MEA aka Fall Break

A few weeks ago, my two older kids had a "fall break," aka MEA, aka my kids don't understand how aka works, which leads to head-scratching laughter. Basically, the teachers have meetings and hold conferences with parents. So, we met with their teachers and learned about how the year was going from their teachers' perspective. The teachers also get our perspective and that helps them handle the students on an individual basis. It's nice to know where improvement might be needed and to clarify certain expectations. For the most part, we walked away with warm fuzzies.

I also walked away from my older son's conferences with some stomach contents on my shirt. Thanks, baby boy. That's still better than when he rained spit-up down on me as I held him up above me that same week only days prior. I didn't get any in my mouth, but my nose wasn't so lucky. I walked upstairs to my wife and could only mutter "help" in a very defeated tone. I most certainly could see the comedy in the scene. I just wanted to laugh at it from the future. I wanted my present to be past, badly. The horror. The horror.

We also had planned on making the most of the kids' time off. I work weekends, so summers and breaks throughout the school year are the best times to try and do activities as a family. I was also not working any overtime, so we had a mostly blank slate to fill. Of course, there's always weekly responsibilities to take care of, and it was getting dangerously close to Halloween. Dangerous because my wife makes as much of the costumes as she can for the whole family, and she always seems to complete them just in time.

I had taken Sunday off to celebrate my son's first birthday. I could state many clich├ęs, and even though they are all true, they get tiresome. So, I won't. Party prep in the morning along with some chores led into the party in the afternoon. It was fun and special. I was also able to video chat with my parents, who live in Illinois, before the party. They were able to see my son on his birthday, and he was able to see all of his grandparents that day. I'm very thankful for the times in which I live because of things like video chat. It helps make long distances much closer.

For the most part, Monday was spent knocking out chores. A friend of mine came over in the evening. We were going to have a fire and enjoy the cool weather, but the rain storms rolling through had other plans. Still, it was nice to visit, and it's good that he enjoys spending time with me and my family because having him over wouldn't really work otherwise most days. Once the kids were in bed, we were able to have less distracted and more directed conversation.

On Tuesday, we went to the Crayola Experience at the Mall of America. We had gone to Crayola in Easton, PA in 2014, so we were curious about how it compared. We probably wouldn't have gone Tuesday if we hadn't received free tickets at the Minnesota State Fair this year as the price per ticket to Crayola was originally higher than in Easton. They've since dropped it, but in my opinion, especially now after going there for a few hours, a ticket is still priced too high.

Even though the kids knew we had gotten free tickets this past summer, we never told them we were actually going over their break. Plus, they don't usually remember things like already having tickets anyway. We wanted to surprise them, as we do at times. I concocted a ruse. We needed to pick up my friend from the airportShe needed a ride. This would get us down near the Mall. My daughter's need to know everything forced me to add details as we went. ~ What's her name? Janet. Where does she liveReno, Nevada. Why is she coming here? She's originally from here. She's visiting her parents. Can she sit by me? I don't know. Maybe mom should sit by you and we let our guest sit in front. ~ That pretty much satisfied her curiosity at that point.

We waited for Janet to call while we sat in the cell phone lot at the airport. We watched planes take off and land. Inadvertently, we basically gave the kids the experience of watching planes at the airport. They had never done this before, and I can't say that I have either. After about fifteen minutes, Janet, aka my wife, called my phone and told me that she had taken the light rail to the Mall. We were going to go pick her up there and have lunch. Off we went.

We made it to the floor the Rainforest Cafe is on and, unintentionally, is also right next to the Crayola Experience. The kids, of course, started asking if we could go to the Crayola Experience. My wife and I didn't say anything. We just kept moving the herd forward and to the right. We have to meet Janet, remember?

My wife had picked the restaurant from the mall directory when we got there. I don't dislike the Rainforest Cafe as much as I don't think the food is worth the cost, and the variety in the menu doesn't speak to my palette as well as other places do. What you're really paying for is the ambience. That IS pretty cool. You're eating in a rainforest, kind of. All of the kids really liked it, even my baby boy.

Every twenty minutes, the place comes alive with a thunderstorm. In between the thunderstorms, the ceiling goes through the cycle of the day—sun and clouds turn into the moon and stars. Animatronic rainforest animals are spread throughout, going through their own cycles of sound and action. So, that's where your money goes. Is it well spent? I guess you should experience it for yourself.

family time, autumn activities, Minnesota, blog, pranks on kids, Crayola experience, anoka county farms
Enjoying the night time sky at Rainforest Cafe. Photo Courtesy of Christine Sedam.

The kids never asked about Janet throughout lunch. Apparently, the restaurant was distracting enough. I was starting to wonder if they were going to completely forget altogether. However, at the end of the meal, during bathroom rotations, my daughter asked my wife about Janet. After all, we were supposed to have lunch with her. That's when my wife spilled to her that the whole Janet/airport deal was a con. My daughter walked out of the bathroom and directly to me with a big grin on her face. She promptly told me she now knows about the whole thing. "Mom told me."

They were excited to learn that we were going to the Crayola Experience after lunch. With no line, we were in quickly. With practically no one there but us, we moved from station to station with ease. I decided to craft an email response that had been on my mind that day and did so while the kids spread out a little and did activities.

This is about the timeframe where the last post I wrote started taking place. See Life's Good.

We weren't able to have a fire Monday, as I previously stated, but we did end up having one for a couple of hours Tuesday night. My sister-in-law came over and visited some while we did so. It was short lived, but the kids got some s'mores. That's all they care about anyway. Fire = s'mores. That's it. They actually behaved about the best they ever have, as far as times that we've burned some wood into the night. That's something to be thankful for. Showers and bed followed soon enough for us all.

The next morning was conferences for both kids, and we had a one-year check-up for baby boy in the early afternoon. We had two schools to go to and a big enough gap in between to comfortably make the trip. Fortunately, we live pretty close to most of the schools in our district, so this was not a very difficult task. However, even easy tasks can be made difficult with three kids. See An Inconvenient Poop. We wanted to get the conferences out of the way first thing in the morning, and since we all get up pretty early already, we had them done at nine.

My son's first year check-up included shots. The older two were also getting flu shots. (Yes, we are vaccinators. Get over it.) My wife and I had already gotten our flu shots weeks prior. My older son FLIPPED HIS SHIT, to say it accurately. It's a difficult thing, to make them get a shot, but he made it a million times worse. No exaggerations. Then my daughter went and was awesome about it. I'm going to assume partially because my older son did what I stated earlier.

Then came the baby's turn. He had the full check-up. We were able to see how he's growing and that his vitals were top-notch. Then came his shots. It may sound mean, but the older kids are old enough that I don't have a lot of sympathy when it comes to shots. We all get shots. They aren't that bad. We all don't look forward to it. Move on. But, when it comes to a tiny person who has no idea what's coming, it makes me feel like the worst person in the world. I let them hurt my baby. It brought me much sadness. He started crying on the first shot, but because the second shot was knowingly going to hurt a little more than average, he let it rip when that one was injected. Apparently, that vaccine is known to hurt. I knew he would survive the ordeal, but he was very much like, "What the fuck, assholes!" I think I actually heard him mutter those words. Awww, his first sentence. 

We had plans for the last day we all had off together, Thursday. We went to Anoka County Farms. We try to go to an apple orchard, or at least a close equivalent, each autumn. By the time MEA week rolls around, the apple orchards have been mostly picked over and that whole activity starts to wind down. We learned that from the first two years we tried doing that fall activity and for the last two years have just tried doing something in that vein. Mostly, we want to do something fun with the kids, have a tradition, and make some memories.

We had never been to Anoka County Farms, but we had seen pictures, and we know people who have went. It's not far from where we live, unlike plenty of other similar ventures, so we figured we'd try it this year. We like to check out a different place each year, and that helps keep the experience interesting. We take advice from Forrest Gump and try to keep life like a box of chocolates.

The "farm" was  small. There were way, way too many kids. There weren't enough adults to keep those kids from being jerks. The fact that there were two buses parked nearby was evidence that it was a field trip of some sort. Fortunately, about halfway through our visit, the buses left with a majority of the small visitors in it.

The farm had animals. We saw rabbits, roosters, chickens, goats and a sheep. They had two ponies, one of which my daughter took on a little ride. I think the animals were happy when the child army left. I thought I had heard a collective sigh, but I no doubt saw a smile creep upon their faces. This is no ordinary farm, I thought to myself. These animals are... different. Perhaps, I should go to them in the dark of night, bringing them food offerings and tributes of song. Surely, this isn't something a sane person should ignore.

family time, autumn activities, Minnesota, blog, pranks on kids, Crayola experience, anoka county farms
A pre-hayride selfie-picture opportunity. Memories!

We partook in most of the activities they had available. All three kids painted a tiny pumpkin. They did some pumpkin bowling. My older son played with the trucks on a large hill of wood chips. We played giant tic-tac-toe. We warmed in the large pole barn and watched some autumn themed Charlie Brown cartoons while my wife fed the baby. We did the "hayride thing," even though it was a pretty lame two loops around the small property.

We didn't do the two bouncy castles. The kids weren't very happy about that. But, as we pointed out, we've let them do that a lot historically. We just weren't going to do it that day. It was time to leave, in part because we had things to get done before the day was over. So, we went through a list of times that they've done bouncy things this year (2016).

Never happy, those kids. No matter what we do for them, no matter what we let them do, it's never enough. They participate in far more activities than I remember doing as a kid on top of living a generally more charmed life. A person gives their kids more than they had as a child, and it's still not enough. I guess that's the way of the world. No matter what we have, no matter what we've done, it's still never enough. Whether it's a material item or an experience, we still want more. We just can't get enough.

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