Summer 2017 bucket list

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At the beginning of the summer, I set myself a bucket list. Consisting of only six activities, it was not ambitious; it was merely designed to get us out of the house and do something we either had never done before or do rarely, at least once a week for each week that Teddy did not have a camp. Make no mistake: these activities were planned for my sake, not my kids’. They would be perfectly happy playing at home all day every day. I’m the one who needs to get out once a day. Despite this plan being primarily for my own happiness, I did my best to find things I thought the kids would enjoy. This was really in my own best interest; it’s hard to coax Teddy out of the house…for any reason. It requires actual bribery for him to voluntarily go somewhere solely for my sake. So, I mined the archives of kidfriendlydc.com, searched my own memory for ideas I’d filed away, and actually asked Teddy. (He kind of missed the point of the assignment, offering ideas for activities…at home. But we did some of those the other days of the week.) I put together my list, posted it on the wall, and checked things off as we did them. And yesterday, I crossed off our final activity!

Summer Bucket List 2017

DC Trails Tour Bus
Every time we walk to Union Station and Teddy sees the hop-on-hop-off tour buses waiting for passengers, he asks if we can join. So when friends invited us to join them, I jumped at the chance. I love this touristy activity. Mike and I toured the city on one of these buses when we first visited DC, and I’ve ridden a trolley with my parents. I enjoy the trivia and seeing the sights without all the walking (since we walk ev-er-y-where), and I figured Teddy would appreciate that part, too. So one beautiful Tuesday morning (we planned carefully around all the projected rainstorms for that week), we boarded an empty bus and found seats at the front, right behind the tour guide. I LOVE being close to the tour guide, whether on walking tours or bus tours (or bike tours! We biked the sights at night when we first moved here). I always ask questions and get to know the guide a bit. (I’ve decided when I retire, I want to be a tour guide.) We opted to stay on the bus the entire tour rather than get off anywhere, and it lasted about two hours. The kids hit their wall for sitting in one place at about the 90 minute mark (and that’s also about when the lovely morning turned unpleasantly hot), but we powered through until we’d reached the stop where we’d started.

Anacostia Pirate Ship Playground
This playground in Anacostia Park has, as you might imagine from the name, a play structure designed to resemble a pirate ship. We’d gone once before a couple years ago for a friend’s birthday party, and every since I’d been determined to go back. Anacostia always feels so far away, since it’s across the river, but getting there turned out to be quite doable. We met the same family whose birthday party we’d attended and another friend, and stayed for nearly four hours. Of course, the kids spent approximately five minutes on the play structure itself and the rest of the time playing in a nearby mud puddle and throwing sticks on the massive green space surrounding the play structure. But everyone had a great time, and it was nice to get outside our Stanton–>Sherwood–>Lincoln–> routine. (The only downside: I hadn’t planned for the mud puddle so two very muddy children rode the bus home…)

National History Museum Butterfly Exhibit
My original plan was to visit the Meadowlark Gardens Butterfly Exhibit, which is something we’ve never done, but we ended up just going to the butterfly exhibit at the National History Museum (on Tuesday, because it’s free), which we rarely do, instead, because we had friends in town and that was an easier adventure. (There’s a joke that if you want to see all the tourists in London on any given day, go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace at 11 am; now I can say, if you want to see all the tourists AND locals in DC, go to the Natural History Museum on a Tuesday in summer! The place was packed, and we actually ran into another friend in line.) Teddy studied the lifestyle of the monarch butterfly at the end of Kindergarten, and he loves the book gotta go gotta go, which traces the annual migration of monarch butterflies to Mexico, so I thought he’d enjoy the exhibit. When we’ve gone before, he hasn’t lasted more than a couple minutes; all those wings fluttering by can be a bit disconcerting. But this time, he liked it; he even stood still for a couple minutes while a butterfly hung out on his back. Lydia enjoyed the exhibit, too…from my arms. After one butterfly fluttered quite close, she refused to walk on her own.

East Potomac Park Miniature Golf
I love mini golf. I’m terrible at it, but I love it. I think because of how mini golf courses usually incorporate miniature versions of local landmarks as features for each hole. We made a family trip to East Potomac Park a couple weekends ago, and I learned from a plaque at the sixth hole that this course used to do that as well, but they all got renovated out. Teddy also loves miniature golf. And because he has a natural ability for any activity involving a ball, he’s pretty good at it, for a 5-year-old. He doesn’t care about tiny Capitol buildings. Didn’t miss the tiny Thomas Jefferson Memorial that wasn’t there anymore. While I was lamenting its absence, he was checking out the lay of the green. He beat me on more holes than I care to admit. I got a score card, thinking I’d keep track, just for fun. I didn’t even mark scores for the first hole–that’s how depressing mine was. But I still love mini golf. And Lydia had a great time getting a hole in one every time by carrying the ball to the hold and dropping it in.

Port Discovery
The same friend who gave us complimentary tickets for the bus tour has been urging us to come with her to Port Discovery, an amazing indoor playland in Baltimore. We finally put a date on the calendar and made it happen last month. It was amazing. If we lived in Baltimore, we’d definitely have a membership. In the center towers a three-story playground, and around the perimeter are themed rooms, such as a diner, a water room, and an Egyptian room. The kids loved it. I feel like we barely spent any time in any one room because we wanted to see everything.

Kids in Canal
This is a weekly summer program run by Capitol Riverfront. Every week features a different form of entertainment. We went to was Mad Science. The scientist demonstrated the power of air in various ways, including shooting confetti out of an air gun. Unfortunately, he was competing with a shallow water feature under his stage, which Teddy splashed around in for about half the program. But the confetti got my little mad scientist’s attention, and from there, he was enthralled. Next week is Carousel Puppets; Teddy will be back in school, but I may take Lydia.

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40 books for turning 40

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One of my goals for the year is to read 40 books in honor of turning 40. I just finished number 36, so I’ll probably finish closer to 60. But I thought I’d pause to share my top five from the first 20.

Generally, I read anything and everything. When I started this, I had a couple books in mind that I wanted to read, but all year, I’ve been keeping note of books people recommend, from podcasts, my pastor, and blog posts.

  1. I Am Pilgrim. I say I read anything, but I generally don’t read thrillers. I read so many Dean Koontz novels in my 20s that I was having nightmares. (Couple that with watching all the CSIs and my world was looking pretty dark.) But a journalist wrote that this book was the best thriller they’d ever read. That was pretty strong praise, so I decided to give it a try. And I was hooked within the first 10 pages. I effectively got nothing else accomplished for two days. Could not put it down.
  2. In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption. For the transracial adoption community, this should be the bible. In this book, Rhonda Roorda interviews black Americans from all walks of life about their thoughts on transracial adoption. More importantly, she asks what advice they have for white parents adopting black children. I highlighted half this book. So much valuable insight for me as an adoptive mom and such an important read for those considering adopting a child of another race. One piece of advice that struck me was to ensure we have objects in our home that represent our kids’ heritage. Mike and I have made tremendous effort to expose our kids to their cultures in various ways, but I look around our house, and nothing screams “African American” or “Kenyan”. Since reading this book, I’m working to change that.
  3. Born a Crime. Trevor Noah is hilarious. I watched a couple episodes of The Daily Show after he took over, and I was unimpressed, but since reading his book, I’ve started watching again. Once you read a memoir, you feel like you know the author, so I find the show more enjoyable because I loved his book. His stories from his childhood in South Africa are fascinating and funny, and threaded throughout are profound insights that made me pause. He alternates between those stories and South African history, and since I’m not well versed in that, I learned a great deal in addition to being entertained, which, for me, is the best kind of book.
  4. Bird by Bird. I would never have thought reading about the writing process would be enjoyable, but my favorite author (Jodi Picoult) raves about Anne Lamott, so when I saw this book in one of those neighborhood Little Libraries (I’m fortunate to have several within walking or running distance), I picked it up. I’ve been wanting to get back into a regular writing habit, and this book had so many helpful tidbits shared in such an engaging style. I read this book while sitting on the beach in Mexico (you know you’re a nerd when…) and was excited to get home to try out a few of her tips. One such piece of advice was not to be afraid of “shitty first drafts”. Just get down what’s in your head without editing or crossing out anything and come back later to revise. If you’re editing as you go, you might never get past the first line.
  5. The Nest. Reads promoted by theskimm always sound so interesting, and this one was available at the library. (My library card is well loved. A book not available at the library has to come really highly recommended for me to buy it.) All the characters are equally enjoyably annoying. There’s no one perfect one that you’re rooting for. You’re just along for the ride to see how it all turns out.

Putting together this post made me realize I’m not as discriminating as I think I am. I do not feel obligated to finish every book I start. In fact, if I’m not hooked within the first 20 or 30 pages, unless the book has been recommended to me, I move on. There are way too many awesome books out there to waste my time forcing my way through one that doesn’t have my interest. However, there’s a substantial drop in enjoyment from #5 to what might have been #6. I continued reading books so long as I didn’t hate them.  But I want to be reading books I enjoy as much as I enjoyed these five. So I might be ditching more in the future.

 

Tic tacs 

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Teddy loves tic tacs. Lydia enjoys them, too, but Teddy is actually motivated to do things he might otherwise fight doing if there’s a promise of tic tacs upon completion of said task. For example, he’s a homebody who fights every outing. But I can convince him to get his shoes on and go out the door if I assure him tic tacs will be distributed once we’re on the sidewalk. 

We started out with light green tic tacs, the spearamint flavor. Those are my favorite, and the kids love them, too. Then, for Teddy’s birthday last year, I included tic tacs in the favor bags, but only the white, peppermint flavor ones were available in the tiny size I wanted. 

Teddy did not like the peppermint flavor. (Neither do I.) The peppermint tic tacs were too spicy. The peppermint tic tacs were not motivating. But I couldn’t find the spearamint ones anywhere. 

Then Teddy discovered the orange flavor ones. And honestly, once you discover orange, you can’t really go back. He kept asking why I hadn’t bought more tic tacs, and I kept telling him he was welcome to earn the money to buy them himself. We even priced all the different options. But he was uninterested in actually doing the chore I suggested (shredding documents, which I HATE doing; we have a grocery tote bag full of documents to be shredded). Finally he asked if we could count the coins already in his Thomas the train bank and lo and behold, he had enough for a pack of tic tacs. And that’s even we suggested he get the orange ones. The container lasted two days. He managed to save two tic tacs for a second day. 

And then we were back to the tic tacs no one would eat. I had a few coupons for the citrus mix tic tacs, and I figured if he liked the orange ones so much, green and yellow and red would be fun too. Sadly, he did not like the yellow ones. He proclaimed they tasted like banana. I’m not sure how he’s tasting banana, but regardless, he *likes* banana. Whatever. But now he gets upset if I give him a yellow. And the larger container I have does not lend itself to easily choosing one’s preferred “flavor”. (They’re like sour candies: is there really different flavors, or just different colors?) And I refuse to dump a bunch in my hand for him to choose because then I get food coloring all over my palm. 

But today, it became a thing. I gave him one green and one yellow as we were leaving for the bus, and he flipped out. Screamed and refused to walk with us. We missed our bus and had to wait for the next one. Mike decided he was done with tic tacs and all the drama they created. I was tempted to agree. The problem was, I had quite a few packs of the little candies. What would I do with them? Secretly feed them to Lydia, who never fought going outside and happily accepted whatever color came out? Whatever I decided, if I suddenly turned off the tic tac spout, Teddy would be furious. And it didn’t seem worth my energy to provoke that fight. 

Then I had an idea: I’d pour all the tic tacs into a sandwich bag. Then Teddy could easily pick the ones he wanted while my hands stayed clean. It was while I was pouring the tic tacs into the bag that I noticed there was a hinge on the back of the container. I turned it around and saw the words “press here”. Well look at that: the top fully opens to reveal a mouth the width of the container. No need to pour the candies unto the bag at all. 

And it made me realize, if I can step back from my frustration at Teddy being totally, in my opinion, unreasonably angry, and try to find a solution that works for both of us, more often than not, a solution will present itself, and hopefully I can validate his frustration and teach him to solve his own problems without blowing up. 

City kids meet tourist season

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Ahh it’s tourist season. That time of year when out-of-towners descend on my city in hordes to see all the same sites I now take my children to regularly. Before I had kids, I was unfazed by visitors. I accepted it as part of living in the capital city of my nation. In fact, I welcome the occasional opportunity to be a helpful local and point the lost in the right direction. But this season, I’m impacted by site-seers in a different way because Teddy and Lydia attract their attention (more so than usual).

We’ve worked hard to teach Teddy and Lydia street safety. They both love to run ahead and jump over “circles” (aka sewer covers and the like). We’ve taught Teddy to stop before the “bumps” (the textured material at intersections to assist blind people) and look for the “person” (silhouette) and accompanying numbers on the crosswalk sign before crossing the street (we’re still working with Lydia on this). He knows to stop at intersections (he knows numbers and a person means it’s ok to walk, but he also knows he has to hold our hand when we cross the street), and I let him run ahead, sometimes quite a ways. And Lydia knows to stop with him.

During the winter, Teddy can run ahead of me down the sidewalk and into the metro station by our house without holding my hand and won’t draw a glance from anyone. The majority of people out on the streets and in the metro are locals, focused on their commute. They aren’t paying any attention to a little kid zipping down the street. But tourists, they’re a different story. Their JOB is to look around! They may be on their way to something, but they’re constantly glancing about to locate landmarks and ensure they’re walking in the right direction. And they’re on vacation, so they’re not rushed (generally). So when  a young child comes careening toward them as they stand waiting for the light to change, they’re understandably a little nervous. They don’t know he knows to stop.

And when Teddy was younger, even when I would run after him, they wouldn’t always connect me to him. They’d see a little black boy running and a white woman behind him and wouldn’t assume I was with him. Instead they’d be quite concerned. I have heard so many people ask Teddy where his mother is! This doesn’t happen as frequently now that I’m pushing a stroller with another black child, although Lydia prefers walking around, too. She’s obviously not as fast as Teddy, so I have to stay behind with her while Teddy runs ahead.

One recent afternoon, the three of us were hanging out in a little green space in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and the kids were terrorizing chasing the dozens of ducks trying to enjoy the greenery. I was keeping watch a few feet away, to make sure Lydia didn’t leave the area, when a middle aged man walked through the park, eyed Teddy and Lydia, didn’t seem to notice me, and instead gestured toward two black women dressed in business attire chatting on a bench, and asked if the kids were with them. They just looked baffled while I called out that they were with me and waved. 

Which is what I do every time. And that’s what I’ll keep doing every tourist season until the kids are big enough to run ahead without causing alarm. 

Coolax is the new Buddy

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My kid is the king of random thoughts. Sometimes questions, sometimes statements, but always requiring a response. And always apropos of nothing.

“Air conditioner. What does conditioner mean?”

“Where is Heaven?”

“What’s at the center of the earth?”

“When is Mt St Helens going to erupt again?” (For several months, he was completely obsessed with all things volcanos. Over the holidays, Mike even found through social media a volcanologist to video chat with Teddy; he was engaged in the conversation for 45 minutes!)

“What killed the dinosaurs?”

Sometimes I have the answer; many times I’m formulating it as I’m giving it to him because it’s something that’s never occurred to me. I’m considering it on the spot.

As an adoptive mom, I also prepare myself to field the occasional (at this stage–research tells me more will be coming in the next couple years) question about his story. Again, sometimes I’m happy with my answer; sometimes I wish I’d had a little time to think about it.

But the other day, Teddy made a statement that didn’t faze me at all. It was actually one of those statements I could’ve taken personally and been offended by, but thanks to my own experience, I was able to take it in stride.

It was the 4th of July and we were enjoying dinner at our favorite BBQ restaurant with my parents and friends who were visiting from out of town, before heading to watch the fireworks. That morning, we’d spent outside watching the local neighborhood parade, so my homebody son was quite tired, having exceeded his daily quota of one outing for the day. He had achieved an awkward semi-reclined position, legs curled up on his chair, head lain across my lap. Apropos of nothing as usual, he declared, “Mommy, I don’t like my name.”

I betrayed no emotion. “Oh?” I simply said.

“My name is silly.”

My first reaction was actually excitement. “Well, the great part about your name is there are plenty of options for you. If you don’t like Teddy, you can go by Theo or Theodore or Ted, or even Billy or Will if you want to use your middle name.” Mike and I had been very intentional about this when choosing a name for our first child. Give our own common, simple names, we wanted a name for our eldest that was more unique and offered a few obvious nickname options.

This did not satisfy Teddy. “I don’t like any part of my name.”

Oh. Ok. But I still rolled with it. Because when I was a kid, I got sick of my name, too. I don’t remember how old I was–I think it was still single digits–but at some point, I decided I didn’t like Sara anymore. Maybe because it was/is so common. My parents insist they didn’t know anyone named Sara when they chose my name, which can only mean that all the Saras were born that day because I’ve know many my entire life, and in my sixth grade class of 30, there were six of us. Regardless, I was tired of my name. I wanted to be named Mindy. I think this might have been inspired by the board game Mork and Mindy, which we owned, because I don’t think we knew anyone named Mindy, but I decided that Mindy was a beautiful name. After harrassing my parents about it for months, my father had the genius idea to let me give Mindy a whirl. On my birthday, which happened to be a Saturday that year, he declared that the whole family was to call me Mindy all day. Anyone who forgot and called me by my given name owed me a nickel. (My older brother had to give me a penny. He was quite annoyed by even that.) I remember little of the day’s activities– we did make a family trip to the library– but I strongly remember two distinct details: my dad excelled at this game; and by the end of the day, I *hated* the name Mindy. (I don’t anymore, which is good, since I have a dear friend named Mindi.)

So when Teddy said he thought his name was silly and wanted to change it, I wasn’t fazed at all. I simply replied, “Huh. What would you like to be called instead?”

He clearly was not prepared for that response. He looked at me the way I looked at my parents when they said, of course you can change your favorite color! Really? That’s allowed? Obviously I had no intention of actually changing Teddy’s name, but I had no problem calling him a nickname of his choice for a while. But he didn’t not have a ready answer. So I told him to think about it and let me know when he’d come up with something.

A couple days later, I reminded Teddy about his name angst and asked if he’d given it any thought. He, Mike and my mom were playing tabletop crossword (Scrabble without the board) when Mike, out of ideas for his letters, asked jokingly if he could add “ax” to the word “cool”, to make “coolax”. Teddy exclaimed, “That’s what I want to be called! Coolax!”

“Alrighty,” I said. “Instead of Bud, I’ll call you Coolax.”

His new nickname has not grown roots. Sometimes I use it; most of the time I don’t. Sometimes he reminds me; most of the time, he doesn’t remember. But in a stage when so often what he does and says triggers a less than pleasant response, I was proud to have this parenting win.

 

 

Playground politics with the Apostle Paul

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My kids love slides. They generally enjoy sliding down, but they mostly get a kick out of scrambling up. If other kids are waiting to go down, I send mine around to use the stairs. But if my kids’ rambunctiousness is not impeding another child’s sliding pleasure, I see nothing wrong with letting them bound up, pivot, slide down–head first, feet first, on their tummies, on their backs, sideways–and clamber right back up. I’m not alone in this, but I’m definitely in the minority. And I’ve been subject to my share of judgemental stares as other parents direct their children to the variety of “appropriate” access points. Many times, Teddy and another child have dashed to parallel slides, Teddy pounding up the shiny metal (or brightly painted plastic) to a mere nonchalant comment from me — whoa, bud, that was loud — and the other child following suit only to hear a reprimand from their parent — Johnny, we don’t climb up the slide; we go around. Typically, the other child is compliant, and I just have to deal with the judgement from the other parents.

But on one occasion this spring, the other child was not so agreeable. She really wanted to climb up the slide just like Teddy was doing–no matter that her nanny kept threatening her with a time out. And she was a precocious little girl. The first time, she followed Teddy, it was all innocent. Teddy hoisted himself up, and she thought that looked quite fun, so she climbed up, too. But her nanny saw. “Caroline, we go around.” Looking wistfully at Teddy preparing to climb up again, she dutifully hopped off the end and walked around. The second time, it’s possible she’d forgotten the warning. Nanny reminded her, adding the threat of the time out. The third time, she clearly looked to see if her nanny was watching before clambering up. Nanny spied the transgression and called her out. “Caroline, are you not listening? Go around. This is your last warning.”

And I’m watching this play out, wondering what I should do. No one was being blocked going down the slide by the kids’ clambering up. Teddy was doing no harm continuing his hoarding of the slide. But clearly, this little girl was going to get into trouble if she continued doing so. And as evidenced by her initial obedience, without Teddy, she would likely have no problem honoring her nanny’s rule.

In that moment, Philippians 2:4 came to mind. It says we should look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. In this case, the honorable thing to do was have Teddy go around so the girl wouldn’t be tempted to break her nanny’s rule. I try to take advantage of opportunities to point my kids to Jesus, but in this instance, I did not look forward to bringing Teddy in on my plan. I knew it would not be met with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I got down to Teddy’s eye level and explained the situation. “Bud, I know you like climbing up the slide. I know it’s way more fun than going around. But this little girl is going to have a time out if she keeps climbing up and she’s doing it because she’s watching you. I don’t have a problem with you climbing up, but I also think we don’t want this girl to get in trouble. So how about for now, you go around, so that little girl isn’t tempted to climb up anymore.” Teddy was most definitely not happy about this plan. If he could shoot fire from his eyes, I’d have been incinerated. But he complied. And for the next 10 minutes, both children took the long way to the top of the slide. And then the little girl left with her nanny, and Teddy, glancing at me for approval, immediately shot back up the slide.

So many parents are truly gifted in applying biblical principles to their discipline strategies, speaking verses over their children as they redirect their energies. I’ve never been adept at this. I never seem to recall the right verse at the right time. But for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit prompted me this time. In all likelihood, neither child remembers it (and it’s not like a five-minute timeout would’ve been so traumatizing). But maybe this was as much for my benefit as it was for my son’s. This was one in hopefully many instances where I’ll be able to help him love his neighbor. And it was a strong reminder that the Holy Spirit wants to be at the center of every aspect of our lives, even at the playground.

Adventuring as a transracial family

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Last week, we took our first family vacation, to the Mexican Caribbean, Riviera Maya. It was a chance to escape the craziness of the city during inauguration as well as hit a tropical beach during one of the Mid-Atlantic’s coldest months of the year. (As it turned out, the coldest week of the month was the previous one, which we were very much in town for, but whatever, we still got a week of hot sun and sand, which is way better than what we left.)

We had an early morning flight out of Dulles, so we  woke the kids quite a bit before Teddy usually gets up (he was so excited, he was fully awake immediately) and called an Uber. Since we brought Teddy and Lydia home, the airport has made us a tiny bit nervous. We always wonder if anyone will think we’re trafficking or kidnapping our kids. We have passports for them, but those can be forged, and we never travel with our adoption decrees. Presumably all airport officials are trained to spot the signs of a trafficked child, and our non-trafficked kids obviously won’t show any red flags, but Mike always likes to give the person checking our IDs and boarding passes a little extra assurance that our dark-skinned children belong with white-skinned us.

Me, to security officer (SO) checking our IDs: “Good morning!”
*SO takes IDs and boarding passes and scans each ID as he matches it with our faces*
SO, looking at Teddy: “What’s your name, son?”
(I used to have to follow up with, “Tell him your name, bud”, but he responds on his own now. We’re still working on volume.)
Teddy, barely audibly: “Teddy.”
Lydia: “Teddy!”
Mike: “That’s right, that’s Teddy. And what’s my name?”
Lydia: “Daddy!”
*SO smiles, finishes verifying IDs, and wishes us a pleasant journey.

And through that simple interaction with Lydia–which appears completely organic– Mike has shown the officer that Lydia unequivocally–and enthusiastically– identifies him as her father. It plays out a little differently on each occasion, but Mike does this every time we go to the airport. It’s probably completely unnecessary, but it certainly does no harm.

After an uneventful flight (complete with the cinnamon cookies Teddy was so excited about as soon as we told him we were flying Delta) and a longer-than-expected wait for our shuttle to the resort, we arrived at our week in paradise. We stayed at the all-inclusive resort, Dreams Puerta Aventura. I heartily recommend it. I’ve always been skeptical of all-inclusives, convinced there must be a catch. But nope, we didn’t spend a dime while we were there (except for our half-day expedition to Tulum, a Mayan ruin). The service was amazing and the place was astonishingly clean. I kept expecting to find a thin layer of sand down the corridors, but they were always spotless.

We spent the next six days alternating between the pool and the beach. I have a confession: I am not overly concerned about my children getting sunburned; I do not slather them with sunscreen. Don’t get me wrong: I know black skin burns. But I don’t layer *myself* with SPF, and I know they are even less vulnerable to UV rays than I am. Like most kids, Teddy wears a swim shirt with his trunks, so I had him rub sunscreen on his face and feet, and sometimes his legs, in the morning–and that’s it. For the day. Now, in my defense, we would go back to our room around noon to change for lunch, and then we’d chill in the room for Lydia’s naptime and wouldn’t return to the beach or pool until late afternoon, when those UV rays weren’t nearly as penetrating. And we returned home with no burns among the four of us. But I probably could’ve been a little more protective of my kids’ beautiful brown skin.

Before we left, I determined to try again to braid Lydia’s hair properly, not in thick braids that I had to take out at bedtime, but in thin braids that would last the week, and would look tidy during days spent in the water. And in the sand. Turns out eight months makes a big difference in a toddler’s ability to sit still; a video was sufficient to keep her attention for the 25 minutes it took me to weave her locks into a couple dozen braids. (Helps that I’ve improved, too; I can plait her hair much more quickly now.) My plan worked beautifully. Her hair stood up to frequent splashing…and strangers’ ruffling… I imagine her hair in all its wild glory might’ve drawn the same amount of affection from the resort workers, but no doubt the braids made her head especially magnetic. They just couldn’t resist fingering those tight twists!

They also couldn’t resist picking her up. Evidently this is a cultural thing in both black and Latino communities. I had to stifle my urge to grab Lydia back whenever a friendly resort employee would swing her up and fawn over her. Lydia wasn’t bothered in the least, so it would’ve been weird if I’d shown my discomfort. She would just smile, clearly enjoying the attention.

During our week in the sun, in between building sand volcanoes and ordering drinks at the swim-up pool bar, we also fielded questions about our family. Turns out we’re conspicuous in other countries, too. One woman made the oddest comment. After telling me how much she loved watching my kids play, she asked if they were biological siblings. I said they were not, and at that moment, they came right by us, acting particularly affectionate. She said, “They play so well together; they don’t act like siblings.” And before I could assure her that they’d been siblings their whole lives and most definitely acted the part, she continued, as if to reassure me, “But that’ll probably come in the next year.” All I could do was shake my head.

Another woman, whose tranquil morning snooze in a hammock we disrupted when Lydia and Mike claimed the remaining two hammocks and enjoyed pushes from Teddy–by no means a quiet process–asked me where the kids were from. I was momentarily distracted by something Teddy said, and when I turned back to respond, I opted to intentionally misunderstand her and declared that we were from DC. To her credit, she didn’t clarify her question, and we were able to have a nice chat. And when Teddy tired of his hammock-swinging duties a few minutes later, she was able to return to swaying blissfully with the only soundtrack to her thoughts the white noise of the waves.

We also had many conversations that did not make us feel conspicuous. We met one mom of three as she was attempting to capture candid shots of her two boys with a professional camera. She was a photographer by trade and shared that she made a photo album for her kids for every family vacation.

As someone whose only memory of my family’s trip to *Disneyland* when I was six is being bundled into the car super early to drive there, I loved the idea. It was my first project upon our return. We had such a great week, and I want Teddy to remember not just the early-morning wake-up call, but also making sand-volcanoes, conquering his fear of putting his face in the water, and splashing around in the bubbles during the “foam party” our last afternoon. Another “first” for our unique family, it was an adventure I’ll cherish forever.