Here is Claire’s note to her nanny, Jackie, who spent most of the summer with Claire. Claire loved having a nanny for the summer. She could have friends over, go summing, go shopping, cook, or just take it easy. Jackie took special care to make sure Claire had a fun summer and did not sit in front of the TV very much.
We kept Molly mostly in her pre-school routine throughout the summer, although she did get to come home early some days and had the last week of the summer off with Claire and Jackie.
Jackie would later tell us that this card was the sweetest thing she had ever received, and it made her cry.
Molly is at that age now where she is trying to figure out what in the world is real and what is made up. Tonight she asked if lava is real. Why yes. Yes, it is. Reflecting on this fact some more, it seemed strange that lava is real. I mean really… super hot molten rock that oozes out of mountains and cannot be stopped by anything? If you fall into it, you die? That is a ridiculous comic book idea, right? That can’t be real.
On the drive home from school, Molly asked if Bob Dylan was real. Molly is not typically a music fan, unless it’s from Frozen or another Disney movie, but she asked to hear “that Mr. Tambourine Man thing”. She asked who was singing it, and I said Bob Dylan. “Is Bob Dylan real?” Yes, of course he’s real. Jeez, he’s Bob Dylan! But then again, he is singing a song just like Elsa from Frozen, and Elsa is not real. “Is Mr. Tambourine Man real?” No, Mr. Tambourine is not real. He’s just sort of a character, or an idea, or something. Jeez.
And consider Elsa from Frozen. Of course she’s not real, she from a movie, silly! What about Winter the dolphin from the movie A Dolphin Tale? Oh yeah, she’s real. We saw her in person. Whaaaaa?
This must be terribly confusing for a kid. It seems so arbitrary. Dinosaurs are real, or at least they were real, but now they’re gone. So you’ll never actually see one. Oh yeah, and nobody even knew they existed until 150 years ago. This is pretty clear, right?
Claire had some questions about dinosaurs back around this age too. Nowadays, Claire and I are talking a lot about other mysterious real things, especially atoms and molecules. The big question is “How many atoms are in a ___?”, where the blank might be a muffin, a speck of cinnamon on the muffin, a dog, or the world. The answer is always the same: “Too many to count.” At her request, I looked up how many atoms are in the world. The answer was roughly 133,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Claire was not impressed. That did not look like such a big number after all. I tried to explain to her why that was a bigger number than you could possibly ever wrap your head around. Her eyes glazed over. Then it was back to discussing My Little Pony.
After the big family meet-up in Siesta Key, the four of us headed towards Clearwater, Florida. While in Florida, we had to meet the most famous dolphin in the world: Winter! Winter is the real-life inspiration for the movie A Dolphin Tale, a favorite of 8-year-old girls around the globe. Claire had even donated some of her allowance money to Winter in the past. That is how much she likes Winter.
On the way up to Clearwater, we toured Sarasota a bit. We spent the morning at Selby Botanical Gardens, which Kit really enjoyed. The girls got to see some amazing tropical plants. Kit had also been scouting great local dining locations, and we ended up having some fantastic lunches at little restaurants like The Serving Spoon in Sarasota. We headed up to a family-ish resort called Tradewinds, in St. Pete’s Beach. It was not as cozy as our house in Siesta Key, but it was nice to have a swimming pool and a beach cabana. We did the paddle boats around the resort too, and the girls loved feeding the swans as they followed us. Kit nearly had a heart attack when she realized that her iPhone had slipped out of her pocket on the paddle boat. By almost freakish luck, the phone ended up safe and dry on a little inch-wide lip on the exterior of the boat. It was a quarter inch from becoming swan food.
Once in Clearwater, we spent most of the day at Winer’s home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is really a marine animal rescue and rehab hospital that suddenly got famous with the Dolphin Tale movie. Claire had talked about seeing Winter for years now. We got to see Winter floating around in her tank. The poor thing was indeed missing her tail and was somewhat lethargic. Having come all this way to Florida, Claire got do a special (as in expensive) “dolphin encounter” with Hope, who is Winter’s friend and apparently the star of the upcoming Dolphin Tale 2. Molly was too young to do the dolphin encounter but was familiar with the movie and enjoyed seeing Winter and all the sea animals. Molly got a Winter stuffed animal, unique with its missing tail.
After many hours at the Clearwater aquarium, we headed off for our last night of the trip, near the Tampa airport. Kit had picked out a local Greek restaurant for a nice final meal. When we finally fought our way there through the St. Petersburg sprawl, hungry and thirsty from a long hot day with only a small snack or two, the family restaurant was closed for two weeks for vacation. This was a disappointment to us all, especially our stomachs. Trying to avoid a small riot, Kit directed us to a family-owned Italian restaurant nearby. It was also closed for two weeks! We all started to complain bitterly, and Kit even went so far as to say that it was “Un-American” to just close like that. Late and now really hungry, we found a Chili’s on the iPhone and headed there, mostly on the grounds that it would probably be open and have, you know, food to eat. Mercifully, they were indeed open, and we stuffed ourselves on steak and pizza and even shared a big dessert.
Then next morning, we flew home. Claire and Molly spent the next two days resting up from our big, busy family vacation in sunny Florida.
To celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday, the family met up at his favorite place: Siesta Key, Florida. Phil and Noni flew in from Houston, Uncle Tim and Aunt Cindy came down from DC, and Kit, me, and the girls flew in on on our first family flight since last summer to the two Washintgon’s.
What you’ll find below is lots of pictures of this great but brief family gathering. We all stayed in a cozy off-the-beach house together. We had only one full day all together, and a couple of nights, but it was really amazing to have everyone together, especially for an occasion like my dad’s big birthday. His official birthday meal was a “taco bash”, which meant a huge volume of taco meat, shells, and fixings delivered to enjoy on the sunny patio, truly Phil-style.
A few quick notes, and then on to the pictures…
Claire was fanatical about swimming on the beach. She was brought almost to the point of tears when we had to leave each night.
Molly was fanatical about the beach toys that came with the rental house. Her favorite was her little plastic beach wagon, which is featured prominently in the pictures. There was also a little plastic dinosaur, which Molly named Rexi. Molly built entire sand castles for Rexi and carefully took him around everywhere. Tragically, at some point Molly lost Rexi to the sea. She handled it pretty well, and we hoped that a mermaid might adopt it.
Molly also had a project make the ocean “less deep” by dumping one tiny shovel-full of sand at a time into the ocean. She got her little scoop of sand from a spot about 20 years inland and carefully carried each scoop to the sea, making sure not to spill any until she actually got to the water. She did this for nearly two hours.
Besides Rexi, we also lost two pairs of goggles (mine and Claire’s) during the trip, plus Molly’s at home just before the trip. When Claire lost her goggles to the sea, she was in a near state of panic because it meant lost ocean swimming time. After some negotiation, Molly kindly agreed to share her replacement goggles with Claire.