Monday, March 14, 2011

Mental Moving Math

The upheaval has begun. If you caught my column last week you know that our family is leaving New York. We’ve loved living on the East coast but the dry climate of the Rocky Mountains is pulling us back in that direction. The past week has been a roller coaster of activities and emotions.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here five years. It’s been a unique time in our family’s life. In our first weeks in New York our oldest child started high school. When we leave in June, we’ll have two who have graduated from that same school. Each of our kids has lived a chunk of their childhood here, the years that you actually remember of childhood. To some it might seem hard, to move as often as we do, but as far as lifetime memories, sometimes it helps to keep the memories of life in order.

My kids will be great at current history questions when they are playing Trivial Pursuit in the future. They can tell you the year (and month) that the sniper attacked the Washington D.C. area because we lived there at the time.

My oldest son’s fourth grade teacher made her class dance in line as they walked from their classroom trailer to the main building every day, knowing a moving target is harder to hit. My daughter helped me pick out groceries online so we could have them delivered to the house, avoiding the vulnerability of walking across the grocery store parking lot. None of us will forget the day the sniper was taken into custody and we were allowed to go back to our normal lives.

My two oldest children have vivid memories of September 11th, not just on the day it happened, but the months after. We drove to New Hampshire to visit grandparents eight weeks after the tragedy, making a point to stop by every crash site. We saw the fence in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania, covered with tokens of grief for the plane that crashed over the ridge from that spot.

Then we drove through Manhattan, a block away from Ground Zero, and inched past the fence covered in posters of missing loved ones. On our way home we headed south and caught a glance of the gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon as we passed through D.C. History becomes so much more relevant when you have personal experiences with it.

I watched in horror as the news reports started coming out of Japan this week, and instantly I knew I would never forget the year of this tragedy. I’ll always recall that it was in the New York house, right before we moved. It’s how history is burned onto my brain - which house did we live in when that happened?

The huge waves that destroyed so many Japanese lives reminded me of a sunny day in Utah, and a conversation I had with my visiting stepmother. She was reading the daily newspaper as I cleaned up the breakfast dishes. I remember so clearly my stepmother saying, “It’s hard to believe…this paper says that hurricane that hit Louisiana flooded a big part of New Orleans….they say a large percentage of the city is underwater..” I was sure she was being an alarmist, being dramatic. “Oh, I don’t think that can be true,” I answered, “The reporter must have his figures wrong.”

Unfortunately, the report was correct and our country’s history took another major turn. But I remember that conversation taking place the year before we left Utah, so it had to be the summer of 2005.

Living in different places can also help in more personal family memories. My oldest learned to walk in a small duplex down the road from the college her daddy was attending. Her brother’s first steps were on that same hideous, multi colored shag rug. My middle son toddled for the first time in the house by the park and my baby boy became upright in our barn shaped house on the edge of town.

As we were cleaning out the basement this weekend we came across the old metal high chair we used for all of our babies. It’s the same one I sat in as a baby. I had repainted the tray for each of my children, decoupaging pictures of them to it, to entertain them during meals. My oldest son wondered why the pictures currently on the tray were not of our youngest child. With some mental moving math, I figured it out.

My baby boy was barely in a high chair when we began our cross country moves. The prime years he would have used it, it was traveling around in moving trucks and stored in temporary storage units. He missed out on having his face glued to the high chair tray.

As we move on to call a new state ‘home’ now, we carry with us a treasure chest full of memories that will always be associated with New York.

My oldest son finally got to run on a school track team, something he dreamed about since he was six. My daughter got her first car here. We were blessed to own a patch of woods, that became the kid’s personal playground, with air soft wars and tree forts. We’ve sledded down our own little sledding hill, that drops off right outside our mud room door, probably a million times. I found a writing group that inspired me to become the ‘real’ writer I’ve always wanted to be.

Life will go on.

Major national news events will continue to unfold. Our family’s history will change in big ways. And after this summer, those memories will be in Colorado. But each stage and each state has had its value and its beauty. Each major event will forever be framed in the context of where we lived when it happened.

It’s not such a terrible way to help this busy mom remember the important stuff.

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