We celebrated our 7th Adoption Day with a trip to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.
Chincoteague is a unique, wild, beautiful place. It’s famous for its ponies — Chincoteague Ponies — and we saw lots of them. Ponies! Ponies just roaming around wild, grazing on marsh grass. It is a sight to behold. We took in lots of other sights too — like sunset so gorgeous it was hard to believe it was true, and three kids who reminded us (just by being them, in all of the fabulous and infuriating ways that they are just three young kids) that adoption is love.
Our first year of parenthood, as we were approaching the 1-year-anniversary of our adoption of Kyle and Owen, Braydon and I spent a lot of time talking about how we wanted to mark these yearly milestones for our family. We decided on two things: 1) we would give experiences, not material gifts, and 2) we’d celebrate these occasions with/for our whole family. We’ve stuck to these things, and we’re so glad we have.
Some highlights of this trip for us:
- The hotel: Hampton Inn Chincoteague Island Waterfront. By far the best Hampton Inn we’ve ever stayed in. We are Hilton Honors members (and try to be strategic about earning our points), so we often stay in Hilton-brand hotels. But this Hampton Inn was like no other. Seriously, we could not believe it was a Hampton Inn. As always, in planning this trip I did a ton of research. I kept finding that the Hampton Inn in Chincoteague was ranked the #1 hotel in the area. I read reviews that were just glowing, and I couldn’t quite believe the accolades that were being given to this hotel, but we went ahead and booked it. We were sure glad we did! It was more like a really nice boutique hotel, complete with all the bells and whistles. It was impeccably sparkling clean, and sitting right on the water. It had one of the best indoor pools we’ve ever swam in. And our room was unbelievably perfect, with a huge balcony right over the water.
- Speaking of the hotel, when we arrived around 9pm Friday night, we pulled up to find “WELCOME JOHNSON FAMILY” on the hotel’s marquee sign. We could not believe it. Nothing like that has ever happened to us and we were all completely shocked and giggly upon check-in. (Speaking of Hilton Honors members… on the online form to make the hotel reservation it had asked the purpose of the trip and in the box I filled out “we are coming to celebrate our family’s 7th Adoption Day.” Well, apparently they took that very seriously, and it made us feel very special upon arrival, that is for sure!!).
- We took a chance in planning this trip for January in the dead of winter. But our risk paid off and we lucked out with a long weekend of incredible unseasonably warm weather (clear blue skies, warm breezes, and tons and tons of sun). In addition to that good luck, we got the true prize of going in the off-season: we felt like we were the only people there. We had acres upon acres of nature trails, vast expanses of beach, and whole visitor’s centers all to our selves.
- The bambinos went fishing right from the dock/pier of the hotel. They caught nothing, but loved fishing.
- Seafood. Oysters, crab, shrimp, fish, clams. Chincoteague is not known for its food, and especially not in the off-season, but you can’t really go wrong if you just stick to what the local eateries know best: fresh simple seafood. We ate only two big meals out in Chincoteague (a big late lunch each day), and made due at the hotel the rest of the time (we are old pro’s at packing hotel-friendly kids’ meals). We ate one day at a place called “Wright’s Seafood,” and the other day at a place called “Don’s Seafood.” The kids got the biggest kick out of eating at “Don’s,” (MorFar’s name is Don), and insisted on us taking their picture in front of the sign (see post below). And as it unexpectedly turned out, Braydon and I had one of our Top Food Experiences Of All Time at Don’s… as an appetizer we ordered one of their specialties — a hot crab dip with baked pita chips — for the five of us to share. It turned out to be the best hot crab dip we’ve ever had (it was gone in a flash, and Owen was literally licking the bowl it had been served in). And– Braydon and I had bloody marys with it, which turned out to be truly some of the best bloody marys of our lives. That combo — the crab dip and bloody marys — is forever etched in my memory as pure delicious Adoption Day decadence (it is making my mouth water just typing this now).
- Wild ponies, egrets and herons at every turn, ocean and marsh teeming with life (we felt like we were on safari, no joke).
- Shells galore. Meera is way into shelling now. She could spend all day just collecting shells. And Owen found three huge perfect conch shells in the surf that completely blew my mind. I could not believe he found them that far north of the Caribbean (when you see the photo in the post below you won’t believe it either).
- NASA Wallops Flight Facility/Goddard Space Flight Center. K & O are way into space right now. Kyle, especially, is utterly obsessed with all-things-space. So one of the allures of Chincoteague was the very-close-by NASA Wallops Visitors Center. We went there on our last day, before driving home, and it was a major highlight of the trip for both Kyle and Owen. And again, because it was the off-season and we were (literally) the only ones there, we were treated like royalty. We left there with armfuls of amazing space-related hand-outs for the boys to bring back to their class.
- Misty of Chincoteague. This is a classic, Newbery Honor winning, children’s book that neither Braydon nor I ever read as kids. We started reading the book to the bambinos before our trip. And while we were in Chincoteague we watched the movie in our hotel room one night (we had bought and brought the DVD with us, and the hotel had DVD players for loan to guests). Very, very cool to connect the events and places of the story with what we were actually seeing and doing while we were in Chincoteague!
- Feeding seagulls (on the beach). Feeding ponies (at a pony farm, not the wild ones!).
- The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and Assateague Island National Seashore. These, alone, are worth the trip to Chincoteague.
- We stopped on the drive home for the kids to to pick out a special treat for Adoption Day to bring to school the next day. They picked out two cakes — one for Kyle and Owen’s class, and one for Meera’s class. They were so proud to bring those cakes to school to share with their friends. And that, really, is what it is all about for us– to try to truly foster (in real, tangible ways) a sense of pride and celebration for being an adoptive family. Unique sets of challenges, hurdles, and angst come with the territory of being in an adoptive family. But pride and celebration are something that don’t necessarily just come along with the package — we have to make that happen. So make it we do.
- We were only five hours away from home, but it felt like a different world. Which was a good thing. Because being away is the best way for our family to let go of all other distractions and focus in on our little unit of five. The connectedness that a trip like this fosters is worth every cent that it costs, every minute spent planning and packing and unpacking, and every ounce of energy that any good adventure requires. We come away knowing what drives us most crazy about each other (yes, just like all families, we drive each other nuts, and on this trip we had our fair share of blow-outs), but we also are reminded, too, of what makes us love each other like crazy cakes.
Our family has been hugely impacted by adoption. We think about that all the time. But once a year we take time out to really deeply remember it and celebrate it as a five-some.