There is nothing quite as fun as taking off for the holidays...no, I'm not being sarcastic, I promise. I love everything about making the most of the kids' time off of school. Co-parenting has always made for a tricky scheduling of the holidays and it hasn't gotten any easier even with adult children, so this season we decided to do what we've never done before, take off without the girls. We chose a city the girls had already visited but felt that Ari would love, Washington D.C.
It had been YEARS since I had been to our nation's capital, I was definitely very excited to plan this trip. We wanted to surprise Ari but also uphold his wish of celebrating with the family on New Year's Eve so we booked our flights to depart on the 26th of December and return on the 30th. Four nights was just right to hit up all the spots and still have some time to unwind. We rented a car and planned our stay just outside the district to be in a family centric area. Old Town Alexandria, VA was the perfect combination. Just a 13min drive to D.C. but also within walking distance to all major modes of public transportation with quite a bit of nightlife & ice cream shops on their main street. It was the best of both worlds.
At first, I wasn't too keen on booking a traditional hotel, much less for the entirety of our stay but, Ernie persuaded me in order to save some time. So I did the impossible which was to find a hotel that would include a hot breakfast, have a kitchenette AND be in an area where we would be able to park our rented car street side. Now, truth be told, I did not have the hotel booked until we actually arrived to the area which allowed for us to drive around and see where we could park before deciding. But I did have a list of places I had in mind as well as pricing. When we do this sort of thing (not book till last minute) we also like to walk into the lobby and ask if they can beat the rate online. They are always honest and most of the time, they cannot. This was one of those times so we booked three nights (because I still wasn't convinced on the notion of staying in one place the whole time , even if it meant only one night left to explore beyond the city). Still $270.09 for 3 nights with breakfast (which was pretty darn good, like for real...I mean they didn't have an omelet station but I was still pretty pleased with the freshness and selection) AND a kitchenette was a steal (all taxes and fees included)! On our last day they even set up a hot chocolate bar in the lobby and Ari nearly tripped over himself when he realized it was FREE! This kid of mine loves a good deal as much as his momma. The service was stupendous and on the eve of our last day I called downstairs and asked if they could extend our reservation for one more day. They did, and only charged us $68 for it!!! It was definitely a WIN.
When I plan vacations I like to do quite a bit of research in order to get the itinerary right and make any reservations if necessary but I try not to have a solid "things to do list", instead more like suggestions or points of interest. Our list was pretty long and we like to sleep in but, somehow we made it all happen. We took our leisure with breakfast, went back up to the room and packed snacks for the day before heading out with no plans to return till bath and bedtime. We had only 1-2 meals out and about and were able to be rested enough to hit up the attractions when most of the crowds were long gone. You'll notice that almost every landmark photo we took was in the evening. The sun sets in D.C. at around 5pm but we were still visiting Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington all the way till dinnertime.
We truly enjoyed experiencing the capital as it was dressed for the holidays but our favorite activity, by far, was our time spent in both the National Museum of Natural History and the USPTO's Inventors Hall of Fame. The Inventors Hall of Fame is situated within the US Patent and Trademark Organization which in itself is a pretty cool place to be. The exhibit highlights patents and trademarks created by the creative minds of our nation. It was fascinating to say the least. There was quite a bit of information but also interactive parts where one could play with robots and media tech. Reading about the processes of the great inventors of our time, seeing their charts and notebooks, hearing their interviews, was not only educational but empowering. I might have liked it more than Ari though as he preferred a second day at the National Museum of Natural History because one afternoon simply wasn't enough. There is no better feeling than to witness your child's light up and open wide as they soak in new things in wonder and amazement. Our little guy loves to travel but not just to go from place to place like a checklist, he wants to take things in fully. While we were at the Library of Congress he just wanted to sit amongst the book in the children's area and simply be in that space. At the museum it looked like he felt his eyes just weren't big enough to take it all in. He even sat through a movie about the deep sea twice. And then to run up and down the National Mall's wide open green spaces without a care in the crisp cool air. It was better than I could have dreamed!
I won't bore you all with the gritty details this time but if you would like a sample itinerary along with specifics on restaurants, cafes and hotel please comment below. As you all already know, I love to share but I also don't know how to be short about it.
Somewhere in the middle of Florida lies a Lego wonder land. It's a bit of a pain to get to since it's not off any major highway but for those of you out there with kids between the ages of 5-11yrs old, it's the place to be. Legoland, FL is located in Winter Haven which is about 1hr away from Florida's turnpike Yeehaw Junction exit or about an hour away from I75 Tampa exit. There isn't much else to do in Winter Haven but indulge in the typical franchise faire or shop at Walmart but Legoland is a one stop shop for a 1-2 night family vacation.
My 9yr old son and I have been to Legoland a few times already and last year became annual passholders (which makes more sense than the daily admission rate if you plan to visit more than one day in a year, and especially if you like water parks). We've stayed at both resort locations and off property. Here is the low down on each:
Legoland Hotel: The convinenence of the location is notable since you walk right into the theme park from the lobby's connecting sidewalk and individual security check point, this is also quite helpful in the event that the park gets shut down for lightning (which happens often). The resort is expensive but includes a nice breakfast buffet with omelet station (my favorite) and the interior decor of the rooms is especially made for the littles. Each bunk bed is set with a lego gift at check-in and the rooms accommodate two adults in a king or queen sized bed and up to three children in a bunk bed and trundle combo which is divided from the adults' bed by a little wall and curtain. Even the elevator ride up to the rooms is fun, with a disco theme dance party during the ride. They offer activities in the lobby throughout the day with a nice bar area for the adults while the kids play. The pool is just okay but give the kids huge floating lego pieces and they are playing for hours. Overall, a great stay if you don't mind the line for one of two elevators to access all rooms and are in the mood to splurge plus it gets pretty packed on weekends.
Legoland Beach Retreat (my favorite): This spot is about a half mile from the theme park but offers a free shuttle service as well as includes theme park parking pass (in case you don't want to wait for the shuttle which comes every 15mins or so). The bungalows are spread out throughout the property without an official lobby area (you check in as you drive up) and are cute as heck. The pool area here is great with a little fire pit where they offer s'mores kits in the afternoons. Breakfast is also included and not as hectic as the Legoland resort since the area is a bit wider and occupancy isn't as heavy on site but no omelet station. There is an outdoor play area right outside each set of bungalows where kids look out for each other and end up playing at all hours. This resort is perfect for family reunions or larger family groups traveling together with kids. My only complaint was that the ice machines are located ALL the way by the pool section which is the furthest point from the rooms for every room. But we truly enjoyed the outdoor area of the bungalow with a patio perfect for take-out pizza dinner. Check-in also includes the same treats as the hotel and the rooms are configured in a similar fashion but decorated with water themes instead.
Off property: There are not many options available since the area is still under development but the closet hotel to the theme park is the Shergill Grand Hotel, it's so close that it shares a fence with Legoland but there isn't much grandness to the place. It is inexpensive, serves a decent breakfast in the price of the night's stay and is clean. It served its purpose when we were on a budget and preferred to forgo the resort amenities.
Legoland itself is a great time for little guys. It is not to be compared with the likes of Universal, Disney or even Busch Gardens as it is a modest concept truly focusing on the Lego theme. I imagine that their insurance coverage is also not on par with the bigger theme parks as they often shut everything down when lightning is at bay (you may not even see a storm or hear the thunder and….boom! Shutdown anyways with no rain checks). To eliminate the stress of getting closed out we started to plan for two day visits; staying on property helps to keep the Lego fun going even in spite of the weather.
I would recommend the water park access pass as well as it makes for the perfect combo day. We pack some towels and basic water needs and tote around a small bag. When the temperature goes up (because, Florida) we hit the wave pool or lazy river and leave our dry clothes in the lockers for rent.
Legoland is close enough to Miami that we have even driven up for the day and come back home in the evening. The water park section has showers where you can freshen up before you head back home from a day full of fun in the crazy Florida sun and since it closes on most nights at 7pm you can be back in the 305 by 10pm(ish).
The best celebrations are the ones you least expect and for that reason I've taken to celebrating on "off" days rather than the "real" ones. This might seem strange to some but to those accustomed to co-parenting you might understand the notion a bit better. Co-parenting struggles or not, I find that "off" days are more relaxed and so much more enjoyable, there's less stress, the ease of planning without a forced deadlines and, let's be honest, less expectations, which ALWAYS helps when it comes to big milestone occasions or holidays.
It all started when I was first separated and had to figure out an organization method to appease my entire family (holidays are especially pain in the ass-y) as well as my co-parent parameters for such occasions. After a couple of years full of stressful, hurried Christmas dinners and delayed or rushed Easter egg hunts, I decided it was all or nothing, either the kids would enjoy the holiday in its entirety with me or I'd simply have to concede the day. But then it dawned on me, there are certain days when the actual date doesn't matter all that much, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, even graduation celebrations. So began the tradition of non-traditional celebration days. If I didn't have the girls for Easter Sunday, we did a fish fry on Good Friday, if is it wasn't my scheduled Thanksgiving Thursday, we arranged a huge Sunday after Thanksgiving brunch, no time for grandfathers and stepdad on father's day, not a problem, we made it a whole other day in our family. Our tradition of non-tradition took form and the family was able to truly enjoy each other as the pressure was off in terms of which house who went where. By following my non-traditions my family would simply plan to go to their other commitments on days I didn't have my girls and made every effort to all be in attendance on the days that were mine. The only drawback, all the extra calories from, more often than not, celebrating each occasion more than once (like 3-4 birthday cakes per occasion kind of more than once).
When my Sophie's high school graduation was upon us, I was able to plan surprise celebration a whole two months AFTER her graduation and just in time for her dorm move-in without anyone finding it strange. We enjoyed her actual ceremony date at leisure without the stress of family time scheduling, we travelled for our mom/daughter grad trip tradition, sorted out what she needed for her dorm, created a registry and then I surprised her with a little "Taco 'bout a future" themed fiesta. No co-parenting time constraints, no deadlines, no conflicting work schedules, just fun and family. It was perfect!
Even though our entire family has "graduated" from the co-parenting constraints being that my two girls from my previous marriage are aged out of all that, we plan to continue the tradition as to facilitate everyone's needs and the sometimes demanding requirements of other families (in-laws, parents and such). So when we have our date to celebrate or commemorate, it is a time where we can kick back, soak in the occasion and truly enjoy each other's company without having to cut it short to get to someone else's house or feeling squeezed to get it all in in one day. We take the time to celebrate the times and give actual time the middle finger, taco 'bout a party every time. ;)
Many believe that you are an adult once you turn 18yrs of age but, like many others, I beg to defer.
Going into a co-parenting agreement typically means sorting the ins and outs of how you both agree to parent your child till the age of eighteen or once they graduate from high school. In my case, we actually mediated the agreement with signed legal work and attorneys taking everything into consideration from holiday travel days to extra-curriculars, (paid a pretty penny for that document too...ah, attorneys...). I soon found out that one signed document wouldn't quite cover everything that parenting with a person who does not share your household (or many ideals, hence the divorce in the first place) requires. I took matters into my own hands for the second piece of paper drawing from the State of Texas family courts database and conducted a "co-parenting" coffee meeting with all the parties involved. This new document covered issues that were not a matter of livelihood as much as they were a matter of parenting preferences like piercings, driving ages, curfews and grounding rules that could carryon from one house to the other enabling follow-through and consistent discipline rules (which is crucial factor at the tween/teen stage). When frustrations run high for a co-parent you often hear, "thank goodness you only have XX years left to have to deal with it" but that's not necessarily true.
When one begins to go through the motions of a divorce with children one does so with hope of a better future for all in their heart. Dreaming of the day when things are good enough to share special occasions like birthdays and holidays together, like a modern day family. Dreaming of the picture perfect step-parents for the kids, family portraits with four smiling adults and a mix of kids who claim to share siblings although they cant' quite explain how, everything will be better, it has to work out for the better, there is this hope that in not being together the things that didn't work for all involved while married will somehow sort itself out once divorced. People will mature, grow, give more, understand, cooperate, be happy. The problem is that it doesn't quite work that way, the nuisances that persisted in marriage continue to present themselves time and time again, mostly in the worst of times. The couple is still connected through and by the children while they make their lives apart, adding spouses, other children, other grandparents, "aunts" and "uncles", new friends with new advice, changing careers, moving to new homes and new cities, all while juggling their children in between, "always thinking, it's only till their 18, then it's done", no more answering or explaining to anybody, no more shared costs, no more scheduling, no more vacation and holiday interruptions, no more discussions or arguments, no more dealing with someone who I divorced all that time ago.
My girls are now both officially above the age delegated by my co-parenting agreement and I can attest to the fact that the idea of "no more" is itself no more. I've come to the realization that co-parenting is forever contract, one that persists, complicates and pushes the limits of one's parenting mentality constantly even with "adult" children. In fact, I've made some sort of peace with the notion that I will also have to co-grandparent one day (as if the opinions of your in-laws aren't enough when raising a kid imagine two sets of in-laws possibly on both sides?!). Co-parenting doesn't end at age 18 just like parenting doesn't end there either. Take heed, the moment you decide to bring life forth into this world you are agreeing to parent that little person in one capacity or another together forever.
Multi-tasking over-thinker that is, as you can imagine, often running late.