Our next stop was one where I knew the kids would have the most fun. We went to Jacksonville to see my husband's uncle. He has 4 daughters, 3 our age, one older and 9 grandkids. Two of the grandkids were 8 year old girls who the aunt and uncle sit for. We were all excited for some to relax and go to the beach and just let the kids play. Living in Chicago, we do go to the beach along Lake Michigan, but there's a world of difference between a lake front beach and an ocean beach.
As we crossed the stateline into the sunshine state we were greeted with a torrential downpour. I would have taken a picture of the sign welcoming us to the "Sunshine State" but I couldn't see it. When we arrived the two girls were still there and apparently had been eagerly awaiting my kids arrival. They quickly became friends and ran off to play as we unloaded the car.
That night the two girls Moms came over for dinner along with their other kids. Honey Baked Ham with all te great sides. Yum. When it was time for my little guy, I asked him what he wanted, and he said, "a buffet". One of the cousins overheard that and laughed. I explained that a while back when I was trying to get him to eat some of his leftovers, I lined up 4 different flavors on his tray and called it a buffet.
We quickly learned that in this house the door is never locked when they are home as someone is always stopping by. While I'm sure that can be hectic, we are so far from extended family that plans are made months in advance, I thought it was great. There was the typical joking that comes with being family, and everyone gave as good as they got.
The one thing that I knew would be different for my kids though is that pretty much everyone in that family had been divorced (most remarried), some had kids very young, one of the granddaughters is mixed race, and her mother is now married to a different black man.
These days our little family is pretty unique in that everyone is still married to their first spouse and no kids out of wedlock. Ok, that last one is pretty outdated but most kids believe that first you get married then you have kids. I haven't had the talk yet with my kids, so they think pregnancy is always a planned and happy event between two married people. We knew there would be some questions, but also saw no reason to bring up questions that really were irrelevant. Family's family in my mind. Doesn't really matter what connection got you there in the first place.
The next day a bunch of us went to the beach. Our oldest daughter wanted to play in the water (although needed a little encouragement once she saw the waves). My younger daughter was very excited to look for shells. We had told her you could find shark's teeth but we never found any. But we found plenty of scallops, a couple of broken sand dollars, sea urchins, and tons of clams in different sizes and colors. My little guy still prefers to play in the sand but is slowly getting more comfortable in the water. My husband took the kids out to the water to play in the waves. It didn't take long before our oldest was splashing around with her cousins. Our younger daughter spent some time in the water bit really for her a day at the beach is all about finding shells. Little man split his time in the water and the sand. We saw dolphins a bit off shore jumping out of the water. My younger daughter thought they were sharks and though I tried to explain to her the difference between the tail fins of a dolphin v shark, I don't think she ever really bought it. So back to collecting shells.
At one point the kids decided to dig out a little ditch and fill it with water. My son though this was the greatest thing ever and declared it his pool and would stand on the highest part of the ledge, jump into about 3 inches of water yelling "cannonball". He did it over and over until finally the tide came in and washed away his pool. He tried to go to a different kids pool when they weren't using it, but they didn't like that, so I led him away.
That night we took the uncle and aunt out for dinner while one of their daughters watched our kids. I had told her a few things in advance but didn't need to give too much of a download since she has kids of her own. When we came back from dinner everyone was sleeping soundly and she told us that our little guy had gotten really tired really fast, and actually asked to be put to bed (unusual for him), she changed his diaper and was ready to put him to bed, and my oldest tried to insist that he needed his teeth brushed a story and pajamas. They couldn't find the toothbrush and from the sounds of it, the poor guy was pretty tired so I would have skipped the pjs and story as well. But that's my little rule follower. If we usually make a point of doing all those things, then we must always do all those things. No exceptions.
The next day we went to St Augustine for the morning. We wandered around the fort but it was pretty hot. The kids thought it was interesting but we still went through it pretty quickly. We headed to the walking streets and had lunch at a Cuban restaurant called Columbia. It's a chain in Florida but the original location in Tampa opened in 1905. The food was good, but the decor was what made the place really nice. We were seated in the main room which had really tall ceilings (maybe two stories) and were right by the fountain. I've never been to Cuba, so don't know how authentic it is, but it felt very Spanish to me.
After lunch we went to the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the US. It's right on St George Street and a real quick but interesting place to stop. Our kids liked seeing it, and got a little diploma at the end (just a xeroxed piece of paper with room to put the kids name in). It would have been nicer if one of the staff had actually written the kid's name since they weren't really busy, but they didn't.
We stopped in a couple of gift shops, my oldest daughter bought a little ship in a bottle as a souvenir. I wanted to check out the gift shop at Columbia as they had a lot of nice pottery, but at that point the kids were wilting, and close to meltdowns. It was the hottest day of our trip, and not the time to go shopping.
That night everyone came over for dinner - good Southern barbecue. Everyone got a kick out of our little guy. He wanted his "buffet" again. Then when he was finished eating, he and I were sitting at the table with one of the cousin's husbands and his son. Littleman looks at them and says, "I like sports". They laughed but at the same time, it started a conversation about the kind of sports everyone liked. Very funny.
All in all a great couple of days, reconnecting with people we hadn't seen in 13 years, and some of whom I hadn't met before.