cozumel, part 3.

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This last post is dedicated to my two favorite places on the last two days of our trip. It was the end of the week, when everyone was feeling settled and content. It was really the happiest few days we have had as a family of four.

We found our favorite beach. It's surprisingly a bit of a cruise ship destination, but more calm and relaxing. Buccannos is a restaurant with a beautiful, sandy beach and pool. It used to be attached to a hotel, but the hotel was destroyed during a recent hurricane. You have to pay a small fee to enter, so between the fee and the fact that their are no actual people staying at the hotel, the beach is really just perfect. Also, all the cruise ship people have to head out around 2, and then the beach is virtually empty.

You can order food and have it brought to your chair, and it is surprisingly good and affordable. I ate my weight in nachos, fish tacos, and piña coladas. We saw tons of other kids, and the music playing was fun and not obnoxious. The view was amazing, the water was perfect- need I say more?

We hung out here all day for those last few days. It was a great spot for us to keep track of Eliza, while still letting her play freely. We could also split up easily to spend time with each girl, so that Eliza felt some attention. She loved to jump off the edge so we could catch her, and to doggy paddle around and around the pool. I can't tell you how happy it made me. This was what I had been imagining when we planned this trip.

My favorite part of the entire trip was when we finally got the entire family in the ocean at the same time. The girls were floating freely in their floaties, and we were all just bursting with smiles. Eliza got brave and would float beside me, without me holding on. She had been nervous to get into the ocean until this point, but discovered that she loved the way the waves would gently push her along. Sadie finally decided she loved it, as well, and would rest her head on the edge of her floatie and smile her toothy grin. We laughed and made up silly songs, and just swam around in the sun.

It's also a great spot to snorkel. We saw several colorful fish, a puffer fish, a trumpet fish, and a slow-moving conch. We didn't end up paying to do a snorkel out at the reefs this time, which was a bummer. But, our friends tipped us off to a great spot in front of the Mexican President's home that Sam got to snorkel on the last day we were there. I stayed with the sleeping girls in the car, while Sam snuck around the side in and he said he was blown away by the sea life. The place is empty and unguarded while the President is not visiting, the coral is untouched and healthy. 

On one of the last nights, we left the girls with Jen and Jeff and got to stay the night at the hotel from our honeymoon. It was just as beautiful as I remembered. We decided if/when we come back, we are just going to stay there. Playa Azul is peaceful and quiet, but right next door to Buccannos for good swimming and play. They have an amazing breakfast, and the snorkeling is also good. I love that place. It was so nice to be alone. We haven't been alone in a long, long time. And, I think we really needed it. 

Life with kids is exhausting, but I'm glad I get to do it with Sam Gray. And, I'm glad we get to do things like this together. I love my little family, and I'm so grateful we are able to travel together and make memories like these. Cozumel will always be my happy place...

cozumel, part 2.

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These are our friends! I loved their home so much. Sam and I have always talked about taking a sabbatical somewhere like Cozumel, between jobs or something. And, I think I'm convinced now.

This family was so good to us, and I loved hearing about their life in Cozumel. They showed us around town, and helped out in so many ways. They played with Eliza, and held Sadie- even though Sadie suddenly developed separation anxiety. I also loved being able to walk around with locals who spoke the language well, because people would treat us differently. Everyone always assumes I can speak Spanish, and I'm ashamed when I can't. This trip has given me a renewed desire to learn!

They ordered a unicorn cake for Eliza's birthday, that just happened to be the same cake that Eliza had been obsessing over after watching some Pinterest video we found awhile back. On her birthday, we walked over to the town plaza and all the kids played on rollerskates and longboards. We let Eliza ride a Barbie jeep from the kid who was renting them for 15 minute increments. When your time was up, he would come sprinting across the square to grab it from you. Eliza was in heaven, especially when we let her ride with Sadie. Sadie was white-knuckling the car door the entire time, while furiously sucking her thumb.

They took us to some of their favorite beaches. We drove out to the opposite side of the island, where you can find more local-friendly beaches because their are bigger waves and no cruise ships. Eliza collected piles and piles of treasures- coral, shells, seaweed, bottlecaps, flowers. We poked around in the tidepools, watching the tiny hermit crabs and snails. Sam got to board with Jeff, while I cuddled with Sadie in the sand. 

One of Eliza's favorite thing to do was ride around in their minivan. Ha! Jen would offer to take Eliza with her while she ran around town picking up kids from their various after-school activities. Eliza was in heaven, eating popcicles in the backseat while watching movies on their DVD player. 

Also, Jen booked us massages! We each got a 1-hour massage, and the masseuse came and set up in their home. It was a great massage, and only $25. Crazy cheap.

And, they gave us the best recommendations for food! So, I figure I should return the favor. If you're ever in Cozumel, this is where you should eat:

La Estrella - A Cocteleria, famous for their ceviche. Sam was so, so happy to have endless plates of ceviche on hand. They also had really good grilled fish, and this dish...

Kondesa- We came here thinking it was something else, but was still pleasantly surprised to find this fancy fusion place. It had beautiful outdoor eating, and the food looked like it should be $50 a plate. The fish was perfectly seared, and they had this cheese fondue that is the stuff of Mexican comfort food dreams. Eliza ate nothing but quesadillas and chips for an entire week, by the way.

Del Sur- This Argentinian restaurant used to be a tiny place that only sold empanadas, when we came here for our honeymoon. It is now a much larger, beautiful place that's known for their steaks- but we still feel like the empanadas are the way to go. They are seriously so good. Try the plum, bacon, cheese or the spiced beef. And for dessert, the dulce de leche, chocolate banana, or the cinnamon apple. We came here three times!

Buccannos at Night- This place is the best. The dishes would go for way more in the States, and the service is amazing. We loved the chorizo and parmesan stuffed chicken and the lobster skewers. The restaurant is right on the oceanfront. 

Casa Danis- This place is a little more tourist-y, but it's a solid family-friendly option. They have pretty good food, and a good sampling of Yucatán food, along with "regular" Mexican options. Since it's in the main square, you may also get serenaded by strolling musicians or see a performance by some street dancers.

La Flor de Michoacan- Pretty much anytime you pass one of these shops, you should stop in for a paleta. We ate so many of these fresh fruit popcicles. The guava and watermelon were my favorite, and Sam liked the lime. Eliza liked anything that was pink. We would walk down the street, all sweaty and hot, with popicle juice running down our arms, while Sadie squawked from the stroller because she wanted another taste. Delicious!

Taqueria Diaz- The BEST tacos we had, and so cheap! I got three huge pollo, asada, and arrachera tacos all for around $2. 

cozumel, part 1.

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A couple of weeks ago we embarked on our first large-scale family vacation, to beautiful Cozumel, Mexico! Cozumel is an island off the Yucatán Peninsula. Sam and I went to Cozumel for our honeymoon seven years ago, and it has always remained in our minds as absolute paradise. I will be honest and say that we were a little delusional in thinking that we could recreate such a wonderfully relaxing experience by merely returning to the island with our kids in tow. But, after a few days of trial and error, and some help from friends, it ended up being a really great trip full of wonderful memories. So, be patient with me as I attempt to record some real-life and real-great experiences here. Because, we are determined to get this whole "traveling with kids" thing down, and I am looking forward to future trips with the girls!

We flew into Cancún, drove to Playa del Carmen, and took a ferry over to Cozumel. It was the longest day ever. I don't feel like the girls were particularly difficult, but any 12 hour travel day is bound to be terrible. I might consider paying a bit extra to fly directly into Cozumel, or to take the puddle-jumper plane from Cancún. We got to our place pretty late, after stopping by our friend's house for dinner.

These friends, they made this trip. Sam's best friend from high school has a sister who now lives in Cozumel with her husband and kids. Sam was really close with their family growing up. We have been wanting to take this trip for awhile, but just hadn't figured it all out. Last year, I was pregnant and the zeka virus squashed our plans. This year, we were nervous about having two kids to bring along. But, Jen and Jeff convinced us we could do it. They let us borrow their mini van, stroller, snorkeling gear, and anything else we needed. They gave us so many good local recommendations, as they have been living their for over four years now. We spent half the trip staying in their beautiful home, which was honestly way nicer than the condo we had booked for the first half. They have four kids, who were old enough to help with the girls. That first morning, at their place, I woke up to find Eliza playing quietly downstairs with their girls and I almost cried. Is this what the future looks like!? I can't wait.

Jeff helped build this chain of retail shops called Los Cinco Soles in Mexico that offers beautiful hand-crafted artisan goods and jewelry. They build relationships with artisans from several regions throughout Mexico, and bring these items back to the shop. The goods are so beautifully made, and really trump the cheap stuff they sell to the tourists in the cruise ship areas. We bought several things for our home, a pretty doll for Eliza with a traditional Yucatán dress, a hand-painted Nativity set, embroidered dresses for the girls, and a silver ring for me. I very highly recommend you go, if you visit! They have a lovely location on the waterfront, and several in the Cancún airport. 

But, let's back it up a bit. We spent the first few days at a condo  we booked on Airbnb called Residencias Reef, which is on the south side of the island. The condos are right on the beach, with two beautiful swimming pools. But, it really wasn't the best choice for us. That was our biggest mistake in those first few days. This is what we learned:

1) We had assumed that, with kids, we would want to stay somewhere a little further out of town. We were thinking, quiet, secluded, easy to wrangle the kids. BAD IDEA. It was too quiet and too secluded, and we all went crazy. Eliza had no one to play with, and all the old people gave us dirty looks for being too loud in the pool. She got super clingy and needy, and threw so many terrible tantrums I seriously got to the point where I quite seriously said, "Sam I want to go home. This is not worth it to me."

2) We assumed that we would need two rooms, which is why we ended up at this condo. But, we really didn't. The kids slept fine. So we could have easily stayed at some of the nicer hotels we were hoping for, which only offered one room.

3) We did not want to cook or buy groceries. What were we thinking!? Everything is so cheap there, it's totally not worth renting a condo with a kitchen so you can save money on food. No. When you are hanging out on the beach, the last thing you want to do is wash dishes, eat pb&js or pack the family up to go into town for lunch. We could have been very happy at one of the hotels that offered breakfast and lunch and then, after cleaning up, head into town for dinner every night. That way we could try the local restaurants, but not break up the swim day. 

4) Traveling with family, should be "traveling with family friends." Eliza desperately needed someone to play with besides us. We had some really great family time, but it just wasn't enough. I am thinking that when we do a trip like this again, we are going to convince another family with similar age kids to come along so we can trade off and so that the kids can entertain each other. Amiright?? Who wants to come with us!? 

After a few sort of terrible days, we managed to figure it all out. I also have to remind myself that those first few days were spent catching up on sleep and getting used to the climate, which would make it difficult for anyone. Later, we found some beautiful beaches that were more active, and easier for kids to play in. And, once we met up more with Jen, Jeff, and their kids, Eliza was so much happier. We really had such a good time, and I really miss it already. 

Now that I have spewed out my honest "traveling with kids" vent, let's just chat about how dreamy Cozumel was... 

These pictures were all taken at the condo we stayed at. The Caribbean is just as beautiful as you could imagine, with every shade of blue. Our beach was nice and close, but not so nice as others. You could only go in a few feet before it was too rocky to stand. And, funny enough, our old-people condo was surrounded on both side by party hotels that pumped "Cotton-eyed Joe" and club music all night. 

But, the pools! They were huge and cool, and had a few different levels that were perfect for Eliza to play on. She could have played in the pools all day long, and pretty much did. I loved watching her with her puddle-jumper floaties and those goggles plastered to her face. She was so happy to be swimming. Sadie took several days to get used to the water. She was hesitant for awhile, but by the end of the trip she would relax in her floaty with her feet up. It was nice to have the pools so close. We would just wake up, swim, nap, swim some more...

I loved seeing all of the colorful buildings, hand-painted signs, and bright murals around town. It was actually the celebration of the 500th anniversary of when the Spanish arrived in Cozumel, so there were several celebrations going on. On the first night we arrived, there were dancers performing in the plaza, wearing costumes from the Yucatán and Jalisco regions. We spent one afternoon walking around town, checking out the shops. I got all tourist-y and paid a ridiculous amount of money to stick my feet in those foot spa tanks. The guy let us split the time for one price, because I really just wanted to try it out. It felt so funny!

(more to come)

eliza, vol 10.

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Eliza, Eliza. This girl has brought so many new and unexpected challenges into our lives lately. She tests me every single day, bursting with an amount of energy that can seem both obnoxious and absolutely endearing. She has so much love to give, and gives it freely. She is smart and creative, and endlessly curious. Not a day goes by that I am dumbfounded by a particular question or observation, and proud of every detail she hungrily digests.

But, with all that thirst for life comes a barrel of emotions that we are all struggling to manage. She has developed a fierce and worrisome jealous streak, to the point that we can hardly all be in the same room together. If any attention is being paid to the baby, she lashes out- either by hitting or hurting the baby, or hitting or hurting Sam and I. Or, simply by doing something ridiculous and obnoxious until we snap. She needs constant one-on-one time, and we just can't give it to her every minute of the day.

On top of that, she has rediscovered the toddler tantrum- which, manifested in a four-year-old, is particularly frustrating. It drives me crazy. And, it's really difficult for me to calm down and breathe enough to look through the screaming and crying and see the root of the problem. The easiest way to calm her down can sometimes just be a hug. But, it's hard to get her to that point.

I recognize that Eliza is a strong-willed and independent child. I also recognize that we are incredibly similar in both of these characteristics. So, I need help. We clash so hard. Sometimes I see myself reacting in ways that are absolutely no better than Eliza, or I see Eliza mimicking reactions I know she has seen from me. And, it's not ok. 

I reached out on Instagram and got so many recommendations for resources and tips. I haven't been able to dive in yet, as we have been on vacation for a couple of weeks. But, I am so grateful and look forward to the help! Here is a list of reading material that I compiled, if anyone is interested:

-Calm Down Time
-Raising an Emotional and Intelligent Child- John Gottman
-The Whole Brain Child
-The Power of Positive Parenting- Glenn Latham
-Your Defiant Child- Russell Barkley
-Parenting a House United- Nicholeen Peck
-Unconditional Parenting- Alfie Kohn
-The 5 Love Languages of Children
-The Strong Willed Child- John Dobson
-Raising Your Spirited Child- Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
-Positive Discipline for Preschoolers
-Parenting with Love and Logic
-How to Talk so Kids Will Listen

Like I said, I haven't personally read any of these yet. But, it looks like a great list! Thanks again for all of you who sent me recommendations.

I did receive one piece of advice from a friend while chatting at the park, that has really stuck with me lately. Children, especially Eliza, need some amount of control over their lives. I should know. I need to control every single aspect of my life, to the point that it can be debilitating in some ways. Eliza has an extremely difficult time when she is asked to give up control over something, whether it's a change in activity, a decision about what to eat or wear, or being told that she cannot have something that she wants. My friend's advice was to give Eliza control, in small doses. If it's time to get ready for bed, offer her a choice of activity, "You need to get your pjs on, brush your teeth, and read a book. Which would you like to do first?" Basically, she needs to feel as if she has some control over her life, and giving it in small doses gives me the power to control it. Simple, but effective. 

After thinking about this advice for a time, I had this major realization. I go through parenting under the impression that I am losing control to my children and that they disrupt my routine. But, Eliza must feel the exact same way. Eliza, even as a four-year-old, has developed her own routine in her little head and her parents are constantly taking that control and disrupting that routine. I am disrupting her routine. That would be so difficult for such a young mind to understand. And, I feel like I get why she is so frustrated lately. I just need to figure out how to make it better. I know the first step is to make more special alone time with her- I just have to make it happen.

But, let's move on. I love this child so much. She is such a beautifully interesting little human lately. Let's celebrate that:

"I love you" - Eliza is really good at communicating her love. It makes me so happy to hear her quiet statement of, "Mama, I love you," as we are wandering the grocery store. This statement is proclaimed when she is joyously happy, mildly content, and gleefully giddy. It's also her way of saying, "Thank you" when she gets something she wants. I hope she never stops saying it.

Jobs- Eliza is very interested in jobs lately. She is fascinated by Sam's job, and loves to visit him at work- especially because she usually gets snacks, iPad time at his desk, and a quick trip to Chinatown. But, one of my favorite moments is when she's splashing around in the tub when Sam gets home from work, and the first thing she asks him is, "What did you design at work today? Can I see what you designed today?" She also loves to refer to school as her job. And, she proudly tells people that my job is to dance- which makes me beam.

Tap Shoes- I gave Eliza a pair of tap shoes for her birthday. They were actually an old pair that a parent of one of my students gave me when Eliza was a baby. She has been coveting the big girls' tap shoes for years. And, at 7am on birthday morning, it sure felt like a huge mistake. But, it is pretty cute to see her doing a jog to "Black Jack David" in our living room with that huge smile, and her little bob whipping around her face.

"It's not fun!"- When Eliza doesn't want to do something, she yells and screams and cries. And through that mess of emotions you hear, "This is not fun! This is boring! I will never, ever, ever clean my room! This is not happening!" Those are some of my favorites. It's hard not to laugh, because if she catches you laughing she totally loses it. 

"You are not getting a Mother's Day present!" - Speaking of cleaning her room, Eliza is learning to dish out some threats of her own. I try not to threat, but it's such an easy default to fall back on. It never works, really. But, leading up to her birthday, Eliza got so terrible and nasty. Like, out of control. So, of course, I threatened that she wouldn't get any birthday presents. So one day, while she was supposed to be cleaning her room, she yells out "You are NOT getting a Mother's Day present! NEVER, EVER AGAIN!" Ha!

Budding Scientist- Eliza loves nature. She has been going to a little, local nature school that my friend teaches once a week. And, she loves Teacher Sara. So much so that she has decided that she wants to be a science teacher when she grows up. She loves to dissect flowers from the garden, collect nature treasures, and play with bugs she finds on walks. For her birthday, she got a little microscope and a box to organize her treasures. She loves it all so much. She immediately organized them by type: brown rocks, colorful rocks, seashells, flowers and plants, "sea creatures that used to be alive," shiny things, and "glassable" objects. I love this side of her because it came so naturally, and wasn't necessarily something I pushed on her. Let's be honest, by kids will all be forced to love fairytales and dance. But, this little girl who likes to see how bugs move, find the seeds inside the ovary of a flower, and learn the mechanics of a catapult- that wasn't from me. 

Budding Engineer- She also got her first real Lego sets for her birthday. I was so impressed with how much time she will spend playing with those, even following the detailed instructions with quiet patience. She is endlessly interested in how things work. When we drive anywhere, much of the time is spent with her asking one question after another about how things work, what things are made of, how something got to be, where something came from. I love it when I can tell her little wheels are turning and she spouts out a bit of her own understanding in such a beautiful and matter of fact way. For example, we had a recent discussion about how it may be easier for her to get her ice cream in a cup instead of cone- mostly because I didn't want to pay the extra, and every cone she has ever had has been a huge mess. So, after thinking for a bit, she said, "Well, they should just make a cone that has bigger sides and not a point at the bottom." And I said, "You mean a cone shaped like a cup?" "Yeah!" I know the idea seems small, but it seemed so big and mighty coming from such a small girl.

Patterns- Eliza loves to color "patt-awins." It's interesting because up until very recently, Eliza has not been interested in coloring books. As a toddler, she would get frustrated with them knowing that she couldn't stay inside the lines. She would always ask me to color them, and preferred a blank sketch book. Now, she LOVES to color. I even got her one of those grown up coloring books with the super detailed drawings, and she will sit there for an hour coloring with her big box of pencils. She loves the detailed pages because they usually have stripes or swirls where she can create patterns of alternating color schemes. "Blue, Green, Pink, Purple... Now, we have to do Blue again, Mama."

Games- She loves to play games lately. We don't have a lot of room for board games or things, but she has a couple that she is always pulling out and wanting me to to teach her. We also have several games we play while eating dinner, or meandering on walks. The "Favorite Game" involves me asking her questions about what her favorite things are, and she answers them. I have recorded it a couple of times, and need to do more, because I love hearing her favorites change over time. Lately she made up a "Rhyme Game" in which one of us says a word, and the other one has to say a word that rhymes. I was pretty impressed by that one. And, when we are together as a family, she likes to play "Highs and Lows" in which we each say what our highest and lowest point of the day was. We always have to go in a certain order so that Eliza goes last. I love this one because it actually really helps her to process her day. We talked about something difficult that may have happened, and how we can "try harder tomorrow." She loves this game.

ten months.

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Sadie Lee is ten months! She hit her ten month mark while we were on vacation, so I am little late in celebrating this one. Ten months seems so, so big. Ten months is almost a year! My sense of age is so warped this time around, since Sadie has developed so differently than Eliza. Sadie is still not crawling or standing, and so I still see her as this tiny baby. But, she really is so close to a year! I am in no rush to force her to get moving, since she is perfectly happy and content twirling and scooting around on her bum in about a six inch radius. It's amazing how much work you can get done when you are still able to sit a baby in one spot, while only periodically tossing toys at her to play with.

Sadie has developed some separation anxiety the past few weeks, though. Which, you know, is a huge bummer. She's perfectly fine until I walk in the room and then she is reminded that the motherwoman is in the house and the motherwoman absolutely must be the one to hold her at all times. But, it's not nearly as bad as it could be, so I'm only slightly complaining.

She is such a sweet babe. She brings the calm and still into our chaotic lives. She is forever willing to cuddle, and seeing that tiny lollipop fist while she sucks her thumb will make your ovaries explode. She is just the definition of "baby."

Sadie lately:

scrunchy smile- We are loving that scrunchy nose smile. with the spiky teeth. It reminds me so much of Baby Eliza, but with it's own flavor of cuteness. Things that make her smile: Eliza being silly, food, when she finally sneaks the phone to play with, ripping up paper, tickles, laughing, when I put on a hat or sunglasses, cuddles...

eating- This baby loves to eat. She is eating me out of house and home. Like, seriously, she eats more than Eliza does now. I will cut up some food for her, and find myself replenishing five times more than I had anticipated. She chugs those puree pouches so fast, I have to stop buying them. She is a carnivore- meatballs, salami, turkey. And, will never turn down cheese or eggs. She loves fruit- grapes, strawberries, watermelon, and pineapple. But, if you want her to go for the veggies, you have to hide them in her purees. She gets so excited when she knows it is time for a meal!

pinches- All babies have a security thing right? Like, a blanket or toy. Or, maybe they like to stroke your hair, or hold your hand. Well, Sadie has security pinches. Anytime she is remotely content, she has this habit of pinching and playing with your skin. I literally have bruises all over my arms. She will take her tiny thumb and fore finger and just roll your skin. She has an insanely good grip, so it seriously kills. She will also pinch the tendons on your neck- which, you know, is super comfortable.

bum-scuttle-split-and-reach- I posted a video of this, and it is hilarious. Sadie still doesn't like to be on her tummy, and has no interest in scooting or crawling in that position. Nor, does she like to stand or walk along the furniture. But, she has become incredibly skilled at getting what she wants while on her bum. She uses her legs and feet to sort of spider and scuttle forward towards the object, then she will straddle through the splits, sometimes almost to her belly to reach and reach until she her little hand can drag the toy back. She can sometimes even push herself back up through the splits and on to her bum. She can also form several flexible positions with her legs such as a straddle or scorpion, to maneuver her facings and reachings. These are some some serious feats of gymnastics. But, she can only move a few inches or so before she sort of gives up and calls out for help. 

bird squawks- I know I have mentioned these before. The squawking has been occurring for months and months. But, lately, it is sort of out of control. She is SO LOUD. If we are in a large space, like the grocery store, I can totally tune it out. I am so used to it. But, I have started to notice that every one jumps or comments on how she sounds like a bird. Sometimes, not in the friendliest way. Ha! Get over it, she's a baby. It is definitely her most effective form of communication. 

hand claps- Sadie can add hand claps to her list of talents. If she sees someone clapping, she loves to clap along. It's perfectly cute.

shake shake- When Sadie gets really excited, or thinks something is really hilarious, she shakes her head back and forth and laughs. She then shakes her entire body, and you better hold on tight or she will shake right out of your lap. It's so funny!

eliza's fourth birthday.

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We celebrated this magical little girl this last weekend with plenty of sparkle. It was my favorite birthday party yet, and I spent the entire day just bursting with happiness and love for my beautiful, little girl, my family, and our amazing friends. Thank you to all who made this birthday so special for her!

Part of the reason why I loved her party so much this year, was that Eliza planned every single part of it herself. In fact, she has been planning her birthday party since last year. She loves parties. She loves any reason to celebrate. She often declares the day a "special day" so that we can do something special like have pancakes, or give each other presents- random items from her room wrapped in paper. She looks forward to holidays with sheer giddiness, and believes that any day is a good day for decorations and cake. (Hmm, I wonder where she gets this from?) So, she has definitely been talking about her birthday since last May.

First, she wanted a "Pineapple Party," where all of her guests would receive pineapple hats. Then, there was the "Princess Tea Party"- which was a big contender this year. We can't forget my favorite, the "Halloween Party," where we were going to go trick-or-treating to our neighbors (in May). And the most creative idea, the "Nativity Party," where all of her guests would dress as different members of the Nativity, of course.

But, in the last few weeks leading up to her birthday, she has talked of nothing else but her "Unicorn Party." So, unicorns it is, little one. I started pulling together some ideas, and realized that Eliza really had many ideas of her own that were just too good to ignore. And so, I give you, "Eliza's Party" Plan: 


Let me explain...
-There will be a unicorn piñata, and the belly will be filled with candy.
-The birthday girl will have a unicorn horn with flowers, in her short hair.
-There will be a birthday cake, with four candles, and sprinkles.
-There will be a "unicorn egg hunt."
-Food will include (but not be limited to) meatballs, watermelon, strawberries, carrots, peas, and hummus. 
-Don't forget the juice boxes.
-My friends will receive unicorn horns, on headbands.
-My friends will come! (The two figures on the bottom, her shorter friend and her taller friend.)

She was VERY specific about much of these details. And, I loved it all. Also, let's just focus on the centipede unicorn piñata for a minute. Brilliant.

So, I ordered the necessary supplies and Eliza helped me carry it all out. It was the least stressful party I've ever done, and I was proud of myself for keeping my cool and enjoying it all. Even when I accidentally dropped the cake in the dirt halfway through the party. I was such a chill mom and just blew it off! And, we ate it anyway, duh. (Thanks to my friends who scrapped off the dirty parts and stuck it back on the cake stand while I ran away, so I wouldn't get upset!)

The morning of her party, Sam made Eliza pink pancakes, and then Eliza and I walked to the party store down the street to buy balloons. we picked out pink, silver, and gold metallic stars and hearts, and then ran home with balloons waving in the sun. Eliza was cruising on her balance bike with her new pink basket, and I was holding tight to the bunch of balloons, while we both sang "It's party day! It's party day!"

We had her party at Codornices Park, Eliza's favorite park in Berkeley. It really is the best park I have ever seen, by far. It has multiple play structures, and is nestled into the Berkeley hillside among the redwoods, with a view of the entire Bay. There is so much room to play, and a pretty amazing concrete slide that Eliza and Sam go way too fast on. We set up a table beneath the redwoods, and set up some blankets on the lawn. I made some simple decorations out of holographic wrapping paper and pink cellophane I found at the dollar store. It ended up being a truly beautiful day, albeit a bit warm for the Bay Area. By the end of the party, we were all lounging under the trees between the gnarled roots, chowing down on watermelon to cool off with pink cheeked babies and happy, sweaty toddlers.

I followed Eliza's menu directions carefully, and threw in an arugula salad, bread, and cheese to round it out. I also had another brilliant "chill mom" moment when I was grocery shopping the day before and saw this pretty pink cake, and BOUGHT it. It was the best thing, and I am so proud of myself for doing it. I was going to make Sam bake a cake that night, which would have kept us all up to 3am, I'm sure. But instead, I bought this little cake, we scraped off the decorations, and covered it in hot pink rock candy for the birthday girl. She was only slightly disappointed it wasn't the fondant unicorn cake we saw on some crazy Pinterest video.

Eliza also wanted to do a craft at the party, so instead of trying to direct  a dozen kids with scissors and glue, I printed out some unicorn coloring sheets and set up a little coloring station on the lawn. We also threw out some unicorn tattoos for the kids. Eliza loves tattoos so much. She has probably been tatted for about 75% of her life this past year. Eliza also made the cutest shrinky-dink necklaces for all of her friends. She even strung all the beads with specific patterns. "Pattewins" are a recent obsession. I was really proud of her. 

We all ate food, and played on the playground. Eliza had requested a "unicorn dance party" so I brought my scarves, and we blasted "She's Like a Rainbow" and danced around. I think that was my favorite moment in the party, leading her little friends around the lawn waving a scarf over my head. Eliza had a pink scarf in each hand, and we twirled around together while she sat on my hip. I thought I was going to bust, looking at that cute smile with the bob and the bangs and those sunglasses. She got a new sparkle birthday dress, and it swished around her skinny, little legs all day while she ran around barefoot and happy.

I made all the kids unicorn horns, and it was the best decision I could have made. You haven't lived until you've seen a bunch of tiny kids with horns on their heads running around like wild things. I had originally just made a few for Eliza's immediate friends. But, after trying one on Sadie's round noggin, I just had to make one for every tiny human under the age of 5. Babies with unicorn horns! They were really easy to make, with felt, sequins and elastic. I made Eliza's horn with a tiny crown of felt flowers, as well. Surprisingly, almost all of the kids kept them on the entire time. And, I heard reports that they wouldn't take them off all weekend. They were a hit!

Eliza doesn't believe in parties without piñatas, so I spent way too long online shopping for a piñata that didn't look totally creepy. When it came in the mail, she was so exited and carried it around the house like a pet. This was after we had just checked out a book from the library about a little girl who fell in love with the puppy piñata that she got for her party, and didn't want to break it open. Luckily, Eliza was more than happy to bust that thing open. We filled it with colorful salt water taffy, and star bubble necklaces. 

One of my favorite additions to the party was the "unicorn egg hunt." We were packing up the Easter goods one day and Eliza decided she wanted to have a unicorn egg hunt at the party. I thought it was pretty cute, so we filled them with unicorn band-aids I found at Target, and one of my friends helped me scatter them amongst the redwood roots. I told the kids that a magic unicorn laid eggs for them, and they flipped. 

We had such a beautiful time. I am so grateful for our friends here in Berkeley, who love and support us. I can't believe we have been here for over four years, and that we have celebrated all four birthdays right here with these amazing people. They have all seen her grow, and they are all such a huge part of her life. She loves her little friends, and loves their parents as if they were her own. 

This party was all Eliza. All Eliza because she planned it. And all Eliza because it represents all the magic and truly special goodness inside of her. She is such a spirited, beautiful girl. She is everything I could ever ask for her in a daughter. Sam and I say that so often. She is smart and kind, wild and independent, and the most creative soul I know. She teaches me how to see the beauty around me, and is constantly reminding me to slow down and enjoy life. She is pure magic. 

We love you, Eliza. Happy Birthday!