yellow machine on which I perched, and then listening to them again because I got distracted by a wasp halfway through the first explanation and couldn’t focus until I watched it fly across the yard and out of sight, I was ready to go.  Don’t judge.  I have a phobia.

I made it around once before the Bug came tearing across the lawn waving and begging to ride in my lap and could I drive her around “like Daddy does”.  Do you have any idea how challenging it is to drive a riding mower with a squirming three-year-old in your lap?  Especially when you have all of five minutes of experience driving said mower?  Add to that the fact that she doesn’t actually sit.  She slid all over the place. She leaned to one side or the other.  She climbed – on the steering wheel, on my lap, up to my shoulders until she was leaning halfway down my back.  Her contortions were unreal – and all because she had to wave at every car that went by.  It was like a compulsion.  She was going to welcome every person coming into or out of our neighborhood if it killed us both.  As frustrating as it was, all I could do was laugh.  That girl was born to wave at crowds from a float in a sparkly gown with a tiara on her head.  She’s already practicing.  And you know the best part?  They all waved back.  Every single driver or passenger of every vehicle that passed by had a hand up and amused expression on his or her face, possibly at my pitiful driving skills, but more likely at the adorable Fair-Queen-in-training..  And every time someone waved back, her smile was like the sun.

Eventually, the novelty of riding in circles wore off, traffic died down, and my little partner got bored.  She wiggled around, stared straight into my face with her big brown eyes and informed me she was ready to get off.  The ride was no longer fun, she was tired and thirsty and dirty and it was time to be done.  Period.  As I lowered her to the sidewalk, I had the immature thought that I, too, was bored and dirty and thirsty, but someone had to finish the job.  Since she’s three, that must be me.  Darn.

I continued my circular journey, contemplating its analogy to life.  Remember when we could just stop the ride once it was no longer fun?  When we had more choices as to when we called it quits and headed in for rest and refreshment?  When driving around in circles, going around and around to finish the job wasn’t a way of life?  How many times do I look up and think, “I want off.  I want to be done with this”, but I keep going because I don’t have a choice?  Or at least, it doesn’t feel like I do.  It feels like I’m stuck, trudging through an endless list of have-to’s and honey-do’s (mommy-do’s, work tasks, volunteer jobs, house necessities, etc.).  The mire gets bigger and deeper, until I can’t see a way out at all.  So I stop trying to find one, tread water, and allow myself to believe this is as good as it gets.

Even though it’s not.  Because the One who created me, who planned my very existence, as well as that of the world He created for me, didn’t do all of that just so that His beloved could spin in circles or run in place and live a life of frustrated exhaustion.  His plan for me, and for all of His children, is to live a life of purpose and forward motion and joy.  To find wonder in the tasks set before us, and to smile and wave at each other as we pass by, letting those around us see the Son shining in our faces and in our hearts.

As I rounded the last turn of my mowing journey, contemplating these thoughts and changing my point of view, I glanced toward the sidewalk in front of our house.  There she stood, my miniature Parade Princess, waving her little arm as hard as she could with her hand held high and her smile beaming across the yard.

“Good job, Mommy!” she exclaimed, jumping up and down, “You’re doing so great!”.  She continued cheering, interchanging thumbs up and blown kisses as I drove my final lap.

Never mind that it took me three times as long to complete the job as it does her daddy.  Never mind that I looked like a chimney sweep from all of the dust and dirt that covered every inch of me.  Never mind that there were patches of grass left between my routes because I can’t perform tight enough turns.  Her pride and enthusiasm knew no bounds.

As I carried her into the house so we could both clean up, my heart was lighter and more full than it had been a few hours earlier.  While I can’t say that I actually enjoyed the landscaping experience, I can say I felt a sense of satisfaction at a job done well (ok, decently).  And at the applause of an enthusiastic supporter.  And at finishing a task.

Too often, I’m so busy looking at the next item on my list, that I don’t take time to celebrate checking off the one I completed.  I forget to get off the mower/roller coaster/whatever analogy you prefer and relax, for however long I can, while basking in the joy of a job well done.

I am determined to do so more often.  I am determined to encourage those around me to do so as well, all the while cheering them along.  And I am determined to make sure my sons figure out this mowing thing.  Old World roots run deep for a reason.

Solidarity, sisters.  Everybody loves a parade.

Viva Las VegasPictureAs I’ve stated before, my girlfriends are some of the absolute funniest people on the planet, which works out well for me, seeing as how humor is a hugely important part of my psyche and a personality trait I am incredibly drawn to.  Audrey Hepburn once said, “I love people who make me laugh.  I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh.  It cures a multitude of ills.  It’s probably the most important thing in a person.”

I love that she said that.  It is so beautiful and charming.  It made me look at her as multi-faceted and even more delightfully fascinating.  You know, because a resume of projects like “My Fair Lady” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with the distinguished status of world renowned icon in art and fashion isn’t impressive enough.

Anyhow…. I started this funny little habit a few years ago on a Girls’ trip.  We always laugh really hard at the random stories and comments that fly out of peoples’ mouths during our times together…, I started writing them down.  Then I lost the lists.  So I started using the notepad feature on my phone.  Much better.

The girls love this idea.  In fact, when things get rolling, one of them will invariably yell, “Start your list, Bec!”, and away we go.  No one else sees our lists.  I don’t read them to anyone outside of our crew – it wouldn’t be nearly as funny to someone who wasn’t there (most of the time.  Some of the lines are hysterical, even without context).  We’ll run through an old list or two every once in a while when we’re all together, and through the majority of it, laugh until our tears run or we have to pause for a bathroom break (most of us have birthed multiple children, after all).  There is a small percentage of quotes which are confusing, since none of us can remember who said them or what they mean.  They must have been funny at the time….

As I was going through notes looking for inspiration (which has had me laughing out loud for the better part of 20 minutes), I came across the list from our Vegas trip.  This one is a little different because the guys were along for the ride.

My beautiful and fabulous friend, Shanie, decided that she wanted to surprise her husband, the also fabulous Sean, with a fun-filled weekend in Las Vegas for his fortieth birthday.  She knew she wouldn’t be able to pull the actual location off without warning him ( unlike less detailed male members of our group, Sean packs himself for trips, and may actually be pickier than I am about his style and wardrobe choices for a given occasion and/or location).  So the surprise portion of the program was this: Sean knew they were going to Vegas for his birthday.  That’s it.  He didn’t know where they were staying, what the itinerary was or (drum roll, please) that three other couples would be there with them.  Ta-da!

We started planning this in late June.  Our departure date was November 30th.  I have no idea how we pulled it off.  Seriously.  As you can probably guess, we as a whole are not the most subtle group of people.  And we are around each other a lot.  As are our children.  So, we had to sneak and planand organize in stages, avoiding the ears of not only Sean, but all our kids as well (because we all know how well children keep surprises under wraps).  We avoided telling mutual friends in case someone slipped.  We let church know we were unavailable to serve that weekend, but didn’t dare explain why.  Steph was too terrified to let her child’s teacher know where she was going when she reported grandma would be picking him up, since Sean teaches at that school.  We bought show tickets on alternating credit cards so he wouldn’t see charges, then had math marathons to try and figure out who owed money to whom.  We scheduled flights and airports around his departure and arrival so there was no chance of running into each other during transit.  It was madness. Fun, though.

As the date drew near, we became more frenzied in our excitement and more paranoid in our preparations.  I doubt this much detail, coordination and precision goes into many military operations.  Shanie had a giant laminated poster made with all of our pictures on it as the Happy Birthday banner.  I had the honor of transporting that precious cargo in a cardboard tube on the plane.  The responsibility nearly did me in.  I am a nervous flier as it is.  The added pressure about pushed me over the edge.  None of us wanted to screw up any part of the plan – mostly because we love Sean and were excited to celebrate him in such a cool way, but also because, truth be told, we are all a little afraid of Shanie.

The close calls and hilarity that ensued in just getting all of us to Vegas and then to our condo could easily be turned into a Sandra Bullock movie (think comedy, not 28 Days).  We managed to get checked in, unloaded , stocked and decorated.  We prepped ourselves and the very amused front desk staff with about ten different scenarios on how and where to surprise him, finally settling on the back part of the lobby.  When they finally walked through the doorway, our relief at having reached the end of the clandestine portion of our journey was so great that our shouts of “Surprise!” and “Happy Birthday!” we’re incredibly loud and somewhat manic.  We basically gave Sean a massive episode of heart arrhythmias.  He had to sit down with his head in his hands for at least 15 minutes once we got to the suite.

The next three days were, in a word, fantastic.  We had so much fun, laughed so hard, ran around like we were 15 years younger, ate so much, slept so little….you get the point.  It was a truly unforgettable trip.  Even so, just to be sure and have back-up memory jogs, the list of quotes joined the history text of our lives, and has me giggling as I try to picture who said which line when.  I’m in the mood to share, so here are a few gems:

·   Is that an eight?!? (our sushi bill was a bit shocking)

·   And then you end up dead in a fountain wearing a teddy (reasoning not to ever party as a swinger)

·   I don’t do Hobbits (Denny’s had a themed menu)

·   I will just dance in the lobby to their music (reaction to the cover charge at Tao.  I think Pit Bull or someone along those lines was there)

·   I would just like to point out that I am still awake

·   Singing the wrong notes is not harmony

·   That’s gonna leave a mark (each of us managed to run into something at some point)

·   I’m pretty sure she was the one hiding chips in her pants (I have no idea.  Sounds intriguing, though, doesn’t it?)

Ah, memories…..Isn’t it amazing how snippets of a story can bring the whole thing rushing back?  How many anecdotes actually become funnier or sweeter or even sadder with the passing of time?  How being reminded of a past moment in time can flip us right back into the emotion of that moment, no matter how far away from it we are?  I love my lists, and how they bless me with a way to return to laughter and outrageousness, even in times when my faulty memory has let go of those images.  I love to laugh….and a great story deserves another round of that, often more than once.

Solidarity, sisters.  May the list of your life’s quotes fill you with laughter more often than not.