Well, we had a great vacation. It was SO much better than we expected, even with the stress of being with A's parents.
We flew non-stop to LA and stayed there for a couple of days to visit with friends. We rented a beautiful 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment (VRBO.com is the best!) that was basically brand-new, gave us enough space, and that was half the price of most of the LA hotels we were looking at. We stayed near Museum Row, which was about halfway between two of A's close friends' places. It was a pretty neighborhood, and there was a Trader Joe's within walking distance, so we took advantage of having a kitchen to make breakfast in the mornings.
The first night in LA, we had dinner with A's brother at the Grove, which I wish we had had more time to explore. All the little shops and eateries looked so interesting! It was a beautiful night, and we enjoyed chasing R through the marketplace. (After being stuck on the plane and in the car for about 7 hours, he needed to MOVE.) Back at the apartment, we tried to use the rooftop pool, but it was a bit too chilly.
On Saturday, we met up with our good friend Ben at his place in Santa Monica. He took us to the Santa Monica pier and the beach. I think that was the favorite part of our trip for all of us! The weather was gorgeous, R got to splash in the Pacific Ocean, and we all went on the roller coaster and ferris wheel. This was R's first roller coaster experience, and he LOVED IT. He and A went for a second ride on the coaster, but Ben and I had had enough. (I think Ben lost his hearing from having to sit next to me and my screaming on the ride.) After the pier, we walked to find some lunch nearby.
Santa Monica made me finally understand why people choose to live in Southern California. Los Angeles doesn't interest me and involves too much driving for my taste. And, the desert where my in-laws live makes me crazy because everything is so perfectly manicured, with gated communities, and every house looks exactly the same. Plus, the shameless wasting of water out there makes me want to throw up. Santa Monica was beautiful but not in a Disneyesque perfect way. It was walkable and funky, and the people were friendly and laidback. We definitely want to go back there and explore more someday!
Later that day, we went to another friend's house for a bbq with a bunch of A's friends who have moved to LA from Boston. R got a little bored, so we didn't stay long, but it was really nice to catch up with everyone.
On Sunday morning, we fixed breakfast, packed up, almost headed to Edwards Air Force Base to catch the Space Shuttle's landing (but decided against it), and then went to the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum. I was surprised by how beautiful the park around the pits was and how much we learned at the museum. (Did you know that there used to be lions in America?) The tar pits definitely smelled like tar, and we saw many places where the tar was actively bubbling up through the ground and grass. The full woolly mammoth skeleton was amazing. And, in the center of the museum was a little habitat with fish, birds, and lots of turtles.
After lunch, we drove out to the desert to A's parents' house. After stretching our legs a bit and catching up, we changed into swimsuits and drove over to one of the pools (the only one that allows children) in their community. It was about 100 degrees every day we were in the desert, so the pool was quite refreshing - and the cast of characters was fun to observe. Plus, A and I had some good laughs over the level of security trying to get in and out of the pool area and at the ridiculous rules. (After being buzzed out of the pool area, we saw an ice machine with a huge sign on it indicating that the ice was for RESIDENTS ONLY. Even though if you're not a resident or guest, you can't get anywhere near the silly ice machine, so I don't know who the sign was for...)
R's swimming lessons have really paid off - he had a blast and kept heading to the deeper end of the pool to challenge himself. That night, we had a family dinner at A's parent's house with A's sister and her fiance. A's sister and fiance are wonderful, and they brought over a very cool Hot Wheels motorcycle set for R, which was a godsend since there weren't really any age-appropriate toys for R at A's parents' house. (They seem to think he's a quiet, sedentary, 2-year-old girl instead of a very active, physical, 5-year-old boy.)
One thing that was so interesting to A and me on this trip was R's completely lack of shyness. Usually, he's pretty shy at first with people he doesn't know and in situations he hasn't experienced before. But, he was completely at ease the entire time. He happily said hello to everyone and conversed at a very mature level. I stood back and just proudly watched him because it was such a change. I was a little worried because the entire trip was basically a huge ego trip for him - being surrounded by adults who were overly praising him, constantly saying how cute and how smart he is. I don't think he had any contact with other kids the whole time, except for A's sister's fiance's teenage son, who was great with R, too. He started getting a bit sassy with us towards the end of the trip, and his listening skills definitely deteriorated. But he's been a gem since we got home, and the experience seems to have boosted his self-confidence and social skills. Tonight, at our local park, he comfortably talked to all the other kids and encouraged them to join him in play. So, in that way, this trip had an unexpected benefit!
[To be continued - that's all I can type for tonight!]