August 9, 2006

Rhiannon's Amazing 7th Birthday - New York Style

Rhiannon just had an amazing experience that I was blessed to take part in as well. Her 7th birthday recently passed and for her gift (and just because they wanted to) my parents paid for her and I to return to NY for a visit with them. Just the two of us boarded the plane for a 5 day vacation with my parents. My brother and his fiancée were also in town from California and we enjoyed being all together for part of the time.

Our weekend vacation began on a Saturday. We woke up and spent our last morning with Serona’s parents (who were visiting from Maine). They left for the airport about an hour before us. Poor Serona, Sirah and Ciaran had to say goodbye to the grandparents, mommy and sister all in the same day. We headed to the airport and had a nice uneventful flight to NYC. Rhiannon gave up her window seat so that another passenger could sit with his family but she still got glimpses of the city skyline from the plane. We landed, got our luggage and headed to my parents house for a quick hello and then off to our family reunion.

I am part of a big Irish family. Every 2 years we get together with our extended family. My grandfather had 11 brothers and sisters and our families get together. Between his brothers, sisters and their kin we number well over 300! It is amazing to realize you are part of a family that big. Even just my aunts and uncles and direct cousins and families number in the 30’s. So the day we landed was the day of the reunion. We raced to the reunion and arrived late but still there were quite a large number of people gathered. Rhiannon, who has not been to NY since she was 3, met her cousin (a girl 6 months older than her) and they were joined at the hip the rest of the weekend as if they knew each other their whole lives. We went swimming, jumped on the trampoline, listened to patriotic music and had a nice time visiting with family. We got lost on the way home, my brother and I trying to navigate a place neither of us has driven in the past 5 years (over a decade for me), but eventually we made it home.

Next day was a surprise wedding shower for my future SIL. She was very surprised and that was a lot of fun. Because my family is pretty fun and non-traditional it was a mixed gender shower and that was fun to see everyone and visit together. It was a very hot day and only one room in the house had air conditioning but we all managed and had fun. The bride and groom were obviously happy and it was nice to spend time with my relatives that I so rarely see. It was an all day affair with us returning home well after 10pm. My parents, brother, SIL and myself played a video trivia game until the wee hours of the morning after Rhiannon went to sleep.

Monday was a laid back day spent with just my brother, SIL and parents. After they left to catch a plane back to Cali, my dad and I took Rhiannon to the ocean. While this was not her first time at the ocean, it is the first time she will remember and was truly old enough to enjoy it. We took her to Florida as a baby and she has been in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as a small child. She saw (and touched) the ocean in Maine this past fall but it was cold and not a place where the waves really rolled in. So this was like a brand new experience to her. Rhiannon has become quite the fish this summer, really enjoying swimming and spending several days a week in water (pool or beach) for hours at a time. It was a lot of fun to see her reactions to the water.

The surf was a bit rough, it was later in the evening and only I was going in the water with her. Having not been in the ocean in awhile I did not trust myself to go out to far with her by myself. So we played in the breakers mostly. I was tempted to take her out past the first breakers but in the end chickened out and we stayed close to shore. I think we received much more sand because of this choice.

The tie breaker for me was the massive amounts of jellyfish that were in the water. Most of them were dead but I really did not want to deal with the possibility of her freaking out from the waves and the jellyfish at the same time. I could not believe how many dead jellyfish there were. As you stood there they crashed into your legs and you felt them. If you looked along the shoreline it was covered with hundreds of them. It was interesting to examine them and I even tried to encourage her to hold one (they had no tentacles at this point) but she would not. She did touch one which she thought was gross enough. I could not help but think that if Ciaran were here he would spend the remainder of his time at the beach collecting jellyfish in a big pit or something and then trying to dissect them.

We stayed at the beach for a long time enjoying the waves, cool breezes and ocean smells. To this day the ocean is still one of my favorite places in the world. I could always spend a lot of time there and did all through growing up. I do miss the ocean here in landlocked Minnesota and have a hard time calling a lake a beach. It was special to get to share the ocean with Rhiannon and see how much she enjoyed it as well (though the jellyfish definitely were a downer for her). It was special to be there with my dad too as we both share a love of the ocean. We headed home and played a family board game until Rhiannon was too tired to stay awake and headed to bed.

Tuesday was our big day (can you believe that) as we headed into NYC. This was the first time Rhiannon was in NYC (she may have been as a baby but she would have no memory of that). She was overwhelmed by how loud and busy it was and how much bigger everything was. We drove into Manhattan and she started getting overwhelmed in Queens before we even reached the city. My father dropped us off at the door of the American girl shop while he went to park the car. We spent the next several hours in the American Girl shop. Rhiannon loves the American girl books and dolls. She has read all the books (except Addy which I will not allow yet) and last Christmas received Felicity and Elizabeth along with much of their wardrobes. While at first I had a hard time with how much all of that costs she really plays with these dolls nearly every day and truly enjoys and appreciates the historical fiction part of them. She has read and reread the books more times then I can count. So it was very exciting for her to go to the store.

Her first reaction was not what I expected. She was absolutely overwhelmed and did not know what to do. You come in on the contemporary level which held little interest for her and just seemed like too much. There were too many people, too many dolls, too many outfits and way too much noise. We went upstairs to the second floor where the displays are smaller and the dolls are all the historical characters and there she settled in and became excited. She spent a good amount of time looking at each dolls display and time periods and just relaxed. She did not ask for anything and was just taking it all in.

The first thing she asked for was to find a matching outfit for her and her doll. She wanted one from the Felicity time period but the store does not sell any of the historical clothing for girls. Apparently they are too expensive to make and there is not a market for them, most girls prefer the contemporary clothes for both themselves and their dolls. We did manage to find a Grecian princess costume that was perfect for her. Fancy, historical, fun and it looked beautiful on her. We then made an appointment for her doll to have her hair done. This can take all afternoon (there were 28 dolls in front of us) and is first come first serve, so do it as soon as you get there. While we waited we of course browsed the store for a long time.

When her dolls hair was being done she got to watch and talk to the woman doing her hair. Her stylist was fabulous and really took to Rhiannon. She even offered to do Rhiannon’s hair in the same style as her dolls (this is not normally done). In the end Rhiannon and her doll, Elizabeth (Felicity’s best friend) looked nearly identical and both were turning heads and making people smile. There were many girls dressed up but the outfit Rhia picked was more like a costume and very fancy in comparison to a lot of the others. She picked the dress up princess outfit to be sure. We went to the top floor so she could get her picture taken with Elizabeth for the cover of American girl (a personal copy – not the actual magazine) and then made our final purchases.

Her grandparents were very generous and Rhiannon decided on purchasing Kaya and a few of her outfits. Rhia loves Kaya, Felicity and Elizabeth because they all love and ride horses (her other passion). She was super excited and I lost all will to argue about having a third doll when I saw her expression and desire. We have no barbies, no polly pockets and no Bratz dolls. We have said no to a lot and it is nice that she has something she loves so much that has so much meaning to her. Besides Kaya is a very different doll in clothing styles and everything (being the traditional Native American doll) and she has one major thing in her favor – no care hair as she needs to keep her braids in at all times.
We left the American girl store and headed to St Patrick’s cathedral. Rhiannon lit a candle and prayed for her grandparents and some other prayers. We walked her slowly through the cathedral answering questions and pointing out the beauty and history of the place. I always enjoy seeing and hearing her observations as well. We spent just a brief time there but it was long enough for her and for most people I would think. We headed over to Times Square then which I knew would be overwhelming to her. We went to dinner in the Marriot Marquis’ The View Restaurant. This is one of my personal favorite restaurants in all of NYC because of the view. The food is good, the service is excellent but it is seeing so much of the skyline of Manhattan that is truly special. The restaurant rotates very slowly so you can see all points of view from your table. The restaurant was a bit too fancy for Rhiannon as even their children’s meals were done extra fancy and did not taste the best to her. Dessert was a real treat for her though and she smiled so big then as they places before her 6 miniature ice cream cones, each with its own flavor of ice cream or sorbet.

Then we went to see the Broadway show Beauty and the Beast! It was amazing and incredible as you would expect from Broadway. It is magical to see everyone at their best. The best actors, the best musicians, the best lighting and sound technicians, the best stage directors, just the best of everything and it truly shows. The play was moving and touching and very well done. It stayed very true to the story, which was nice for Rhia to follow along with and be able to just relax and enjoy the show. We had fabulous seats, front row balcony seats. It was just too incredible to describe.

The entire day had been wonderful and amazing and a magical experience for all of us. Rhiannon was so grateful and realized how special it was and how blessed she was. She could not find words to express her thanks enough and still had not. She said it was one of the best days of her life. She certainly understands that it is a once in a lifetime kind of day, not an everyday experience, much like Walt Disney World was. She still talks about it and is still thankful.

As we left the theater and headed home, we drove through Times Square so she could get the feel for the lights and neon and whole thing. It was very overwhelming, too bright and just too much for her. She asked to see the Statue of Liberty so my dad, bless his heart, drove pretty much the entire island to get a glimpse of the statue at night. We had a great view as we crossed the bridge back home. We got home well after 1am and I proceeded to pack for our early morning departure. After around 3 hours of sleep we arose and headed home to an eventful and hot ride home but safely we arrived to find Serona waiting for us with roses and went to pick up the other kids and spend some family time together.

It was very special to have that vacation with Rhiannon. Not only did we do so many wonderful and amazing things together but we got to spend time just us together. That is nice to do with each child once in awhile. It was nice that it was just us in some ways. We certainly missed the rest of the family but it was fun to just connect with her. It was also a break to be able to visit with my family as I only had her with me and she spent nearly all her family event time with my cousin. I am glad we had this opportunity together. Mom and Dad, thank you so much for your generosity. Serona, Ciaran and Sirah thanks for giving us up for a little while and being such good sports about it. My two dear friends that took Ciaran and Sirah while Serona worked, thanks for making it possible. To the other friends who also offered to help out to make this possible, thanks so much. It truly was a special time that we all will treasure for years to come. I know Rhiannon will always remember this day.



  1. Wow! I'm so happy for you two! Welcome home.

  2. Lindsay10:36 AM

    What an amazing time. I've only been to NYC once and loved it...although I couldn't live there.

    One question: how old was your daughter when you got her the American Girl doll? I agree with you on the Barbie and Bratz dolls (the Bratz dolls are especially disturbing--how old are they supposed to be? Why do they dress so horribly?). I was wondering when it was a good time to introduce those dolls since they are a bit expensive, but I think the historical value is wonderful.

  3. Grandpa3:21 PM

    Seing the city and the ocean through a child's eye's lets you experiance the thrill all over again. Thank you Rhiannnon for helping your Grandfather be a kid again and allowing me to share this wonderfull time with you

    Thanks Tenn for sharing your time with us and having you home for a little while. I hope we have many more walks along the Ocean

    Love Dad

  4. Grandma said:

    Just like Rhiannon I cannot find the words to express the joy I had in sharing the day with her my darling daughter was like seeing Tenn experience NYC as a child all over again.

    As I have shared my love of reading with both of you, I was thrilled to share with you one of my other passions...the love of the theather.

    I only wish that I had been feeling better and had not gotten sick with food poisoning before you arrived so we could have done more.

    I promised Rhiannon the American Girl Store if ever she came to NYC and I know that she loves those books and dolls and am glad to help her experience what good messages that they send to girls of all ages...I am too old to have a doll of my own so I will relive my childhood and watch her play with hers.

    I wanted to surprise both of you and not let you know about the dinner and the show but that did not work out to be a secret but, I am glad that it was a secret and a magical day for Rhiannon for seeing everything through her eyes brought back memories of my first show.

    I am sorry that I missed the ocean with you as I love the ocean but find the beach too hard for me to walk, but it brings back so many memories of my own childhood growing up in the Hamptons and something I was sorry I could never share with all of you the same way. I tried with driving you Tenn and your brothers out east to go to the beach instead of Jones Beach which to me is too crowded.

    Thank you both for coming to NYC and making a wonderful memory for me to have always of all of us together..

    I love you all so much