Friday, August 7, 2009

4. Philadelphia – take 1…

We got to Philadelphia at around noon on Friday and headed straight for the Wawa. That’s right folks, you take Wawa for granted – but for a 7, 6, and 4 year old, Wawa is a destination that makes the list of ‘not to be missed on our visit home’. So we got hotdogs and hoagies and donuts and chips and ice cream, then headed over to Gowen Circle.

I’m happy to report our house is still standing, the leaves have been raked and, as usual, kids were out playing on the circle. Some things never change. We saw Theo, Maya, Savannah, Keiran, Ben, Lila and even met the new neighbors. They all looked bigger, of course, but they were still our friends. We ate our artery-clogging lunch and played with our neighbors. Some of the moms came out too, and one of them has become a published author in my absence and I got to read her children’s book. Go Melissa! I also shared my photo book of our year and just enjoyed being, there is no other word for it, HOME!!!

Then we headed for Heather’s house, arriving at around 2:30 or so. Heather has acquired a new baby since our last meeting bringing her up to a grand total of 4 kids. As you all know, we have 3. We had a boy (Zander) and then a girl (Callie) and, when I was pregnant with my 3rd (Griffin), I definitely got a lot of strange looks. Often people would even come out and say some variation of the sentiment: “But, you already have a boy and a girl!” (Because, as you know, the only sane reason to have a third is to acquire the longed for genitals you were missing on your other two offspring). So, in general, at least in my area of the world, many folk have one, lots have 2 and only a select few have more – in fact, I only know of one other family that has 4 children – and they are old fashioned Catholics. This rule actually also holds true in Besançon where we live. Most families have one or two – a few have 3 and I know one with 4. My friend Heather now has 1 girl and 3 boys – and joins those thin ranks of American or European people with 4 or more kids. (Heaven knows what people said to her when she was pregnant). I am one mini_DSC00599of 4 myself (the youngest) so I’m sure she will make it through – in fact, she seems to be handling it all wonderfully – and her youngest, Tyler, is most likely destined for greatness (I mean, look how I turned out). I must say, though, it sure does look exhausting to have a 7, 5, 2 and not yet 1 year old! I never realized how completely ‘out’ of the baby phase I was before spending 5 days with these guys. I mean, there were diapers, and worrying about choking hazards and not having your hands free to chop up dinner veggies. I remember, after I had Zander and he grew a bit, I would hold babies and think “Awww….. I need one of these!” There was a kind of aching in my heart, a need for another little soul to hold. Then, the same thing happened after I had Callie. If I held a little baby, there was a part of me that didn’t want to give it back to the real mom and dad. After I had Griffin, that feeling changed. Now it is more like “Awwww…… what a cute baby. I like to play with these guys… but you can take it back now!” I guess, in a way, I am very lucky. I had the kids I wanted, with the person I wanted to have them with, and I was able to have them and also able to stop having them just as I wanted – (I even got both sexes!). I am married to a man enlightened enough to get a vasectomy so we don’t have to worry about birth control and I even got super lucky with an accidental slip of the scalpel after Griffin’s birth that led to a case of Asherman’s syndrome. To make a long story short, this means I never have my period, even though I am NOT in menopause. All the hormones, none of the bleeding – every woman done with children should acquire this one. Frankly, my reproductive life rocks.

We had a terrific reunion with their family – Callie and Alexa were so cute together tmini_DSC00551he entire time – they saw each other and just started screaming and jumping up and down and hugging. They have been friends for about 4 or 5 years, but it was great to see the bond was still so strong after a year apart – especially since they don’t go to the same school or anything. Of course, Heather and I were the same. I love friends like that, the ones that you can leave, even sort of ignore each other, but it just doesn’t matter.

We hung out all afternoon and I made them pasta with cheesy bacon sauce for dinner. They have a great house full of toys and the kids just played and played. Heather and I stayed up talking and looking at my book for a few hours after the kids went to bed. My kids were asleep by about 8:30 but hers are night owls and didn’t all settle until around 10 or so.

mini_DSC00558 In the morning, it was time for 93rd annual 4th of July at the Watertower. Just have to give a shout out to the Chestnut Hill Bocce Club for putting this shindig on every year. I have never heard of sucmini_DSC00556h a great free celebration anywhere else and it’s one of those things that makes this area of Philadelphia so special. This year, coming back was especially great not only because I appreciated it more after missing a year, but also because the weather was perfect and the crowds were manageable.

Here’s the low down. You start out at 9am with the bike parade. You can decorate bikes mini_DSC00559 or wagons. We got creative (due to our lack of bikes and wagons on vacation) and made a sign on a stick. I love to go to the thrift store and get everyone flag t-shirts for a few bucks – we always end up looking great and this year I even got it so Callie was in red, Griffin in white and Zander in blue – how’s that for patriotic? It is kind of funny that the French flag is also red, white and bluemini_DSC00560 – some of our gear camini_DSC00561me from stuff I bought there (shhh….) Every kid in the parade gets a free t-shirt and also entered in a raffle for a new bike. We didn’t win anything this year but it is always great to see how some people get creative with what you can do on a kid’s wagon, I mean, check out this helicopter! I got to see old friends, but I wished I mini_DSC00562could have hung out with them more. After the parade we did some of the other fun free stuff – we fed the goats grass at the petting zoo, had pony rides around the baseball diamond, scrounged around for free candy, went on the bouncy slide and in the bouncy hut. We didn’t have time for the mini_DSC00564free face painting or balloon animals and my kids just wouldn’t do the races. I get frustrated with this every year. I have many fond memormini_DSC00565ies of running in races at the annual Ironworker’s Picnic with my family. I never, never, ever won (or even came close) but it didn’t matter. The race was fun anyway. My kids (who actually, at least in Callie’s case for sure) are much, much, much more athletically talented than I ever was, but won’t even try it. I’m never sure what to do in these situations – I mention it, first, kind of casually. “Hey, look, they are running races!” When this is ignored I usually say something like – “Wow, that looks like fun, I bet you could do that too”. Then the responses begin – usually something quite vehement, running along the lines of “I AM NOT RACING!” I am not sure why I kind of want to force them to compete – I mean, why do I even care? What good does it do? And how does one force a child to run a race? Maybe you could get them to the starting line, but you can’t make them run, right? (you can lead a horse to water….) I guess I want them to do it partially because I think it might be fun but also because I think that, sometimes, they are going to have to compete for things in life, and they might as well practice winning and losing now, rather than figuring it out as an adult. Also, I like yelling. Having a kid in a race is a great excuse to yell a lot. I think I also secretly hope they will win, enabling me to jump up and down like an idiot and feel absurdly proud (like the time Zander and Callie, at amini_DSC00567ge 3 and 5, won a kid’s baking competition – BTW, all the other competitors were between 8 and 12 years old – ha, ha…) I know, I’m sick.

mini_DSC00571 But, it was not meant to happen this time. We went over to scarf up our free hotdog lunch which included the kind of ice cream that comes in little cups with wooden spoons. There is a brown side and a white side, but both sides taste identical, a flavor that is neither chocolate nor vanilla, more like cold plywood. I must say, that is a delicacy I do not miss from life in the US! Then, it was time for the best part. The balloon guy magic show. I think this is the 3rd year we have seemini_DSC00576n him and he is simply hysterical. Zander, in particular, loves this guy’s humor. He was laughing so hard that other people around us were turning around to look at him. Not to be annoyed, but just to smile and enjoy his joy of the show. I absolutely love to see my children happy – in fact, sometimes I worry it is unhealthy to be getting so much pleasure out of emotions that are not my own. I mean, is it normal to be absurdly happy only because a little creature you helped create is happy? How about sad enough to cry because they lost their favorite toy? But, as usual, I digress. I love this guy’s show. I admit that the best part is when he gets into the gigantic balloon (which he uses a leaf blower to inflate) and does various tricks inside it. He does it every time but it just never gets old.

That afternoon we went with Hez to a family picnic. We hung out and ate lots of burgers and mini_DSC00597things and Zander discovered (after initial reluctance) the joy of Slip ‘n’ Slide. He ran up and down so much on thatmini_DSC00582 thing that he was actually pretty sore on Sunday. We got a chance to see Miss Tish Sunday morning. Heather kept Callie and Griffin so Zander and I could go and really spend some time with her (Thanks Hez!) She is doing well and I love to see how much she loves Zander and he loves her. Jenks is still moving along – I hope we can get back in when we return to the US. Rumor hmini_DSC00584as it the schools are getting overcrowded as the economy gets worse and kids who would have gone private are forced to choose public school. That afternoon we had a lovely hike to the Indian statue and over the covered bridge. The kids spent most of the time finding Wisshickon schist. This is a sparkly kind of gray rock that abounds in the Wissahickon. It is full of mica flecks and, if you find a small piece you can crush it to make sparkles on your skin. They called it fairy dust and all played together following the trail of the fairy dust wherever it led them. I love it!

mini_DSC00585 mini_DSC00587 mini_DSC00588

Then it was time to head for home – Alexa was amazed to see the Indian statue across the river from us, as you can see. We spent several minutes just looking over the Wissahickon – it is such a beautiful river. mini_DSC00589 mini_DSC00593 mini_DSC00594 mini_DSC00596

That night we had roasted chicken for dinner with corn on the cob. I’ve never seen corn on the cob in France mini_DSC00604so it is a real treat to be able to have it here. On Monday I hmini_DSC00606opped over to Whole Foods for some gluten free food for Griffin and we hung around the house for a bit. Marissa came over with Daniel. It was great to see her but my photo didn’t come out at all… (man, I miss my real camera). But here is Callie and Daniel who played together beautifully. After lunch we went to Kehler’s gym http://www.kehlersgym.com/ for a couple hours – this is another Philadelphia area treasure you shouldn’t miss – a giant mini_DSC00601play area, guaranteed to wear out your kids, free for adults and only $5 per kid. Be there or be square. Griffin and I particularly enjoyed the giant ball pit and even 8 month old Tyler was crawling around in the tunnels. It was great to get to spend so much time with Heather’s family. I kept waiting for the honeymoon to end and the kids to start fighting, but it just never happened. They played together, they played alone, they basically left us grownups alone – it was terrific! Zander especially enjoyed the gigantic sandbox where he built a replica of (what else?) the Citadelle! For the uninformed, this is the giant fort that perches on a hill above our French hometown of Besançon. Guess he must be missing France a bit – or at least thinking about it!

That night mini_DSC00608we pulled together all our leftovers and had some friends for dinner, Hez’s friend mini_DSC00598Trish (who used to be in my book club so I knew her as well) and my great neighbor Lisa (right), whose son Gavin is close friends with Zander. They reconnected right away – hugging and having fun. Of course, the photo of Gavin was a big failure too. I’ll try again later! I got to see wedding and honeymoon photos, hear about neighborhood gossip and see my son enjoying a relaxed, natural play time with an mini_DSC00605old friend for the first time since we left the states! Of course, Zander had also been having a blast playing with Jackson (5 at right) and Colin (2 – the smaller one at right). You can see he’s got Colin all outfitted to play darts. Zander is actually great with younger kids, always gentle and kind. I realize it seems strange to say he is being gentle and kind when outfitting a 2 year old with weapons. He has always loved being at Heathers since they have tons and tons of weapons – but we don’t allow them in our house as toys. Here he can murder and destroy to his heart’s content. I thought it was interesting how he and Callie gravitated towards these toys but Griffin didn’t play with them even once. My little pacifist?

It was just a great, great, great, visit. Heather and Jeremy did so much to help us have fun and welcome us. They hung out with us and were just such amazing hosts. I dearly hope I can someday repay them for the hospitality – but the great thing about friends is – they don’t mind if you do or don’t. There is no scoresheet – they don’t see you as a burden, but as a welcome addition to the topsy turviness of their lives. Having friends around makes me happy, makes all our kids happy and definitely makes life more interesting. Love you guys!

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