Every year, my mom, Rhonda (Ru), calls me at my home in the Chicago suburbs and invites our family to her annual company picnic. She carries on about how great the picnic is and tells me all about the fun things that the kids would love. The day of the picnic, she calls in the evening and tells me how much she missed having us there and if only we'd move closer we could actually come with her and she wouldn't have to go alone. She has done this for the past 5 years and every year we lament about the 2,000 plus miles separating us from the fun of the West Coast Bank company picnic.
This May, I answered the phone and my Mom was on the line. "Mark your calendar for September 6th. It's the day of the company picnic and it's going to be SO great." She proceeded to tell me about all the fun events that were planned that the kids would love and how much fun it would be if she didn't have to go alone. This year, I grabbed my pencil and wrote it on my calendar because we were 4 weeks away from moving our family from Chicago to the Portland area. THIS year, we could actually go to the company picnic!
We met Ru and Terry Hadlock, her husband of 8 months, at a gas station by their house at 9:45 a.m. and they "grandparent-napped" Alli and Paige for the ride to Washington Park, a huge park right outside of downtown Portland, that shares an entrance with the Oregon Zoo, the Forestry Musuem and the Children's Museum. We parked in the zoo parking lot and took a shuttle bus (school bus) down the steep hill to the area of the park where the picnic was being held. Paige, our 2 year old, was giddy with excitement about riding on a big-kid school bus. She was beaming and squealing and could hardly sit still. She kept looking at me and saying, "Mommy. I ride on school bus. Big kid bus."
We scrambled off the bus and immediately took pictures in the gorgous rose gardens that Portland is famous for. We admired the serene, lush setting with the Portland skyline in the distance. The fragrance of roses followed us down the brick steps to the green terraces where tables draped with red tableclothes were set up. The beauty was lost on the kids who had zeroed in on the two-story bouncy slide, jungle bounce house, and face painting station. Since we were some of the first to arrive, the line for face painting was small, so we nudged them to that area first. I've seen a lot of "face painting" in my day, but these women were true artists. The kids chose from a book of samples and emerged from the tent looking like they were ready for Mardi Gras. Grant was transformed to a cheetah and all three girls chose different versions of glittery butterflies for their face transformations. Alli's butterfly went unblemished for a maxium of five minutes because she spotted the cotton candy machine and the blue cotton candy stuck in big globs to her glittery lips.
We laughed as we watched the kids dart from the slide to the cotton candy to the carmel corn to the huge exotic bird that you could hold on your arm for a photo op and back to the popcorn booth for some kettle corn. The DJ was blasting music with a catchy beat that pulled us onto the lush green grass where we let loose, danced, spun and giggled till we were dizzy. The smokey smell of burgers grilling lured us to the food tables. We stuffed ourselves with cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sausages, chips, pop, cookies, and brownies. Then we saw the Schwan's truck. Ice cream bars, in 7 flavors and styles, beckoned to us and since the sun had come out and warmed the day to a non-humid 80 degrees, we all managed to make room for the refreshing ice cream.
Terry's two sons and their families joined us and our party grew to 16 family members playing together in the Indian summer. Our kids had fun getting to know their new "cousins" and showing them around the picnic area. Grant convinced Silas to run the 3-legged race with him. 4-year old Avi was hit with Katie and Alli, and I think 2 year old Aiden had more ice cream on his face than in his belly!
We watched the entire hula hoop contest and were awed by how long little girls (and little dudes) could keep a hula hoop going when no one in our family could keep it spinning for more than 2 seconds. We giggled at Alli's theatrical antics as she "practiced" hula hooping with her phantom hula hoop. I took a spin at the gunny sack race and just about wet my pants with my 3rd place finish. Momma's who've had 4 babies are not cut out for jumping long distances that's for sure! The Hadlock crew formed a team for the adult relay race and we cheered them on to a 2nd place finish. When we'd had our fill of games and food, we re-boarded the bus, this time with a less enthusiastic and definitely worn-out crowd, and headed to the zoo.
We had planned to view the two-week old baby elephant, but the line to get into the exhibit was at least a two hour wait, so we looked at other animals instead. We saw a huge polar bear and an impressive sea lion. We gagged at the stinky penguins and laughed at the monkey's bare bottoms. We got a glimpse of a tiger and a close-up view of a cheetah. And that was about all the crew of 16 could handle. As kids (and grown-ups too) approached melt-down, we exited the zoo and headed to our respective cars for the quiet ride home. I'm already anticipating Ru's call that comes for me to mark my calendar so we can do it all again next year!