Dad called me as I was unloading bottled waters and Doritos from the gas station to the kids.
“We are heading out to the farm, dad,” I confirmed after seeing his name appear on my phone.
“Great, I was hoping you’d say that! We will see you soon!”
I made sure the crew was buckled – I had pleaded for Sophie and Quinn to come since Ri and Mario wanted them to experience the farm so badly – and veered onto the highway. We drove to Exit 186 and turned off the tv. I made them look for animals. They were excited to get to the farm and see the dogs and horses and chickens. I was excited to see Ms. Elena.
We pulled up and Ri gave Peepaw a huge hug. Rocco went nuts as soon as he jumped out of the car. The boys ran down the hill to play badminton. Yes, the chaos had arrived. Little Elena better get used to the Menkedick energy.
We decided to take the dogs on a hike through the woods. Jorge placed Elena in the Ergo Baby and we were off. Dad and the girls led the way. The kids found the swinging vines and I held Rocco back to avoid him biting at them as they swung. Sar and Jorge broke off from us in the meadow – they didn’t want to overdo it since it was Elena’s first woods hike – and dad and the kids and I continued on towards the pond. The kids couldn’t resist the creek laying to our right. I should have put their boots on them before the hike but I was busy gooing over Elena. Maria, Sophie and Mario jumped right down into the creek not caring if their shoes got wet. Quinn was not so ready. He asked if I’d walk with him and help him traverse the spots without many rocks to use as landing spots. We were very clever finding ways to scale the muddy banks and avoid the water. But eventually we had to climb the thorn-filled hill to the path. Meanwhile, Sophie found a darling salamander.
We rounded up the kids after a bit so we could get to the pond before it rained. Mario was already complaining about wet feet. I scaled down to help him get the sand and pebbles off his feet and put on his soaked shoes. I can’t stand wet feet on a hike but I did not tell him that or else I would have convinced him that he had to be carried the whole way back. Rather, I got away with holding him only a few times throughout the rest of the hike.
I should have listened to dad when he questioned whether we should hit the pond before the creek. About five minutes into resuming our hike to the pond, the kids were complaining of being tired. And hungry (Ri). I yelled up to dad to teach us about some of the trees we were seeing and leaves we were brushing against. And the nature lesson began.
Dad pointed out a beech tree and it’s smooth light grey bark. Next he crushed a spice tree leaf in his hand and gestured for the kids to try the same. They “ohhed and ahhed” over the smell. He showed us a cherry tree (with its jagged puzzle piece-like bark) and a red-bud (with its heart leaves). We found a sassafras leaf and learned that it smelled like root beer. I was learning as much as the kids and just as excited. As a young child, I did not experience the woods and camping out like my younger sis and brother did with my dad. When I go on a hike with Sar, she’s able to point out an oak, a hickory, a certain wildflower, and a great deal of that knowledge was rooted from her hikes with my dad. So when dad pointed at the bark on the cherry tree and described its texture, I felt like an eight-year old absorbing all of his knowledge. And as I watched him walk ahead of me on the trail and answer Quinn’s questions, I felt fortunate to have this time together. You are never too old to learn.
We made it to the pond and Rocco was in heaven. He jumped right in the water and fetched every stick we threw to him. He refused to get out of the water each time he swam back with a stick to us; he’d just wait for another to be thrown.
The kids watched for a bit and then asked for water. Yikes. We had forgotten to bring water. Luckily it wasn’t scorching hot but I knew we were in for some whining on the way back. Again, dad saved the day.
“Let’s play 20 questions! I am thinking of an animal….”
And the questions and guessing began. Then Maria thought of one. Then Mario. Then me. And before we knew it, we were at the abandoned house. And that was super cool for the kids to see.
“Can we go in it?” asked Quinn. Dad couldn’t resist, even when Maria chided “Grandma Meg will be upset if you go in Peepaw.”
He took the kids in and made them be very careful. He talked about who may have lived in the house and held the kids speechless talking about ghosts. They were fascinated. If there’s one gift that I am incredibly grateful for receiving from my dad, it is the gift of exuberation over the simplest of things. Be it a salamander in the creek or a wildflower popping alive in the garden or an abandoned house. He brings positive energy into any place he travels and I’m so grateful to have witnessed that over and over growing up with him.
We traversed the hill back to the house and the kids – who were starving the entire trek home – were enamored with the chickens again and forgot about food. That gave time for dad to go to Dandy Don’s (true name) and get some good ol’ hot dogs and chips for lunch and it gave me time to hold Elena Rosa. Oh, what a doll baby girl.
I have never seem an infant make so many different shapes with her mouth. I could stare at her all day.
After lunch, the kids wanted to play in the creek down by the house. They also wanted to go in the infamous waterfall but the water was rushing fast after the hard rain so I made them stay in the “wading pool.”
Unfortunately, I had to be the party pooper and round everyone up for home even though I seriously wanted to put in my notice and nanny for Sarah full-time rather than head into work on Monday.
The kids begged for ice cream on the way home and I think the brief sugar high they got from McDonald’s Oreo McFlurries combined with the hiking and playing knocked them out. An hour from home and they were zonked.