The Ten and Eight Summer: Just Right

Summer and I have not always gotten along well. As has been well documented in years past, there are two main problems with summer: 1) my own expectations, which are never quite realistic and, therefore, are never realized and then there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax, and 2) my discomfort with the lack of schedule and predictability that comes with summer, also resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax.

Basically, as soon as the kids head back to school, I split the time between my dentist and my therapist.

This year, I was hesitant to even attempt to envision what our summer would look like. I have learned from my past mistakes. As soon as I would I declare that I was going to let go! and enjoy! and just breathe!, the girls would be fighting again and I’d realize that my to-do list was getting longer, not shorter, and the familiar disappointment that summer was both too long and too short would settle over me. So this year? I just didn’t really think about it at all. I lay forth no expectations or dreams for The Great Summer Of 2015!! What would happen would happen.
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Also, I knew this year would be different. Given that we’ve spent virtually every single summer (since moving to Rochester) visiting my grandma at the lake, I knew that her not being there changed things significantly. It’s not that we couldn’t visit, but rather that it felt so very odd not having her there, so sad and just plain icky, we didn’t get down there as often as in the past; the change was noticeable and jarring.

And so I approached summer feeling… detached. I knew that the girls would be spending time with their grandparents while Nick and I went to Mexico, and I assumed that we’d all enjoy ourselves but I didn’t know if the change in routine would be a problem upon our return (as it has in the past). I knew that both Ella and Annie were signed up for only one week of half-day summer camp and I didn’t know if those few “free” hours would be enough for me to accomplish all that I wanted to, nor if only a single week of scheduled activity would be enough to entertain them.

I simply didn’t know.
So there seemed little left to do but take it in stride, one day at a time, and see how things went.

The result? Well, pretty much awesome. See, Ella and Annie are older this summer than they were last summer. I realize that this is kind of how life goes – miraculous informercial claims aside, people do tend to age – but still, I don’t think I was prepared for just how much their older-ness (yes, that’s a word) would impact things.

What I’m saying is, I think eight and ten are pretty terrific ages.
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Riding the Splat-O-Sphere (aka the Up And Down Ride) at the Mall of America.
Without me. Because I don’t like up and down rides. So they went, just the two of them, and loved it – while I got to sit on the sidelines and locate the nearest Starbucks. CAN I GET AN AMEN.
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We did, however, do the ropes course thingy together.

They’re old enough now to bike with friends around the block and to spend entire afternoons flitting between several neighborhood houses. When they’re hungry for a snack, they get one. By themselves. Sometimes, they even put the dishes away, too.

Sure, they needed refereeing now and again – and if I never hear another one-finger piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” or another verbal retelling of the cartoon “The Amazing World of Gumball”, it will be too soon – but, for perhaps the first summer ever, they didn’t need me to provide entertainment. They didn’t even look to me for guidance; in fact, most days, they preferred that I not intervene at all. They can even stay home alone for short periods of time (let us all enjoy a moment of silence at this incredible advancement) should I need to run a quick errand.

All of this is pretty much a win-win for everyone. The girls are happier because they’re doing what they want, on their own, without me hovering over them. I’m happier because I actually can accomplish things in my To Do Book, so this summer was much less of an empty vortex than previous summers (meaning I spent less time writing here, too).

We still have our Summer Fun List, of course, and have checked off many items. Unlike in years past when, a few days prior to the start of school, I would glance at the list and panic because we hadn’t gotten to everything, this year it hasn’t bothered me nearly as much. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I still feel that familiar anxiousness catch in my chest when I look at all that hasn’t been done, all the wonderful crafts and adventures and foods (how have we not made root beer floats this year??)… But the girls have made it clear that they’re happy with their summer. They don’t care that we didn’t make root beer floats. If we don’t manage to hike up a glen, that’s fine.

If they’re content with not making glow-in-the-dark slime, why should I feel bummed that it never got crossed off the list?

The time we’ve spent together – and there’s been plenty of it – has been lovely, too. They’ve become some of my favorite shopping buddies; they are a true pleasure to take out to lunch. They are wonderful boating companions and Harry Potter audiobook partners. Our conversations are multi-layered and filled with giggles and shared jokes and sarcasm (which I speak fluently, so this is a bonus). They’re just really super people to hang out with, which makes everything more enjoyable, really.
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Playing with the moon.

Ten and eight have created something magical: the most perfectest summer. The perfect mixture of doing and nothing, busy and relaxed, planned and spontaneous, me-time and them-time and us-time and family-time. Our travels didn’t phase them. Only one week of camp was all that any of us needed. The Xanax has been untouched and my teeth are still in good shape. We have had ten blissful weeks of summer and in the end, it was all… just right.

Today is the first day of school. While, as always, I find that I’m dumbstruck and sucker punched by how quickly the days have flown by, this year – for the first time – I’m neither mourning what could or should have been nor am I gleefully shipping them back to class, embracing the return to routine. I’m just loving who Annie and Ella are at this moment, grateful for our Great Summer of 2015.

They’ve got two days of school and then four days off for Labor Day weekend (I know; it doesn’t make sense to me, either), which – I’m thinking – will actually be a nice way to ease out of summer and into third and fifth grade. Plus, if they have trouble with the transition, I’ve got some glow-in-the-dark slime supplies just waiting to be opened.
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We went to a local amusement park on the day before school as our Last Hurrah (we do one annually; the activity changes from year to year). A good time was had by all, even when I was totally holding onto the ride’s handlebar for dear life so as to avoid squashing my children.

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At Least It Wasn’t Me

When we headed down to Cancún, I fully expected that I would commit some sort of embarrassing/hilarious (and perhaps ADHD-influenced) snafu that would be worthy of sharing with everyone back home. Perhaps I’d forget to remove the cardboard insert from a new pair of shoes or I’d encounter a wild animal that I would attempt to take home as a pet. At the very least, maybe I would scream in terror and cause another hotel guest to do the same.

The possibilities were endless, really!

Alas, by the end of our trip, no particular story emerged as one that was terribly share-worthy; my adventures were remarkably un-embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong – there were plenty of amusing moments during our 5.5 day sojourn. Our guide to Chichen Itza spoke incredibly good English but repeatedly uttered the phrase, “Let me be honesty with you…”, which caused our group to smile. We sat through dinner at a restaurant that was so uncomfortably and ridiculously hot, we sweated so much that we couldn’t finish our meals. We sang karaoke and brought the place to a halt with our rendition of “We Are The World”. (Several days later, people would approach us and say, “Wait! You’re the ‘We Are The World’ guys, right?” Indeed we are!)

Let’s not forget when Kiki and I participated in water Zumba. That was pretty damned amusing.
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And then there was the time I ordered three drinks all for myself and drank them at 10 p.m. while wearing a sun hat, but that’s neither here nor there. 

But overall, nothing of the Of COURSE It Was Emily variety.
All we had to do was get home.

One of the benefits of Nick traveling as often as he does is that he accrues a lot of airline miles, which can then be applied to upgrades or “free” tickets. Because of the celebratory nature of this trip, Nick decided to splurge and use his miles to get us first class seats for the Chicago-Cancún portions of our journey. It’s already been established that first class and I don’t get along so well, but this seemed like a good opportunity to mend our  differences and move forward.
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This was taken on the way TO Cancún; I know because there is a Bloody Mary and a mimosa involved.

Everything went swimmingly for the first half of the flight. We enjoyed our lunches but completely eschewed the alcoholic beverages; turns out, it’s definitely possible to reach your limit after five days of all-you-can-drink booze – who knew? I’d taken the aisle seat because I tend to need to use the bathroom at least twice during every single flight, so that when Nick required a trip to the loo, he had to maneuver around me to get to the aisle. He got up out of his seat just fine, began to scootch in front of me… and promptly spilled my entire cup of ginger ale — and ice (lots and lots of ice) — into my lap.

The sudden chill in my nether regions was what alerted me to his gaffe. (Have you ever dumped an icy beverage onto your lady [or gentleman] parts? If not, allow me to assure you that it is REALLY FREAKIN’ UNPLEASANT.) As the frigid ginger ale pooled onto the seat below my rear end, I immediately lifted my tush off of the seat to get away from it – but quickly discovered that I couldn’t quite escape the deepening disaster because my seatbelt was still fastened.

Safety first!

If you’ve spent any time in a car or plane with a seatbelt on (and really, you should; buckling up saves lives, for real), you know that straining against the belt makes it infinitely harder to unbuckle. The more I pushed upward to avoid the icy mess, the more impossible it was to unhook the clasp, meaning that for a good 20 seconds I was hovering with my tookus three inches above my soaking-wet seat while madly trying to release the hinge on the buckle (which made a delightfully angry clang! with each successive attempt).

First CLASSY, wouldn’t you say?

At last, I realized that, in order to extricate myself, I had to create a little slack in the line – which meant I had to lower my caboose a couple of inches back into the freezing puddle. Once I was free of the seatbelt, there were still the problems of a) the contents of my cup of ginger ale that were now seeping into my seat and b) my soaking wet pants and lady parts. After apologizing profusely for his mistake, Nick had hustled himself off to the bathroom… so I had to request some clean-up help from the flight attendant. When she handed me the wad of napkins to soak up the spill and the extra blankets to place on the seat (to “save” me from getting wet?), she did so with a look that clearly indicated she thought that I was responsible for the debacle.

Which, normally, would have been the case – but this time?? SO NOT MY FAULT.
Once he returned from the bathroom, do you think that Nick ‘fessed up and explained that he, not I, had spilled the drink and created this ruckus? Of course he did not.
And we hadn’t even been drinking. OH THE IRONY.

Miraculously, the blanket trick worked; by the time we landed at O’Hare, my pants were dry enough to not necessitate purchasing anything new for me to wear home. (Bonus: ginger ale dries clear, even on khakis.) We had seats in coach from Chicago to Rochester, which was probably good for everyone involved.

We are currently visiting family in Minnesota, as we do every summer. When Nick found out that he’d been upgraded to first class for one of our flights, he graciously offered his seat to me… and I graciously accepted. I regret am pleased to inform you that the entire flight went off without a hitch; nothing was spilled and I even managed to use the tray tables quietly. Go me!

There’s always the chance he could be upgraded on one of our return flights, however. If he does, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
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On the first flight to Mexico. Don’t we look bright-eyed and un-spilled upon?

It’s not CAN’T-cún… It’s CANcún*

This – 2015 – is a fairly big year for Nick and me: it’s the year we both turn forty. Upon realizing this several years back (yes, we had to realize it; getting older is rough, y’all), we decided that our upcoming forty-ness would be the perfect excuse to embark on an adults-only vacation – ideally with a bunch of other friends who were also 1975ers (or close enough).

After nearly four years of planning, in mid-July we found ourselves at an all-inclusive resort north of Cancún*, a spot chosen both for its geographic middle-ness (for friends from both coasts) and its ability to serve our needs perfectly.

* the joke in the title was made by one of my BFF’s husbands. It is awesome.

Want to just lounge by the pools and beach all day, every day? That was do-able.
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 The pool area was pretty much fabulous.  IMG_3961
Those chairs? Yup. IN the water.

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And beyond the infinity pool… the ocean. Not too shabby.

We – eleven of us in total, some of our closest friends and some delightful friends of friends who became our buddies, too – all spent ample time by both of these bodies of water. Yes, they were bath-water warm… but the air temperature hovered over 100* (without accounting for humidity), so they were still refreshing.

Want to relax in your hotel room in air-conditioned splendor and take in the view? We could accommodate that.
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The rooms were really quite lovely. And air-conditioned. Very, very air-conditioned.
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The ocean was SO RIDICULOUSLY TURQUOISE BLUE.IMG_3979
Hazy morning shortly after sunrise… It was already at least 93*.

Want to trek 2.5 hours inland through the jungle (no, I mean that literally; except for the developed areas, which are not large, the Yucatán Peninsula is essentially all jungle, with vegetation so thick and lush, you’d be hard pressed to physically fit between the trees) and visit one of the most incredible archeological, astronomical, and architectural displays imaginable? We could make that happen.
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This is what we saw as we crossed from the Gulf of Mexico over onto the Yucatán Peninsula, on which Cancún is located. That green stuff? JUNGLE. Real, live jungle.
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Helllooooo, Chichen Itza. 
In other news, the Mayan people were SERIOUSLY BADASS and WICKED SMART, yo.IMG_1475
Very sadly, you are no longer allowed to hike up the steps to the top.
So we posed (with Ryan, one of our best buds from college) in front instead.IMG_3890
Also? The Mayan people were serious about their ballgames.
As seen in this etching/carving (found on the side walls of the “ball court”), the warrior/player has a blade in one hand and the DECAPITATED HEAD of the captain of the WINNING TEAM in his other hand.IMG_3892a
Why, you ask, did the VICTORIOUS captain lose his head (as depicted above – look closely and you’ll see the kneeling warrior [one knee on the ground, the other bent] with his  missing head)? Because such an “honor,” after playing so well on the field, resulted in his immediately becoming a god and joining the other Mayan gods before him. Immortality and eternal praise? Not a bad prize, eh?!

Want to cool off after trudging around historic Mayan sites in the 105* Mexican sun by jumping into a cavernous sinkhole that’s more than 150′ deep? That could be arranged.
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This is the Ik-Kil cenote. It is crazy cool, both literally and figuratively.IMG_1515
I was too chicken to jump from the raised platform (up the stairs to the right; Ryan and my friend, Sarah, took that plunge), but I did jump in from the lower platform. After wandering around in the blazing jungle sun, it felt positively heavenly.

Want to take in some local sites and cuisine? That was do-able.
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Purchased at a roadside taco stand on the way to our resort.
When I say that I want to eat like the locals, I mean it.
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A gloriously colorful side street just off the main drag on Isla Mujeres, an island just across from Cancún.
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On the ferry to Isla Mujeres…

Want to just relax and never leave the resort, preferring instead to savor the all-you-can-eat food and endless alcoholic beverages? That was very, very do-able. IMG_1516
The ocean was very, very warm.IMG_1687
There are iguanas EVERYWHERE.IMG_3936
The pool complex at our hotel was right perty at night.IMG_1573
My mom sent me with these napkins to share with everyone. They were awesome.
CELEBRATE TURNING 40, DAMN IT!

Want to just soak in the splendor of the local colors, all of which are, somehow, more vibrant and vivid and awe-inspiring that anywhere else I’ve seen? We had that COVERED.IMG_1569
Do you SEE how insanely turquoise this water is??
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Regular old Cancún sunset, nbd.
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Purple and pink palm trees during the same sunset. Again, no biggie. They’re used to it.

Want to get a special little souvenir for your children and take photos of it all over the island? Have at it.
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 This is Itza, taking a dip in the ocean.IMG_1554
 She also enjoyed being poolside.IMG_1553
An evening sunset wasn’t so bad, either.

Most importantly, want the opportunity to get together with friends – some of whom you were meeting for the first time, some you hadn’t seen in years, and two of whom included some of your very best, closest friends on the planet… but who had never met one another before? And then maybe revel in the true deliciousness of having days and DAYS to hang out together and eat together and drink together and lounge together and talk together and drink together and sing together (karaoke, poolside guitar, and a cappella; we took the resort by storm, y’all) and relax together and drink together? (Yes, I know I said that three times. I do try for accuracy.) 

That was the most do-able — and the very best — thing of all.

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Nine of the eleven of us, post cenote-jumping and Chichen Itza exploring. We were very, very hot and very, very ready for a beverage (or several) back at the hotel, but also very, very excited to have seen such an incredible historical site. Plus also the van was air-conditioned.

I think this turning-forty thing may not be so bad. I’ve got several more months to go, but in the meantime, we are already on our way to forming the oldest group in the next Pitch Perfect movie. And I have some delicious Mexican chocolates to keep me company until then, too.IMG_1657
With two of my very bestest friends, Sarah and Kiki – who had never met one another before this trip – and their excellent, harmonic husbands.