This past weekend was a big deal. My girlfriend Alissa (Squee) and her kids came to visit us for Easter, and to be a part of Missy's confirmation at church.
There's so much to say about it all, I almost don't know where to begin.
First off, there was the way even the prospect of the visit swept us all up in excitement and planning, at both our houses. There were discussions about the best and most viable ways to travel (via a rented car), and schedule (travel all day Thursday and Monday), and time off (Friday for Missy and myself.)
And then the easter-bunnitizing. Missy, Alissa, and I spent a whole bunch of time talking about ways to celebrate Easter. We wanted stuff for the kids to enjoy, that wasn't all about getting stuff, but still let them really immerse themselves. It involved a whole bunch of discussions about things that work well for them, and things that don't.
We really made a family project out of it. Missy and Marybeth shopped for days, looking for the right Easter Basket stuff, and for eggs for the egg hunt. Me, I'm very-not-obvious about encouraging the kids to co-operate, not compete, so I searched for a way to make the egg hunt into a shared thing.
Here's what I ultimately came up with. Missy got a bunch of sparkly, shiny empty plastic eggs. I filled with a series of puzzle messages in a hidden code, based on a cipher key. I also hid pieces of the cipher in other eggs. The messages looked kind of like this:
Originally the message-puzzle was going to lead the kids to a hidden stash of pumpkin hand-pies I made for them. And while I did in fact make them a bunch of those things (which they are all absolutely mad for), I had the better idea of having them search for the presents that were originally going to go in their easter baskets. (Because scheduling, and food freshness, and the VERY HARD TASK of sneaking around three children to hide things. You think linear algebra or organic chemistry is hard? It's piffle next to hiding presents from children.)
The special presents that were originally going to go in said easter baskets weren't super expensive things, just thoughtful ones. Each had meaning to each kid because of inside jokes, games we play together as a family, or special interests they have.
We also looked for a super fun thing to do. We ended up going to this escape room thing about an hour north of where we live. It was hilariously awesome. There was a fair amount of family-wrangling involved in our trying to get there for Friday, and we sort of blew it, because of holiday traffic. But we made it work for us. We wandered around the touristy town we were going to go to in the first place, having a great meal out, and just sort of wandering.
The next day, Alissa and the kids and I went back there, while Missy went to a confirmation rehearsal. We got there totally early which was awesome. All of the kids (and both grownups) were totally excited to get to do this thing. Things have a way of working out. Not only did we solve all the puzzles and escape the room, we did it with eight whole minutes to spare.
That's because we're a smart family.
That whole we-can-solve-puzzles-thing totally came back as an awesome "this is who we are" moment on Sunday morning, when the kids woke up, came downstairs, found their baskets and then the first sparkly egg. S., the youngest cracked open the egg, saw a coded message and said, "Oh this is just like the escape room. We can totally do this."
Then all four grownups watched, delighted as the three kids tore through that egg hunt in short order. L. the oldest, was sharp-eyed, and saw each egg before either of his sisters, and gently, lovingly, and bluntly-not-obviously gave them verbal clues to help them find them, like "I'm so on the fence about where the next one might be."
He's a great kid. I love him so much.
Soon they had them all assembled, and put their heads together, and worked out the whole thing in minutes. It was honestly, utterly and totally badass impressive.
That sort of family co-operative thing was very much at play all weekend long. We cooked meals together, set and cleaned the table together. We supported one another, both when we were all together (like for meal times, or Missy's confirmation), and when we split off into groups.
Part of both that splitting off process and the larger group stuff was bonding.
Missy and Marybeth got girl-time with the girls, braiding hair.
Missy and Alissa spent quiet time together, cuddling and watching Moana.
Alissa and Marybeth got bonding time talking together about shared-life-experience stuff.
Missy read stories to the kids at night, from The Great Brain books which she loves so much.
The kids and I did that co-op thing big time, playing this awesome silly videogame called Overcooked.
And there was plenty of alone-time and intimacy, too. Alissa and I have a big rule that's super important to us, that when we're together, I don't dress or undress myself. That's for her to do. We kept to it, too. I goofed it a few times, and got spanked for it, too. I was in diapers for bed every night, also. And we made time for the intimacy with one another that we crave so much.
That wasn't weird or shoehorned in, either. It fit organically into everything we did. There was always at least one grownup looking out for, and utterly enjoying time with the kids.
One of the highlights of the whole weekend was playing some of the games we play together across the internet together in our living room. We played some QuipLash, and some drawful.
At one point, E., the oldest daughter drew this:
But I ventured the guess "accidental fart poops", which made pretty much everyone collapse in laughter.
We all smiled at one another, basking in the warm glow of how very much we all love one another.
Because we're a family.