Sunday, August 28, 2011

Having "wingmen" in my life

When I chart the learning-curves of my life, there are three places where I'd draw a sharp red uptick:  Freshman year of college, moving to Prague, and motherhood.  Yes, marriage is a key event in my life...but the thing about marrying the right person is you don't really have to change yourself.  You marry the person who likes you the way you are. :)

Those other forks in my life-road sliced me open and I got to peer into parts of myself I didn't know existed.

I talked in another post about the box of archived letters I found from college. I've decided that the mind is a very poor steward of details.  Yes, there are snapshots of vivid clarity along the way.  But the mind seems to gloss over things between those snapshot memories. 

Reading the letters and emails from college, I'm reminded what HARD WORK I was doing, figuring out who I was -- now that I was away from home and creating a completely new life environment for myself.  I do remember that about freshman year... about motherhood... in sweeping broad strokes of awareness.  But reading the words and the letters really exploded the memory for me. It filled in all these little details between the photographs of memory.

As Lauren reminded me today, it is the 15th anniversary of our friendship.  15 years?

I met him the first week of college, when he pulled me into his circle of upper-class guys who lived in our dorm.  At first, I was like their token-female...maybe more like a mascot...but as the year went on, I came to really appreciate and absorb that group of minds.

It was like a philosophical and intellectual "think tank", those guys.  We'd smoke Swisher Sweet cigars on the roof and talk about existential wonderings, or sit around on bean bag chairs and subject everyone to the Socratic method of friendship.  No topic was unchallenged.  Just getting Chinese food with them was like being invited to the Olympia Academy. 

Lauren and I wrote each other prolifically, including his time in France and mine in Prague, so I have this tome of messages that tracked my life from first-week of freshman year through engagement to Steve 5 years later.  Lauren even served as a "bridesmaid" in my wedding, wearing a tux instead of a dress.

When I think about my relationship with Steve, I usually think only about our own interactions and process. Reading those letters, I'm reminded that we weren't ever really in a vacuum of influence.  I had these incredible persons in my life, helping steer that path towards Steve. 

I have vivid mental snapshots of Lauren: The computer lab where we first met, when he bounced the giant blue ball into Jenny. Confiding in him about everything from sorority Rush to dating issues. Testing it out as a romantic couple, and both realizing we did much better as close friends. Sophomore year, him hollering across the street as I walked down the sidewalk with Steve (whom I'd just barely met): "Is that the guy you think is so gorgeous?"  In-depth notes as he encouraged me from across the ocean from France, when I was figuring out what to do about Steve before moving to Prague. 

Engaged to Steve, I flew to St. Louis where Lauren was in graduate school, and we sat on a bench and ate ice cream and talked about marriage and commitment and what life would look like for me now.  He wrote the music for the song in my wedding, and stood on my side as the attendant. Seeing him again when Jack was only 2 weeks old.  And then again in New York City, with my full brood of Steve and all three kiddos. Emails and Christmas cards along the way.

When my children grow up, I'd love for them to find the soul mate they are seeking -- whomever and whenever that might mean.  But reading the pile of emails...not just from Lauren, but the entire collection of amazing minds I came to know in school...I'm reminded how much it means to have Wingmen in your life. People who know everything about you...and will commentate on your life and help lead you in the right direction.  

Because of the Laurens in my life, I have more clarity about who I am.  I'm a much better wife.  I mother differently and have a broader spectrum of experiences and ideas. 

Some persons, it's just about having them come into our lives at a particular moment -- teaching us what we need to learn from them -- and then moving on to another teacher.  But some connections are so important that they span time and space, and you find a way to keep that friendship intact.  For those friendships, it's about being known and remembered and having that history.  Seeing each other and feeling like no time passed at all.

The friendships that stand out to me most are those that came in the "pivotal times" of my life.  Perhaps because that's when I needed that external input the most?

I love how the people around us can mold us into better versions of ourselves. 

Said my dad: "Well, he certainly knew who he got when he married you."

Last night, I found a box in my dad's basement closet FILLED with printed emails and cards from my college years.  It was like I'd unearthed a magical time capsule of 15 years ago.  So many things that I remembered in vague generalities were suddenly in front of me in black and white.  I could fill several blog posts with the things I found...and perhaps more to come, who knows.

There were numerous important emails and letters, but this one really stood out to me.  This is the main excerpt of a letter I wrote to Steve, 2 years into our 4 years of dating, after a nearly all-night conversation about whether two such divergent spirits could be happy together.  I read this and was stunned by how much the core parts of us really do stay with us.  I am the same "me"...12 years later... as I was when I wrote this SB-Manifesto to him. 

*********

Opposites attract, and in the midst of all of our similarities, this is one area where we might have to balance each other.

One of my favorite authors, Waller, wrote about his wife: "I grew up dreaming of rivers and music and ancient cities and dark-haired women who sang old songs in cafes along the Seine.  You were raised to be a wife and a beauty, and you probably would have been satisfied, maybe happier, with a more conventional man."  

As much as I might have dreamed about falling for some Peace Corps hippie to traipse the world with me, truth is...I look for people in my life to complement me, and I love the practical, grounded side of you.  I can count on you, and I need that.

I'm the dreamer of far off places, and you have the gift of being happy right where you are.  I don't regret that part of you, and I hope I was clear about that last night. It would be just as unfair for me to shove off your boundaries of comfort as it would be for someone to put walls around me.  

Maybe some part of me does wish you got that glint of desire to fly off at a whim to Paris or sleep in huts in the Himalayas...but think of what a terrible couple we'd make.  We'd be reckless and too crazy for our own good if we fueled each other like that.

One thing that stood out was when you said that I was looking for something, and so I want to go places and do things.  Last night it didn't sound right to me - that isn't how I feel - but I didn't know what the reason was. I'm not running from anything, Steve, and I'm not even running TO something.  I am who I am, wherever I happen to be. 

It might not make sense to someone who hasn't experienced it, but I was so self-aware over there [in Prague]. Leaving life behind made me realize who and what was important to me. I missed you even more than I dreamed, Steve, and couldn't wait to come back and see you.  I hope you understand that wanting my adventures doesn't mean that I'm not happy unless I'm sneaking into war zones or taking a night train to Rome by myself.  I'm not going to be "running" my whole life, and I think that's how it came across last night.

Do you remember me saying last fall that I chose between "passion" and "freedom" when I got my tattoo?  That those were the words that propelled me through life?  In my book, freedom and independence don't come at the expense of relationships with people in my life -- and it isn't a one-way street where you have to cater to mine and I tread on yours.  

I don't think my independence is a bad thing for us, do you?

Maybe it is true that I try to be self-sufficient, but I don't honestly think you'd want it any other way.  I'm with you because I want to be, not because I need to be.  I'm not looking to you to build my self-esteem or convince me I'm a good person or because I have a void to be loved and accepted by a man.  My parents raised me to be an independent person, so that I could choose the people in my life based on their merits...not because I need them to fill a gap in my life.  I appreciate you for who you are as a person, not because you make me feel whole. 

That's what I mean when I talk about independence - being able to stand alone, even more so than actually standing alone.

We're not so different as we think, Steve.  We're both so tied to our families and their priorities that they constantly influence who we are.  When you play baseball, you think of your dad and how proud he is of you. When I call home from the train station and tell my dad I made it to Paris all right, I hear his pride.  "How did we get such an adventurous girl?  Was it something we did?"  And I have to tell him: Definitely.  My mom might say I'm too fearless for my own good, but then she'll tell me in the next breath that she envies my opportunities to see the world and do those things.  

And maybe partly because of my brothers' handicaps, I realize that being able to be mobile and have life chances like that is something I want to take advantage of.  I'm lucky to have that. A lot of who I am in life is determined directly and indirectly by those boys.  It makes me determined to get an education and find my dream job and build a family and make crazy life goals because I can. I can think big and dream big and do big, and I want to make that happen.  

I don't know. Maybe none of these things were what you were looking for when we talked last night.  

People have their passions, and those are totally different from even their dreams and goals.  Passions are things that are undeniable parts of ourselves -- that propel us and fuel us and motivate us -- and those elements are pretty deep-seated.  

But my passion isn't travel or seeing the world -- it's living life to the fullest, and travel is one way I'm doing that now.  Later, it will be love and kids and being the best damn PTA Chair that ever lived.  Oh, and cookies.  Baking cookies.  And finding a job that I love, so life is full even during the 9-5 period of the day. 

Are we really so different?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Roots and wings, camp-style

Sending your child to camp in 2011 is a very different experience than when my parents loaded me on a bus 30 years ago.  Now they have an email address so you can write your child.  And a blog that daily posts updates about what they're doing.  I love getting the email-notice saying they've updated photos.  It looks like he's having an amazing time.

Apparently, I was documented at first-day registration and drop-off.  Can you see my look of bewildered non-French-speaking?

And THIS is a picture that any parent would love to see on Day 3 of camp.   It appears he's faring quite well without his mama.  :)  I love this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Je ne comprends pas. Or: Feeling like an idiot at my child's French camp registration.

So Jack's French camp drop-off was yesterday.  They aren't kidding around when they call it immersion camp.  They want it to be like you just flew to Paris, and they speak to you only in French. Quite honestly, I was kinda sweating just figuring out how to proceed with the registration, without even basic understanding of what they were saying. 

One thing about foreign travel (or dropping your child off at French camp): It's a humbling, fairly exhausting experience when the basics of communication are that complicated.

Jack answered their basic questions, like his name and how he was doing, but then they'd start asking him other questions in French that weren't covered in his French class in co-op.  He just stared back, not sure what to say.  He didn't seem concerned, but he wasn't sure what to do next. 

After a few of these situations, I went over to "the embassy" (a card table outside the cafeteria) and asked "The Ambassador" (the director, who spoke English for parents) how to say "I don't understand" in French.  

Je ne comprends pas.

Jack's eyes lit up, and the relief was obvious in every word as he said:

"THAT...is a very useful phrase."

Man, I love that kid.

I was thinking about how much relief it really is in life to have it be okay to make mistakes...to not know. It's a liberating feeling when it's okay not to have all the answers.  To learn as you go.  To just shrug your shoulders and apologize and say: Je ne comprends pas.

Having the non-judgmental Other Party is a big part of it.  The camp is welcoming even to complete beginners, so the expectation is a learning curve.  They do charades and draw pictures and all sorts of things to bridge the gap.  No judgment.  Just gentle guidance and helping you through it.

I think all parenting should be like this, really.  My own could use more work.  We adore Meet The Robinsons, and it prompted our family motto to "keep moving forward."  But how many times in my impatient moments have I sent the message that a mistake somehow messed up my day?  Instead of really embracing that we're all just bumbling along and doing our best.  And that a 2 or 3 year old isn't spilling food or breaking a toy to be a pest, but is still figuring out how life (and physics) work. 

Je ne comprends pas.  Whether it's French, parenting methods, or how to carry a plate to a table.  It's okay not to know how to do it perfectly, right?

The irony here: I'll need to embrace my imperfections on learning how to embrace my imperfections. ;)



Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm sure I'm failing my children somehow, but I don't *think* this is how...

We (okay, Steve) found housing for us back in Williamsburg today.  I'm not sure every family would define it as housing, but we're not every family.  We have low standards on where we live, so long as it aligns with our current goals.

Steve found us a hotel suite.  Our list of what we needed was disturbingly brief:  A stove-top in the kitchenette, so we could cook dinners.  A divided bedroom, so we didn't have to turn out all the lights when the kids went to bed.  And it had to be a first-floor, if it was in a multiple-family housing, like an apartment or hotel.  Andrew must be able to jump.  We made a pinky-swear with him.

That's it.

When I brought Jack home as a newborn, it was to a lovely suburban home with a huge fenced yard, two-stories, and a basement that we envisioned finishing off so they could sleep down there as teenagers.

When Jack was 18 months old, we decided we were just pretending to be conventional and sold our home and moved 4 hours away so Steve could do his post-grad teaching certification.  Andrew was born in a townhome unit in Springfield, a place we lived only a year.

Three children in 4 years, and all of them were born into a different city. You'd think we were running from the law.

And now?  3 children later, we're living in a hotel suite for 3 months while we fulfill what this section of life needs.

I could not be prouder of who Steve is right now...what he's teaching our children.  That you have to listen to who you're supposed to be...what you really want...and go for it, even if the variables don't quite make sense to others.  His joy-filled multiple calls a day keep confirming for me - this is exactly the right choice right now.

I don't think we made a mistake in buying that home in Chicago, and NONE of the decisions made since then have been mistakes either.  The changes and shifts we've made have always been about listening to the present moment, and honoring what that meant in our family. 

As background to my next thought, right now I am sitting in the basement of the home where I lived my entire childhood.  My family has lived here 34 years, and my dad plans to live here until he dies.

My grandparents' home in Kansas, where I visited a few weeks ago?  My 64 year old father was raised there, and my grandparents will never leave.

I can visit the place of my childhood memories, and so can my dad.  I'm breaking this legacy of stability and security that was given down to me.

I do wonder about that.  A primary reason Steve is finishing off his graduate degree as a CPA is to set us up to move and travel all over the world.  His entire job search is based around doing foreign tours.  Probably moving from city to city every couple years.

My children will not have a childhood home to visit, and I wonder what that will mean to them.

The positives of this are flashing neon in my mind.  The experiences!  Oh my goodness.  Immersion into other cultures, other types of living and language and food and people...nothing compares to that, in my mind.  They will have an awareness that life can be lived in SO MANY ways, not just the standard we see when we stay in our bubble.

The negatives might not be completely obvious until we move along further in it.  There are some that come up even now, though.  Right now, my sweet Andrew wants a puppy.  We tell him that for as much as we travel, and how many weeks out of the year we're on the road, it wouldn't be fair to a puppy.   Also: There are things like backyard play-sets that don't make sense with our current lifestyle, and we did appreciate those things before.

When I think about my childhood, what's paramount to me isn't the fact that we never moved.  I'm appreciative of the stability that came from within the family.  That I was nurtured and cared about and I was given chances to do things I wanted to do.

When it came time for college, my parents drew a circle of a 500-mile radius from home as a "suggestion." I chose a college 650 miles away.  I think that childhood stability gave me an incredible sense of independence, even now.  I can go anywhere in the world, and nothing can break my family bond.  I know that on a soul level.

My kids?  Their equation will be different.  We talk extensively, Steve and I, about how to bring stability to them.  Making sure we never miss a family reunion.  Frequent visits with grandparents.  Archiving their mementos and photos and giving them a tangible history.

Will it make it okay in the end?

I look at Jack, our oldest child...the one we've parented the longest...and marvel at his resiliency.  His independence.  How confident he is, and how open to new experiences he is.  Is that just hard-wired into him?  Is it because he's been driven all over the country, from the time he was (literally) 2 weeks old? I have no idea.

Tomorrow, I drop him off for his second week of sleep-away camp in northern Minnesota.  First week was Russian immersion...this time it's immersion French.  This isn't the workings of parents pushing their child into a learning experience, it's a 5-and-then-6-year-old boy, begging to be taught "all the languages of the world." Primarily, languages his parents do NOT speak.

Whether we parented our children into a need for novelty and experiences, or whether we were just given the right children for the chaotic family experiment we can't help but give them...well, I don't know.

I have decided, however, that living our family in a way other than what we're doing would be artificial and not our authentic selves.

Could I have spent the rest of my life in Virginia Beach? Absolutely.  We still might.  But the second (actually, the nano-second) that Steve decided he wanted to live all over the world, my mental bags were packed and ready to go.

Bring it on.

I keep telling myself that the best parenting is authentic parenting, and I keep hoping that I'm right.

What I do know right now:  Not ONE of my children, in 2 months and 8000 miles of travel, have asked, "When are we going home?"  Not once. 

And maybe...just maybe...that means they feel "at home" with our homelessness?  The way their wanderlust-mother feels at home?

I really, really love these little persons.  And I can't wait to see the life they have ahead of them.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What to bring when camping with kids

I actually used this article when I set up my camping bins.  I think it's an excellent starting place, and there's not much I can improve on what she shares.  

Some things that I keep in the checklist in my planner, though, that we learned the hard way we needed:

- Large multi-gallon water jug with spout, bought at nearly any grocery store.
- Collapsible cups for the kids (can buy at Target or camping supplies stores). I make each of them a different color.
- Baby wipes. Oodles of uses.
- We have a toddler- toilet that we bring for Simone to use, and just take out the "bowl" that goes in it.  Same idea as squatting in the woods, but she can do it by herself.
- Mason  jar for the camping matches
- Fully charged battery for camera, and an extra memory card
- Flip video camera and spare batteries
- Fleece hats, wool socks, and long-johns - especially in shoulder-season, when it can turn cold at night.  Cold children are cranky children, in my experience.
- Several bottles of pump-top hand sanitizer, in case there isn't water at your site
- Many, many, many more socks than you think you'll need for the kids.  Dry socks are a must.
- Rain boots.  Then if it rains, the next day is fun for them - not a muddy disaster.
- I bring 3 sets of shoes for the kids: rain boots, easy on/off shoes for outside the tent, and tennis shoes or hiking shoes for walks.  For adults, we just omit the rain boots - although I think I want some too. :)

Hope that helps! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Camping Supplies

I posted logistics in another posting, but this is the run-down of our favorite camping supplies.  For those of you who requested the post, let me know if I've missed anything of interest.


Cots: Go-kots.  They have children and adult sizes.  We have the adult-sized with the therm-a-rest pads; they children have the kiddie version.  They fold up about the size of a long Sunday newspaper, and are quick to assemble. I'm a huge fan of this product, and the company.  Steel frames have a lifetime guarantee.

Sleeping bags: All 5 of us have the LL Bean, flannel-lined.  I like the variety of colors - so they're easily distinguishable, and the kids can have their favorite color. :)

Pillows: I love our pillows.  They're the flannel camping pillow from LL Bean, and they stuff tightly into a little sack.  They're surprisingly adequate for a comfortable night's sleep, for how small they stuff. 

Fly Trap: Yes, it doesn't quite rank up there with the tent and sleeping bags, but this thing is so amazing that it bears mentioning. It really works!

If you have something else you'd like mentioned, let me know!  

Happy trails.

Camping with kids

What I love about camping with kids is how much it's naturally suited to them.  Getting dirty, exploring new places, climbing trees.  I find parenting much easier when we're camping than days we spend at home.  That said, there are logistical things that make the camping process go better for us.  Here are things we've found helpful:

Before We Go
  • We enjoy reading children's books about camping.  I just do a search for "camping" at the library and come home with a big stack of them.  
  • Practice camping if you haven't gone before.  Either set up the tent in the backyard or the living room.  Gives the parents a chance to set up the tent, but also, the kids can get used to the tent.  We have a family rule about "respecting the tent" - no dangling off poles or crashing into walls - so the practice round lets the kids get used to that. :)
  • The practice round also lets you see if there's anything you need to buy before you go.  We've learned that all the kids needed good cots, sleeping bags, and camping pillows.  The more comfortable they are, the better we all sleep.
  • The first time camping, I *highly* suggest it's one close to home.  When we went with tiny ones, we were only 15 minutes away.  
  • Make a packing list for the kids - using words for readers, or pictures from a magazine for pre-readers.  Shoes, how many socks, etc.  
  • We like packing into storage tubs and not duffel bags.  They're better if it rains, and easier for the kids to sort through them.  
  • Ask children for their input on food.  My kids would live off s'mores at a campground if they could, but once I assure them that's written down, they come up with great ideas for other foods as well.  Making a fun outing to buy the food builds anticipation too.

At The Campground
  • Some families have kids carry a whistle, and you can buy them cheaply.  At our kids ages, we make sure we can always see them, and require the Buddy System.  
  • We make sure that every child is involved in the set-up and take-down of the tent, sleeping bags, etc.  They certainly vary in their ability, but all of them feel involved.  
  • You know those foam, colored "swim noodles" at Target? You can make a slice down half of it, then slip it over the wind-ties that anchor the tent.  I can't tell you how many times I tripped over those at night before finding a solution.
  • We give each child a spelunker-flashlight to wear.  It lets us track them in the dark, and they're useful for the child too.  We had great luck with the ones we bought from LL Bean.
  • I stock up on many glo-sticks and other glo-items from the dollar store.  Once I found light-up foam swords.  Excellent campsite toys, because it can get dark before the kids are really ready for bed.
  • Geo-caching is a great camping activity.  You can find out more about it at http://www.geocaching.com/
  • Make sure ALL of your food is tucked away.  Animals come out at night, like the toys come alive in Toy Story.  A good solution we found was putting everything in the hard-sided cooler, even if it wasn't cold items, and then putting our cast-iron pans on top of the cooler.  
  • Fruit makes a nice, quick breakfast that doesn't involve starting up the campfire.  As a morning person, this was important to me. :)  
  • Keep your matches in a Mason jar, so they don't get wet!  
  • A frisbee is a great way to pass time while camping, and takes up hardly any space.
  • I save a lot of our art items, like painting, for when we camp.  If there's some mess, it's easy to clean up.  If it gets on a picnic table, you can sand off the paint (literally) with sand or dirt. 
 These are some of the big things that came to mind, but I'd love to delve into it more if anyone has questions - about what to bring, logistics at the campground, etc.  Ask in the comments, and I'll include them here. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Andrew, my 4-year-old philosophy major



Lying with Andrew at night is one of the best parts of my day. I think in large part, it’s because he’s getting so many of his primary needs met. He loves being held and snuggled, and he loves to chat and ask questions.  So many times, the day just isn’t set up for unfettered access to me.  Yes, they pummel me with questions right and left, but the pace at bedtime is different.  He gets my undivided attention.

I am always amazed by his type of thinking...the depths of his questions...like he skipped over the simple kid questions and right into the deep ones that I'm not really sure how to answer.  I love that about him, but it makes for interesting bedtime chats.

Tonight, these are a few of the questions he wanted to know:


”How can you tell who is a bad Sudanese person?  The ones who hurt kids? If you go to Sudan, do the bad people look different than the good ones?”


”What happened to the parents of kids who are orphans?  How do I know I won’t be an orphan?”


”If you want to marry someone and they don’t want to marry you back, what happens?”


”Why were human beings created to be ticklish?”


”When I grow up, I want to be a doctor so I can help people not to die.”


”If someone doesn’t have enough love and it turns them into a bad guy, can we give them so much love that it turns them back into good?”


We were talking about moms and dads, and I said: “What’s your favorite part about having a 
mom and a dad?”  He said: “You give me hugs and snuggles.  And when I ask you for food, you say yes.”

I think he just defined the most perfect recipe for loving him that he could have. =) Snuggles and food.  That sums it up pretty well.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kansas, I thought you'd never get here.

So... yesterday was freakishly awful.  It was Day 2 of the 3 day drive to get to my grandparents' home in Liberal, Kansas.  The drive wouldn't have been so bad, if not for the 2 hours of sleep I got the night before. Simone kept falling off the hotel bed, and so then I created a bed for her on the floor.  Makes sense, right?  Nowhere to fall.  Instead, she kept rolling under the hotel bed and getting stuck.

Ridiculous.

Between saving Simone and the time it took me to fall back asleep in between, it was suddenly 5AM, I'd slept only minutes at a time, and I was exhausted.

Back home, 2 hours of sleep means I throw my children a box of cereal and turn on PBS for them.  And then  hide in my room or crash on the couch, and ask everyone not to disturb me unless there's blood.  If Steve were on the road-trip, I could have slept in the car while he drove.  Instead, I knew I needed to get to Emporia that night.  So I sludged through a pretty crabby day. 

Today, we had the final 5 hours of the 21 hour drive here.  And in that last hour, when I was seeing billboards for Liberal, I started feeling like the cliche of the last mile of a marathon.

I did it! 

I was seriously beaming as I drove that last hour into Liberal.

Remember how I said yesterday that maybe I'd see the purpose at the other end of all this?  Even as I said it, I didn't believe it.  Yes, I wanted to see my grandparents.  It had been 2 years and they aren't doing very well.  It was important to me to see them and bring my children.  But I wasn't really expecting that flooding of empowerment that came over me.

Working through the complicated situations is so liberating, because it opens up options in life.  If I can take three young kids on this last month of trip without Steve, then suddenly we have new options for ourselves.  The more criteria I have for my life, like needing him here to take a 3-day drive here (and the 3-day drive back!), the more limits I create.  If I didn't come here alone, I wouldn't have been able to see my grandparents again.

Walking in the door of their home was the best feeling.  This is where I spent every Christmas growing up.  Their home is so nostalgic to me. 

I showed the kids the backyard where I used to play, and the giant bathtub that's as big as a double-bed.  I tucked in Andrew tonight and told him that was the bed where I used to sleep when I was little, and wait for Santa to come the next morning. 

I talk a lot about how we want our children to have experiences, but even more than that to me is giving my children family.  Seeing where we came from...whom we came from...building the story of who we are. 

I am so, so glad to be here.  And just like every other challenging day in life, it seems to pale now that I've come through to the end goal. :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What goes through my mind during 13 hours of road tripping with no co-pilot

I've had 13 hours of driving in the last 2 days, without Steve there to keep me company.  Except for our long phone chats after he gets out of class, but lordy there's still a lot of time left. 

So I've been thinking. 

Primarily:

I think most people think that our road-tripping is a big giggle-fest.  All joy, all the time.  They figure if we're willing to be on the road for months on end, it must be an idyllic experience.

Nope.

Sometimes, it is.  But days like today, when I have 7 hours of driving ahead of me, 2 hours of sleep from the night before (long story), and someone has to pee for the 96th time in the last hour (slight hyperbole), I find myself thinking about how road-tripping is a lot like childbirth.  Physically exhausting, like Jack's marathon labor...or emotionally complicated, like Simone's.  That even when I wonder if it will EVER end, and wondering if I'm up to the task ahead of me, I know the end is going to be triumphant and worth all of it.  Today was terrible on so many levels, and yet...nothing in me wished it away.  It's part of the process.  

The best things in my life have been the most complicated.  Childbirth again, yes.  I had some strange labors, to say the least.  Hiking to (and from) the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  And, I suppose, surviving e. coli in Nicaragua.  When I really and truly thought I'd never see my parents again; that I was going to die on that bunk bed in the tiny village with no phone to tell my parents good-bye.   When I finally got to the other end of sickness, there was a triumph beyond imagination. I felt like I'd been re-born to finish off my life.  You don't forget those life events...and the struggle is part of the package.

I'm not doing much to advertise road-tripping right now, I'll bet. :)  But I started thinking today that my adoration of driving my children criss-cross around the country might be misleading if people think it's just fun and no tears.  Instead, today I was doing an emergency run to Wal-Mart for a DVD player for the back seat (name your price, Wal-Mart, and I would have cleared our savings to pay for it).  I was begging Simone to save her incessant questions for just 60 seconds...please!...so I wasn't forced to stab my eardrums with a fork.

I brought 98% of our travel-spirit to our marriage at first, although that's a completely different story a decade later.  The same guy who vehemently vetoed Cambodia and Vietnam for a honeymoon locale (whaaaaat...??) just mentioned today on the phone that he'd move to China in a heartbeat if offered a job.  Be still my heart.  But halfway through our 3 week backpacking-Italy honeymoon, he said to me: "Remind me why you like travel so much?"  We were hungry, tired, carrying heavy packs, and it was probably raining.  It always rains on those crappy travel days. :)  I tried to tell him that was part of the story...part of the journey...and  the way I saw it, if we didn't absorb the complications of the adventure, we'd never get the good stuff too.  Right after that, we arrived in Cinque Terre and he fell in love with Italy.  

Now he sees it the same way, but I get why people are scared away from travel at first.  It can be so exhausting!  Whether it's backpacking Europe or driving 3 children on a 21 hour trip to see grandparents.  The more you do it, the better it becomes - but it's never really "easy."

I tend to think that the complications of travel are part of the growing pains of how it shapes your spirit and psyche, too.  Every single story in my history of travel gone horribly awry is now part of the highlight reels in my mind, too. When I wasn't sure how I was going to get though that situation, but found a way to make it happen. 

And someday...maybe even tomorrow, once I get more sleep...I'll look back on this time of road-tripping solo with the children and love what I learned from the experience.

Right now, I just want some sleep.