25 August 2016

Long weekend, long post (Okere Falls, Rotorua, Taupo, Napier)

Okere Falls

Last weekend we ended our break on travel and had a bit of an adventure. Benjamin has become quite the travel agent and put together this three day tour of the central North Island.

We got off to a bit of a slow start owing to a complete lack of sleep that has been occurring in our household on a roughly every-other-night basis.  This has nothing to do with my call schedule and has everything to do with our adorable offspring.  Mostly the fact that Pax refuses to take a bottle during the day and instead waits until night to want to nurse constantly.

So we were supposed to get up and get going on Friday morning but it took us until about noon to make it past Whakatane, where we somehow had errands that involved going to the Warehouse (New Zealand version of Target) three separate times.  Benjamin and I attempted to divide and conquer but the SIM card on my phone had just run out and so the situation ended with Benjamin waiting for me at the back door of a cafe while I waited for him at the front door, holding Bear's wrist firmly in one hand to enforce a time-out while simultaneously nursing Pax and muttering obscenities under my breath.

We finally got on the road to our first destination - Okere Falls.   We parked in the deserted parking lot and took a short but steep hike to the falls.  Bear really enjoyed the part where we got to go into a "cave."  I continue to be impressed by the range of plant life - it looks like Washington state meets Costa Rica.

Benjamin surveys the falls

Check out the flora

Our new hobby: looking at waterfalls and estimating if they are navigable by kayak

Winne the Pooh benefits from Bear's attachment parenting

Like five different kinds of moss

After our hike we loaded back into the car and drove to the Whakarewarewa forest to an attraction called the Redwood Treewalk.  Unfortunately no babies are allowed on this adventure, so Benjamin stayed down below with Pax while Bear and I explored the treewalk.  

It was amazing.  The closest thing to being an Ewok that I have ever acheived, and therefore the closest I have come to fulfilling a lifelong dream.  Which is to be an Ewok, in case that wasn't clear.  Bear also really liked it, though he had a lot of trouble wrapping his head around the "no running or jumping" rules. 

Hello down there!

Brave explorer

My baby ewok

Treewalk selfie!

Forest of ferns

After our Ewok experience, we got back in the car and continued on to the Rotorua Museum, which is housed in the old bath house building.  Rotorua is a town build entirely in the caldera of a volcano and has many geothermal features.  In that way it is similar to Yellowstone - including the sulfurous odor.  Back in the day, this bath house featured water heated by underground magma, and it was thought to have special healing properties.  Bear is currently obsessed with volcanoes, so it's neat to be able to say, "we're actually on a volcano right now."

The museum itself was quite enjoyable with a good display of the area's Maori history.  Photos of this part of the museum are not permitted - so you will just have to come visit and see for yourself.  We were allowed to take photos from the rooftop viewing area, where we could mostly see a storm rolling in, as well as the steam rising off the volcanically heated lake in the distance.

Check out the steam coming off the lake!

We got back in the car and drove for Taupo.

Our accomodation in Taupo was unexpectedly delightful (Benjamin hotwired the room so we were not exactly sure what we were getting.)  It turned out the room was actually a suite with a door between us and the kids - winning!  It also featured not only the electric kettle that I'm pretty sure is considered a human right in New Zealand, but a whole kitchenette.  And off the bedroom there was a semi-outdoor spa room with a private hot tub.

We put the kids to bed and had some adult beverages in the hot tub.  I began to get that relaxed "I'm on vacation" feeling.  But when my body relaxes that much I pretty much instantly fall asleep, which is what I did.

On Saturday, we got up and got moving - slowly as usual.  Though I fell asleep for the night in bed with my husband, I woke up on a twin mattress on the floor between my two children, everything sodden with spit-up.  It was raining and I felt like I was moving in slow motion.  We stuck the kids in the car while we packed up and Bear asked when we were going to eat breakfast 6,427 times.  I was bummed about the rain, because the hotel also had a trampoline out back.  A trampoline!

After we accomplished breakfast, we loaded back into the car and headed to Napier, famous art deco city. The region between Taupo and Napier has recently gotten some snow which actually closed the road for several days.  It just reopened about three days before our trip.  There have also been widespread power outages, and the power company estimates that it may take a month to get power restored to some areas.  And I thought BGE was bad.

Verdant hills, snow-capped peaks!

Snow-capped highway
This drive was a bit curvy and we did get to use our newly assembled car-sickness kit.  I am glad to report it worked as designed.

Napier is home of the National Aquarium of New Zealand.  As aquariums go, this one was a nice accomplishable size for younger kids.  My favorite attractions were definitely the kiwi birds and the korora (the word's smallest species of penguin).  I had never seen an actual kiwi bird before - they are much bigger than I thought.  I was picturing something the size of a fist, but they are more like the size of a volleyball.  And completely adorable.  The little penguins were delightful, and the enclosure allowed you to get so close you could almost touch them.

Bear's favorite exhibit was definitely the "shark tube," where you go in a tube through and under the tank of sharks and reef fish, all while riding on a moving sidewalk.  On about the seventh time through, he actually noticed the aquatic life.

Why does this fish have a random face in his cheek, in addition to his own fish face? I don't know.

Skull of the exotic American Alligator.  There are no alligators or crocodiles in New Zealand.

The shark tube!

Looking back on it, though I certainly enjoyed the aquarium, I think this is when things started to go off the rails.  When Bear was on his 17th run through the shark tube, Benjamin declared he was 'tired,' and sat down on a bench.

I will admit, there is something about hearing Benjamin say he's tired...it causes an involuntary twitch in my eye.  I think about how I spent the night letting a teething lamprey nosh on my nipple, fetching drinks of water that were "too wet," readjusting blankets and pillows so they were juuuust right, and mopping up spit up with my own t-shirt.  And I think about how the soundtrack to this nightly ritual is the gentle snores of my beloved spouse.  And then I think about him saying he is tired.  And I kind of want to burn down the National Aquarium of New Zealand but I don't because I don't want to create an international incident and besides it's not the penguins' fault that my husband is a--

It's probably best I don't finish that thought.  Anyway, you will be happy to know I have not burned down an aquarium.  Instead I left Benjamin to rest and took the kids to double back to the kiwis and penguins again to try to kill 40 more minutes until the penguin feeding.  But by then Bear was hungry.

"I don't want to see the stupid penguins get fed," he said.


Back out into the rain, into the car, in search of food.  I was not hungry, but somehow I was in charge of finding food.  I peered at my phone while Benjamin drove through the rain.  Various streets were closed.  There were no parking spaces.  Communal blood sugar in the car was running low.  Finally we found ourselves in a bright bakery/cafe.  Bear and I had smoothies.  Benjamin had a curry pie.  The lamprey had more nipple.

Then we headed to our next hotel which was perfectly serviceable but with no surprise suites.  We attempted to get the kids to nap, with an only 50% success rate.  Bear was coughing and coughing and didn't want to take his inhaler.  Benjamin was grumpy and acted like Bear was skipping nap on purpose, which made me angry.  Then Bear coughed so hard he threw up all over his bed.  In medical parlance this is known as 'post-tussive emesis,' but in parenting it's still just called 'oh fuck, the kid is puking.'

I swooped him up and carried him into the bathroom to clean him up and get him to breathe some steam from the shower.  As I stepped into the bathroom, another coughing fit let loose an amazing cascade of puke - purple smoothie type puke - that flowed down my back and splashed onto the tile floor.

The next hour was spent bathing, cleaning, changing linens, administering medication, etc.  Finally, we were all loaded into the car on our way to dinner.  There was a strange glug-glug sound. Benjamin turned around and discovered that Bear was doing one of his "experiments" - in this case, dumping the entire contents of a water bottle onto the floor of the car.  Benjamin yelled.  Bear cried.  Pax was already crying.  And I lost my shit.

In retrospect this is probably one of the more reasonable reasons to raise your voice at a four year old.  But I had been gritting my teeth at small annoyances all day and I had reached the end of my rope.  I jumped out of the car and then methodically undid all of the carseat straps on both children.  "Take a break," I snapped at Benjamin, dragging the kids back into the hotel room.  But he wouldn't take a break.  He followed me back into the hotel room.

"Fine," I said, struck with sudden inspiration.  I set the baby down in the crib.  "Give me the car keys."  He handed them over, so naive, so trusting.

I brushed past him and out to the car.  I threw open the driver's side door and climbed in.  I couldn't stop a manic cackle from escaping my lips, "I gave you a chance, motherfucker!" I shouted at my husband.  My only regret is that I did not have my camera ready to capture the look of surprise and then respect that spread across his face as I pulled past him and out of the parking lot.

I just went to the parking lot of the hardware store.  I took deep breaths.  I wondered why I couldn't just chill out and be appreciative of the trip Benjamin put together.  I tried to picture what life would look like if we got divorced. I noticed that I still had a bit of smoothie puke in my hair.  I played two rounds of candy crush.  And then I was ready to go back.

We had a nice dinner.  Pax loves pan-seared tuna.  Bear hates macaroni and cheese if there is garnish anywhere near it.  Benjamin apparently still wants to spend time with me.


Sunday was much, much better.  We all got some sleep, somehow.  I used my google powers to find a really nice breakfast place with a seriously delicious buffet (oh, this is why finding places to eat is my job).  Bear was stoked because they had some juice drink with Paw Patrol characters on it.  Pax was stoked because there was bacon.

It was a bright sunny day and there was a awesome playground.  Bear made friends with a little girl and Benjamin and I chatted with her dad.  When we were packing I had stuck his scooter in the back of the car, and this was lucky because the playground featured a little bike and scooter track complete with a working stoplight.  Bear was over the moon about this.  Which is understandable - our town doesn't even have a stoplight.
Learning to drive on the left.

Scooty scoot!

Winning playground also had a baby paddock. 

My guy

After the playground we headed back to Taupo, where we visited an establishment called Taupo Bungy.  Benjamin has been bungy jumping before (also in New Zealand) and planned to repeat the experience.  I have long maintained that I have no interest in it.  I don't even like going upside down on roller coasters.  I sometimes get vertigo if I roll over too quickly in bed.  So, no thank you.  But somehow by the time we got to the bungy place, my flat refusal became, "I'll watch you and then we'll see."

So Benjamin jumped off a thing.  No hesitation at all.

I watched from a viewing area off down the bluff.  I could pick out his red shirt and his dark hair and then off the platform he went.  He said he was planning on making noise this time, but I guess he forgot - he was silent.
The bungy platform

Meanwhile, Bear goofed around and stole the hearts of about fifty teenage girls.

There he goes!

We met up on the trail back up to the office and huffed our way to the top, pushing both kids in the stroller over the semi-strollerable trail.

Then he asked me if I was going to do it.  I still wasn't sure.  Maybe the swing thing they do instead of the bungy? I went into the office to sign up.  But a busload of tourists had just signed up, and the next space was not for over an hour.  I took it as a sign.  "Never mind," I told the woman behind the counter.

We went out to lunch.  This restaurant had a kid area - with a fence around it.  Fucking genius.  Why isn't this standard at all eating establishments? Yes I would like to keep my offspring contained in a pen while I eat with no one touching me. It was glorious.

"Mom, take my picture!"

"Mom, now take my picture while I do my hands like this!"

"Take my picture, I'm Kylo Ren!"

Over lunch, Benjamin described his bungy jumping experience, which overall seemed ... not as good as the first time.  He wasn't happy with the way he exited the platform this time - the first time he dove off the platform, and this time he just sort of stepped off.  But he still was trying to convince me to do it.  "I didn't really know if I was going to do it until I did," he said, "I learned something about myself."  And then, "it's an experience."

Well.  We are here to have experiences.  Here, as in New Zealand, but also here, as in Earth.  And, honestly, while learning something about myself was sort of compelling, my more pressing drive was to prove to Benjamin that I would do it.

So I jumped off a thing, too.

There was a moment when I wasn't sure I would.  I was all strapped in and shuffled to the edge and looked over and realized that this is a terrible idea.  But, I reasoned with myself, I had already decided to do it, so I might as well.  And then I jumped.

People are always describing falls as "the ground rushing up to meet you," but I definitely didn't get that feeling.  I was very clear that I was the thing falling.  Overall it was less physically intense than I thought.  The blood rushing to the head feeling was really negligible.  It was frankly kind of pleasant.

I agreed to do what now?

Here I go!

Can confirm: water is wet

"I'm so impressed that you did that," Benjamin said afterwards.  And I smiled, because I still want to impress this man.

We did the thing!

14 August 2016

Cake Fails and Raising a Sociopath

Scooter. Gumboots.  Rainbow Dash dress. 

My first baby is four years old.  FOUR. He says things like, "Actually I need to use a different piece because this one won't allow the crane to swivel properly."

Excuse me? Weren't you, like, a zygote fifteen minutes ago? Who said you could grow up? Now you're talking about things swiveling "properly."  (He also says "eh?" all the time.  Moving to New Zealand has turned him Canadian.)

Officially the first time he was more interested in the presents themselves than the wrapping/boxes.

As requested by the birthday boy, we celebrated with "a cake with a train on it."

A bit of back story: My mother-in-law is a professional baker and has made two birthday cakes for him with trains on them - the last one had frosting grass and a little hill that the train was on (a toy Whiff from Thomas the Tank Engine).  It was a work of art.  So basically he was asking for a reprise of this.  Unfortunately, we decided to move half a planet away from our entire network of family and friends and that includes the amazing grandma/cake-artist.

So we made the cake ourselves - and a work of art it was not.  It was not so much an homage to the original grandma cake, but to pintrest fails the world over.

Bear LOVED it.  You see, it was chocolate cake and there was a train on it.  So, actually, #NailedIt.

And I loved it, too.  Because even though we didn't have the grandmas to help us, Benjamin and I made his fourth birthday special for Bear.

We has the skills of an artist.
Seriously, isn't there some sort of FoodNetwork reality show we should be in right now?


Bear was curious to know what privileges came with turning four.  As everyone knows, when you turn five you're allowed to chew gum.  But what do four year olds get?

He's been four for a few weeks now, and it seems that what he gets is his sanity back.

Three was rough.  There were a lot of transitions - we moved four times (not even including the two months we were nomadic), he started school, and became a big brother.

He reacted by becoming hellspawn.

I mean, I love you, grown-up Bear who may be reading this in the future.  I love you and I have always loved you.  And three was rough.

Three was the year Bear became a runner.  In a crowded public place, ideally near obstacles such as busy streets or open water, he would look me in the eyes, flash a devlish grin, and run.  This was especially great when I was massively pregnant or newly postpartum.  I will never forget holding my belly and waddling with all the speed I could muster as he darted towards the four lane secondary road that borders my parents' neighborhood. (We survived this incident thanks to the help of a quick-thinking landscaping contractor.)

Three was also when he picked up the charming habit of threatening to kill people.  Everyone from his parents to his sister to the extremely sweet student teacher at Nature Preschool.  Occasionally he would pair this threat with spitting on me, narrowing his eyes and growling darkly, "I'm going to KILL you!" before spraying a wad of mucus into my face like some sort of demonic, poorly socialized llama. And lest you think I somehow deserved it, these threats were brought on by such offenses as not offering the appropriate type of cracker for snack.

In general three year old Bear was simply committed to doing whatever it was that people did not want him to do.  We enrolled him in MyGym and rather than learning to 'socialize with his peer group' and 'follow directions,' he treated it like training for the Hunger Games, pushing other kids into the foam pit and then holing up under the trampoline and refusing to come out.  He once kicked the back of the driver's seat for the entire drive from Baltimore to Charlottesville.  Another time he earned twenty-two time outs in the space of three hours.  He's taken marker to the wall in two separate rental properties - and it was not because his art cannot be contained by lease agreements, it's because he knows it gets a rise out of me.

Don't let this cute smile fool you.

Then, the other day, I watched him snatch a toy away from his sister and said, "No, Bear, you have to offer her another toy if you want the one she has."

"Oh, ok, Mom," he said.  And he picked up a toy giraffe and put it in Pax's hand before taking the tinker toy she had been slobbering over.  I blinked several times to clear my head.  "Ok, Mom"? I wasn't even sure these two words were syntactically allowed next to each other in English, they sounded so strange next to each other.

And just like that, my kid is back.  He's still ... "spirited," but no longer demonic.  And when I'm not deflecting death threats and trying to lasso him to keep him from charging defiantly off of cliffs, I can actually see and enjoy him as he builds a lego "snow blower that blows sand," or makes a nest for all his "cuddlers," or pretends to be a "doctor taking care of allllll the patients in the hostable."

I can't wait to see what four has in store for us.