Meet Rita Buettner:

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” After struggling with infertility, my husband and I were blessed to adopt our two sons from China. I’m a working mother who writes about family fun and faith. Oh, and I own hundreds of flyswatters. Join me on Twitter, say hello at openwindowcr@gmail.com, or follow me on Facebook

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Open Window

The summer our son learned to ride a bicycle

This weekend I watched as our younger son took off on two wheels, flying along with confidence, excitement, and joy.

Although I can ride a bicycle, I don’t know much about teaching someone how to ride. As far as I can tell the key is to get a bicycle, take off the training wheels, and give your child the time and space to figure it out.

Sure, my husband and I ran along behind him a bit, trying to show him how to balance, but I never felt we made much progress—and I am not a parent who stresses about hurrying children toward milestones. They all seem to reach them in their own time.



In the end, our little boy is riding his bicycle not because I taught him or told him to, but because he decided he wanted to ride it, because falling off over and over again didn’t scare him away, and because he had enough time at home this summer to practice.

Now, of course, he wants to ride all the time. He pedals and coasts and turns and flies as if he’s been riding for months or years—rather than days.



As he pedals on a trail in one of our favorite parks, I try to stay near him, but I am holding him back. Pedaling slowly to keep pace with me is interfering with his balance. I don’t want him to fall, so I tell him to go ahead.

He doesn’t hesitate and leaves me far behind. Part of me wants to yell, “Wait! Don’t go so fast. Don’t pedal so hard when you don’t know what’s around that bend. Before you try to do so much on your own, stop and think. And, please, please stop growing up.”



But I won’t say any of that. I can see him, even when he’s so small in the distance. He is alone, a boy with his bicycle, pedaling into the breeze, pushing up a hill, and showing no sign of slowing down. He’s thrilled to be going so fast, to be so independent, so free. Just when I think he might be getting too far away, he turns to come back toward me.



He comes flying back down the hill, his face lit up in an enormous smile. Even though part of me wants to slow down time, I know I can’t—and I wouldn’t try. Because he’s right where he should be. And so am I.

August 28, 2016 11:06
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes: Cousin fun, my failure as an aunt, Gotcha Day celebrations, singing the homework blues, and an Orioles game


~1~

Have I mentioned that we have two of our favorite out-of-town cousins visiting Baltimore this week? I haven’t? Well, then I have truly been remiss in my blogging efforts.



In fact, I know I have failed you because even they—we’ll call them Elise and Origen—have mentioned that they have not been appearing more in this blog this week. So let’s give them their moment in the pseudo-anonymous spotlight.



At 7 and 9, Elise and Origen are stair steps to our boys, who are 6 and 8. (For regular readers who are trying to keep track of relatives on their score card, the oldest sister of this family is “Eileen,” the rat enthusiast I have written about from time to time.)


Together this week we have visited Clark’s Elioak Farm and the Fire Museum of Maryland. We’ve played light sabers and baseball and had more fun than you can imagine.



I was hoping I might still have a shot at Aunt of the Year when I announced we were going to go get snowballs. We were on our way when I realized I only had $4 in my wallet—not enough for snowballs for four children.



You know how they say, “It’s the thought that counts”? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t apply to offering to treat your nephew and niece to snowballs and then realizing you can’t take them because you haven’t memorized your pin number for the ATM.

The Aunt of the Year, whoever she is, would never make that kind of mistake.

~2~

Even without snowballs, we have had fun this week, especially with the imaginative play. The other day when I picked the cousins up from my parents’ house to go on an outing, they had been playing with some little plastic toys in an elaborate story of their creation.

“What were you playing this morning?” I asked.

“Well,” said Elise, “the people in the game were Austrian, and we were pretending they had allergies.”

“What were they allergic to?” I asked—because I had to know, and I know you are wondering, too.

“Bathroom tiles, horses, and pasta al calvafiore,” she said.

So there we go.

By the way, if you haven’t had pasta al calvafiore, you don’t know what you’re missing—and it would make a lovely Friday evening dinner. So here you go.

~3~

You’ll be happy to hear that we did celebrate our Daniel’s Gotcha Day in every possible way.


We took him and his brother to Chuck E. Cheese, where we played many games, won even more tickets, and brought home some forgettable (or magnificent, depending on your perspective) prizes.



We took a trip to Walmart and looked at fishing nets and toys—but didn’t buy any. The man of the hour did talk me into two bouquets of fresh flowers. I’m a sucker for fresh flowers.



Then we invited family—including Elise and Origen—to come for an evening of Chinese food and archery and Legos and brownies. The children ate most of the dumplings off the tray even before dinner started, but somehow that felt appropriate.

Then we sang, “Happy Gotcha Day to You,” and the big brother leaned in with a stealth blow to extinguish the candles on his brownies.

As I started to cut him a brownie, he said, “Mama, I don’t really like brownies. Can I have a sugar cube instead?”

Five years. You’d think I would have given up on trying to serve celebratory baked goods by now.

~4~

A few weeks ago we held our own Ramen noodle taste test. At the time we thought we had all the flavors of Ramen. But every time we look at the grocery store, we see another flavor or two we haven’t tried.



So we had yet another taste test, and these were our results:

Gold: Pork/Shrimp

Silver: Oriental/Picante Chicken

Bronze: Chicken/Chili

Beef was ranked “second worst,” and Creamy Chicken received no medal.



~5~


I’d happily skip any and all homework. Don’t get me wrong. I love watching our children learn. We learn constantly. We ask questions and explore and add and subtract and analyze and read and discover. We talk about history and science and different cultures.

We don’t need worksheets or pages of homework or—worst of all this summer—a computer program with skills our children have to master when they should be spinning in circles in the yard or catching insects or naming shapes they see in the clouds.

“Why would anyone have nine lawnmowers?” my 8-year-old asked me a few days ago.

“Why would anyone make a tally sheet of the items he keeps in his shed?” I replied.

Then we laughed and laughed and laughed. So there’s one lesson we’ve learned this summer: Sometimes math problems are ridiculously funny.

And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if anyone ever forces me to create a computer program to teach children math skills, I am going to find a better way to reward them than a virtual stalk of celery.



Of course, you might argue that virtual celery is less disappointing than a virtual snowball.

~6~

The last time I made it to two Orioles games in a season was the year Cal Ripken retired. So it has been a while. But a friend offered my father tickets to a game against the Washington Nationals this week, so we took Daniel and Origen and headed to the park.



It was the perfect night for a game—not hot, not cold, not humid, and not a great night for the opposing team.



My son spent the game hoping a foul ball would land in his glove. I spent the game hoping the batters would hit the baseballs the other way since I knew neither of us could catch a foul coming that fast.



We could, however, catch a few Pokemon, so we did.



And, of course, we made sure my nephew received his certificate for attending his first Orioles game. He may be going home to a different major league team's territory tomorrow, but he's officially an O's fan. So there.

~7~

I’m sorry to say, but this week’s quick takes are coming to an end.

“That’s not fair!” you say.

Well, I’ll tell you what my younger brothers always told me when we were growing up—quoting one of their teachers: “If you want fair, you’ll have to go to Timonium.”

And since the Maryland State Fair is now underway at the Timonium Fairgrounds, for once that is true.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum, and have a wonderful weekend!

August 26, 2016 09:56
By Rita Buettner


Squeezing every last drop out of summer vacation


School starts for our sons on Monday. At this point, I wouldn't say we are counting down to the first day of school. Instead, we are avoiding talking about school and making the most of this time.

Now and then I mention that we might want to think of getting on a school schedule, but it’s summertime. We are drifting into our beds late and stumbling out of them early.

Maybe I’ll regret that approach when school starts on Monday. Nah. Monday is going to be hard either way. We might as well treat summertime as summertime and not as some time to ramp up for the school year that lies ahead.




Don't get me wrong. We love our school. But summer vacation has flown by. And, did I mention that our school day is starting 15 minutes earlier this year? Did I also mention that we just barely made it on time most days last year?

Next week I’ll care. Maybe I’ll even start caring on Sunday night.

That’s when I’ll be concerned that one boy has two pairs of uniform pants that fit and the other has 12.

That’s when I’ll wish I had cleaned last year’s (now this year’s) lunchboxes thoroughly and left them to dry in the sun.

That’s when I’ll regret that I haven’t taken the summer homework assignments more seriously.


(That's Goldilocks at Clark's Elioak Farm.)

Except I won’t have any regrets. Because that first day of school will come regardless of what we do now. And I didn't take this week off from work to scrub out lunchboxes. I took the time to enjoy with our sons. Will we win any awards for being prepared for school? Of course not. Some battles are lost before they’re begun.

The only battle I have the energy to fight is the one where we make the most of these last days of summer.



So we’re eating breakfast late.

We’re rooting on the Orioles late into the evening.



We’re catching a few more Pokemon.



We’re enjoying the best weather of the summer.



We’re reading books no one assigned and playing made-up games no one really understands and eating frozen desserts whenever we want.

I’m not sure we’ll be ready to leave this attitude behind even when the school year starts. That, of course, is why school should start after Labor Day. But that may be another topic for another day.

For now we are on summer vacation. And we are summering as hard as we can.

August 24, 2016 11:08
By Rita Buettner


Celebrating adoption: The day you meet your child for the first time


There’s nothing like that first time you see your child in person.

You see his picture and fall in love. You fill out piles and piles of paperwork, get fingerprinted twice, fill out more paperwork, and then finally pack your bags to travel to the other side of the world.

Even once you’re in China, the minutes drag by. You’re always on the brink of laughing and crying, a bundle of nerves and excitement and wonder and hope.



You’re about to hold your son in your arms.

This little one’s story doesn’t begin with you, just as your story doesn’t begin with him. But your stories are intersecting and once they do, they will be joined forever. You can’t wait.

But you have to wait. One more day. Three more hours. Thirty more minutes.

Just when you think you might explode from impatience, you’re there—and hold on, so is he. Is that the child you've been waiting for? That little boy clutching a bag of snacks?



It is. He looks tired and hot—it’s August in Guangzhou, after all—and he’s absolutely beautiful.


He has silky hair and deep brown eyes, perfect sweet little lips, a SpongeBob outfit his big brother at home will envy, and a head he buries in your shoulder—and then his father’s.

Somehow he’s both bigger and smaller than you thought he’d be. You and your husband take turns holding him and signing papers and holding him again. You’re smiling and crying and talking to him, drinking him in.

You can’t get enough of him. You know you never will.


You’re strangers and yet family. You’re joined forever and yet you can barely communicate. You’re promising to love and protect him forever, and yet he isn’t sure he trusts you enough to accept that sippy cup of apple juice.

You can’t blame him. You can’t even guess what he’s thinking.

But day by day, hour by hour, you learn one another. You grieve together. You laugh together. You hear him call you “Mama” and “Baba” on your first night together. You watch this shy little boy with a whispering voice start to sing songs for you in Cantonese and then become the life of the party. You marvel at him and wonder how you could ever have been granted the tremendous gift of being his mother. You still don't know.



Five years later, you’re telling him again about that day—as you have so many times before. He doesn’t remember it. He was only a 20-month-old toddler, not the 6 1/2-year-old dynamo he is now. But he listens to you tell a story from another side of the world, from another moment in time, the story of the day you became his parents and this amazing child became your son.

Then he runs off to play with his older brother.

When you adopt—or even when you give birth—you know you’re saying yes to parenting a child. That’s a yes, you could argue, that we voiced as a couple on our wedding day nearly 12 years ago. But you don’t know all that "yes" fully entails. You don't know who that child is. You don’t know who that child will grow to be. And so every day is like opening a present.



That day we first met our son was a gift. So is today. And so was every day along the way.

But today is extra special, especially because, as our younger son reminds us, “it is my Gotcha Day”—the anniversary of the day we met, five years ago.

How will we celebrate? Our little guy wants to go fishing, eat lunch at his favorite Mexican restaurant, take in an Orioles game, have his cousins over for dinner for Chinese food and brownies, buy a new toy, hunt for Pokemon, get fresh flowers for our house, and do a thousand other activities he's still thinking of.

Somehow I don’t think we will be able to fit that all in. But we will make sure we celebrate this little boy we held in our arms for the first time five years ago. We are so blessed, and he is so very loved. 



~~~~~~~
A Prayer for the Anniversary of the Day a Child Joins His/Her Family

On this day and every day, Lord,

we thank you for bringing us together as a family.

Thank you for giving this child life

and for giving him/her so many loving people

who have helped him/her along the way.

We ask that you continue to bless

all those who have loved and supported this child,

especially his/her birthparents.

Wherever life leads this child, please let him/her know

that he/she can always turn to you

for strength, for courage, and for peace.

Please help our family continue to

grow in love of one another and of You,

and let us never take for granted

the love and the life that we share.

Amen.

August 21, 2016 11:11
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes: Bringing the Olympics home, gearing up for school, cardboard treasures, vegetable fun, grocery shopping as entertainment, and the last days of summer


Five years ago today John and I boarded a plane to fly to China to meet our baby boy. Now he's 6 1/2 and getting ready to start first grade. If you're curious about the day we met our younger son, here you go. We are so blessed.

~1~

This morning I walked past as our boys were rough housing a bit on the couch. I'm not a morning person, and I could barely tell what they were doing.

“Are you fighting each other with your feet?” I said. "You know we don't do that."

“It’s OK,” said our 6-year-old. “We’re just practicing diving.”


~2~

Jumping hurdles looked like so much fun that we set some up in the yard. My husband thought of pulling out the traffic cones we have and stretching painter’s tape across the top.



It worked beautifully because when they hit the hurdles—as they did more than a few times—the tape just stuck to them. Peeling the tape off their legs was almost as much fun as jumping the hurdles.

~3~

We found backpacks and shoes, and I think we are almost ready for school to start—except that we don’t want it to. Oh, and we haven’t completed the summer math assignments and probably won’t. I mean, school starts really soon.



But I realized last week that our boys need to wear navy blue socks to school for the first time this year. When we went to buy school uniforms, I asked a salesperson how much the navy blue socks were. They were $5 a pair.

“Five dollars?” I said. “Wow. Well, I don’t know what navy blue socks usually cost, but I am thinking I might be able to do better than that.”

The good-natured salesperson and I laughed for a few minutes about what a pair of $5 socks might be able to do. At a minimum, I would think those socks could finish the math homework for you. Then I checked out and left the store.

I looked in a few more stores, but I couldn’t find navy blue socks. So, congratulating myself on my efficiency, I ordered some online.

Then when the socks came, they were black. I knew I had ordered navy blue! But when I looked at the order, I had definitely ordered black. Sigh.

So I ordered a whole new set of navy blue socks, and they arrived. So I ended up paying $2.30 a pair, but $4.60 to get the navy blue pairs. Um…look at all I saved?

So much for me and my smart-alecky remarks at the uniform store.



~4~

The other evening a friend and Daniel helped me with a project at the office. As his reward, he got some enormous pieces of cardboard we were going to recycle.



Is there anything in adult life that is as much fun as a huge piece of cardboard is to a child?

~5~

One of our friends lets us pick up her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) order when she and her family are out of town, and this week they were away. We get very excited because they have an egg share, which means I bring home fresh, multi-colored eggs that have the most beautiful golden yolks. Dinner that night was scrambled eggs with tomato and onion and cheese.



I wasn’t sure about one of the vegetables, so I did what anyone would do. I took a picture and posted it on Instagram, and my friends there told me it was a white eggplant. So I could just treat it like an eggplant. (There are also apps for this. A friend recommended Leafsnap, though I haven't tried it myself.)



There was also a bag of greens that I thought must be kale. I looked up a recipe for sautéed kale, but when I pulled the greens out of the bag, I realized it was just spinach. Ignorant I may be, but I do know how to cook spinach. So that was easy. I cooked it in garlic and chicken broth. Sadly, that didn’t make my children any more interested in eating it, but I thought it was delicious.



One day I will do some more adventurous cooking, but the past few days have been so busy that we just limped throughwith our dinners. Next week I’m off from work for a staycation with the boys, though, so maybe I’ll make something and share it on the blog.

Then you won’t think I’m some amateur in the kitchen who doesn’t know a white eggplant—or even spinach—when she sees it.

~6~

A note to parents of young children: Right now grocery shopping may be a nightmare, but one day you will realize that grocery shopping with kids can actually be a great outing. I took our boys to Wegman’s on a Saturday afternoon and we all survived.



We ate all the free samples, watched the train run around the tracks overhead, went back and forth across the store at least four times because we always forget something, didn’t run into a single person with our cart, and we had a fantastic time. I still can’t believe it myself.

Miracles happen every day.

~7~

Speaking of miracles, today was our last day with our summer sitter. Have I raved about her? Probably not. But she has been wonderfully patient, fun and creative, attentive and caring.

Our boys have had the best summer because they were able to spend time in their own home with a terrific sitter who knew how to pitch a baseball and make fun crafts and even design a skee ball game on the driveway.



I’m so grateful that our children have so many people who help them grow and learn in so many ways. I wish I could have more time with them during the summer, but when I can’t, our family is so blessed to know they are in good hands.

What a magical summer.


~ Bonus Take ~

You might enjoy this piece I've been wanting to write for a long time, but finally pulled together for my Domestic Church column in The Catholic Review: Life is not a race.

Hope you are able to have a relaxing weekend as the summer is winding down.

August 19, 2016 11:16
By Rita Buettner


Lessons children can learn from the Olympics


We tried to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and we gave up before the athletes even came in. Those ceremonies were entertaining at first, but they ended up being rather long. Our children kept asking me to fast forward.

Live TV is so confusing.

What we have enjoyed is watching some of the actual athletic competitions. With some help from our children, I figured out how to turn the TV on. I still don’t know why it takes three remotes to accomplish something I used to be able to do with the turn of a knob. Wow, I sound old.

In between the commercials, we have watched some diving, track and field, and water polo. Pole vaulting might be our favorite. Or Usain Bolt. It’s a toss-up. We’ve even watched some table tennis. I love the stories. Our boys love the competitions.




As we watch, I hope our sons are learning a few lessons.

  1. It’s a small world. Some of the athletes are from our city. Others are from the same provinces in China as our children. We get to talk about where different countries are, what those countries are known for, whether we’ve been there (a short list), and people we know whose family came from those countries.
  2. You can be a gracious winner or a gracious loser. During the media interviews with the athletes, you can see that some are more humble, and others have more of an ego. But most of them seem to know how to show that they are proud to have won, but also grateful to be where they are.
  3. You have to play fair. A false start can disqualify one of the best runners in the world. And it is heartbreaking to watch him grieve on the sidelines.
  4. God is only a prayer away.
  5. An Olympic athlete doesn’t just represent herself, but her country.
  6. Getting to the Olympics is hard. Some of these athletes’ stories are compelling. Some of them made bad decisions on the way, and they have had to overcome those decisions to get here.
  7. Olympic fans can root for anyone we want. So some of our family is cheering for the USA. Others are cheering for China because we are very proud of our family’s Chinese heritage. And sometimes we cheer for Jamaica or Germany or Japan. Because we can.
  8. Water polo is a sport. And women’s boxing. Who knew?
Oh, and we’re learning that the polite thing would be to wait just a few minutes to put a microphone in someone’s face—at least until that amazing athlete can catch his breath.



Are you watching the Olympics? What lessons are you hoping your children are learning?

August 16, 2016 11:06
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: The Olympics, the case of the vanishing cheese balls, egg hunts in August, a backpack search, and other shopping fun


~1~

I’ve already written about my least favorite Olympic moment of the week. 

My favorite—and likely Baltimore’s favorite—moment: when Michael Phelps went from near tears to laughter while the national anthem played, all because some Baltimorean friends yelled out “Oh!” during the anthem. 

That’s what we do in Charm City to honor our Orioles.
Michael isn’t the only local kid making us proud. Look at Katie Ledecky and others who are leading "Team Maryland."

I’ve also enjoyed reading about Michael’s faith journey

~2~

Our summer sitter is watching our boys and two of their friends this week, so Daniel and I made a grocery run for snacks last weekend. I picked apple slices. He picked an enormous container of cheese balls.

How long does it take four children to eat 150 servings of cheese balls? That sounds like one of the painful math problems our children are supposed to be working on in their mandatory summer homework assignments.



Guess which we’ll finish first, the cheese balls or the summer math assignments. Or just guess which one we'll finish at all.

~3~

The other night I came across our plastic Easter eggs, and I had an idea. Why couldn’t we have an Easter egg hunt in August? I didn’t want to fill the eggs with candy, and I didn’t have enough pennies. I thought we might do puzzle pieces, but then I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to find all the eggs, and they would be frustrated.



But we all like Pokemon. So I printed out little pictures of Pokemon characters, and we cut them up and put them inside.



I’ll hide them before I leave for work, and then the four children can hunt them down. I hope the whole activity takes longer than three minutes.

~4~

We did all our school supply shopping in one trip last week. But I still need to get backpacks for the boys. They had talked me into rolling backpacks until I started shopping and realized:
  • there weren’t many options
  • most of them are for girls (which is so annoying on so many levels)
  • they cost so much money
  • the reviews weren’t great
  • if you have to pick up a rolling backpack, it weighs more
  • if I invest in rolling backpacks, this could be the year the school bans them, as other schools have, and then I will be unhappy

So I am back to looking for ordinary backpacks. What I insist on:
  • no characters on it so we can keep it forever and never get tired of it
  • a water bottle pocket on the outside
  • space inside the backpack for books, lunchbox, and a sweater or sweatshirt
What I really want is a backpack:
  • that fills itself every morning, including packing lunches
  • that remembers to check the homework
  • that gets us to school on time
This should be a cinch.

~5~

The other night I was making popcorn in the microwave, which somehow never seems to cook items as well or as quickly as it should. As I started pressing the buttons, I said out loud, “One day we will need to get a new microwave.”

I made two bags of popcorn, and the boys devoured it. But when I went to make a third bag, the microwave wouldn’t work. We checked the circuit breaker and everything was fine. The microwave simply refused to work.



There was only one person to blame, of course. I felt a little guilty because even though the microwave isn’t great, it was at least working before I insulted it.

But then the next day it was working just fine. So who knows? Maybe it was just sulking.

~6~

Daniel and I have been shopping together on our backpack quest, yet we always seem to get distracted.

One day we got lost in the kayaks.



Another day we rode the escalator—and let our cart ride the one next to us.


I still can’t believe we live in an era where photocopiers are possible, never mind that Pokemon live among us, so this kind of technology? Mind-blowing.

~7~

Our find of the week, though, was a wastebasket shaped like a basketball net.



We haven’t used it as a wastebasket yet, but we have had plenty of fun.

Hope you have a great weekend, with or without cheese balls and a basketball net wastebasket. Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

August 11, 2016 10:51
By Rita Buettner


Thank you, Al Trautwig: Feeling grateful for an Olympics announcer’s lack of understanding of adoption


Dear Mr. Trautwig,

By now I think you get it. When Simone Biles was adopted, the people who adopted her became her parents. You don’t need to call them her grandfather and his wife, or her mom and dad, or even her “adoptive parents.”

They are her parents. Plain and simple and forever.

Maybe you’re too busy working the Olympics to realize it, but you’re getting virtually beaten down on social media. I don’t blame the people who are angry with you for saying, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” I was pretty upset the first time I read that, too.
But I’ve been thinking about you and what you said, and I decided I’m not angry with you. In fact, I’m actually grateful.

You may not have known it, but when you spoke so dismissively about Simone’s parents, you opened up a powerful conversation. So many people don’t know how to speak about adoption. They want to use the right words. They don’t want to offend people—especially families formed through adoption. They want to understand and to know how to acknowledge the loving relationships in families appropriately, but they don’t always know what the right vocabulary is.

But you! On an international stage, in a broadcast that millions of people were watching, you opened the door for a lesson in appropriate adoption language. Your tweet, brash and dismissive as it seemed, was countered with an outpouring of voices calling for deeper understanding of adoption, of family, of love.

So thank you. I know you didn’t do it on purpose. I imagine you might still be sitting there, stunned by the anger you encountered with your words. But where you dropped the equivalent of a smoldering cigarette, people who cared sprang into action—and a whole garden has bloomed.

Maybe you’ll go home from the Olympics a little wiser. Simone will go home with the gold.

And maybe more than a few people have been reminded that parents are parents, and family is family, and adoption is for real and forever.

Sincerely,

A Mother of Two


August 09, 2016 11:06
By Rita Buettner


Let me tell you all about our family vacation


I just returned home from vacationing with 26 of my favorite people in the world—my husband, our two sons, and my father, mother, two brothers, three sisters, two sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, six nieces, and six nephews.



You might be surprised to hear this, but I was a little nervous going into the week. We have gone on family vacations for a few years now, but we usually stay in two separate houses. In two houses, people have a little more…space. I wasn’t sure how a week-long trip to the beach would go with so many people with so many opinions and so many different expectations in one house.




But my family is obviously terrific, and with three of my siblings living out of state, we rarely all get together. So this was a wonderful opportunity for us to spend time as a group. And I have to say that it ended up being lots of fun, especially for the children.

There was always someone to play with or talk to or trade baseball cards with. You never had to look far for a grandparent or aunt or uncle who could find you a snack in the kitchen—or look away while you helped yourself to one. The homemade dinners were generous and delicious and served early so we’d have time to hit the beach for kite flying or the boardwalk for rides.

I just hope we have enough noodles...


There was always a baby to hold or a grandparent ready to hang out with a grandchild. If you dropped your cup of grape juice all over the floor, there was an aunt there to clean it up—and if you sprinted away fast enough, maybe no one would remember who spilled it. Well…no one was that lucky.

My one brother and his wife and two children rented a room in a hotel a few blocks away, so they weren’t sleeping in the same space. The other 23 of us stayed in two apartments in the same house: six bedrooms, four bathrooms, two outside showers, three cribs, four sleeping bags, one child on a pull-out couch, two kitchens, and one night where the power went out and there was no air conditioning.



That night might not have been the highlight. Or it might have been an amazing adventure. The jury is still out. But it was memorable. And so was the whole week.



The quirkiest thing about our living situation was that there were two ways to get from the first floor to the second floor:

1. You could walk through a bedroom to reach the steps, but only if my 3-month-old niece was not sleeping or eating there. Do you know how often babies sleep and eat?

2. You could go out the front door, walk down the front steps, follow the sidewalk alongside the house, come up the back steps, come through the laundry room, and climb the steps to the second floor.


If I had a dollar for every time I made the circuit to run upstairs for a stuffed cat or downstairs for a jar of Parmesan cheese or upstairs to find someone or downstairs to find the person I had gone upstairs to find, I might have enough money to win a stuffed Pikachu from a claw machine. But probably not because if we learned one thing this summer, it’s that claw machines are a rip-off although we still want to keep trying.



What was funny to me was the difference in the culture between the two apartments. One morning my father (on the second floor) posted a photo of his yogurt and granola breakfast on Facebook. We countered from the first floor with a photo of Fractured Prune donuts.



One night my sister-in-law, who was staying on the second floor, made the loveliest tray of roasted vegetables, straight from the local farmers market. My husband climbed the steps to the upstairs kitchen, looked at the vegetables, and came back down.

“You need to go up there,” he said. “There is food that needs to be appreciated, and someone needs to do the appreciating.”

So off I went. I oohed and aahed and appreciated. Then I ate the vegetables. They were delicious.

That’s what family vacations are about: give and take and eating and noise and noticing that sometimes your spouse needs you to make the trek upstairs to eat roasted peppers and mushrooms.

Then you come back downstairs, pull a climbing child off of the fireplace, tell another to stop spinning the chairs in the living room, cook some noodles for a child who ate 20 minutes ago and is hungry again, and send someone back upstairs—perhaps going around the block on the way—to collect the Parmesan cheese.



This week we are happy to be home in our own beds with our own space and our own everything. But we do miss the beauty of the beach, the fun of the boardwalk, and hanging out with the cousins.

When we came home, our 6-year-old and I were telling a friend about our trip, and she said, “Wow. 27 people.”

“Actually," he said, “I think it was about a million.”

I started to correct him, but then I had a sudden flashback to the week of serving a million plates of spaghetti, sunscreening a million children, and telling people at least a million times to stop climbing the fireplace and spinning the chairs in the living room. But you won't hear me complaining. After all, our children had a million times more fun than we expected, and we made at least a million memories.


August 07, 2016 11:06
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: Continued birthday celebrations, Old Bay pasta, Pokemon hunting at the beach, school supplies, and how we pack for the beach


~1~

We spent last week at the beach, and I have so much to share with you from our trip. I’m hardly sure where to begin—well, besides sharing what it’s like to vacation as a group of 27. Tune in for that post soon.

Because we were at the beach for my birthday and I was on vacation the whole week, my colleagues acknowledged my birthday with text messages and Facebook posts.

That was absolutely fine, of course.

But when I returned to the office on Monday morning, I found a table full of muffins and pastries and decorations everywhere.



I mean, everywhere. Who knew they even knew I was turning 40?



Aren't I lucky to work with such great people?

~2~

This week I have received so many thoughtful gifts from colleagues and friends.



I closed out the birthday celebrating with lunch with two good friends. We always celebrate our birthdays together over lunch.

I had this salad…



And this dessert…


All in all, I am a bit overwhelmed with all of the celebrating, even for me, a person who believes birthdays should be treated like national holidays.

~3~

Worthy of its own take: My mother and one of my sisters-in-law gave me a bag of Old Bay pasta they found at a farmers market.



Old Bay and Parmesan cheese. Two of my favorite foods in one place. Yum.

~4~

Although our zeal for Pokemon hunting has calmed down a bit over the past few weeks, we had a blast catching them at the beach. They were all over the boardwalk, and many of the businesses had “lures” on their Pokestops.

We have yet to catch them all, but we have caught, hatched, or evolved 78 of the 148 available. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad or just entirely crazy.



Oh, and our beach house? It was next to a Pokestop. So we could collect Pokeballs every 5-10 minutes without leaving the comfort and air conditioning of the house.

Are you playing too?

~5~

We were walking down the boardwalk one day when John spotted a former classmate he hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. He recognized him and walked over to say hello and introduce the rest of us. It turned out his classmate had adopted his daughter from China, from the same province as our younger son.

They were talking about boring grown-up things, so our boys taught their 10-year-old how to play Pokemon Go while we chatted.

So we stood there on the boardwalk talking life and adoption and being parents while our children who were all born on the opposite side of the world played together. It’s a small world.

~6~

We took one trip to an office supply store and got everything on our school supply list. Done, done, and done. Now we just need a few more uniform items, including shoes, and maybe new backpacks. I’m just not sure that Leo has a big enough backpack for third grade.



I only take two very excited children shopping for school supplies once a year—if that—but when we walked up to the register, the cashier said, “I remember you! Last time you both wanted snacks!”

Is it good or bad that we are that memorable a year later?

Maybe you shouldn’t answer that. Let’s just focus on the joy of having found the right accordion-style folder for third grade.

~7~

Last week I was thinking that some people pack like this for a morning at the beach.



Note that they have their own windsock.

My family of four dresses and sunscreens at the house. Then we take:

- Two towels
- Keys that may or may not open the door to the house
- A camera (and a Ziplock bag so I can tuck it away when needed)
- A few toys



Next beach trip I might start taking a book. And I was thinking maybe an umbrella? But I really like traveling light.

What do you take to the beach?

Have a great weekend and find more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

August 05, 2016 03:48
By Rita Buettner

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