Sunday, July 25, 2010

Forget Relaxing, Just Build Memories

Ah, summer vacation. That much anticipated time of year when we pack up our kids,our bathing suits, enough beach toys to entertain even your larger Mormon sibling groups, and as much sunscreen as Mommy thinks necessary to prevent any sunlight from actually touching her children's flesh. This past week, the Howard clan embarked on just such an adventure. Longing to smell the salt air and feel the sand under our feet, Meredith and I piled our four kids into the minivan and took off for a week on the South Carolina coast.

One thing I've learned since becoming a dad: When you have small kids, vacations are about building memories--not relaxing. Before Meredith and I had children, vacations at the beach involved little more than sleeping, sunbathing, sipping drinks by the sea, and late night romantic dinners. Now they consist of trying to find a screaming child's lost flip-flop, prying a terrified three-year-old off your leg because you were dumb enough to take him too close to the ocean, and keeping vigil to make sure your children don't pee in the pool.

Perhaps the most fun is the hour it takes to get everyone's bathing suits and sunscreen on each time you want to go swimming. Our typical day went something like this: After fighting a kicking 18-mo-old to get her swim diaper on, we then spent the next twenty minutes corraling naked little people who thought it was more fun to jump on the beds nude than to get ready to go to the beach. Once we finally did get them dressed, the next thirty minutes were spent trying to spray and rub sunscreen on squirming midgets as they screamed things like, "Daddy, it hurts!... Daddy, its cold!... Daddy, I'm blind!..."

Finally, once Mommy was satisfied that the last child had been doused in enough 50-block to repel gamma rays, I'd carry my mentally drained self into the bedroom to put on my own swimsuit and sun tan lotion. Of course, just as we were about to leave for the beach, our senses picked up on the fact that the 18-mo-old had pooped in the previously clean swim diaper, putting the whole expedition on hold another ten minutes.

With the swimsuit and sunscreen wars won (or, at least, survived), we then made our way to the golf cart that we drove daily to the beach. Let me assure you, it's not easy fitting a family of six and enough beach paraphanelia to supply most surf shops onto a golf cart made for four. Loaded down with inflatable floaties, plastic buckets, boogie boards, plastic shovels, play boats, snacks, bottled waters, umbrellas, fold-out chairs, towels, and a whole host of other beach "necessities," we took off on the half-mile trek to the beach. With body parts and beach toys hanging over the sides, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on Spring Break.

After parking and walking what seemed like miles, we finally found a spot in the sand where we could situate ourselves. Of course, the fold-out chairs were mostly there for show. There wasn't much sitting down. That's okay. Memories aren't made sitting down. They're made as you play with your kids. Constantly in rotation, Meredith and I alternated between playing with our older two children in the waves and goofing off with our younger two in the nearby pools that formed at low tide. After a few hours, we loaded up our supplies and walked back across the beach, each step making it more and more evident that sand had managed to reach parts of our bodies that God never meant to get sandy.

So went most of our week. No, it wasn't relaxing. There was always an argument to referee, a float to blow up, a breakable object in the condo to protect, or a child to make sure didn't drown. But that's not to say that it wasn't fun. We went dolphin watching and, yes, saw a few dolphins. We played "golf" with a play set of clubs I bought at a local store. We stuffed ourselves with crab legs and enjoyed having the grandparents join us for a few days. We saw lots of deer, lots of pelicans, and even one large alligator. We ate ice cream--too much ice cream. And there was the anatomically educational moment in which my four-year-old son explained to his sister that boys are different from girls because boys have "a penis and tentacles."

So here's to summer vacations. One day, years from now, maybe there'll be relaxing again. For now, I'll just keep building memories. Something tells me that a time will come when I'll wish I still had that three-year-old clinging to my leg.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fireworks? Really?

Yesterday was the Fourth of July. Our nation's birthday. The day commemorating our founding fathers' adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our family celebrated the day the way most probably did. After having the neighbors over for a cookout, we all set off for downtown Powder Springs to watch the traditional fireworks.

Many people love going to watch fireworks. Me, not so much. In fact, when someone first suggested that we make the trek into town to watch fireworks, my first thoughts were, "Fireworks? Really?"

It's not the fireworks, themselves, that bug me; it's the hassle involved. It's not as simple as grabbing a blanket or some chairs, having a seat outdoors, and then relaxing. No, for us, such outings involve corralling four small kids, getting them out the door, and keeping tabs on them amidst a crowd of people who've been drinking beer all day and are prepared to fight you for any patch of ground that looks like prime firework-watching real estate. (Yes, I said four kids. Meredith and I just became foster parents to a beautiful 18-mo.-old girl named Nancy. I'm sure I'll have more to say about her in future Dadlosophies.)

Still, I agreed to go watch the fireworks because the kids wanted to. So, along with our neighbors, we loaded up the minivan and headed into downtown Powder Springs to do our patriotic duty.

I love my town. Powder Springs is your stereotypical, southern patriotic community. It's tailor made for the Fourth of July. Arriving just before dusk, we steered in and out of slow-moving traffic in search of a suitable parking space. Having viewed more gun racks and "American by Birth, Southern by the Grace of God" bumper stickers than most people see in a lifetime, we finally found a spot about a mile up the road from where we would eventually settle in to watch the display.

Hiking a mile while holding an 18-month-old, a 3-year-old's hand, and a fold-out chair is always a fun workout. It's especially entertaining when you do it on a hot, July afternoon in Georgia. Anyone who knows their history knows that the first shots of the Revolution were actually fired at Lexington and Concord during the spring of 1775. But the Second Continental Congress didn't adopt the Declaration until July 1776. I sure wish our founders had been either bolder or more patient. Why couldn't they have declared independence around early May. Didn't they consider how much more comfortable a cookout would have been in early spring as opposed to mid summer?

Or, if they weren't inclined to speed things up, why couldn't they have held off until mid-September or early October? Imagine how much more comfortable watching fireworks would be on a cool autumn evening. Oh well, I guess they signed the Declaration when they did because they wanted to adjourn and get home before football season started--a goal I can appreciate, so I'll cut 'em some slack.

As for our fireworks expedition, we somehow found an open spot near the center of the action with all our children present and accounted for. Of course, no sooner had we set up shop than my son, William, announced that he had to go pee. Apparently, William's bladder must have sent a text to his younger brother's because he followed suit and announced that he had to "pee willy bad, too." So, taking both my boys by the hands, I navigated further into the heart of the patriotic celebration.

I finally found the port-a-potties. Only, the line stretched about fifty people deep. Realizing that my boys would never make it, I led them off the beaten path to some woods a block or two off main street. Then, after giving them a moment to accidentally urinate on their own shoes and pull up their Lightning McQueen underwear,we headed back through the crowd. More bumping, pushing, navigating, and repeating again and again, "Excuse me." (Yay, what fun.)

Upon returning to our seat, we then began the fun task of trying to keep seven young kids entertained until the fireworks actually started. William kept begging to ride a ride. I didn't know there would be rides, so I'd brought no money. The people seated around us then got to enjoy being serenaded by William's cries of agony after I told him that there would be no ride. God bless America!

My daughter, Emerson, and her friend Joely passed the time arguing over a DS and taking turns informing us parents that they were bored and ready for the show to start. Carson, my youngest son, kept grabbing his private parts and asking,"Where's da fire walks, Mommy?" All the while, little Nancy sat in my lap eating popcorn and periodically spilling ice-cold water that inevitably reached Daddy's "special places." Yes, it was definitely a night that made me proud to be an American.

Finally, the fireworks started about twenty minutes late. It was a good show. Up until the grand finale when William and Carson dove under Meredith's chair terrified, everyone had a relatively fun time. Then, once it was over, thousands of viewers all packed up their belongings and made the hike back up the road to our cars. Again, we managed to keep everything together. Other than William not paying attention and running head first into a mailbox, we all made it back injury free.

After fighting more traffic, we finally got our little ones back home close to midnight. Both they and their daddy were beat. Oh well, at least it was a memory. All I can say is, I am grateful for my country and for the Founding Fathers who had the guts to declare independence--even if they did choose one of the hottest days of the year on which to do it.