Last weekend we gathered with friends and family up at Millerton Lake to celebrate one of our brightest stars: Aliya. We spent two nights camping and one full day hanging out lakeside, enjoying the water and the sun, and marveling at the six-year-old before us. The fact that so many of the people close to us were able to make it made the day even more special.
Every birthday is a reminder of how amazing life is. There are so many variables in being created and born and making it through each year of life, that when a birthday comes around, it deserves a day of fun with those you love.
I could write more but I think the video and photos speak for themselves…
One of the hardest parts of being a parent is acceptance. Before getting there, I’ve found myself trying and trying, over and over, to control or change the outcome of everything from the daily schedule to who eats what, when. And every time I try to control, I fail miserably. And it’s tough as a parent because on the one hand you sort of have to provide this safe infrastructure for your kids to thrive, but on the other hand, you have to just let go and let them be. Not my strong suit, but I’m learning.
This vacation has been another great example. There have been many days of the last two weeks we’ve had off when Sarah and I have looked at each other and said, “Is this really a vacation?” We found ourselves coming into it emotionally and physically exhausted from all that followed my uncle’s sudden death, and on top of all that, the kids have been on a rotating wheel of sickness. We think it’s been two different viruses: the first with a sore throat and runny nose, the second starting with a barking cough, followed by insane amounts of mucus. Lovely, yes? It has definitely made it difficult to go out and do fun things and has seriously limited some of the fun visits with friends we hoped to have had by this point.
Some of the things we’ve enjoyed though are more leisurely mornings, the magic and wonder of Christmas for the girls, lots of great food, some visits with family, and of course the endless moments of pure cuteness that are just part of the territory with youngsters. Aliya’s definitely changing from a toddler to a little kid, losing much of her baby fat and slimming down to a spritely little sparkplug. She continues to be a huge mischief maker, often denying verbally what she’s doing physically. “I’m not climbing on the table,” as she has a leg up to climb on the table. All the time inside with her sisters has allowed her to work out any remaining kinks in her “I am mad as hell and will eff you up” face. Seriously. For a two-year-old, she’s got a mean mug. She also throws a decent punch for the smallest member of Team Hokama, something her older sisters don’t really do much. Of course she’s mostly bubbles and cookies, but she will throw down if necessary. We’re especially going to miss those last vestiges of baby talk and behavior. For examples:
Saying with pure excitement, “It’s Chissmass!”
“My kitty! My kitty!” as she chases Fluffy around the house, trying to hug and lay on her.
After turning out the lights for bed time saying, “I can’t see my eyes…I can’t see my nose…”
As she hugs Sarah, “You’re my best friend.”
A new one I just noticed today, “Jus’ a minute,” as she continues to play when you’ve asked her to do something else.
Last but not least, a hold over from Halloween, every time she sees a pumpkin she calls it “my pumpkin patch!”
Maia is definitely changing too, maturing daily, and even gaining some muscle weight. On some levels, she’s getting more reasonable—with eating and sleeping for example—but she still struggles with both. Being sick has made sleep especially hard because her runny nose and coughing has been driving her nuts in the middle of the night, which we can’t really fault her for. Now that the sickness is tapering off though, we’re happy we set up those appointments to see an occupational therapist to work with her on some of her sensory issues. They seem to think 6 appointments, every other week, should dramatically help her deal with being hyper-sensitive to stimulus, like clothes that don’t fit a certain way, being distracted at meal time, etc. She and Aliya continue to have a blast playing together, often playing with each other while Keana’s off in her own fantasy world. I love hearing her shout, “C’mon Babe-in!” followed by an, “Okay Maia!” and two sets of footsteps sprinting off to the next play station. But Maia definitely still enjoys playing with Keana too, taking full advantage of having her sister home full time for the break. Their ability to play together also shows how fast Maia’s growing up, especially since Keana is getting older by the hour it seems.
And what a delight it is to have our Zooba home. She’s really been missing her social outlets, but still gets lost playing endlessly with her toys and paper dolls. This was the first Christmas she’s really enjoyed building Legos together and I can’t say that bothered me in the least. She doesn’t really need help, but likes to have someone there with her to chat with while she works. We finished the first Harry Potter book together at the beginning of the break and are halfway through The Chamber of Secrets. It’s my first time reading them too and I’m thoroughly enjoying being excited about a story with her. This second book though is about at the maturity threshold I’m comfortable with, so we’ll be taking a break from Potter soon. But Keana’s comprehension of more complex life stuff and her ability to communicate it, are really giving us a preview of what’s to come. More and more we can converse like equals and I have to explain less and less. A really fun side effect of Keana’s maturing is her deepening sense of humor. She understands a lot more humor and is really starting to get sarcasm as well.
We did take a somewhat spontaneous trip up to Bass Lake today and even found a little patch of leftover snow on the shore to play in. We didn’t stay long due to threatening clouds, but still, it was good to get out and do something different. We saw one rainbow while we were there and another on the way back. Maia had fallen asleep but once Aliya spotted it, she started yelling, “Maia! Maia! A rainbow! Look!” I responded, “Shhhh, Aliya. You’re going to wake her up.” To which a groggy Maia replied, “She already did.”
We have one more week of vacation left but I already feel the tightening grip of responsibilities and schedules. Even when there’s no school or work-work, there’s always keeping the house in order, appointments, laundry, and the seemingly endless chore of feeding these munchkins. It really is all about acceptance and maybe someday I’ll stop fighting it. Keana reminded me just last week (after I released what I guess was a really long sigh), “Well Papa, this is the life you chose. Are you going to make breakfast now?” And there you have it.
Whenever I talk to people about where I live, especially people from other states or countries, I can’t help but brag that in California, we have it all. Beaches, deserts, mountains, forests, you name the environment, we have it. And although it was really hard leaving the bay area and being close to the ocean, being in the central valley is, well, very central, to all the different environments Cali has to offer. For vacation this past week, we hit just about all of them.
To start things off, we made a brief appearance at the annual family campout. Sarah’s been attending this campout with her family and friends pretty much her whole life, so when I came on the scene, it became my tradition too. Keana first went when she was 4 months old, Maia when she was 8 months, and Aliya has never been since she had just been born when it happened last year. Usually we attend this soirée for a week, but the time off didn’t work out this year, so we just went up for the day on Saturday, the day they have the big potluck. The girls loved playing in the river and rock-hopping, even though it was freezing and pretty full due to this year’s crazy snowfall. We enjoyed having the day to catch up with everyone who was there, and even though it was about a 2.5 hour drive each way, it was definitely worth keeping up with the tradition.
I have to say, our family is happiest at the beach though. So just a day after coming down from the mountains, we headed over to Santa Cruz, our old stomping grounds. Sarah and I both attended school there, and met a year after we graduated, in August of 2002. There is nothing quite like Santa Cruz in the summer. The days often start out foggy and chilly, but about noon or one, it burns off for pretty much perfect weather. Sunshine, temperature in the seventies, and a mellow beachfront vibe is pretty irresistible. The first morning there everyone slept in except Aliya, so I bundled her up, put her in the car, and we went cruising along West Cliff drive, along the ocean. I remembered back to many-a-thought-filled time spent along that path, often unwinding from the stresses of academia or past troubles of love and relationships. And on this day, I got to share it with my youngest, who fell right back asleep, allowing me to take some liberty down memory lane.
We spent our first day at the Twin Lakes beach with Sarah’s brother Michael, and all had a blast playing in the ocean and building a sand castle. Keana loves running in and out of the ocean and rolling in the sand, and just like her big sisters before her, Aliya was fearless. We had to really watch her as she took every opportunity to run, walk, crawl, and tumble toward the crashing waves. Even as she shivered and got super sandy, she squealed with delight. It was almost too much for Maia though, and we lost her to a late afternoon nap under the umbrella. Even Aliya was laying her face down straight in the sand from exhaustion. After leaving the beach, we walked back to the hotel and grabbed dinner at the taqueria next door and finished off the night with Kung-Fu Panda, which, I have to say, was filled with awesomeness.
The next day we spent a little time downtown, had breakfast at Zachary’s, then it was back to the beach. Sometimes I wonder why the beach is so important to our family. Maybe it’s our history there, or the perfect blend of chaos and predictability, or just having sand, wind, ocean, and sun, whilst having your nostrils filled with salty, seaweediness—I don’t know. What I do know is it is necessary for our health and sanity, and therefore always at the top of our list for vacations. That night, being so close to the ocean, it was also necessary to get some good sushi at our favorite spot in Santa Cruz, Shogun (also the location of our very first date). Michael and his girlfriend Laura joined us, and although we were all very tired, it was a great last dinner in SC.
As all good things come to an end, so must the visit to Santa Cruz. Maia especially did not want to leave the hotel, but lunch and a pot of chocolate (literally) at Chocolate (shitty website, great food), helped things a bit. Almost uncomfortably full of richness, we packed back into the car and headed home.
The next day we headed up to North Fork to stay at Sarah’s dad’s “cabin” which is near Bass Lake (where the amazing movie The Great Outdoors was filmed). We spent the afternoon at the lake and the girls loved the fact that the water was cool but not cold, and the mellow waves created by motor boats was just right. Keana is getting braver and braver in water, going in up to her chin and Maia slowly overcame her anxiety around the water. I hate to say that she got her papa’s comfort level with water. That night I barbecued tri-tip out on the deck and we dined outside with a great view of a monstrous “hill”, or little mountain, that’s covered with pines and granite boulders. The next day Sarah’s sister Iana, and her offspring Olivia, joined us at Bass Lake for more sun, fun, and general silliness.
The funny thing that I notice every time, and maybe it was even more striking since we had just been in Santa Cruz, was that there are two types of people: ocean people and lake people. Lake people are just slightly more rugged, maybe a little rough around the edges, and definitely more, how should I say…patriotic. Nevertheless, they are always friendly and we have yet to encounter any drunken-yahoo-badness. On the other hand, lake people are more down-to-earth and tend not to live in a spoiled fantasy.
Saturday morning was spent with Grandpa Robert and Nana Cin, and it’s always great to visit with them. The girls love performing for them and asking and answering a hundred questions. They especially love to help bake something in the kitchen with Cin so they were not disappointed there (Grandpa helped out too, especially with the logistics associated with shortness and counters and ovens). The car ride back to town was a sleepy one, the kids being totally worked from all our adventures.
So it was to the mountains and rivers, over to the beaches and oceans, and back up to the mountains and lakes for our last bit of summer vacation. Overall a really great week off, mostly outdoors, full of great weather, great smiles and laughter, and some great, and pretty classic, memories.