Gavin's birthday is September 29 - and this year, he would have been nine. That is hard to believe... but what's harder to believe is that we've spent the last four birthdays without him.
The last birthday we spent with Gavin, his 5th, we took the boys to Dutch Wonderland for the day. Gavin had such a great time riding the rides.
We never could have known that would be his last birthday with us. Since his death, we vowed that we would try to do something fun as a family each year to celebrate the day he came into the world - just like we did on that last birthday.
The first year, I was seven months pregnant with Hope. We took Brian to Hershey, PA and stayed in a hotel with an indoor pool. We knew Gavin would have loved that. Brian kicked around in the pool singing Happy Birthday to Gavin the whole time...
...and then went to bed in Gavin's travel tent in the hotel room.
We spent the next day having fun at Hershey Park celebrating what would have been Gavin's 6th birthday.
The next year, his 7th birthday, we took the kids to Sesame Place.
His eighth birthday turned out to be very hard for us. We got some balloons and cake - and treated Brian and Hope to some toys - and that was good enough that year. One thing we don't do is put pressure on ourselves if we're not feeling up to something big.
This year we went back to Hershey! We took Brian out of school on Friday and made a long weekend out of it! Last time we were there, we stayed in a local hotel. But this year we decided to stay at Hershey Lodge and it was the best decision EVER.
We were lucky to be able to check in early which gave us almost the whole day to have fun in the hotel. The kids had their own area to check in - and they loved getting lanyards with their names on them.
Every time you turn around, someone seems to be handing you chocolate. (Like I said - best decision ever staying here!!) Hope and Brian didn't waste any time digging in.
Much of the weekend was spent looking like this...
...and doing this...
We are grateful to Brian's new teacher for supporting a day off. She sent home schoolwork that he missed on Friday (which we did before we left) and let him make up two tests when he got back on Monday. Because we got there on Friday when most kids are in school, we felt like we had the hotel to ourselves! We spent almost the entire afternoon at the pool - which is like an indoor water park! As soon as we walked in...it just screamed Gavin. He would have flipped over this water extravaganza.
I could have stayed in that pool all weekend!
One area Gavin would have really loved was the splash pad. Hope had a great time jumping and running through the dancing water!
One of the highlights of the pool was the "Twizzler Slide." It is a huge, twisty, covered water slide that starts inside the hotel - twists round and round outside the hotel - and ends back inside. Ed and I climbed those stairs many, many times with Brian - and I'm not sure which one of us had the most fun.
I'm pretty sure it was Brian. But one could argue that the person who had the most fun when we were at the pool was Gavin.
Ed and I felt regret while we were there that we never thought to bring Gavin to Hershey Lodge when he was alive. But I told Ed - and I believe this - that we shouldn't feel bad at all. I know in my heart that we gave Gavin a great life. He had more experiences in five years than most adults!! But boy, he definitely would have loved this place.
Staying at the hotel allowed us to get into Hershey Park an hour early, so we were up the next morning ready to board the shuttle! I had to document Hope's first bus ride - she felt pretty cool sitting in her own seat.
Before we knew it - we were there and ready for a fun day!
The worst part of the weekend was the heat. It was in the 90s with very high humidity, so walking around the park all day was rough. My curls didn't last long before they needed to be stuffed into a baseball hat!
We loved watching the kids on the rides together. Our first stop was the Carousel. Gavin LOVED a good Merry go Round - and this one was epic. It was big and it was fast - it had lots of colorful lights and great music.
Brian is always so happy to accompany Hope on the little baby rides.
But she's getting braver and braver! She went on several rides alone and, as you can see, she thought she was too cool for school!
She loved all the rides - but none as much as the swings! She went on them three times in a row!
I am so, so lucky that my husband has a not so hidden talent.
Every time we go to a carnival - amusement park - arcade - he can't turn down the chance to win giant, cringe-worthy stuffed animals. If it weren't for the huge grins, overwhelming excitement and laughter of the kids - I might consider staging a stuffed animal intervention. Poor Hope ended up seatless (don't feel sorry for her - she was thrilled to not be "put" in her "baby" stroller) so we could accommodate our new "friends."
At Hershey Park, they measure you by candies. So, Brian could go on any ride that was "Hershey Bar" or lower...
Hope measured as a "Hershey Kiss."
And, if you were wondering, the big, obnoxious bear measured as a "Reese's." That's taller than Hope and one bar below Brian. Yup. Pray for me.
Hope amazes me all the time with her stamina, but especially so on this day. It was super hot, she walked the whole day, didn't nap at all... and kept up with all the fun!
We took a short tour around Chocolate World because we were feeling deprived of chocolate.
Our final night in the hotel was fun. Outside the pool area they have a little arcade and an activity room. The kids loved the arcade and spent a lot of time playing games, air hockey and skee ball.
We had a lot of fun in the activity room, too! The lucite lego table they had was so unique. The legos are stored in drawers that pull out from either side. I have tried in vain to find one online. If anyone has seen this and could send me a link, I'd be grateful!
The boys spent more time in the arcade than Hope and I cared to do, so we would hang in the activity room and color, play connect four, jenga - there was so much to do. And I may or may not have secretly shared my hidden stash of Hershey Kisses with her. I'll never tell.
We ended the night playing miniature golf on the property. Hope got a hole in one with everyone's balls by picking them up and helping us put them in the hole. We cut her off when we caught her walking towards the family behind us to "help" them.
Needless to say, Brian had to learn how to be a good sport that night.
You'd think, after reading this, that Hershey asked me to write about our trip - but they didn't! Just my usual oversharing. Ha!
Overall, we had a great time as a family. A really great time. But more than that, we honored the life... the existence... and the birthday of our first child. I made a vow that I would honor his life by living ours... and making sure I continue to show his siblings that we can be happy. It's really okay. I also promised that I would make sure our children saw his light in our eyes. But this weekend? It was us that saw Gavin's light in their eyes.