Winter in California is kind of an oxymoron, since none of the attributes I readily associate with the season are present here. I guess if we drove into the mountains I would remember my youth in the Northeast and be filled with nostalgia. As it is, I find the winter in Silicon Valley to cause rushes of nostalgia for the years we spent in Israel. Cool but rarely cold, sometimes rainy. Colorful leaves falling throughout the fall and winter season, eventually leaving enough trees bare that we can appreciate the spring.
Truthfully, the grey winter days are welcome after all the relentless sun the rest of the year. In Israel as well as here I have had the common compulsion among Northeasterners to take advantage of every day of beautiful weather, as you never know when it might turn rainy, cold, humid, icy, etc. Except here you do know that it will be gorgeous just about every day, for eight months of the year, so I find the unpredictability of the California winter almost comforting.
Today it rained all day. In the morning we went to the library where there were many other toddlers and their caregivers seeking indoor, but out of the house solace. In spite of my love for the age group, nothing gives me claustrophobia quite like a crowded indoor space of knee high cuties. I just need to get outside. So we stayed just long enough for Ben to select his batch of graphic novels, and for Ella and I to choose some story books, preferably about princesses (Ella’s choice), preferably not entirely offensive to girls and women and totally lame (my choice) which is no small feat!
We headed back home for the afternoon but after a few hours Mo needed to get some work done and we were all filled with the particular kind of ennui that inhabits all apartment dwellers on rainy days. I don’t exaggerate when I say that we live mostly outside of our home, partly because we like to and partly because we have to. There isn’t anywhere to escape when there are three rooms, five people, with one sleeping and one working. Unless I wanted to be ambitious and bake something which I don’t think my messy kitchen could have handled right now, we needed to get back out. Zeecee announced that she was, in fact, awake, so we packed up and headed out to the last place any sane mother of three would willingly go the week before Christmas: Costco. The parking lot was full, it was raining steadily, and all I really needed was a gallon or two of cashews to make some more of the tamari maple delights the kids and I came up with last week. Obviously it was imperative. I decided to take it as an adventure and prayed for decent samples. Alas, there were super weak samples, except for the Vitamix demo guy who saved me with fruit smoothies just before the long wait in line. It’s the little things, folks!
After calling Mo to ensure that he was in fact working, and not heaven forbid relaxing or watching something on Netflix, I concluded that we needed to go somewhere else before heading home for the day. I thought about the possibilities for 4pm on Monday afternoon and came up short. So, another trip to another library it was! We currently had only about seventy library books in three boxes in my home, why not twenty more!? I have tried visiting the library without taking books with us but it is significantly less fun for everyone, especially me, who is the most enthusiastic connoisseur of children’s books in our family. I would say that I spend a good seven to ten hours a week reading aloud so it is basically my part time job to read these books. You’d be surprised how many bad ones are out there. Sexist, boring, too long, too sentimental, aimed too much at parents. The best ones are the opposite of all of those characteristics and there are plenty that are delightful. One of these days I’ll start posting about the good ones!
It turned out that the library we went to tonight was having a super cute international holiday traditions scavenger hunt with a clementine and a tiny candy cane as the prize for completing it. Ben powered through and Ella and Zeecee and I helped a little, mostly by not not letting Zeecee tear all the books off the shelves in his wake. On our way back to the car in the dark I remembered that I had told Ella she could more thoroughly splash in puddles and go down the slide at the nearby park once we were finished at the library. The responsible adult in me said to take the kids home and feed them dinner, but the part of me that is learning to loosen up and have more fun said drop the books in the car and get to that slide!
We arrived at the empty and street lit playground and Ben tapped me on the shoulder and yelled “Tag!” I don’t care who you are, if you are able to run it is irresistible when a kid tags you and runs away! Zeecee thought it was hilarious and the sight of her toddling around in her third time’s the charm hand me down blue rain coat with dinosaurs all over it was one for the memory books. At one point once we were all soaked and winded Ben remembered that near the park is a street where every house is decorated with lights and asked if we could go. I went with the theme for the evening and said “Of course!” The sensible me said, “We can drive by.” Ben suggested walking, and again I decided to go with it.
We stomped through every puddle in that park, watched the steam rise off the public pool where swimmers were practicing, and eventually made it to Christmas Tree Lane. I will say, as an adult, the displays are heartwarming if not awe inspiring, but for a kid it is truly magical. Little trees covered in colorful lights line the curb up and down the street, and each house has some sort of lights or display set up. We pretty much had the sidewalks to ourselves which I imagine is rare at this time of year, unless it’s raining as it was tonight. We don’t celebrate Christmas but I find that something like this whets the kids curiosity and desire to be part of whatever festivities are going on at this time of year.
Part of me was still trying to be practical or responsible or just a tired grown up so I thought we could just walk halfway down the block, cross and go back up the other side. Had I ever met a child? What was I thinking? Of course we needed to see the entire street, couldn’t I see that house up there entirely covered in red lights and what was that in their yard!? We had to get closer to see. Anyway, we saw all there was to see and tromped back through the park, leaving no puddle out of the kids boots. I kept watching them gracefully sprint and indelicately slosh their way through these little bodies of water and thinking how lovely it is to be a kid. Their only practical concern was making sure they would be allowed to ride home in their underwear after peeling off their soaking wet pants.
When we finally made it back to the car poor little Zeecee had had enough of riding in the carrier on my chest while wearing a drippy rain jacket. The big kids were stoked and peaceful at the same time, having had a tiny candy cane, an epic night time puddle adventure, and a visual smorgasbord of lights. I told Ella to get right in her seat and she said, “But I have to pour out my boots!” I thought I misheard her until she sat on the edge of the car, removed her boots one at a time, and poured out about a cup of water from each! Something about it filled me with happiness. We got in the car and ate handfuls of those unsalted pre-maple tamaried cashews all the way home.
As I watched the headlights reflecting off the wet pavement, streaming toward us while driving carefully down the busy thoroughfare, I thought of how all that was keeping us safe was a fragile agreement among drivers to each stay on the proper sides of a yellow line we can’t even see very well in the rainy night. It’s just that simple agreement, and belief in its power, that keeps us all where we belong. So at the end of our adventure I feel thankful for the moments when I can step over boundaries and make the choice to be free, and fun, and spontaneous, and for the moments when boundaries hold firm and keep me and my treasures safe. I hope my kids feel the same way.
Wishing everyone happy holidays and a great 2016 to come!