My mother is an accomplished needlewoman and has spent years painstakingly creating Christmas stockings for our entire family. She did the ones for Patrick and my older nephews first, then an Edward stocking (it features a Christmas tree covered with tiny cars and traffic lights) and one for Caroline (a mouse dollhouse; it's like forty pounds of cute squashed into fifteen inches of adorable.) Not entirely sure how Steve (*cough* blatant favoritism *cough cough*) wound up being the first adult in Clan Hipp O'Griff to have a stocking done by my Mom but... whatever. The point is that when my mother presented the finished stocking to Steve she said, sweetly,"And there is love in every stitch."
Then she added, "Except the last two hundred or so because by that point I really just wanted to get the damned thing done."
I laugh every time I think about this and I wish you could meet my mother because it's even funnier but I mention it now because this sentiment encapsulates exactly how I felt about our vacation. I loved it, it was wonderfully perfect and perfectly wonderful but by the last forty-eight hours it was all I could do not to throw myself out the window of the moving car rather than spend another millisecond with the family I love more than salt.The journey of a thousand miles might start with a single step but the roadtrip of three times ditto ends with the family's introverted matriarch shrieking, "The next person to pinch, poke, slap, kick, tease, touch, sing near, speak to, breathe on or think about another member of this family will be left at a gas station and I mean it!"
So. Much. Togetherness. My. God.
But - that said and now that I have had over a week to recuperate all alonely - it was a great trip with the birth father family visit on one side; seeing birth mother family plus very old friends plus a goodly chunk of Steve's aunts and uncles on the other; and, in between, sandwiched like the minty center of a jumbo peppermint patty, was Tyler Place.
Oh Tyler Place. I wish there was a font made out of hearts and flowers because I would use it right now without a trace of irony. It's... how to say? It's, like, part summer camp, part Club Med. It's a family resort that caters to the entire family and they do it very, very, VERY well. They are brilliant at managing children; organizing them into clusters by tiny subsegments of age and tailoring their activities accordingly. Caroline and Edward swam, fished, trampolined, nature walked, biked, crafted, cooked, scavenger hunted, waterslided, rode ponies, saw a magic show, had a costume parade... it was amazing. Every day we dropped them at the senior midget clubhouse (even the spaces are clever - the toddler playhouse to which they went two years ago was full of toys and soft surfaces; the space for the 4's and 5's is open except for wall cubbies and it's full of tricycles and balance bikes and scooters. they even had their own outdoor play structure that is sized perfectly for the age) where they gave them breakfast, did (see above) and then lunch. We'd pick them up for the afternoon and then bring them back for dinner and evening activities. Edward, of course, cried at drop-off most days but Edward cries in between jellybeans (it is so sad and hard and unacceptabuh to transition from that blue one to this green one, you know?) that we managed to be stoic in the face of his grief and he eventually realized that his love for the room full of self-propelled vehicles surpassed his filial devotion anyway.
Caroline loved every goddamned second of it, made a million new best friends, invited everyone to sleep over at our cottage and was eventually named TP Princess during their award ceremony. Cue surprise.
Patrick was in the preteen group so he got to hang out in the basement sanctuary for all things preteen: board games, couches that have seen better days, a pool table, an air hockey table, a ping pong table, a foozball table... cooooool. Or rather, shrug, "cool I guess" because, you know, it's all good. We gave him permission to sign himself in and out of his group, which meant that for one week he experienced the sort of heady autonomy that suburban kids don't even realize can exist before high school. In the absence of sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation the only time Patrick leaves a building is when someone is waiting to drive him somewhere else, so the fact that he was able to come and go like Gandalf was probably the highlight of his trip. That and the banana boats and the tubing and this game called Tantrix and the fishing and the kayaking and hanging out with Charlie* while they sent each other inappropriate drawings through DS.
I asked if he wanted to come back to Tyler Place next year and he said, "yes" and when I asked him why he said, "I just like it. That's it. I just like it." Coming from Patrick this is tantamount to renting a seaplane with a banner or jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.
Steve and I made friends. Not with each other although (wink) but with some of the other guests and we suddenly realized that there is this whole side to things that we hadn't understood the first two times we went. We had seen it primarily as a(n) (admittedly wonderful) place where competent professionals take your children away so you can sleep and eat bacon with both hands. In previous years we did some of the activities and Steve learned to sail and we met some people but this year we were both, like, WOW, did you talk to... ? and have you met... ? It was so much fun. I expect Patrick and Edward and Caroline (especially Caroline) to make friends on a near daily basis but I'm trying to think of the last time I met, say, ten people in one week who I liked this much. I'm pretty sure it was during college orientation, it involved a lot of beer and they were all male.
So in conclusion, Tyler Place: you should totally go.
* Julie told me about it in the first place and she and I have gone the same week ever since with the exception of last year when we went to see my brother's new baby in Seattle and she somehow managed to enjoy herself anyway. This year we were put into adjacent cottages that were separate but shared an entryway and Caroline Edward Charlie Ben and Patrick went back and forth between families. It was awesome and I have a new appreciation for communes. One afternoon, for example, Julie's mother (our moms and Papa Stan came too - something for everyone) took Patrick and Charlie kayaking while Steve and I took Caroline Ben and Edward out on a sailboat. Another day Caroline and Edward went over to do art projects with Ben while Charlie and Patrick went up to the preteen area to play air hockey. Ben strategized a way that Caroline and Edward could sleep over. When Julie pointed out they already had one bed per person he thought about it and suggested that Caroline and Edward could sleep in between Julie and Paul - sounded fine to me. As it happened Caroline and Edward shared the top bunk of a bunk bed by choice every night so I don't think they would have felt crowded...
[Ha! I just checked Julie's blog and we've written more or less the same thing. Same anecdotes and everything. Whoops.]
Some random pictures:
Favorite spot II
Steve's family had a pony when he was growing up. They also had a pool. I frequently reference this fact when I think he is being... unreasonable. Like, maybe that's the sort of idea that made sense to your pony when he was swimming in his [censored] pool but in the real world... . Now that I see Edward on a pony, however, I kinda get it. He was damned cute.
They did not let him take this pony into the pool.
Patrick would kiss his fingers into a peace sign as he escorted himself to group and wave him at me. I think he was saying "peace out ya'll" and that encourages me because he is clearly saluting off the slide here.
Ever since our return Edward has been trying to figure out how he can keep his racecar bed but also get a bunkbed. He is still trying to convince Caroline that she should get the bunkbed and he'll just... use it.
Caroline is smart and strong and magnetic and strangely charming and blindingly outgoing and emphatically the most alpha of alphas I have ever met. Princess? Sure. But one who happened to be dressed as a crayon about to do a reverse punch.
After Tyler Place we had the nicest visit ever with Steve's birth mother and her family at their lake cottage. I have much more to say about that later but this photo is from that visit and she's wearing a pearl ("pearl") choker she got at a flea market. I love this picture of her responding to Steve. Nuff said.
Which brings me to Patrick who has something he would like to ask you:
Hi it's me Patrick. I know my mom told you I was collecting license plates. I was originally trying to collect every state, but now I am inclined to create this giant art installation with them instead. I have used my money from selling mushrooms to rent a po box in hopes you or your friends might have some old license plates you can send me. I will love any plate no matter what condition or where it is from. If I get a good enough response my mom says she will let me set up my own blog and I can use it to keep you up to date on my art project with pictures. If you have a story attached to the license plate (like about the car or something) I would love to hear it too. And finally if you want me to pay you back for the cost of sending the plate to me just tell me and put your name and address with the plate.
Patrick PO Box 251306 Woodbury MN USA 55125