Some of you may remember that I have an unusual relationship with my niece Ely. One of the things about this that has been the hardest/weirdest is that I’m not in her daily life. We manage a video call from time to time, but she’s so little, that’s not a great way to communicate with her.
She lives in Arizona, which is very far from Virginia. Thanks to COVID, the last time I saw her was June of 2019, when she was about 15 months old.
And before, that, it was when she was three days old.
It’s weird to miss someone I hardly know, but I have missed her. So we decided to go to Arizona this spring, for her fourth birthday. We had a great time with them! Here’s the recap and all the pictures.
We flew out of Dulles, but our flight left kind of late, so we went for a ramble around a park on the way, and had dinner before we went to the airport. Strongly recommend both of those things.
Note that we flew out of Dulles. That will become an important plot point later.
For the first several days, we stayed with Natalie and Logan in an Air B&B they rented not far from their actual house. It was big enough for all of us, and it had a pool, a hot tub, a putting green, a bocce court, and a ping pong table. Lots to do!
I was a little nervous, going in, about how my kids, especially Petra, would be with Ely. Their connection to her is, frankly, bizarre (although I think they handled her birth and all of that surprisingly well), and Petra has minimal patience for people younger than she is (which predates Ely, incidentally). To my surprise, they did great with her, for the most part. They played with her, helped her do puzzles, set up her birthday present (a Calico Critters kitchen set) for her, and read to her.
I wondered how Ely would be with me, too. When she came to Virginia, at a year old, I made myself get comfortable with the fact that she wouldn’t know who I was. I was surprised when we walked in the door of their rental and she immediately walked up to me and offered me “Didi,” her special bunny. Something similar happened when we went to Arizona. We got there after she’d gone to bed, and the next morning, I was sitting on the couch having a cup of coffee when she wandered out of her room. She crawled right up next to me and snuggled against me, zero hesitation.
We had a great time just hanging out together. The kids enjoyed the pool, especially Petra. They played games, watched movies, ate endless snacks. It was sweet. The only day that didn’t go well was the one when we (parents) decided we should Do Something, so we took them to a trampoline park. None of them were into it, at all. Back to the pool!
My dad and stepmom also live near Natalie and Logan, so we went to dinner at their house one evening. I hadn’t been to this house before, and I enjoyed seeing their gardens and all of their art, much of it original paintings by my stepmom. They told us all about their volunteer work with Bob’s Free Bikes; they had delivered 135 free bikes to a school just that day.
The next day, Natalie, Logan, and Ely went back to their house, and JC, the kids, and I switched to a different Air B&B. This one was a tiny house, and it was ADORABLE. It was on a tiny farm, where they had miniature horses, chickens, goats, and a tortoise that they let the kids feed. It was across the road from a nature preserve, and we walked up into it at sunset. Behind the house was a wash, full of rabbits, quail, and sage, that the kids explored.
We wanted to do at least one real hike in the desert, and my dad came along. Unfortunately, it was a bit much for Ely, so she and Natalie turned back, but the rest of us made it to a beautiful river, where we spotted dragonflies, damselflies, and all manner of birds. Petra always surprises me with her random knowledge. I observed that the saguaros had lots of round holes in them and I asked my dad if they were made by birds or whether that indicated disease. He said, “Woodpeckers.” Petra then went on a, “Well, actually…” and spent at least five minutes telling us about how a certain kind of male woodpecker would make several of these holes as potential nests and show them off as part of his mating behavior. If the female liked one of them, that’s where they built their nest.
This was also the only day when the kids were…not great to Ely. Or in general. There was a lot of whining. To be fair, though, they were hot, tired, and sun-dazzled. I wished that my dad had seen less of the fussing and more of the precocity, but we get what we get.
We had a great time, and we felt lucky to reconnect with family after a long time apart. We also learned that our family is poorly adapted to the desert. Everyone was happy to get home to Virginia.
The kids did leave a few surprises for Ely. Silas stuck his weird scratch art animals into the corners of the picture frames around their house, and the two of them worked together to build a massive MagnaTile house full of her animals. They wanted to make sure she didn’t forget them.
BUT! Remember what I said about how we flew out of Dulles? Well, the return leg of our round-trip tickets took us to…Reagan. Which I realized literally as we were following the signs for baggage claim. There was no alert about this on the ticket booking site. Apparently this kind of thing is happening a lot now; I’ve heard this from a number of people. We ended up renting a car to drive 23 miles. Blerg. But we got home safe, and now I know one more thing to double-check when planning travel.