“The Grand Canyon is not that big.” This was Mario’s initial observation as we stared down into the vastness of the Canyon. It takes a lot to impress that kid. Jon and I decided to pay for a four-hour tour knowing full well that we would not be able to provide the education that a guide could provide. Maria is at the age that she slurps up all the facts and information provided by teachers so we knew she would enjoy it more. Mario, well, we could have just led him run throughout the canyon and he would have loved life.
We had a guide named Dora who had been a park ranger for years. Her husband is a geologist. She focused in heavily on the trees and the berries and, of course, the rocks in the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was at a juniper tree. There were berries just beginning to mature on the tree and Dora plucked on off for us to try. When you cracked open the berry, there was a tiny nut to eat. RI and Mario were skeptical but they each asked for one to try. Neither of them spit it out but neither of them were overwhelmed. Then Ri looked in her berry and found something. A worm. Jon and I and even Dora dismissed her telling her it was just part of the berry. But Dora took a second look and said “you are the first person to find a worm in their berry.” Ri kept eating and was proud as can be. She also introduced us to Pinyon Pine and pine nuts (we all loved those), oak, and ponderosa trees (Ri loved the ponderosa pines on my behalf because “they are named after mom’s favorite restaurant!”). Next, we learned about the different type of rock making up the Grand Canyon. Ri asked a ton of questions and held a long conversation with Dora about the different layers. She loved the look of the sandstone. She bought a bag of rocks to take home with her to show her class. The last adventure as a fossil find. Mario loved it. He would grab Dora’s hand to pull her over to a rock with a fossil to show her. When she confirmed it was a fossil, he looked up at me with that look of self-pride and moved on to the next rock. Jon spotted a mule deer on our way out. Maria peppered Dora with more questions ending with the ultimate one “how did we get here on this Earth?” Our old-soul girl. Dora loved it.
The night before we stayed at the Best Western Hotel near the park. It had no indoor pool but it did have a hot tub, an arcade room and, strangely enough, a bowling alley. We arrived at 6 pm which is 9 pm our time so we were all exhausted. We went down for dinner to the seedy sports bars near the arcade where the waiters looked completely miserable and the clientele consisted of locals or other exhausted families. Mario had a breakdown waiting for dinner – he was so tired and irritable and saying “I hate this place!” every two seconds. Ri was completely dazed out. The food was horrid except for Ri’s baby back ribs. Yeah, that is what she ordered at the seedy sports bar. She does know how to live it up.
By the time he hit the arcade it was close to midnight our time. I knew when Mario put quarters into a hunting game and it didn’t work, that all hell would break loose. Although he reacted better than I thought he would, he was still shot. It really was time to just head upstairs and call it a day.
After the Grand Canyon, we headed back to Phoenix with Mario watching movies on the iPad and Ri talking up a storm about everything and anything. She’d finish telling one story and there would be a pause, Jon and I would open up our mouths to say something, but then Ri would jump into another conversation. We laughed at the difference in the two of them. Mario could plant his nose in technology for five hours; Ri needs conversation. Three and a half hours later, we were at Desert Ridge Marriott. What a place! A lot different from the cabins and tents I stayed in as a kid. Ri and Mario have now stayed in the RItz in Naples and Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix. I think their significant others will be treated well when they find them years from now.
The hotel grounds were gorgeous with a huge grassy area out back that led to the lazy river, regular pool, and fountain pool. We were on the fifth floor and had a balcony overlooking a desert garden and a large patio for parties. The kids loved the balcony and got an awesome surprise as they stood looking into the garden. There were bunnies everywhere! One hopped out of the cactus and Ri and Mario screamed for us. Then another bunny hopped, and a baby followed. They could not believe it. And that became our entertainment every morning and afternoon. One afternoon we came up to our room to take a little break in swimming and the kids sat on the balcony for over an hour acting like scientists studying the movements of the bunnies. They got water and soap and spread it on their bodies to attract the bunnies and them got notebooks and pens to write down their observations. Every five minutes they’d come in to give us a report.
The lazy river was great because you could float in it or you could swim or walk in it. Mario typically chose to swim, I walked, Jon floated, and Ri did a combo (she always had a tube in hand but would switch between floating and walking with it; she used it as her laboratory spying on people). It had a slide in the middle of the river that the kids loved. It wasn’t that fast and the kids were a little skeptical at first but it quickly endeared itself to them and they were doing all sorts of poses as they slid down. They about lost it with glee when Jon went down; they stood on the side of the pool and waited anxiously and when Jon flew out, they laughed and applauded as if he was a celebrity. When it came to me, well, I was just expected to slide down with them.
The breakfast buffet was a slice of heaven. They had anything your heart desired (they should have at the amount you have to pay) – the typical eggs and bacon to corn meal pancakes to donuts to granola. Ri and I were beyond excited every morning to hit it – we asked for the table closest to it so we could dig right in. We got our money’s worth with me and Ri; however, Mario ate a few bites of donut and piece of bacon and he was done. He was more concerned with going out on the green space and playing with the other kids. The only problem was that the other kids all knew each other and had no desire to ask Mario to join them. He looked like such a sad soul standing outside watching them. Ri went out to cheer him up. I followed after one last bite of a chocolate muffin.
We did cartwheels on the lawn while Jon watched (I swear he looked like Don Corleone when he sat in the garden chair with no one by him). Other families looked at us with either awe or disgust but we didn’t care. It was refreshing.
We swam everyday and hit the Family Play Room the last two days. The Family Room provided a refuge from the sun and the pool (after being in it for four hours). RI and I colored pictures, Mario played Wii and on the iPad, and we all played foozball (I am horrid). They had cubicles of hershey kisses, caramels, tootsie rolls and apples and raisins. I grabbed Mario an apple to eat when he complained of being hungry. He ate it and then turned the corner and saw the hershey kisses. I wish I would have had my camera to capture his reaction. He stood with his mouth agape absolutely flabbergasted that all of those kisses were available to eat.
We drove over to Jon’s best friend, Paul’s house to visit him and his wife and their kids on Thursday night. They got pizza and Mario glued himself to their son, Sam (age 15) and Ri did the same with their daughter, Eve (age 11). Sam played football with Mario and listened to Mario’s stories; Eve showed Maria her horse awards and let her play with her iPod. Jon got to hang with his best buddy and I got to hear all the particulars about how their daughter’s fiancée proposed. We left at 8 pm, and both kids were passed out within ten minutes of our drive back to the hotel. I carried Ri and Jon hauled Mario from the car all the way to our hotel room. We were both sweating and out of breath.
We hit the putt-putt for tradition’s sake. The course was the most boring one we have been on to date. I kicked everyone’s butt (my lucky day). Maria got a hole-in-one and Mario stayed calm about it. He did not play well but instead of acting out, he just kept to himself laying on the grass or sitting in the shade. It broke my heart. He’d go to the next hole and just sit under a tree looking like a little orphan. But he perked back up at the end when we agreed to let them bounce on the trampolines. After the trampolines, we played in the arcade and all found out we love air hockey.
The kids and I also got in a hike at Pinnacle Peak. I loved that. I was surprised that the kids made it up nearly a mile (the entire route up was 1.75 miles). I was worried about Mario in the beginning because he slipped and cut his knee on a rock. You would have thought it was deep gash by the way he was hopping around and crying. It was a small cut that barely even bled. But he just kept saying “I can’t go any farther, mom, I can’t.” Luckily, a mother approached me with two band-aids. “I know how kids can be about cuts,” she told me. I bandaged him up but he still made me hold him. That was the first sign we probably wouldn’t make it the entire way up. But then his competitive spirit awoke when he saw Ri charging ahead. He started to walk with a little limp and a big bodybuilder walked by him and said “Way to go guy – keep it up!” Mario looked at me and asked if I heard what the man said. I told him “yes” and Mario said “he said it just to me mom, not to you or Ri.” Mario, Mario. But that is what it took to get Mario motivated. Within five minutes, Maria complained of feeling sick and complained that she couldn’t go any farther. That sealed the deal. I could not carry her for 1.5 more miles. I held her for a while and then we’d stop in the shade for a bit. We did this off and on until he hit a perch near mile 1. A kind soul saw that I was carrying Ri and said “congrats – you reached the top!” Mario looked at me and asked “we did?” I winked at the woman and declared “yes, we are here!” Mario would have freaked if he knew we did not make it the entire way; he wanted to find the bodybuilder on our way down to tell him that he hiked to the top. The flowers were gorgeous and the sights beautiful. Ri walked the entire way down and when we got to the bottom both kids were sweating. I told Ri she could empty the remainder of her water on her when we reached the bottom. She promptly did so. Mario followed suit. They filled their bottles up with more water and did it again, and again.
I did not want them to get their car seats soaked so they took off their bottoms for the drive home. They both found this hilarious, and laughed the entire way home (I must admit I was chuckling when I glanced back at these two half-naked goofs). They made me crack up even more with this picture near the cactus. Cards, they are.
Jon and I found out they had bicycles to rent and a trail to ride around the hotel. We had this idyllic scene in our head of all of us on our bikes riding past gorgeous cacti and flowers ad smiling at one another. Reality took over with Jon and Ri biking and me running alongside Mario who was too nervous to ride a mountain bike. Mario complained that he wanted to stop biking while I kept saying in my cheerful little voice “Come on, you are doing great. We are having fun.” My hypnosis didn’t work and our bike ride was all of fifteen minutes.
Out of all of that fun, the kids may most remember being asked by the pilot if they want to sit in his seat. Their eyes opened wide and they looked up at me like it was a practical joke. But there they were ready to fly us around the world.
I tell my folks that I have a new-found appreciation for my vacations as a kid because I realize the work that goes into them on the parent side now. But boy are they worth all of the planning and hand-holding and fuss when you see the faces of your kids entranced by the glory of the Grand Canyon or the simple hopping of a bunny.