For some time now, Jodi and I have been tossing around the idea of the three of us doing an overnight stay with a family we know in Connecticut. The parents (Kenneth and Francesca Von Doughnut) love Olivia like she was their own, and Miss O gets along extremely well with their 4 year old son (J) and 2 year old boy/girl twins (E & P). They have a house big enough to accommodate us, a backyard for all the kids to play in, plus plenty of toys, and enough medical grade marijuana growing on the side of their house to keep the parents satisfied (or were those just tomato plants? I can't remember). We decided to finally make it happen over the long Labor Day weekend since we'd have more time to relax, play and come down from all that THC. (Disclaimer: the Von Doughnuts are law abiding people and the closest they've come to weed is via programming on the Showtime cable network.)
A small part of this trip was going to be focused on how Olivia would handle sleeping in a regular bed, since we knew going in that we wouldn't have our pack n' play to rely on. Not only had we left it back in Indiana during our last stay there, but Olivia is now at the size where she can pretty much successfully escape from it. The arrangement was that she'd sleep on an air mattress on the floor in their son J's room and we'd see how it went. J already slept in his own bed, so I was hoping he'd set a good example for her. Either that or they'd keep each other awake by trading stories about how crazy we drove them:
O (in toddler speak): "Daddy writing and sitting and...and...not nice." (Translation: "My daddy writes stories about me and posts them on the internet. How fucked up is that?")
J: "Oh yeah? Well, my mommy...shit dude actually that tops me. You win."
Spending time with the Von Doughnuts is not only great fun for us, it's also a learning experience for me. Not only can we trade stories about our toddlers, but I can gain insight into some of the things coming up for us that they are tackling (or have tackled) with a child slightly older than Olivia. Plus, I just generally look up to both of them as being good parents that I'd like to model myself after. So I figured the extended stay would be a great time to not only catch up with our dear friends, but would also help me learn some things and see how I parent around other parents. When we arrived at their house I was informed that at the end of our visit there would be a 50 question exam with a mix of true/false, multiple choice and some short answer essays. It was a good thing I packed that #2 pencil.
After spending a few good hours chatting and letting the kids play, we all decided to go get some ice cream at a local mom and pop place. We got Olivia a dish of her favorite flavor (blue), got her seated and then before she dug in I neurotically put on her bib in the hopes of preserving her shirt. Even though she's gotten much better with using utensils, I still worry (sometimes too much) about her getting dirty when she eats. Because, you know, it's not like we couldn't use their washing machine when we got back. I could have thrown her clothes in with the ones E & P were wearing when their ice cream cones decided to attack them viciously and produce some dairy infused Jackson Pollack art pieces. I'm pretty certain that they weren't wearing bibs because the Von Ds are past that now. They have 3 kids and they know they're going to get messy somehow, so why worry? That, and bibs are strictly against their religion and they'd burn in hell if they used them. Mostly the latter. I think.
As dinnertime approached, Jodi and Francesca decided to make a run to Target and get away for a bit. Kenneth and I sat the kids down for dinner, but as the ladies were pulling out of the driveway 4 year old J ran outside to stop them: in nothing but his underwear. Kenneth goes outside to talk him back in, but as the car pulls away J begins to chase after them. K calls out for him to come back multiple times, but J isn't listening and keeps going down most of their block before finally giving up. As they return inside, K lets J know that he can't have any of the cake he's about to serve the other kids for dessert because he didn't listen to his dad. Unfortunately J had his heart set on cake, so he let his dad know he wasn't pleased the best way he knew how: by hitting him, yelling, shaking their refrigerator door and demanding that he have cake. I have no concept of how J's tantrums can be, but in my eyes this was pretty nuclear. It is here that the master class was in session, because Kenneth was motherfucking Zen in the face of all of it. He remained cool and collected throughout the entire ordeal, gently reminding J that he needed to listen, calm down and to be polite when he wanted something. I sat there in amazement, knowing that I didn't have that kind of resolve within me (yet) and hanging on everything he did and said while making mental notes to myself. After Kenneth defused the situation I gave him a standing ovation, which was kind of awkward since it was just me while the kids stared and wondered why I was so weird. But he deserved it, and I made sure to let Francesca know how amazing he was when she got back.
The ladies eventually returned home and the four of us had dinner while the kids got to play a bit more. Eventually Kenneth announced it was time for bed, which also meant it was a chance for me to get a glimpse into the rituals they go through every night with their little ones. It began with the kids watching a couple of their favorite music videos on a laptop. There were moments where they stood transfixed, eyes glazed over at the images on the screen, but then those were quickly juxtaposed with dancing and (I think) some singing as well. I loved seeing how enthralled they were at the music and the visuals, and it reminded me that we need more of each in our own household. Once those were done Kenneth prepped the twins, I changed Olivia and J started doing his pre-bedtime "chores." These are basically just small tasks that empower J to get ready by himself and allow the parents to tend to the smaller kids. He got on his pajamas, went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth; all of which Olivia delighted in and wanted to mimic on her own. I have to confess, I totally stole the chore thing for our own house. I think it's a great way to get Olivia more self sufficient and feel in control of certain things in her life. Lastly, before heading upstairs, the Von D children performed a small song and dance number for the adults which, for my tastes, seemed a bit too showy. I mean, we get it guys. You've got the most perfect kids. Sheesh. Go sing it from a mountaintop already.
With the inflatable bed prepped in J's room, Jodi and I got Olivia set for the night. Monkey blanket? Check. Stuffed animal? Check. We tucked her in, gently reminded her to stay on the bed, said good night and headed downstairs. Drinks were poured, Cards Against Humanity were dealt and the adults kicked back for some well deserved chillaxin.' As the debate raged on over whose cards were the funniest, we heard the sounds of footsteps and a door slam coming from upstairs. "That'd be J," sighed Francesca. Apparently he needed to go get something and then return to his room, multiple times. It was then that Francesca pulled out her secret weapon: a phone sized video monitor for the nanny cam they had planted in J's room. She hit the power button and the screen jumped to life, revealing J and O playing with books and walking around the room. We figured it wasn't going to be that easy, but also didn't want to force anything, so we turned it off and went back to hanging out for a while. After another 5-10 minutes we turned it back on and, sure enough, they were still out of bed. On the next check we found that the kids had finally made it back to their beds, but they were sitting up and chatting. Francesca decided it was time to do a little enforcing and revealed a nifty feature of their nanny cam: she could speak to the kids through the monitor. She held a button down and spoke firmly, "Ok kids, it's time to go to bed." I shit you not these kids stopped, dropped and pretended like they had been sleeping the entire time. It was like a scene out of 'Toy Story,' in which an adult walks into a room where Woody and Buzz had previously been animated, only to find both of them lifeless and ragdolled on the floor. We checked one more time a short while later, but by then they were both sound asleep. Mission accomplished! Now we could finally get back to Cards Against Humanity and determining what my anti-drug was: a) world peace; b) Justin Bieber; or c) inappropriate yodeling.
In the end, Olivia successfully slept through the night on the air mattress without any problems. We have high hopes that she'll do the same at home, I just need to install the toddler rail and buy a nanny cam with all the bells and whistles. I'm thinking something with night vision, laser motion detection and the ability to remotely fetch a glass of water for my child without having to leave the comfort of my bed. The rest of our stay was filled with more play, hanging out and my lamenting over how much we needed to get out of our apartment and into a house. Jodi and I have lived in apartments ever since we got together, aside from a short house renting stint before moving to New York, and it's definitely time to make that change. I want more space for the three of us, a yard for Olivia to play in and a porch or deck to relax on while sipping a beer. Sure, apartment life has been just fine for us so far. But there's only so many places we can hide toys, clothes and other assorted items before they overtake our 2 bedroom. We want a place to call our own. A place that we can build memories in while we watch Olivia grow. A place that doesn't share a wall with a 90 year old woman who can barely hear and has to turn her television up to deafening levels and annoy us. Is that too much to ask for?