Monday, August 1, 2016

Camping: Two Nights, Two Kids, One Dad

Staying home with kids results in some strained interior monologues. After a time, your brain can't help but try to make your life more of an adventure. Take this morning's thread. There's a scene in The Empire Strikes Back in which Han Solo is rushing Princess Leia to her transport. An ice wall crashes and blocks their path. He calls the transport and tells them he'll get her out on his ship. This morning, I had the following run through my head as I was taking Mimi to summer camp, with Kuri in tow: "Summer Camp, this is Steven. I can't find the key to the Pilot. I'll get Mimi out in the Porsche."

Yes. Ridiculous. I couldn't help but mock myself immediately after this played in my head. And, so embarrassed was I, I'm here mocking myself in public. Nonetheless, it did make for a slightly more exciting camp run.

Now, while many days require generating a bit of pretend excitement, a few come with more than enough built-in. This was definitely the case when I decided (somewhat foolishly, as some, such as my spouse, thought) to take a six year old and a two year old myself.

We decided to go mid-week. Partially because we wanted to spend the weekend with Mari and Mama, but mainly because I hemmed and hawed so long about whether or not I could make the trip, those were the only days available. By the time I had finished packing the car, I was thankful that we'd gotten a Pilot. Camping with kids is not a Porsche 911 activity (though the windy roads would've been much more fun).
There was a modicum of method to my camping plan madness. My primary requirement was that we had a tent cabin. Thankfully, Big Basin State Park, just northeast of Santa Cruz, fit the bill perfectly.
Mimi and Kuri had their own redwoods to explore on our campsite..
 ...and lots of quiet road to work out their energy (so glad I brought their glide bikes).
The redwoods, as always, were astounding. Mimi was particularly fond of the "holes" in some of the trees, and tenaciously sought out as many as she could.
She also loved sitting on fallen trees. This is early in our trip, so she'd chosen a smaller one. Greater feats were to come.
 Mimi was having a blast...
 ...and, on the first day at least, Kuri was a bit introspective. He takes a while to warm up.
Still, he loved exploring with his big sister.
 Notice the fallen trees with kids on them getting bigger?
One challenge we had with Kuri is that he's 2. He needs to run everywhere, but he can't cover more than 30 yards without falling over. Unfortunately, he has a cleanliness issue, too, so every time he tripped, tears would well up and there would need to be a thorough cleaning (I went through 3/4 of a giant pack of baby wipes in two days). Thankfully, he bounces back quickly. Here he is proudly telling me, "Papa, I'm not sad!"
After our first day's hike, we returned to the campsite where Mimi and Kuri spent some time on their contemplation stump...
 ...and then we tucked into dinner. This they ate remarkably quickly because they knew that once they finished they could...
...roast marshmallows! Oh, and if you're wondering, no, we did not attempt s'mores. There was no way I was adding chocolate to this equation.
 That night we read books by the light of our propane lantern...
 ...and the soft glow of an old iPhone.
There were a few tears that first night. They really missed their Mama and Marichan, but they were brave and soon feel asleep after a little cuddling (and a third glass of water). The next morning we put on some jackets and played a little Fruit Ninja to warm up.
Then Mimi spent a little more time on her contemplation stump. I was worried she was a bit sad, but no, she said she was just thinking about the forest.
We went on a hike to one of the waterfalls...
...and Mimi snapped a great pic of Kuri and me during a water break.
Bridges over creeks were a particular favorite.
After our morning hike, we returned to the main camp center and did some apple roasting.
And, of course, Mimi insisted on climbing some fallen trees. As you can tell, she got to a point where she exceeded her little brother's courage.
By the time we got back to our campsite, both kids were completely tuckered out.
That night we made an even bigger fire...
 ...Kuri goofed around, hopped up on marshmallows...
...and decided it was time for him to take some pictures.
After two nights in the woods, it felt good to come home. Mimi and Kuri both went bananas when they saw Mama. They then huddled around Marichan, telling her stories of their adventures with Papa, to which Mari giggled and smiled.  I was quite proud of my two brave little campers.

The next week, still feeling adventurous, we went into the Marin Headlands to visit the Marin Mammal Center.
Kuri liked the sea lions.
 We then put our newly acquired hiking skills to the test at one of the old, abandoned forts.
Mimi was our trail blazer. She had no fear. She even took us down a pair of mysterious steps that led to an old, abandoned bunker.
Kuri needed a little encouragement, but he built up enough courage to stand on the steps for a while.
I'm very thankful to say that this first camping trip with the kids was a success and that it's sparked an interest in them for exploring nature. Yes, it was a bit challenging at times, and yes, I probably need to buy stock in a diaper wipe company if I am to go again (Kuri really likes his hands to be clean), but it was totally worth it. We hope to bring Mama and Mari next time if we can talk the city girl into a little "roughing it." Granted, what we did was considered by most to be "glamping," but my wife's definition of the term differs from most. "Glamping is staying at the Ahwahnee."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father's Day - Now Times Three

This Father's Day was a special one. It was my first with all three kids, the first at which Kuri could talk, and the first for which Mimi decided to make as many cards, crafts, and packages for me as is humanly possible.

Later that night, after watching the Warriors somehow lose the championship, I got nostalgic and started looking through photos of the past several months. Already, in this short time, there have been a lot of changes.

The biggest have come, of course, with our little Mariko. Now nearly four months in, Mariko is no longer an infant, she's a full-fledged baby. She's smiling, giggling, getting used to the bottle, and always entertaining Mimi and Kuri. She's also become her Papa's little girl. With Sumie coming off maternity leave and my job winding down, I've been transitioning into the stay-at-home dad role again. About a month ago, you could find Marichan and me playing together at home each day. Of course I loved Mimi and Christopher dearly the first year of each of their lives, but they were both completely devoted to Mama. It wasn't really until they were each at least a year old that I really began connecting with them. But with Mari, she's actually taken to me. After a week, Sumie could really see we'd bonded. Mari would look for me, talk with me, and even giggle on cue. It was fantastic.

Mari has been the first of our kids who can just sit back and relax with me...
...and the first to give me a huge smile at every diaper change.
She's curious...
...and, like her brother and sister, can only take 30 seconds of tummy time.
Perhaps this is why the tummy time pillow tends to end up on Mimi's head.
When Sumie went back to work, there was about 2 weeks during which I'd stay home with Marichan before she switched to daycare. The reason for the wait was that she was taking Kuri's place. He's staying home with me throughout the summer to work on speaking, reading, and using the potty. With Mimi having graduated from kindergarten...
 ...Mimi and Kuri have had lots of opportunities to play together.
They ride their bikes in the back yard and up at the school.
They go on adventures to mysterious old train tunnels...
...and bravely venture through them together.
And, of course, they read...
..and read.
Now that Mimi can read on her own, she's taken to reading to the entire family.
Even Mama.
Naturally, all our time isn't spent entirely in tunnels and books. There's a little TV time in there, too. In addition to the Japanese shows the kids watch, Mimi has become addicted to the new Voltron show on Netflix. It's actually quite good. A huge improvement over the original. But there was one problem when we first started watching it. Mimi wasn't quite sure how the five lions made Voltron. Luckily, I just happened to have 5 colorful lions sitting in a cubby above the TV.
And when they all got together, they just just happened to form Voltron. Lucky, that.
Now that she has a little extra time, Mimi's upped the number of activities she has. She's still doing gymnastics once a week, but now tennis lessons are in there as well.
She's small, and hitting it over the net is still pretty tough...
 ...but she absolutely loves it when she connects for a winner (which, at this point, is anything over the net.)
Of course, the unstructured activities continue, with searching for lady bugs and rolly-pollies being a top choice.
There have been several major events since the last post. With Japanese school on Saturdays and Sumie on call every 4th or 5th week, it can be hard to fit them in, but we do our best. The most critical was pulling off Mimi's 6th birthday at our house. 10 kids, plenty of parents, way more food than we needed, games, and lots and lots of sugar. Sumie came up with an "Ice Cream!" theme and devised a station where the kids could make their own sundaes. She even baked cupcakes in ice cream cones for Mimi's cake. Sadly, very few pictures of any of this survive due to parents flying back and forth and kids mainlining sugar.

We had a potato sack race...
...which Mimi was actually able to win!
 Lots of cupcakes and hugs...
 ...and plenty of presents.
Even Marichan wore a special birthday dress.
Later that week, on Mimi's actual birthday, we braved taking all three kids to a genuinely nice restaurant for a celebratory dinner. We all made it home, none of the other guests ended up with pasta on their heads, and we were never overtly asked to leave, so we'll call that a win.
Another major event was the sports day, or undokai,  for Mimi's Japanese school. Unfortunately, Sumie was on call, so I loaded all three kids into the Pilot around 7:30am and we made our way to San Francisco.
Mimi competed in several different events, including a sprint. She didn't quite win, but was definitely giving it her all.
She also performed a dance right before the lunch break. Though she'd missed one of the practice days, she remembered all the words and moves.
Marichan, Kuri and I were camped out on the field along with all the other parents. We had a 3 foot by 5 foot rectangle on the grass in which I had to pack two kids, a stroller, lunch, drinks, diaper bag, and myself. Sadly, I forgot my chair. This would result in consequences later.
Amazingly, all the kids did really well. Kuri was manageable, Mari was a sweetheart, and Mimi had a blast. The only friction came from Mimi's new backpack that she got at the end. As I packed up, Kuri insisted that the backpack was his. He started pulling, and pulling, and pulling...
 ...and continued pulling, then screaming, for the three blocks back to where I had parked the Pilot. Despite the unpleasantness, and a scream from Kuri that perhaps permanently damaged my right eardrum, we'd made it back to the car. Now all we had to do was pile in and drive home in time for a nap. Now, where's that key? No, seriously, where's the key? You have got to be kidding me. This. Is. Not. Happening. WHERE THE F**** IS THE F***ING KEY!
The key to the Pilot, as you've probably already guessed, was never found. It's probably buried somewhere near our little camp, which you see pictured above, having slipped out of the pocket of my shorts. Had I remembered my chair, this probably wouldn't have happened. Sumie had to make an emergency run to pick us all up, drive back home, and then back to the city.
I had walked the kids back to the car at 12:00. We finally arrive home, for the final time, around 5:00. I texted Sumie this pic above to let her know we survived. Mari was amazing. She never complained. Actually, all the kids were troopers (despite Kuri's one meltdown). I was quite proud of them, but rather annoyed at myself.

Later that night, after Sumie had made it home and the kids were in bed, I decided to take a drive out Lucas Valley Road in the Porsche. I'd just gotten new tires that I hadn't tried out, and I needed to clear out my head. I had a brisk and very enjoyable run and was on my way home, with about two miles to go, poking along at 40mph in a 45, when a bobcat on crack bounded across the road causing a tremendous "thunk" from the very middle of my front bumper. I barely had time to move my foot to the brake. The car was OK, as was I, but the bobcat, well, the score stands: Porsche 1, Bobcat 0. When I arrived home I told my wife what happened. She just looked at me and said, "You've had quite the day. You've graduated from incompetent father to murderer."

The following weekend, with lost keys and reckless wildlife banished from memory, we made our way up to Tomales Bay for a picnic on Chicken Ranch Beach. It's a great little getaway. Only about 30 minutes from our house, the beach is relatively tucked away. The bay water is warm (for the north bay) and the beach is shallow, so kids can really get out and explore.
For some reason, Mimi kept striking poses.
The picture below sums up the day perfectly. Mimi, in the background, with a massive water cannon looking mischievous, Kuri off in his own world of sand, and Mari and Sumie kicking back in beach chairs (which I made sure to remember this time).
A few weekends later I took a rare day for myself. Friday night, after a fresh oil change for the Porsche, I taped up the fog lights (having noticed one was cracked), and cleaned out the car for racing.
Saturday morning I left the house far too early for a man with children and headed out to Stockton. There I met two of my friends from college for a day of autocross out on the empty parking lot. I'd always wanted to give it a go, and it was an absolute blast.
And yes, I was slow. I could chalk it up to the car being one of the oldest and least powerful ones there (though there were older cars that were significantly faster than me), but I'll just be honest. I have a lot to learn before I can really begin to wring the performance this little old Targa has to offer. I'm looking forward to the next session and hopefully continuing to improve my times. I'm not, however, looking forward to another massive sunscreen cleanup that will assuredly be needed following my next return home from the autocross course. Curse this pale body.
This last weekend, Father's Day, was an absolute godsend. We kept things simple, with breakfast at home, lunch out, and plenty of cupcakes. Despite all the ups and downs of being a parent, Sunday reminded me just how special it can be, and just how lucky I am that these three kids call me Papa.
The day ended bittersweet. I'm tremendously lucky in that I have a fantastic and supportive father-in-law (Sumie's Dad) who has always been there for us, as well as a wonderful stepfather in my mom's husband Randy, who is Grandpa to the three kids. But still, thinking back on how special this father's day had been, I wish I could've shared just a bit of it with my own dad. Just a chance to say "thanks" for helping to make what I experienced that day possible.