Journey 78: Spring Break Fun

spring break

In the Midwest, spring break is often a casualty of too many snow days. When school has been cancelled more than a couple of times, due to ice or snow, the days are made up by eliminating part or all of spring break. This year, thanks to fairly light winter precipitation, kids in the area enjoyed a full week of recess from school. I’ve had the joy this week of spending time with all of my grandkids, at various times, and all my adult children too. Today, my sister Linda and I took four of the youngsters to that favorite hang out for children, Chuck E Cheese.

Chuck E Cheese London plays

My son Nate, with Joey, Oliver and Aubrey in tow, met Linda and London, me, and my sister’s friend Tammy and her daughter Megan at the fun pizza parlor located at the Northpark Mall in Joplin. Because of spring break, and the cool, drizzly weather outside, the place was packed with boisterous children and patient, good-natured parents. We snagged two tables back to back, with the children occupying one and the adults the other. Fresh hot pizzas brought cheers from the kids, while the adults made trips through the salad bar first. (For me, being Whole30 conscious, the salad bar and an unsweetened tea was it for me. I didn’t even crave the pizza.) Greg surprised us by tapping on the window outside. He joined us for a quick lunch as he took a break from work.

As much as the kids enjoyed chowing down on cheese and supreme pizza, they don’t relish going to Chuck E Cheese for the food. They made one extra large pizza disappear very quickly. While a second pizza was being prepared, off they scampered, cups of tokens in hand. For that is the fun reason for being at this eating establishment…plugging tokens into a host of flashing, whirling, blaring gaming machines to win tickets. London and Aubrey, 5 and 6 years old, are more interested in running around, playing in the playground area and riding some of the small rides than they are securing tickets, even though they love the process of redeeming the tickets later for prizes. Megan, being older, struck out on her own, playing an assortment of games. Joey and Oliver, however, at 8 and 7 years old, have this gaming business down. They have a system of playing the same machine rapidly, and usually score big in the way of tickets. While the girls averaged about 200 tickets each today, Joey and Oliver hauled in 1200 tickets, together. I was impressed. They all had fun picking out prizes.

Chuck E Cheese Nate and the boys

Nate spent time visiting with us and then time on the busy floor, watching the girls and playing skee ball with the boys. Even grown kids need some play time. I made sure he had tokens of his own. After a fun afternoon at Chuck E Cheese, Nate headed to a meeting at work and Tammy and Megan said their goodbyes too. Linda and I gave the kids the option of having ice cream and of course they said yes. We stopped at Andy’s for treats for the kids. We quickly discovered that chocolate ice cream and a group of kids…were there really only four of them?…make a fine mess. But that was okay. Napkins and face wiping took care of that….or most of it anyway!

Chuck E Cheese Nate with kids

We ended our play date at Linda’s house, affectionately known as Gigi. One of the things I love about my sister is that she doesn’t get uptight about kids playing in the house. I would have loved to have taken the kids to a park to run and climb and slide, but we will save that experience for another sunnier, warmer day. At Gigi’s house, it is okay to make a mess, to play hide and seek, to ride the scooter in the house. The kids did all those things, plus coloring and watching cartoons and setting up a mock restaurant. They had fun. Gigi and I had fun, watching, interacting, allowing the fine staff at the imaginary restaurant to take our orders for meals, over and over.

When Nate showed up to claim his kids, he joined in the fun for a bit. And then it was time for all of us to hug and say goodbye and go home. Kay Redfield Jamison said, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” I so agree. One thing we are good at in our family, is allowing kids that freedom. It is good for their souls. They learn to share, to create, to explore. I’m grateful today for spring break, Chuck E Cheese, Andy’s, Gigi’s hospitality, friends, Nate’s willingness to share the kids….and most of all, Megan, Joey, Oliver, Aubrey and London. Their play, their creativity, their laughter, is good for my soul.

Chuck E Cheese playing at Gigis

Coloring at Gigi’s

Chuck E Cheese Joey and Oliver at Gigis

The boys play “store”. While Joey set up, Oliver discovered that three balls lined up make a pretty good recliner. And yes, we all pitched in and cleaned up after play time!

Journey 46: Happy Birthday London Kate

Londons birthday cake

This morning my family gathered to celebrate the birthday of my great niece, London Kate Miller. London, who turns five later in the month, is the oldest grandchild of my sister, Linda. What a happy bunch of us showed up at the Joplin Chuck E Cheese restaurant, which is always a favorite hang out for the kids in my family. Today, the adults joined in as well, making a boisterous group of 28 there to laugh and sing and watch over the kids as they played together. One of the things I love about my family is how my sisters and I get our grandchildren together as often as we can, so that those kids, who are all second cousins, spend as much time together and enjoy each other as much as our children did, growing up. I was thrilled today that most of the family was present, with the exception of my eldest grandson, Dayan, and one of Linda’s granddaughters, Aralyn. Unfortunately, both of Linda’s sons had to work today and couldn’t join us either.

Londons birthday group

London had a princess party at Chuck E Cheese. This specialty pizza place provides a safe environment for kids to run and play and plug tokens into machines, earning tickets. Those tickets are redeemed later for prizes. The boys in the family know how to turn those tokens into a large pile of tickets. However, London and Aubrey have always been more of the opinion that playing and running around is preferred, and if they happen to win a few tickets, that’s good enough for them. The grown up “kids” had just as much fun, adding an element of competition to their playing. The basketball hoops and the skee ball lanes allowed challenges to be thrown out and provided much fun for the rest of us, watching. Young Weston wasn’t quite sure about all the noise, and that giant mouse that occasionally roamed around, but he enjoyed the pizza and played. Baby Lola got passed around for all to admire and coo over. She is adorable and will be joining in on the fun before we know it.

Londons birthday Aubrey and Lola  Londons birthday Weston

At the center of this whirl of activity was the birthday girl. London is a beautiful child, full of bright energy, with big, sparkling blue eyes that can get quite the mischievous glint in them. She is smart, affectionate, playful, and loves to dance, sing and create. And she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask about it or go after it. She enjoys her family and passes out hugs and kisses generously. My granddaughter Aubrey and London have been close since babyhood. These girls think of each other as sisters and best friends. I’m so glad they got to party together today! At Chuck E Cheese the birthday child gets a trip into a wind tunnel, where tickets fly about and can be caught. London invited Aubrey to join her. With their clear goggles on they stood ready. They had fun grabbing at the swirling tickets. This was Aubrey’s second time to be in the tunnel. She learned from past experience to grab and hold the caught tickets close to her chest. She scored a big haul for her cousin!

Londons birthday in the ticket tunnel

Londons birthday opening gifts

What a fun morning. Although I took time to grab a salad, I forgot to eat any pizza. I enjoyed walking around, taking photos, talking to little kids and big kids, and chatting with my mom, sisters, and nieces. I picked out a special gift for London Kate. It is from a line of dolls called Journey Girls. And this particular Journey Girl is blue eyed with light brown hair, just like the birthday girl. She is wearing a frilly purple dress, and her name is London. I hope London Kate enjoys playing with her. I will enjoy watching this bright child as she continues to grow, marveling at her quick wit and her giftedness, her affectionate nature and her soulful eyes. Look out world, this is London Kate! Happy birthday, dear girl.

Londons birthday princess

Day 235: Happy Birthday Kaleb

Kaleb 1e

Today’s first was another birthday get together. My niece’s son, Kaleb, turns three years old tomorrow. Because my family loves to celebrate each other, as often as we can, we gathered today in Broken Arrow, OK to spend time with one of the younger members of the family.

Kaleb is a extraordinary kid. He lives in a big, beautiful house with his mommy and daddy, older brother Ethan, and his Meem. That’s what the boys call their grandmother, who is also my sister, Debbie. Kaleb captured my heart immediately after his birth. He is an old soul, in a young body. And this boy and I have a special bond. We have been communicating with each other long before he could speak! As a baby he’d turn and smile at me, knowingly, and I’d smile back. Our eyes would meet, and our gazes lock, and that’s all we needed to do to start the flow of love and joy and understanding between us.

Kaleb is gifted in his abilities to know things and understand the way the world works, far beyond his current ability to speak about what he knows. He’s a deep thinker. He is the happiest of children and his smiles light up the room. His little face is animated and he is a master at expressing what’s going on in his sharp mind. He is such a joy to his mom, dad, brother and grandmother, who love him so.  When we are together, we slip into an easy camaraderie, aunt and nephew, yes, but more than that, kindred souls.

During a recent overnight visit to Kaleb’s house, I enjoyed his company as the family watched a movie and I blogged. He snuggled up against my side, watching me as I typed, talking to me in hushed tones. When I completed my post, and put the computer away, he settled into my lap and we finished watching the movie together. Afterward, I had the honor of putting him to bed. I had to leave his room for a few minutes, promising I would return. And I did, in a short time. Kaleb was lying quietly watching for me, his big eyes filled with tears. He didn’t complain or cry or even speak. His eyes told me he was wondering if I would, indeed, come back. I sunk down next to his bed and held his little hand, brushing the hair back from his forehead with my other hand. He blinked the tears away, gave me a beautiful smile and sighing, closed his eyes, gripping my hand tightly. I sat there for a long time, watching Kaleb and listening to his breathing grow steady and deep as sleep overtook him. It was a precious moment and I whispered blessings into his life and asked for guidance and protection for him.

This afternoon, we gathered around Kaleb at the Build a Bear Workshop as he selected a purple pony to become his birthday buddy. Scott, Nicole and baby Weston surprised Kaleb with this wonderful gift. This was my first time to visit a Build a Bear facility and it was fun to watch Kaleb move through the steps that ended with him cuddling a new stuffed toy. Across the road we had lunch at Chuck E Cheese, where the adults munched on pizza and chatted while Jon, Scott and Nicole chased after the boys. The pizza restaurant was noisy and colorful, full of children plugging tokens into machines that rewarded them with tickets. Kaleb had a great afternoon trying out different games.

I deeply love and appreciate all of my grandchildren and great nieces and nephews. Each of them has gifts and abilities that I marvel at and encourage. It is a great joy to watch them as they are growing up. It is so important to celebrate them and shower them with affection. Today was Kaleb’s special day to shine. I look forward to journeying with him, and all the others. What adventures we will have.

Kaleb 2e