Athena had an amazing birthday. It was the birthday that just kept being a birthday. Now, a month later, we think we're mostly done with the birthday, but you never know. It may yet sneak up again with more celebrations and gifts and adventures.
At school she enjoyed cupcakes with everyone. They posted this photo:
To me, her calm and patience shines right through. There's an element of executive control that just kills me. She seems to be radiating, "Thank you for joining me today. You may sing now. I'll wait." And that's kind of who she's suddenly become. Gone are the meltdowns because tonight is just too long to wait or the weekend is too far away. Instead, when we drove to school a couple of weeks ago and was watching Octonauts on my phone for a reward for getting dressed and ready to go on time, I said, "We probably won't have time to finish the whole episode." And she replied, "That's okay, I can watch it later. After school." There are moments when I'm glad I'm not looking at her when she says these things. I just kind of blinked and stared straight ahead. Where was the upset I expected? Where was the fuss? What, no tears? Um... yeah, no. She's four. She's got this.
For her birthday, we initially considered something like Pump It Up, but decided it was a bit too spendy. We pivoted and had a Ladybug Girl: Bug Club tea party instead. However, I didn't reconsider the invitation list. That was... a choice. Athena listed off everyone she wanted to be there, and well, we found ourselves with 13 friends coming to tea. Plus their parents. Plus her grandma. And well, suddenly it was a LOT of people and prep and not much less expensive than Pump It Up. Oops. I spent the month scouring thrift stores for tea cups and tea pots and ordering games and party favors from Oriental Trading Company and buying deco at Party City. Then I spent all of Friday night and Saturday morning cooking and prepping. But, it went swimmingly well. There were ladybugs and butterflies and bees. There was cake and tea cups and foods Athena likes (PB&J, ginger cookies, cinnamon toasts, etc.). There were mimosas and croissants for the adults.The kids played games and ran around in the yard. Erik demonstrated a disappearing spoon. It was a whirlwind! We sent everyone home with a prize bag and a tea cup.
When moms collapse!
And the following weekend we went to Disneyland. We had measured her on her birthday and she was still 38 3/4 inches. We measured her on Tuesday and she was... taller. Like maybe a 1/2 - 3/4 inch taller. After being stubbornly stuck at just shy of 39 inches since July. I mean really, we wanted to go to Disneyland in September. Nope. Still 39 inches. We wanted to go in December. Nope. Still 39 inches. We planned to take a trip with everyone to escape the Super Bowl and at t-minus 3 days to departure, she grew. Erik said, "You're gonna post that to Facebook right?" I didn't. It felt like I was still holding my breath til she was standing there at Disneyland with her bumping up against the 40 inch sign.
This is where I get to confess I might be a bad person. Or at least a bad parent. Or something. See, Athena was totally 40 inches tall IN SHOES. And because we didn't want to take any chances, we let her wear her little yellow Minnie Mouse shoes. You know, the ones with the 1 inch heel? Yeah, those. She loves those shoes. And she wore them all the days we were there. She literally ran (and twirled, and spun, and jumped) through the heel. Were they worth the effort (and not otherwise somewhat destroyed) I'd have to take them to a shoe repair to get the heel replaced. As it is, I might just get her another pair, so much is the love of these shoes. So we arrived at Disneyland, marched into the park, and right up to the 40 inch sign at Star Tours. And she stood tall and pressed her head against the sign and she was declared to be 40 inches.
And with high fives all around, we looked at the 5 minute wait for Star Tours and headed in to ride the ride with R2D2 and C3PO. This was not our best choice ever. If we hadn't been bursting with excitement, I would've remembered that she'd do better if she knew what was going to happen roughly and had some time to wait patiently in the queue and get excited about the ride. As it was, we walked through the line so fast we barely saw C3PO and R2D2 and were loaded on before we knew it. And I held her hand and told her it might be a little scary but R2D2 would keep us safe. And then suddenly we were on Jakku and being tossed around and on Coruscant being attacked by battle droids and crashing into other droids and well, it was a bit much.
Nevertheless, she wanted to try the fast train with the dinosaur bones. So off we went to Big Thunder. What I needed to remember here again was always prep her. If I'd mentioned there would be dark parts, and mentioned there would explosions, then she would've been fine. It wasn't the speed that worried her. It was the loudness. So that wasn't so great either.
But the next day I was ready. Radiator Springs Racers. We got fast passes that had us returning at 2:15. I told her right away that scary things might happen, like Frank the Combine might chase us, but that we'd get away. We walked over and watched how fast they went over the hills. We had breakfast at Flo's and she watched the cars go by and got excited she would get to ride one. We talked again on our way over about how it might be a little scary, but that she was big, she was four, and she could do this. We asked for the front seat so that she would be able to see. We got a green car, so it clearly wasn't Lightning McQueen. Erik and I talked about asking the name of the car. We asked the cast member at the seat belt check what our car's name was. He said, "Uh... green?" Erik said, "Did you hear that? This is Gary. Green Gary! Gary is a super fast race car. He'll keep us safe." Thankfully, Athena was sufficiently distracted by the whole process so thoroughly that she totally thought he said Gary. And Gary was a mighty race car.
We whizzed through the story part of the ride, got chased by Frank, and found our way into Radiator Springs. We got new paint from Ramone and waited for our race to start. And waited. And waited. And... waited. The ride had broken down. Guido was bobbing back and forth ready to cheer us on the whole time. They announced we'd be moving again shortly. We got ready and off we went! Green Gary whizzed around the corners and crossed the finish line in a flash. We won! Athena was thrilled! Green Gary was the best! He was as fast as Lightning McQueen! And we rolled into the loading area and they asked if we wanted to go again since we'd been interrupted. We looked at Athena and she was happy as could be. We answered yes. And off we went again for another ride in Green Gary. This time, no pausing, but we didn't get caught by Frank and we whizzed right into the race. She said, "Did we win?" And we said yes, even though we hadn't quite won. She loved Green Gary. He was a great race car. Filled with enthusiasm and brimming with pride for Green Gary, we headed out to see our picture. At 40 inches, Athena was invisible in the center seat. She ran out the exit path, twirling on her heels and so proud of herself and how she rode the scary ride and how Green Gary saved her from Frank and it was okay because she was 4 AND she was 40 inches.
So... that went well. We rode again the next day in a purple car that didn't win the race, but it was when I remembered to take a few photos. It wasn't as awesome as Green Gary. Green Gary will live in our hearts forevermore.
She holds her skirts up like Cinderella on the stairs as she climbs them. Totes adorbs!
Oddly, I think the ride breaking down was the best thing that could've happened. It gave her a moment to pause and process it mid-ride. And then it gave her a chance to see that it was exactly the same again (we even got Ramone's paint again the second time) and that we'd always miss Frank and she could enjoy the thrill more without the fear that bad things might actually happen this time.
Beyond that, she loved many of the same rides. Small World was still a big hit, Storybook Canals, Dumbo, the carousels, and the Little Mermaid.
It's a small, small world.
Whale on the carousel
More Storybook Canals, this time with friends!
In a moment of brilliance, I read her the story of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day in the week before we left. Suddenly, Winnie the Pooh was her favorite ride. She asked for it at least 3 times a day. Since the line is always pretty short, this was little hardship. I think I rode it fifteen times over four days.
We mentioned at the gate that it was her birthday trip, so she got a shiny birthday badge with her name on it and thoroughly enjoyed being wished a happy birthday by everyone in the park.
Engineer for the day!
She wore it the first two days. The second morning I asked if she'd had enough of that on day one. She said she'd like to wear it again. The third morning she said, "I don't need to wear my birthday button today."
We also finally got the see the Paint the Night parade. After dire warnings about the traffic problems, hours staking out a seat, we walked up 20 minutes before showtime, grabbed a seat near Storybook Canals with no one in front of us, and I held down the fort while Erik and Athena got one more carousel ride. Easy peasy. No fuss. And as a direct descendant of the Electric Light Parade (with the ELP leitmotif coming in occasionally), it's absolutely gorgeous and occasionally mesmerizing. Mack the Truck is just... well...
See, it's not a screen on the side of a truck. The entire interior of the truck is a bunch of programmable lights that make a ball pass around or cars drive by or whatever. So paint the night looked a lot like this:
(For the record, she ate a bunch of churro before the parade started and then just clutched it while staring for the remainder.)
Athena was more interested in meeting some of the character this time. Pixie Hollow was first on the list.
Tinkerbell is her favorite.
We expected the line to see Anna and Elsa to be insane, but there was exactly one group in front of us. We went right on in. That's a huge change from a year ago.
Anna and Elsa were awesome.
On our way out, we saw Sophia from Sophia the First.
And she let Athena touch her amulet.
Then we got to see Lightning and Red in Radiator Springs.
Red the Firetruck
On Sunday night we found Mickey and Minnie just as they came out. It was about 10 p.m., but Athena was still ready for more!
Late in the day at DCA
On our last morning, we passed Mary Poppins and Burt as we were headed for Small World.
Mary Poppins and Burt
She also got to dance with Mary Poppins the day before, so when we found her over by the Matterhorn, Athena wanted to go say that she liked very much dancing with her.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we were caught dancing by one of the Photopass photographers. I mean, there's always music, so dancing happens.
On our way out of the Haunted Mansion on Sunday (the ghost party ride, according to Athena), the photographer there had us get into the headstones. Athena was having none of it til he offered her a card with Minnie Mouse and a diamond (a Photopass card). She wanted that card, so this happened:
"Look scared!" he said
There are always changes afoot at Disneyland. Currently, the force is strong in this place. Tomorrowland has been transformed for Season of the Force. There are BB-8 drink cups everywhere. The Jedi Academy and Star Tours are joined by Hyperspace Mountain and the Innoventions bottom floor has become the Launchbay. The 3D theater is a nice summary of how we got here and where it's going in the "Path of the Jedi". And throughout Tomorrowland, the beautiful work of John Williams lilts through the air. One of the big surprises was the Darth Tamale at breakfast: a chile cheese stuffed blue corn tamale topped with scrambled eggs, chorizo, sour cream, and salsa. It was sooooo good.
Seriously, I need one right now.
I've been on several Space Mountain overlays in recent history, and while I still have a special place in my heart for the original update with the Dick Dale track, this is the best of the overlays I've seen to date. You launch on a mission with a team of rebels in an X-Wing squadron to attack an Imperial Star Destroyer. From the front seat, it's amazing. And the blue leader is even a woman.
(Brief aside: I never really noticed the lack of women beyond Princess Leia in Star Wars as a kid, because there was Princess Leia front and center, in the thick of it from start to finish, in charge, and taking over when the guys lacked a plan. It's a thing, but it's definitely worth noting that if you give kids one tiny gateway, they'll find it without fail.)
We reprised our rule of "pick one thing" to take home from Disneyland. This time there was far less of a clear winner, and for a bit, we thought it would be a shiny new light saber like Lorelei got. There was a mighty duel in the Launchbay. Instead we came home with a Little Mermaid figure set that included Prince Eric, three Magiclip type dresses, and two heads for Ariel. We were completely unable to convince her that parts would get lost or that it was just creepy to have a spare head rolling around.
Because we never slow down, the following weekend was DunDraCon. It was once again totally awesome. Scott flew in on Wednesday. We finished our game prep on Thursday night. Erik and Scott headed up Friday afternoon and got us checked into an awesome pair of rooms side by side. And then Athena went to Clementine's house for the next two nights and we played like grown ups without a pre-schooler. We ran our game Saturday morning: Over My Dead Body, where Mr. Body is dead and he's left his estate in order but give the will's recipients the option to decide their own settlement. Hilarity ensues. I think it's due a revision and reprise, maybe at Kubla.
The standout game for me was really the Gamer Geekus Korean War setting game. The Saturday night GG games led by Aaron "Big Arms" Lopez are always a favorite for me, and this year was no exception. When things have gone sufficiently off the map as to have a situation where the GMs leave the room briefly to see what they should do, the players are winning.
Here is Scott totally breaking the game with the power Aaron gave him.
I actually misread my goals initially and didn't cover up my robot-ness as much as I should've, but I think it actually worked out better that way. I had a blast playing a war-bot developed to support the American cause in 15 year old Korean girl exterior who giggled inappropriately. Yeah.
Sunday I picked up Athena while Erik played the Team Volare game. We got haircuts, went swimming, and played with the Waltons and the Blacks. Then Erik took over and I played the Goudeau's haunted house game with Scott. I was the wealthy Southern socialite wife of the politician who owned the house, so I spent the evening schmoozing and making connections.
The following weekend was Frozen On Ice courtesy of Kevin and Rachel. It was good!
The seats were amazing, just a few feet of the ice. Before the show, Rachel got the girls each one present from the concession stand. Athena picked an Elsa doll to match the Anna doll Kristen Wirth had gotten her for her birthday. Now every night, we have to sing their two duets, with me playing Anna and her playing Elsa. Then she snuggles in with both, plus my bear, Daddy's bear, her bear (from Uncle Scott), and bunny. It's... getting a bit crowded in the toddler bed.
On the way back I took the girls to the bathroom and Lorelei squeezed in with Athena and I. I have never been in such close quarters in a bathroom stall!
Meanwhile, the guys were waiting for us and were having Guys Night out at the ice capades.
It was a bit loud for Athena's tastes, so I spent the first half covering her ears. Rachel and Erik went to hunt for earplugs at intermission and the usher nearest us had a pair in his pocket. Problem solved! The wolves were terrifying - creepy motion, glowing gold eyes - but that didn't worry Athena at all. She was worried about Marshmallow being too scary, but he was a giant inflatable that moved slowly.
Big, but not scary.
The next day was Lorelei's birthday party. Athena Lendvay had hired the most amazing animal guy for her Wild Kratt's themed party. This guy was riveting. He had a great patter and an assistant who made it all look seamless. She never said a word, but they were clearly a well-rehearsed team. He had a big tortoise, a little baby turtle, a bunny, a hamster, a rooster, a huge iguana, a guinea pig, a scorpion, a tarantula, a little garter snake, a huge Python, some baby chicks and one grub who he said, "Say goodbye to the grub. This is his last show!" before feeding it to the rooster. He had the kids waving to every animal in a unique style.
As you might guess, the following day was a flurry of housekeeping after two weekends of travel and a major birthday party at home.
But there's no time to rest yet! I caught up on work on Monday night, then interviewed for a position on the Santa Clara Cultural Commission on Tuesday (and didn't get it), then watched Lorelei and Athena on Wednesday so the rest of the gang could watch Game of Thrones, then went to Athena's annual doctor visit on Thursday, and then had Michelle and Connor over for dinner while Erik went to play D&D with Matt. Then Saturday morning I got up and taught my iOS class. Sunday we grabbed dim sum with the gang and then went to Target to find some new trousers for Erik. We then showed Athena her last birthday present:
She drove it to the park and played for 90 minutes, then drove home. Meanwhile, I started making a big pot of beef barley soup to sustain us for the week.
Sunday night, my feet sent a letter of complaint and I generally hit the wall of tired. I snuggled with Athena on the sofa while Erik cooked me dinner: rib eye, twice-baked potato (leftover from Christmas in the freezer - Thanks Karen!), and cauliflower. Tasty.