Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Whole Wide World

Major adventure number two of the summer was a girls only mini-vacation to Cape Cod. One of my girlfriends from work has a house in Dennisport, so Amy, Ella, and I headed up there last week to enjoy a few days of girls only fun. I, of course, was petrified to be on vacation with my little two going on sixteen ball of toddlerness, but I went anyway. I decided today actually that the theme for this summer is "Embrace the Disaster." There was really no chance that Cape Cod was going to go perfectly. I was with a two-year-old, without my husband, and in an unfamiliar place. Because Ella was such a difficult baby and we were forced to put her on a really strict routine about where and when she slept, she has become accustomed to that routine and doesn't do well with change. She likes her crib, her bath tub, her stuff, and her space, so there were bound to be some tantrums and tears.

There were definitely some difficulties along the way. She cried pretty hard the first night when I put her down to sleep, but it only lasted about fifteen minutes. She wouldn't nap in the pack n' play, but she did sleep for a good two hours in the car. There were some bratty moments here and there, but there was also this glorious thing called "the beach." Everyone knows that I am not a beach person (reference any picture available of my translucent skin). I have always found it to be pretty hot and sandy and boring, and I wasn't really looking forward to spending three days lounging on the shore. Of course, once you have a child, there's never really any lounging anyway, which turned out to be a good thing for us. I realized that while I don't really like being a grown-up on the beach, I do still like being a kid on one. It turns out that building sand castles, giving Ella mermaid legs, collecting shells, and running from "sharks" (a.k.a Amy) in the water is just as much fun now as it was when I was a kid, maybe even more so because now I get to see the glint of fun and excitement in her eyes as well.

One moment in particular that I will remember was when we swam out "really deep" as Ella would say and turned to look back at the shore. She held out her arm in a very grown-up sweeping motion and said, "The whole wide world." I don't know where she got that phrase, or what she meant by it, but it felt like an important moment to me. It felt like she was telling me, "Pay attention, Mom. This is a good moment. Be here with me right now and breathe it in." And I did. I let everything else go, and I relished the sun on my face, the water all around, and the little girl with her arms around my neck, and I was so glad to be seeing the "whole wide world" with her.

A special thanks also to Amy and Ali for making that trip happen, and for being so patient with my little one. She can't wait for her next "bacation."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's not always fun to be right.

From my earlier posts, you know that my husband is a fearless, "Sure, why not" kind of guy, while I am more of a, "Gosh, I don't know" sort of girl. This helps to balance our relationship, but it also causes a lot of strife. A few weeks ago, our friend Alex organized a little camping trip with some other parents and kids and invited us to go along. That's right. Camping. Outside. In a tent. With a two-year-old. Don't get me wrong. I love to camp. I am happier in the woods than just about anywhere else, but that red-flag side of my personality came to life and squealed, "Ella going to sleep in a tent? This is going to be a complete disaster." To which my husband replied, "You think everything is going to be a disaster." Cue the giant fight in the car. I'll spare you the details, but ultimately Mike won and soon we were camping bound with our tent and a tiny little sleeping bag for Miss Ella B. 

Now, the title of this post indicates that I was right. I was and I wasn't. Let's begin with the wasn't part. Camping was not a disaster. We swam in the lake, took a family boat ride, roasted marshmallows, made new friends, and overall, had a really awesome time as indicated below.

Super excited about the boat ride and the life jacket. Also, she is obsessed with her water shoes and wants to wear them everyday. She now calls Target the "water shoes" store.
Eating lunch with her new friends Emmett, Ned, and Finn
In her new camping chair, ready to make her first s'more.
With Larry
 These pictures definitely prove that our camping trip was mostly a success. Ella had a great time and so did we. The failure part came as the sun began to set. All day she was in love with the idea of sleeping in a tent. She loved her little sleeping bag and the idea that mommy and daddy would be sleeping right next to her. She loved hiding and playing in the tent and thought the whole thing was pretty great, until, of course, it was actually time to sleep in the tent. We read books, we pretended to go to sleep with her, we let her stay up late in hopes that she would pass out, but she was having none of it. She finally looked at Mike and said, "Want to go home," with these big tired eyes. Quite shockingly, Mike looked at me and said, "You were right. I was wrong." Now, these are not easy words for my husband to say. I'm glad I was sitting at the time or I might have fallen right over. I was right. She wasn't ready to sleep in a tent, so Mike packed her up, put her in the car and drove home. He told me to stay and enjoy myself and that he'd come back in the morning.

As I watched his tail lights disappear behind the trees, I should have been thrilled. Not only did my husband admit that I was right about something, but he also gave me the whole night off to enjoy with my friends. So why did I feel so defeated as they drove away? Because sometimes you really do hope you are wrong. As much as I can't stand to hear him say, "See, she's fine," whenever Ella succeeds at something I don't think she is ready for, it is always worth it because it means we are doing something fun together. The truth is, I would have gladly traded my "rightness" to have my little family sleeping together in that tent so I could wake up to her smiling face right next to me.

I went to bed feeling a little sad and a little lonely, but in the morning, when Mike and Ella returned, I remembered that camping is not just about sleeping in a tent. It's about campfires, and caterpillars, and swimming, and getting good and dirty, and laughing with friends. Ella may not be ready to sleep in a tent, but she is ready for the fun of a camping trip, and she enjoyed every minute of it.

This time around, I was mostly right. I can only hope that next time I'll be completely wrong. That would be the best.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Operation Awesome Summer: The Sequel

This post is coming in a bit late, mostly because "Operation Awesome Summer: The Sequel" is off to a bit of a slow start. If you read the first post in this series "Operation Awesome Summer" than you know that I am not always very good at summer vacation. I know, all you none summer vacation people are thinking that I am a big jerk, but every year it seems my good intentions amount to very little tangible summer fun, and when people ask, "So what'd you do this summer?" I reply a harrumph and say, "nothing" like a grumpy teenager after school. But just as last summer was way better than my first summer as a mom, I think this summer has the potential to be even better. In my personal experience, since one-year-olds are way better than babies, than two-year-olds must be way better than one-year-olds. Therefore, with the advent of the regular nap and the improvement in communication and motor skills, summer should just keep getting better and better. These were my thoughts as summer got underway this year, and I was excited to be able to spend my days running and playing with my full-fledged kid.

Who could have guessed that it would be me who derailed our best laid plans, not Beezer? On day two of summer vacation (that's right- day two) I decided to be productive and get a little weeding done with the beeze. We have some pretty unruly weeds growing behind our shed and I wanted to take advantage of Ella's love of dirt and worms to both play and get something done, every mother's goal for a day spent with a child. Being the absent-minded bonehead that I am, I failed to notice the poison ivy I pulled out of the ground and apparently rubbed all over my face (really? my face?). Two days later, my face looked like that witch from last season's True Blood had put a hex on it, and I was officially miserable. I didn't want to go in the sun, or be around people, and sitting in the house made me think of nothing but itching. Ella was going stir crazy, I was going itch crazy, and it all turned into a grumpy summer mess just two weeks in. I admit, I gave myself a good long time to wallow. Then, I rubbed some Calamine lotion on my face and said, we need to do something fun.

It had to be something special if it was going to jolt me out of my poison ivy funk. It also had to be cool (both in temperature and fun factor). The solution to this problem is called Kid City. If you've never been, I highly recommend it. It is essentially a giant house filled with room upon room of imaginary worlds. Ella was particularly fond of the fishery where she collected fish off a conveyor belt and carried them to another conveyor belt (honestly, she would have spent the whole day there. I am seriously considering getting a conveyor belt and a bunch of plastic fish). She also liked the fence that you could "paint" with water and brushes. Okay, looking at this description from your perspective, it doesn't sound too great, but I am telling you that there is a lot of stuff to do besides sorting fish and painting fences. Check it out.

Anyway, it was the kind of easy, fun morning we needed to get ourselves back on track. We've got a week chock full of plans ahead of us including playground excursions, library storytimes, and even camping (more on that later). Here are some of the other summer plans we have in store:

1. Cape Cod
2. New York City
3. Beardsley Zoo
4. Maritime Museum
5. Stepping Stones
6. Brooksvale Park
7. Hiking up a big mountain (per Ella's request)
8. Swimming
9. Visiting family and friends
10. Not getting poison ivy

That last one isn't very fun, but is one of my new summer priorities. Hope you guys are having a fun, itch-free summer yourselves.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grapes of Wrath

Today's post seems appropriate given that lately I've been thinking and blogging a lot about who Ella is and who she will become. I wonder if in ten years we will be shocked by how different she is, or if that same opinionated, fearless, energetic spark will still be going as strong as ever. I wonder, how much of her is just toddler and how much is really, truly Ella B?

I thought about this a lot last week when Christina and I took Ella and Loreli to the library for toddler hour. Because Loreli is only one and Ella is two, playing together can be a bit challenging. The girls were playing in a little kitchen area and Ella was filling up a grocery cart with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Loreli kept grabbing things out of the cart and Ella was getting annoyed, and said, "No, I'm playing with this Loreli, thank you," with a full attitude. Although she was definitely pretty snotty about it, I was still proud of her for at least trying to handle her frustration politely. At one point, she decided to take all the toys she wanted to play with and carry them into a little pretend train station where she could be free of little baby hands and anything else that might disrupt her play. It's funny to see her interact with kids younger than her because I rarely get to see her as a "big kid" and, in general, she gets the idea that she is bigger and needs to be patient and understanding, no easy task for a toddler. She has also mastered the art of "you are annoying me so I am going to go somewhere else with this stuff," which is also a pretty solid life strategy.  Learning to "play nice" with others is not easy, and while she isn't perfect, she's figuring it out fairly well.

Cut to about ten minutes later when I've convinced her to stop hoarding the toys in the train station and we are all back in the kitchen area. A few "older" girls (maybe five years old) decide they are going to set up a little market to sell all the food to each other. They start grabbing everything from the shelves and placing it at their fruit stand to sell. Ella simply watches them as they empty the shelves, leaving nothing for her and Loreli to play with. The only thing left was the carrot Ella was  absentmindedly chewing on and which one of the girls promptly snatched out of her hand saying, "These are for pretend. You don't eat these." With that, the girl walked off to her now fully stocked farmer's market, leaving Ella empty handed and with a furrowed brow.

At that point, Christina gave me a look that said, "Hey, that girl totally just bullied Ella out of her carrot. Let's get her," but knowing my daughter, I wanted to see what she would do. For a minute, she just stood there and surveyed the situation, presumably sizing these girls up and weighing her options. She could simply accept defeat and move on to the next area, she could come whining to me about some girls who aren't playing nice, or she could stand up for herself. A moment later, she walked up to the table full of plastic fruits and veggies, grabbed a bunch of grapes, looked right at the girls and said quite confidently, "I'm taking these grapes," and walked away.

Now, was this the nicest thing she could have done? No, perhaps her tone was a little rude. Perhaps the honorable thing would have been to ask the girls if she could play with them or if they could share some of the food with her. But let's be honest, the rules on the playground are not always fair, and sometimes you have to let people know who you are and where you stand. I'm pretty sure she couldn't have cared less about that bunch of grapes. I'm fairly certain she picked them at random and didn't even really play with them after that. Somewhere in the back of her little two-year-old mind, she wanted to send a message that said, "Listen up ladies, I'm Ella B. Don't mess with me," and whether it was right or wrong, I was proud of her because one day I won't be there to step in if necessary. One day she is going to be on the real playground without me and someone is going to take her ball, or pull her braids, or push her off the swing, and while I certainly don't ever want her to get in a fight, I do want her to be confident enough to say, "I'm taking these grapes," and let everybody know that she means it.