My family didn't really have traditions growing up, not that I can remember anyway. There wasn't anything we did every year, or people we always saw. Which is why I'm kind of impressed that we seem to be building an actual tradition with Mary, Paul and Joy every February 6th: Family Day.
Why February 6th, you ask? Because on that day we were all together for the first time, in Chongqing, China. Perhaps it's appropriate that the past two years have been rainy and chilly, because that's what it was that first day. The babies were a year old and bundled up like linebackers. We were wearing coats, but our emotions could probably have kept us warm. There's a lot about that day that I can't remember because it was so weird, but some of it is burned in my brain: Jarrah's weight on my hip, the look on her face as she slurped her candy, the feel of cold cement beneath me when we took the group photo on the steps. It was truly the strangest, most magical day of my life.
A lot of people get to celebrate their child's birthday as the day they met. We have to do things a little differently. I didn't become a mother the day my daughter was born (though Red Thread believers might argue that I did.) However you slice it, though, February 6th will always seem important, worthy of a holiday, a celebration. And that's how we've been spending it for the past four years.
This year may have been the last (but who knows?) for this particular trip, and you can read about the others here, here and here. The first year, we weren't even sure why we were taking the train to San Juan Capistrano. The train seemed enough--the girls were going through a "choo-choo" phase. They didn't talk much then, and we were weighted down with strollers and diaper bags. This year, I just had my purse (okay, a rolled-up change of clothes in a Ziploc stuffed in there.) Previously, I was exhausted from the vagaries of parenting--this year, I was exhausted because I'd been out until 2:00 drinking champagne in a limo. Yep, we're all growing up.
Part of the tradition is "matchy-matchy" outfits--I have a feeling by next year someone will veto this. But as you can see, the girls look awfully cute in their brown "hearty" shirts. Joy also brought Jarrah a necklace with a heart key on the end of it, which was a big hit.
It's so easy to travel with the girls now, and the 45-minute stretch of track between Solana Beach and SJC is stunning, mere feet from the surf pounding the rocks and beachs bordering two counties. Even colorized in steel-grey for the occasion, the view often takes my breath away. If you're five, though, you might be more interested in super-hero figurines.
At some point there is always a total stranger who is extra-kind, and this year it was the manager of Zoomars, who whisked us in for free "because of the mud." True, the train and pony rides were closed due to rain, but the guinea pigs and bunnies were just as fluffy and enjoyed their lettuce just as much. Jarrah was determined to feed every single denizen of the corral, and I just sat back with Paul while the creatures explored my purse (perhaps they like bagels?)
A new feature of Zoomars is a very nice playground, where the girls romped while Mary sneaked off to buy them matchy-matchy plush guinea pigs. We also visited the horses and goats and llamas, and this year there were some funny little chickens in the corral, too.
All that cuddling of small animals in chilly weather got us hungry, so we walked up to The Ramos House Cafe, a little treasure of a place we learned about on the train the first year. It's a ramshackle place with a sublime tiny menu, and we were able to indulge another Family Day tradition: alcohol in the middle of the day. Our Grapefruit Fizzes contained sorbet, fruit, juice and sweet-potato liquor, with a big splash of body-warming yum. The food was just as good--still thinking about my Fried Chicken Salad with cornbread--and the girls were amazingly patient with the glacially slow service.
A beautiful new park with a creek and multiple structures has gone up in the Los Rios District since last year, but alas, it was pretty wet. Not that the girls cared--they used their butts to dry off the slides while we huddled under a playhouse roof. We probably would have stayed until dark, but everyone was getting pretty chilled.
On the way home, Mary and I got to catch up (a real treat) while Paul and David snoozed. J and J were still going strong, playing with dollies and singing at the top of their lungs. I mentioned to Mary how grown up they seem all of the sudden (and the photos reflect this) and she said "But they're still babies." And they are. It's hard to remember some days that for all their leggy height and swingy hair and complex vocabularies, they haven't been on the planet that long. And while four years seems like a long time some days, we haven't been doing this parenting thing so very long, either.
Now that there are no naps, our 5:00 return seemed too early to call it a day, so we ended up at The Forum in Carlsbad, where the girls played in a Gepetto's toy shop and we waited for a table at a new burger place called The Counter. Their gimmick is you fill out reams of forms in triplicate in order to mastermind your perfect burger, and apparently the good people of North County have fallen for it. Not that the burgers weren't good--they were, and the deep-fried dill pickle slices sublime--but everything arrived lukewarm and the place is designed like a giant bathroom, all tile and chrome, which gets pretty loud when you start blasting Courtney Love over it. I was glad it wasn't me covering my ears and whining "It's tooo LOUD in here!" (It was Jarrah.)
When we emerged, the rain had stopped for the moment and the night was shiny and crisp. We concluded the festivities with a visit to the carp pond, where the girls enjoyed shrieking and imitating the fish who lifted their O-shaped mouths out of the water in hope of a snack or a finger. Jarrah was not happy about saying goodbye, but she was clearly exhausted.
We had talked about going on a "real" trip this year--maybe to Palm Springs for the aerial tramway. And I suppose in future years, we might just do something like that. But what I really love about Family Day is we don't have to do much of anything to make it feel like a holiday. Just being all together is a powerful reminder of where we came from and where we're going. We all enjoy each others' company, like family only...not so much.
I have a photo taken of Jarrah and Joy before we met them, when they were Mei Ruo and Mei Zhi respectively, being held side by side by their nannies. And what strikes me about the photo is that these babies live together, but they don't actually know each other. It took a journey to the other side of the world to connect them, and a February morning in 2006 to kick it off.
And then the rest of us didn't have to do a thing but stand back and watch. They grew to love each other all on their own, because they wanted to. On the return train, we had the requisite "Oh, they're so cute! Are they twins?" moment and now I'm used to it. "No, they're just friends." I said. "They're not related."
And yet that's exactly what they are. Four years has made them not just friends, but family. And for that we are all very, very lucky.