Day 1: Taking the 5
Last year we didn’t tell the kids where we were going when we drove to San Diego until we were 15 minutes away because we worried they’d be upset. James associated San Diego with Santa Claus after Papa said Santa would be bringing presents there for Christmas. And James, while liking the idea of presents, was terrified of the jolly old elf.
This year James is beyond excited. Julia claims she doesn’t want to go because of Uncle Michael’s loud sneezes and because she doesn’t like the 5. (I mentioned that we’d be on Interstate 5 for a long time). However, she takes particular delight in naming all the freeways we’ll be taking in order. I tell them they can see really far on Interstate 5 because it’s so flat. Julia asks what city will they be able to see and I tell her Bakersfield. She exclaims, “Wow! Bakersfield!” which marks the first time those two words have ever been strung together.
We drive to San Diego, this time outfitted with a mount for Mark’s tablet so the kids can watch episodes of Charlie and Lola. We also use a GPS that audibly tells us directions. I have the following conversation with James about it:
Me: “Is that a real person on the GPS?”
Me: “Whose voice is it?”
To speed up the whole bathroom break process, we bring a portable potty for Julia and let James pee outside, which he comes to enjoy - perhaps too much. Says James, “I like to pee outside because I don’t have to wash my hands after.”
We arrive around 10 p.m. and the kids are excited to see Papa and Gaga. As last year, the four of us sleep in my old room, with James and Julia thrilled to sleep on the floor.
|The end of the drive to San Diego, starring Julia.|
|James and Gaga are happy to see each other.|
|Asleep on the floor|
Day 2: Early Morning Wake-Ups
Every morning while Mark and I sleep, the twins wake and “try” to be quiet and whisper to each other, before going downstairs to see Papa (and Gaga when she wakes up). The grandparents really enjoy their morning time with the grandkids. Unfortunately the combination of no blackout curtains and the excitement of watching the sunrise with Papa means that the kids start waking 1 ½ hours earlier than usual. In not coincidental news, James keeps falling asleep in the car.
|Playing with Papa in the wee morn|
Julia, who has a crippling fear of dogs - and recurring nightmares of dogs licking her - actually rubs a gigantic Bernese Mountain Dog’s tummy at church. It takes a lot of convincing but she decides to do it because he’s a certified helper dog, and she’s been told that since helper dogs are worker dogs they don’t lick.
Day 3: UTC & Papa’s Birthday
We go Christmas shopping at UTC (formerly University Towne Centre - no doubt changed due to the excess of unnecessary British-y spellings), and the kids really enjoy the new playground there. James gets mad at a kid who hits his shoulder. James then wags a finger at him and yells, “No thank you!”
|James on the playground at UTC|
The twins decorate Gaga’s little Christmas tree, and we celebrate Papa’s birthday.
|Julia looks at Gaga’s little Christmas tree.|
|Julia and James help Papa open his presents.|
Day 4: Santa’s Coming!
Lauren, one of my best friends from high school, comes to visit and we see each other’s twins for the first time. After dinner, James and Julia take a Christmas light walk around the neighborhood with Papa, Michael, Mark, and me.
|Kathy and Lauren|
This is the first year the kids are excited about Santa. The kids put out milk and cookies for Santa. I suggest spelling out Santa’s name using alphabet cookies, and that idea really excites the twins. James, bursting with excitement before bedtime tells me, “I know Santa will love these cookies because they spell his name and he will bring lots presents.”
|Julia carries cookies for Santa to the chimney.|
For the last couple days the kids call out to us for 45 minutes after they’re tucked in. But tonight since it’s Christmas Eve, we receive NO calls. Just before bedtime, James announces, “Let’s go to sleep now!” and heads upstairs. They actually want to sleep because Santa’s coming and we told them he won’t come until they fall asleep.
Mark checks the Santa Tracker app at D.Z. Akin’s on Christmas Eve.
Once the kids are asleep, my mom and Michael spend three hours setting up Puzzletown, a vintage late 1970s detailed build-yourself cardboard town. Gaga had kept some of our sets in the garage for just this moment, and had also gone to town cornering the Puzzletown market on eBay.
Day 5 - Christmas!
The kids-going-to-bed-right-away thing was great but ends up biting us in the ass the next morning when James wakes at 5 a.m. and Julia just after. We had told the rest of the family that we’d get up at 6:30 to see the loot left by Santa, so we endure the two of them talking to each other while we try to sleep for an hour and a half.
I expected the kids to practically run downstairs to see what Santa brought. However, they walk in and quietly observe the contents of the living room. They’re thrilled that their stockings contain the only two toys they requested - finger lights for James and a pink pig Koosh-like “fuzzy ball” for Julia. Together they cost less than $5 at Michael’s. I wish every year could be so easy for Santa. Then the twins play with Puzzletown while the bleary-eyed adults yawn a lot.
|Standing on the “dirty step” looking at all the presents Santa left in the living room.|
|James gets his finger lights!|
|Julia gets her “fuzzy ball”!|
|James in the middle of his Puzzletown empire|
|The best present under the tree|
|About to go the church with Papa. James tells Papa that he looks handsome.|
The kids distribute the presents under the tree, and then help everyone unwrap them. Julia REALLY takes to present distributing. James, on the other hand, is enthusiastic at first but then opens his present of Michael’s old Legos and then just wants to play with them the rest of the time.
|Julia wears the official Santa hat for distributing presents.|
|Julia loves passing out gifts.|
|Julia helps Kathy unwrap a gift.|
|Julia plays with her new Legos.|
For days Julia keeps talking about a Charlie and Lola episode where one of the characters got a pineapple as a gift. She tells us about it and laughs and says, “A pineapple’s not a present!” That prompts me to buy Julia a pineapple and put it wrapped under the tree. The top of the pineapple is visible and Julia notices it right away and starts laughing. She thinks her gift is hilarious.
|Julia discovers a pineapple addressed to her under the tree.|
My church makes “manna bags” for parishioners to distribute to homeless people in need. They’re filled with non-perishable food items, socks, and some basic toiletries. The kids, particularly James, have been obsessed with them. We make the twins their own manna bags and they’re a big hit.
|The kids' Manna bags include lots of snacks from Google, a pair of their old socks, and a borrowed washcloth from Papa and Gaga.|
At dinner we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. James announces that he’s thankful for everything in the world. “Like what?” we ask. “Blinds.”
|James devours his turkey leg King Henry VIII style.|
For the first time, Julia and James got to use their stockings that Kathy made. They only took two and a half years to complete.
|Papa doesn’t seem pleased about his new hat.|
Day 6: Legoland
Day 7: Tidepools
Michael plays with Puzzletown with the kids in the morning and many mornings while we’re here.
Mark and I take the kids to the Cabrillo tidepools at sunset. James lets the tide hit his shoes as the water comes in and then recedes. This is a new development since both kids usually are afraid of the tide. James loves putting rocks in the water after I tell him water makes the rocks smooth. He announces, “They’re smooth now!” He’s also fascinated by the primitive public toilet nearby that’s just a deep hole.
|Family picture at the Cabrillo tidepools|
Day 8: The Trolley (a.k.a. Red Guy)
My mom’s best friend Pam visits with her husband Keith to see the twins. She wants to come over because as she says, James and Julia are the closest she’ll ever come to having grandchildren.
Mark, the kids, and I catch the San Diego Trolley (a.k.a. “red guy”) and take it to Old Town. They love standing and holding the rail while the trolley is moving. The big hits of Old Town are the old timey stick candy (which we end up using as bribes for weeks after) and the covered wagon, which they’re familiar with through their little kid-friendly Little House stories (based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder). However, James likes pretending it’s an ice cream truck.
Mark is excited to ride the trolley.
|James and Julia in Old Town Plaza. Julia calls this a “shooter.”|
Day 9: Reuben H. Fleet
We meet my high school friend Liz and her husband Rich for lunch at D.Z. Akin’s, and they arrive bearing gifts for the kids. James is thrilled that one gift is a maze book and discovers mazes for the first time.
Next on the high school friend circuit is Candice, whom we meet with husband Steve and daughter Nora at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Unlike last year’s visit with them, this year we actually make it to the Kid City portion. (Last year by the time we walked through too many stimulating museum exhibits and made it to Kid City we literally only had 8 minutes for the kids to play.)
|James, Julia, and Nora|
|Julia uses the mouse. Her software engineer daddy has never been so proud.|
|Nora and Candice|
Day 10: San Diego Zoo
After taking 45 minutes just to park, we visit the San Diego Zoo with Papa. Even though Mark and I get in free it’s still $64 for the kids (*cough cough*) for only a couple hours. We take the tour bus around the park, and my dad seems to be generous when he offers to sit on the right side of the bus, telling us to take the left side because that’s the side with the best views. But then over and over again the giraffes, the elephants, and seemingly all the other animals are best seen on Papa’s side, causing the kids to scramble over to his lap for the rest of the ride. Suspicious.
|Posing at the zoo|
|James the Lion sits on Papa’s lap on the tour bus.|
Day 11: Papa Claus
We buy Papa a Santa Claus costume. Despite it being too small he obligingly suits up and the kids immediately know it’s him. Since the kids were terrified of Santa in years past, I wish I’d thought to do an annual photo with Papa Claus sooner.
|Papa looks like he just split a seam.|
|They were very aware that Papa was in there.|
|Papa Claus and his girl|
John Bregante visits and the kids want to know if he brought candy canes for them like last year. Gaga reads to the twins from a fairytale book that was the only book she had as a child.
|Kathy also remembers this book well.|
Day 12: The Drive Back
The drive back is pretty uneventful. Oh, except for that car accident in Lost Hills! Gulp!
|While trying to get on the I-5 on-ramp in Lost Hills, another car hit us.|
We traverse through a big walk-through Christmas tree in Burbank on the way to lunch at Panera, and then because we can’t get enough of it, we eat at the Panera in Gilroy for dinner. James and Julia spend even more time watching Charlie and Lola.
|The kids in the Burbank walk-through tree|