Give thanks for kids

We took two days off for Thanksgiving (Tuesday and Wednesday), so we could leisurely drive down US101 (more scenic, and less soporific than I-5) and visit Solvang, the famous little Danish town. Since we last drove down to Southern Cal on the 101, they’ve installed Mission Bells intermittently (using TEA funds, truly meeting the intent of those federal grant program!)
The Mission Bells mark the route as the original El Camino Real, the route the Spanish took to travel up and down the coast, where missions were constructed along it, a day’s walk apart. One of these days, I’d like to visit all the Missions. It would probably be easiest to start with the ones in the Bay Area. None of which I’ve visited.

We originally wanted to stop for lunch in Morro Bay/Pismo Beach, where one of Joe’s colleagues had found a great fish taco (Alas, they were closed on Tuesdays, but fortunately, we had called before we left the Bay Area, and didn’t waste time on a lost cause.)

Solvang is worth a 45 minute visit, of which 25 minutes could be most profitably spent wine-tasting. The much lauded Danish bakeries? I’ll take Prolific Oven any day. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, many of the little twee shops selling made-in-China Scandinavian-themed knick knacks were closed. (A local told us they were probably resting up before the deluge of Christmas shopping day-trippers starting after Thanksgiving.) We decided to change plans and spend the night in Santa Barbara instead. We’d planned to go to breakfast at Cajun Kitchen anyway, which, for us, is a bigger attraction than the Mission.

The highlight of family get-togethers in San Diego is no longer the food, but my niece Kaylie (aged 4) and nephew Riley (aged 2). The food still comes a close second. But playing with the kids, and seeing how they’ve changed and grown between visits, is fascinating and amazing. Our favorite thing is to take them down to the playground three blocks away, and let them climb around the monkey bars, swing them, go down the slides, all the things kids do playgrounds. They can run amok in fearless exuberance; no worrying about knocking over Grandma’s knick-knacks in the living room. It’s simple and pure fun for kids (involves no toys or TV), gives them a spot of fresh air and exercise, and it brings me back great memories of the fun I had in the playgrounds at Lake Merritt.

Kids are such contradictions. On one hand, they have short attention spans. In typical kid fashion, it takes Kaylie an hour to eat a meal that’s a third of an adult portion, because she’ll take long pauses to talk about her favourite friend at school, poke and be poked by her brother, take a little walk, and play with a plastic spoon.
Kaylie’s mom brings a bag of books and toys on these visits that’s about the size of Kansas. Everything in it will get played with or read at least once on this day visit, as they get bored quickly with everything.

Yet kid’s attention, once engaged, can be enthralled in doing the same thing over and over and over again. The contents of the almighty toy bag had been packed away before dinner, since they were leaving right afterwards. I folded Kaylie a paper airplane, and she happily spent the next 30 minutes doing nothing but flying it back and forth across the living room and down the hallway. It got even better when she trained Riley to retrieve the plane for her (To her credit, she didn’t call him Rover.) When it was time to eat, she reluctantly grounded the plane.

Earlier in the afternoon, we took Riley out to Grandpa’s wonderful Backyard of abundance, where the persimmon tree was aflame in fruit. The shaggy orange tree was weighed down in citrus. Some of the boughs were so low to the ground, even the two-year-old could reach up and touch the fruit, which he did, grasping the oranges and scratching the peel with his miniature fingernails. But mostly he just walked around and around the tree (much bigger than a mulberry bush.) There’s a little curb and rain gutter that separates the patio and the dirt, so his arboreal circumnavigation included a little challenging obstacle course to developing his balancing skills. (Of course his doting grandpa, uncle and aunt were close by to catch him if he was about to fall. Which he never did. He’s a confident little fellow!)

Riley would have cheerfully walked around the tree all afternoon, except he needed a diaper change (at this point his aunt and uncle became less doting, and handed him over to his mom.) Instead after that, he discovered the drying racks of jujubes which Grandma had harvested. (They’re also called red dates in Chinese.) He set about rolling them around on the large trays (a 2-D version of the pool of plastic balls), and then squeezing them between his little fingers, trying to discover what was inside. But the skins were so leathery, he never broke through into the little crimson pellets.

We also visited friends of ours who had relocated from the Bay Area to Carlsbad. When we arrived at their home, their son Matthew was dressed in a red spiderman T-shirt and black cape, busy working with black construction paper and scotch tape (ingredients of alchemy for 4-year olds.) He was trying to attach scotch tape to the mask he had made so that it would stick to his face.
“He just saw ‘The Incredibles’ last night, and he wants to be Dash,” his mom explained.
I’ve always has a soft spot for Matthew, he seems to be the most completely normal, well-adjusted, cheerful kid (in a completely non-Poindexter way) I’ve ever encountered. So I made a little rubber band string for his mask so, which worked better than scotch tape to hold the mask in place on his face.
After that he promptly set about cutting little gloves in matching black construction paper, which he tried to scotch tape onto his hand.
Kids have so much imagination.

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