Our blended family vacation was just—amazing. My heart is so full right now.
We spent the first week with my mom and my family, traveling back and forth between her retirement condo and my brother’s farm. My sister-in-law runs a 100 acre farm (cattle), and to the girls’ delight, there were four baby cows meandering around the “front” of their “front yard” which is really bigger than a football field, running from the inner fence to the gate at the end of the gravel lane that is their driveway to the road. She has two horses to help manage the cattle—which the girls adore. DD1 is a brownie and had recently gone on a horseback riding field trip; and funnily enough, DD2 even remembered our visit in 2012—both girls have been since praying nightly for our ‘whole family’ that includes these two horses since they met them two years ago. Talk about tenacious! Anyway, my sister-in-law took them on horseback all around the farm land, walking, trotting and cantering. The look of glee on my daughters’ faces is something I will never forget.
In the mean time, as the girls were taking turns riding, I decided to be the “cool” aunty with my 8 year old nephew and accompanied him mountain biking around said farm. And not to be coy, but this farm is not on ‘flat” land, it’s all rolling hills and pasture, includes various forests to walk through (and duck under branches and plenty of roots for which to pop wheelies, lol), a running creek filled with fossils, a “P” tree which I thought meant going number 1, but turned out to be a sideways leaning tree that was actually shaped in a P, an algae filled pond, and various landmarks such as “dusky ridge.” As in, “c’mon aunty, we’ll only go as far as dusky ridge!” in the sweetest, 8 year old southern drawl I’d ever heard. Needless to say I returned to the barn scraggled, full of scratches from passing wild rose bushes, a bruise here and there from the sudden stops and goes relating to various larger tree roots that blocked our path. I think I earned my cred with nephew #2. J We had walks which included cutting through barbed wire fences between pastures, down paths cut down by the cattle through said forest, dodging cows and one very interested bull. At the creek we collected fossils and along the forest path, we looked for buck-eyes, with no luck, although my sister-in-law had a few handy for the girls. When the bull started following us in one pasture, my twelve year old nephew who was a quarter if it’s size, just told it to get going! And it listened and got going!
My sister-in-law’s garden is ginormous, and the girls loved picking cucumbers, squash, and green beans, which turned up at lunch and/or dinner and to my surprise, DD1 kept asking for more cucumbers! Each day was filled with horse rides and silliness amongst the cousins, and my brother actually took time off work (GASP) to spend time with us.
Along with our country excitement, back in the “city,” my mom had planned a birthday party for DD1, which was a sweet and kind accomplishment for someone who is not doing so well physically. In fact, physically, it was the worst I’ve seen my mom in years, but mentally, everything is so much better. (Diseases that come with age, SUCK.) Still, my girls, especially DD1 had an amazing time playing cards with my mom and hanging out in her condo, we even played bingo one night, and DD1 WON! It was so very cute. They just both adore their grandma, and seeing them laugh and giggle and do little things for her (i.e. searching and handing her a water bottle so she could take her medication), just made my heart sing. Family from out of town also drove in to spend time with the girls—I hadn’t seen my Uncle in two years, and my younger cousin in nearly 8, and DD1 was enamored by this gorgeous, 24 year old young woman. DD2 perched on my Uncle’s shoulders as if she belonged there. Seriously, I couldn’t have been happier! My “hanai” family—which means family that isn’t your family but feels like family—also came down, and the girls spent a lot of time climbing over them and swimming in the pool. It was so wonderful catching up with them and they joined my mom and us for dinner and also lunch with my uncle, aunty, and cousin. <3 span="">3>
Most importantly, my family adores A, especially my mom, who was so clearly touched by how well he takes care of me and takes his ‘step’father responsibility so seriously. That made me so happy and when we returned, my mom made it a point to tell me how impressed she was with how he interacted with the girls and loves us so.
On to week 2, which we spent on the Atlantic with A’s family, a central point for all of them to rendezvous—some of whom I’d met before, but the majority I had not. We spent nearly every day on the beach, and since A’s parents were divorced when he was in college, they have both re-married and have salvaged a great relationship for the sake of A and his brother and sister. So along with our blended family, I was able to meet A’s step-siblings on his dad’s side, who were lovely and had children similar to my daughters’ age, and it turned into a gaggle of kids all day, every day. We went searching for shark teeth on the beach, dug for tiny little clams and watched them bury themselves back into the sand, saw a jelly-fish or two hanging out on the sand. I even caught a sand crab for a little while and let them ooh and ahh! I took all the kids boogie boarding and pushed them into the waves, listening and watching them giggle with glee. My friend from when I was 10 years old also drove down with her husband and her kids, and there were a few days of reunion and playing and seafood buffet stuffing ourselves silly and swimming in the ocean and/or pool. A’s dad’s house is seriously a professional grandparent house, between all the siblings there are now 11 grandchildren. Everything you could think you might need when away from home—kids toothpaste, sippy cups, little plastic plates, pool and beach toys, kites, even children’s goggles—all to be had and found and borrowed. A DVD collection to sigh over.
Most importantly (again, lol), I absolutely fell in love with A’s entire family. Seriously. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m all teary and cheese-bally right now. His step-mother and sister and I joked around, they were like, ‘forget A, we’re keeping you!’ which was so hilarious and loving and kind. I cooked dinner one night and they were so sweet to rave about it—fed seven adults and four kids, lol, and there was enough even for leftovers! When his sister had to drive home the day before we left, we both cried like babies.
I guess, I just never felt so welcome and respected and loved before, and A was telling me later, you don’t understand, my family loves you. Straight up ADORES you, and that just made me feel so happy.
Yes, there were moments of stress—A still frets and worries about the machinations of my ex-husband and his interference with DD1 bonding with A. There was actually, to my mortification, a huge argument about it, in his dad’s house, I’m pretty sure the whole family heard which made me want to sink into the floor and disappear. I love A and his dedication to me and the girls, and at the same time it’s hard when he gets triggered (i.e. DD1 was hanging onto everyone in his family BUT A, which he interpreted as being hurt and frustrated and a product of Exie’s manipulations). A was upset and angry and advising him to be patient doesn’t always help him. I thought it was a huge and meaningful that the girls were bonding so closely to his family.
And yet his family was fully supportive of us—I found out later both A’s dad and sister took him aside to help explain how very complicated the situation is, how he needs to be more patient, how much they know I love him and how much they care about me. A’s dad is a seasoned step-father, and we had our own private talk—about how he had serious conflict with his now grown step-daughter when she was young, but how after the passage of time it truly works out, and his step-daughter is now just like his daughter just like any other, and he is a father to her as well. And how every parent wishes more than anything we could GIVE our experiences to our children, so they could know, but they can’t know until they go through it. I guess I loved the most how the family rallied around A to show him support and guidance, but also rallied in support of the girls and me. Yep, I’m kind of tearing up right now.
The day before we left, we took a walk on the beach boardwalk and the children (mine and A’s niece and nephew who are twins), A’s dad and sister and I all rode the big sky wheel overlooking the ocean. DD1 was a little frightened, but that just turned into cuddles with “grandpa” (both my father and the ex’s are deceased—so this was the girls first experience of having a true grandpa in their memory). The rest of the kids were enthralled. High up in the sky, overlooking the little beach town that transformed into a toy town, full of doll-sized moving people, full of toy-sized cars, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, under the beautiful blue sky and sun, watching the children giggling and laughing, saying things like “this is SO awesome!”—it just felt like anything was possible, and everything would be okay.