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Concluding the year in Philadelphia

We spent the last couple weeks of 2023 and the first week of 2024 at the townhouse in Philadelphia. We had just been there for Thanksgiving, so it kind of felt like resuming the rest of a trip, since some of the food in the refrigerator was still good, and we didn’t bother having anyone take out the trash or anything between visits. We flew in on a Saturday, and so had the weekend to settle in before work on Monday. I took four days off between Christmas and New Years, which was a nice opportunity to get out of the house on some adventures, and allowed me a bit of time to do some things around the house. We also had a lot of nice, chill visits with family, that didn’t seem rushed or forced since we weren’t just squeezing things in before we left again. It gave me a taste of what it must be like to live near family full time, and it me a little sad. While there are tremendous benefits, one of the things we sacrifice by having chosen to build our life here in California is that daily closeness with family.

The first full week we were in town was nice for settling in. Our little California boys were clamoring to go outside, and one morning it was barely warm enough for me to take them out to a nearby playground. While playing, I noticed that there was a library nearby, so after they got done playing outside we made our way over to the library. It just happened to be at the same time as an open play with a bunch of other little kids at the library, so while Adam helped me get a library card, Aaron went with our au pair over to play with the other kids. Then Adam and I explored the rest of the library. It was at that visit that we learned that they do regular events for kids and one of the upcoming ones was a magician, which we went to on a rainy day later in the trip and Aaron really seemed to enjoy.

That week we also had our friends Danita and David over to visit and then went out with them to dinner. They’re moving away soon, so it was one of our last opportunities to catch up before their departure, and I was keen on learning more about the progress of their move. Plus, Aaron wanted to see them because Danita brought along her little dog Blackie the last time we saw them, and this time she did again! He’s slowly warming up to dogs, and meeting a little friendly one helps a lot.

We have a tradition of celebrating winter birthdays when we’re in Philly over the winter holidays. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate Aaron’s birthday at home in California before the trip, Adam’s after, and celebrate with family in Philadelphia in between – plus a few birthdays for adults that occur then! Unfortunately, winter also means cold season, so this year it fizzled out a bit. We enjoyed the company of my father-in-law and his wife, which was nice, but others couldn’t make it for cake and presents, and we had to meet up with them later in the trip.

This trip was colder than the one in November, and it was a longer trip, so I think the boys felt a little cooped up. But we tried to do a lot of meals out, and we had little at-home highlights like fire trucks driving by on December 24th for Christmas Eve, and family members dropping by later in the trip once everyone was over their colds (as much as kids ever get over colds, hah!).

We also had some adventures on the long weekends. Little Aaron has been really fascinated with dinosaurs lately, so once I told him that he could see real dinosaur fossils in museums he’s been fixated on seeing “a dinosaur museum.” I was disappointed to learn that the options were slim in the bay area. Instead, we decided to visit The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philly! Our original plan had been to take the train down since the boys had also been clamoring for a train ride, but sparse weekend schedules and a cold, rainy forecast put a damper on those plans and we ended up driving down and were fortunate to find very close metered street parking.

I’d only been to the museum once before, back in 2008, and I noted at the time that it was small, but also blessedly not crowded like a lot of the major dinosaur halls are. Unfortunately Aaron was immediately scared, and clung tightly to MJ through our whole dinosaur hall visit. I guess he didn’t manage to extrapolate from what he’d seen on TV just how big dinosaurs are, so you walk in to see a giant T-Rex with it’s 6 inch sharp teeth and I can see how that would be a little startling to a three year old. Adam had a delightful time in the dinosaur hall though, asking a lot of questions before making a bee line to the elevators, because he likes elevators.

The Big Dig exhibit was a hit with both of them though, kids are equipped with a large paintbrush and get to climb on and sweep their way through “fossils” covered in cork bits over a long span of play area. It was adorable and I’m grateful that they got some real playtime in. Upstairs, the Outside In exhibit also gave them an opportunity for some play, and crafting, which always keeps Adam quite enthralled, even if the activity seemed to be winding down when we arrived.

It wasn’t all family stuff though, one evening MJ and I managed to sneak out for a date night at The Continental Mid-town. It’s one of our favorite restaurants in the city, and it had been several months since MJ and I had gotten and evening out alone together. Given various factors, it’s difficult for us to do regularly, and instead we opt for opportunistic lunches together when we can carve out time. I discovered just how rare it was when I dressed up and came downstairs to an incredulous Adam asking, “Mom, WHY are you dressed like that?!”

It was a wonderful evening. I had the best company, our favorite foods were still on the menu, and we got to try several interesting cocktails. The rain picked up while we were eating, so we had a soggy walk/run back to the car, but I’d say that was the only thing putting a damper on the evening, and even that was a little fun.

During the four days I took off between Christmas and New Years, I spent one day catching up with my friend Stephen who also happened to be in town Pennsylvania visiting family. But before talking about that, I’ll pause to share that it’s unusual for me to take off this week. My family is Jewish and even prior to that my observance of Christmas was purely secular and rather solitary, so I’d often work this week, and even offer to be on-call on Christmas itself so my colleagues who celebrated the holiday could do so with family, in peace. Thanksgiving was always my family holiday! This has changed now that we’re bound to a school district calendar. Most people in the US celebrate Christmas, so the “winter” holiday naturally lands there, and it makes more sense for me to take off when everyone is at home, and in our case, cooped up at the townhouse in Philly in winter. Some of my week was spent catching up on chores, some was spent enjoying leisurely meals, a library visit, and playtime with the boys, and Thursday I spent the afternoon with a friend.

Our plan was to meet up and wander around the lovely town of New Hope, home to lots of delightful boutique shops and dining opportunities. But it rained. Thankfully there are a couple things that you can do when it’s raining, like enjoy a ride on New Hope Railroad! Purely a tourist and train enthusiast experience, the standard railway trip take you on a 45 minute ride through the woods of eastern Pennsylvania, so we were able to snag a couple first class tickets and enjoy some wine on our little journey while catching up, and listening to periodic tales about the historic railroad line and the area. We also enjoyed lunch (and beers!) right across the tracks at Triumph Brewing. It was fun to catch up, and I always enjoy a good train ride. Just don’t tell my kids I went on a train without them.

The next day was Friday and MJ had off from work, so we met up with our friends Mike and Jess and their two boys who are a little older than Adam and Aaron for a trip to Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. I hadn’t seen them since before the pandemic! Like so many people, they’d never met Aaron! And their own boys have grown so much since I last saw them. So I wanted to make sure we finally made time to get together, and Aaron’s love for fish made an aquarium an obvious choice. Unfortunately I planned poorly, and upon arrival discovered that they only had tickets for 90 minutes in the future, oops! I snagged the tickets and we found a nearby sandwich shop to sit down together and have lunch before our aquarium visit. Even then, we had a little time to kill, so the boys got to enjoy the waterfront and nice views of the Philadelphia skyline.

Since there were timed tickets, it should have been obvious that they were at capacity and it would be crowded, but it didn’t quite prepare me for how crowded it would be – wow! It was PACKED! I’m sure it being a holiday week with kids off from school contributed to this too. Fortunately, things actually went really well. All four boys were generally in good moods and listened, and we had some really nice moments. Adam got to pet a ray and take a bunch of pictures, and Aaron got to enjoy seeing lots of swimming critters and I think he enjoyed having other kids to hang out with.

The final partial week we were in Philly was pretty chill. We didn’t have plans for New Years Eve, so as soon as the fireworks wound down we went to bed. We were then back to work Tuesday through Thursday, but made time to meet up with family a bunch more in the evenings and a enjoyed lovely child-free lunch with my sister in law. I finally had my beloved buffalo chicken cheesesteak (I can get decent chicken cheesesteaks in California, but not buffalo chicken). Our flight home was blessedly uneventful, and the boys are definitely getting better about traveling, and we’re getting more streamlined in our approach to traveling with kids. It was a good trip.