Friday, January 18, 2013

Five Kids, Ten Days, Oh Lord, Grant Me the...

The dust has finally settled (literally) and our house is strangely silent once again.

The last of the invaders left on Friday, flying back to the frozen Minnesota tundra. I’m recovering here in Palm Springs, trying to rehash the wonderful, exhilarating yet stressful ten days that marked their total envelopment of our lives for that brief period of time.

It was Christmas at the LaCombs, that holiest of holidays when the parents get to golf, drink fine wine, relax by the pool and enjoy all the benefits of two eager grandparents who relish the opportunity to spoil their grandchildren. 

In one of my first musings, “The Tyranny of Company,” I tried to decipher the almost organic transition of roles and responsibilities during the holidays when grandparents become the lightning rod for games and activities and outdoor adventures. And their parents get to catch a break for a little while.
Aside from the exponential increase in garbage accumulated each day, laundry loads marching out of each bedroom, trips to the grocery store and expanded pool time, it was a normal day back at the ranch…except it wasn’t.

The accoutrements of childhood continue to evolve and change. This time around, we’d graduated from a changing table to a blanket on the bed, from diapers to pull ups, from high chairs to booster chairs and from strollers to scooters. Just to name a few.

The children’s quiet time had been reduced a bit with only four of the children taking naps instead of all five. That left some adult to entertain Maya, the eldest and that responsibility usually ended with Nana. Super Nana, teacher incarnate, with her pen and paper and Ipad to nurture young minds. For me it was a time to recharge and remind me of my mindfulness.

The crying and whining and fussing had subsided substantially from last year but a squabble or two would occasionally arise. Children are still children and with their curiosity (Don’t touch that!) comes a wonderful glimpse into their little world, one that the rest of us have left long ago.

Kids are like little Zen masters. They are all ‘in the moment,’ no pretense, no hyperbole. They reek of honesty, a fragrance often missing with adults when we feel the need to put on airs.

Of course, trying to expand on their ten-minute attention span wasn’t too successful. There were warnings for everyone. Children, don’t touch the cactus needles. Brian, be cautious when driving the I-10 because CHP is a serious lot. Melanie, be careful of coyotes and bobcats on your early morning runs.

Each grandchild had their moment in the sun or family circle as the week progressed.

Among his many death-defying feats of climbing, riding and swimming, Spencer did his best Lloyd Bridges (a past neighbor) imitation by constantly diving into the deepest part of the pool. The man has no fear which is very scary for a three and a half year old.

Over several evenings, the kids went bear (snipe) hunting on the golf course. Samantha found ‘tracks’ and ‘feathers’ from the birds that the bears had eaten and only got scared once when the coyotes started howling. But then her fears quickly dissipated when she recognized ‘Papa’ coyote howling the loudest.

Maya lost the family camera in San Diego bay, wanted to go diving for coins in the Sonny Bono Fountain downtown, sent text messages to Nana who was sitting across the room and got her own web site for Christmas. She wants to blog about her experiences as a six-year-old. Sounds promising to me.

When Brennan purposely took his time enjoying a smoothie before letting Charlotte have her turn at it, she suddenly blurted out: “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, “I turn.” And we didn’t even know she could count? She’s 18 months old. She got her smoothie!

Sharon had an interesting conversation with Brennan one morning. She asked him if he wanted toast or a bagel for breakfast. He answered with: “A Bagel. I want to put the butter on myself.”

“OK, that’s fine.” Sharon  replied.
She toasted the bagel, got out the butter and set it in front of Brennan.
“I want to put the butter on myself,” Brennan repeated.
“Yes, I said you can put the butter on yourself.”
“It’s going to be messy.”
“No, you’ll be fine.”
Then Brennan proceeded to cut a chunk of butter with his knife and laid a swath of it across his arm.
“What are you doing?” Sharon asked.
“You said I could put the butter on myself,” Brennan answered.

In the end, our family gathering wasn’t just about early morning Starbucks with my kids or Christmas gifts around the pool or the grandkids going all Hollister in their new scooters. Instead it was a reaffirmation that my wife and I are blessed with two wonderful children, their delightful spouses and five grandchildren who relish experiencing life every day.

For me, there is always a price to be paid for family gatherings. A lack of sleep, little quiet time in the morning, no room for writing, only cursory glances at e-mail, no gym time and a constant rush of activities to keep five kids busy. And age has its subtle way of reminding one of his limitations when mountain climbing, chasing errant foul balls or trying to keep up with the scooter patrol.

Yet in the end, it’s that collection of memories that make all the difference. For the adults, it’s probably a night out without the kids, wine-tasting in Temecula or quiet discussions and laughter around the fireplace.

For the children, it was playing kid golf on a real golf course, picking oranges in our backyard, decorating Christmas stockings, riding camels, playing dress up, climbing mountains, sporting tattoos, making cookies for Santa, reading stories and looking up Marilyn Monroe’s dress. Whoever she is?

And isn’t that what family vacations are all about?

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