Recently while sitting at a Starbucks in Tucson, AZ I overheard two women about my mother’s age having a conversation. I couldn’t help but to overhear them because they talked so loudly – ok maybe I eavesdropped a bit. Most of it was about online dating younger men, something about their ex-husbands and they kept on referring to each other as cougars. One said while referring to a mutual friend, “yes can you believe it, she gets so excited when her grandchildren come to town, she drops everything…you would think that is all she cares about…” The other woman clicked her tongue and they went on to discuss some of their other friends. Well they could have been talking about my mom (and if they are reading this blog, I want them to know that my mom is the kind of grandma that I want to emulate!) My mom came to be with us after each child was born and most recently after Ila was born and stayed with us for a month! She was instrumental in helping us prepare and sell our house and helping us to manifest this year. She somehow makes each of her 9 grand kids think they are the apple of her eye and time spent with her feels priceless. These are the reasons why we planned to spend the month from late November through late December in Florida with my mom and her partner Michael.
As we drove from Cumberland Island to Coconut Creek, Florida, the boys read off their food requests on the phone to my mom, watermelon, lox, cream cheese, bagels, mangos, hamburgers, ice cream. We arrived tired, filthy and so happy. Our time in Florida spanned Thanksgiving, Chanukah, my birthday and Christmas. After months of traveling mom and I kicked off our time with a (much needed) massage and facial, so funny going from wilderness camping to spa and such a delight. We visited the Keys right after Thanksgiving and upon our return we headed to Orlando.
Now, we visit Florida a few times a year and rarely go to Orlando. Elias and I just finished reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer’s Stone and our family was set on visiting Universal Studio’s brand new Harry Potter World. This too is pretty funny after spending the last few months in the wilds of America but it was a blast! If you ever visit one of those big Disney like parks you may have had the experience of having to wait on line forever. We timed our visit just right – off season and before the December holidays as the lines were only 5 minutes or less. This may not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Joseph and Jacob must have ridden the roller coasters 20 times literally doing laps! Hogwarts was awesome and I felt like I was a riding a broomstick which was totally cool (although the 3D action slowed my mom and Michal down for a bit.) Ila rode on her first carousel in Dr. Seuss Land and was over the moon riding it 3 more times with her brothers and daddy. Day two we visited the part of Universal with the movie rides. I think the highlight for Elias and Joseph was the live animal show where the animal “actors” do a bunch of tricks.
As if roller coasters and Harry Potter weren’t enough excitement, we met Jeremy, Joseph’s friend who is now a helicopter pilot in Orlando. In all of my 39 years visiting Florida, I rarely see manatee. I have one memory from when I was a kid seeing the manatee amongst cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale but not a close and clear viewing of these gentle huge animals. Jeremy took us to a spring where the water stays a constant 70 degrees. The manatees float in and hang out as the river water gets cooler, leave to eat in the nearby river and then return to the spring. The clear blue spring was beautiful and stocked with fish and manatee.
On our way back to Orlando Jeremy surprised us and offered to take the kids and I on a quick helicopter ride! Jacob and Jeremy in the front, Elias and I in the back with Ila on my lap. Totally felt like Top Gun…I know they didn’t ride helicopters in Top Gun but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. It was a great end to the mini north Florida adventure.
Between Orlando and the rest of our visit we focused on school, writing, sea turtles, beaches, family and exploring all sorts of cool animal sanctuaries. We spent many days with Mimi my almost 93yr. old grandmother and the boys went on countless dates with Aunt Libby my dad’s sister, always coming home with trinkets and smiles. As my 39th birthday approached I really had everything I wanted and needed shy of my brothers. My birthday wish came true as they came to visit and celebrate – Simon and Susan and the kids from Asheville and Jack fleeing cold Long Island, New York sadly without his kids. My heart was full!
Florida was an important anchor for each of us. After months on the road even with family and friends we were a bit tired and the boys needed a sense of predictability and structure. Grammy (my mom) represents this as well as unconditional love and support. We have spent important time with her over years especially since my dad passed away 4 years ago. Somehow she makes sure that she is present in our life and in my brother’s lives at all of the most important times. The long visit also gave us a chance to improve our Rumikub game and hang out with and get to know Michael.
Right before we left Florida we celebrated Christmas. Growing up Jewish my first experience with Christmas was with Joseph’s family when we were dating. I love celebrating with him and with his family in Charlottesville. The years of celebrating Christmas in Bellingham and having our own tree still feels weird to me and against the grain. The kids are growing up with a sense of Jewish identity and we celebrate Christmas as well. For us these celebrations are more about family and coming together than it is about religion. We see Christmas as more of a welcoming of a winter celebration. So here we are in Florida where my mom has NEVER had a Christmas tree but as she said “there is always the first”. We enjoyed a “Jewish inspired” Christmas, stockings and gifts in the morning, movies in the afternoon followed by a great Chinese dinner…take out!
Gifts packed up, hugs and kisses all around, Dec. 26th we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the warm humid air, pulled up the anchor and hit the road…destination New Orleans!