Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breaking Her In

After spending ten days trying to find things I thought Nina (visiting from Brazil) might like to do, it all came together on her last night in our house.

I was a bit worried that our mostly boy themed house might prove to be boring to a 13 year old girl. We are overrun with Legos and Hot Wheels and Scooters and Ripsticks. Daughter is way past having toys and spends her time flipping through fashion magazines and talking to friends on the phone.

So we planned our days strategically. We checked out movies from the library and watched them with English subtitles so she could keep up with the action. We used our season passes to Six Flags several times, once to do the water park, once to ride the rides. We hiked in our woods and swung in the tree swing. She seemed to be entertained and happy.

But then I finally saw beyond happy. I saw her beam.

In her last few hours at our house we had all hunkered down on the couch to watch a show called Wipeout. Six people compete in a crazy obstacle course mainly designed to make them look silly. There is lots of mud and embarrassing falls. Our kids love it. Nina seemed to be enjoying it along with them.

Then she picked up a Nerf gun that was laying on the floor beside her. It had a sniper light that is aimed at the intended target. She turned and aimed it at Gene, Daughter's boyfriend, who was minding his own business, eyes glued to the TV.

He blinked in response to the sudden optical intrusion and she got a kick out of the fact it might be bugging him. Through the whole visit Gene did a great job of making her feel like one of us. He teased her and kidded her much more than I would have, and it made her feel welcome. She, in turn, grew to love being around him and enjoyed his attention.

One thing led to another and within minutes a full scale Nerf war had started.

We have about six Nerf guns in our house and it is a common event for Hubby to make up war games with his boys. I always classified it under 'guy fun'. It never occurred to me that Nina might enjoy it.

But enjoy it she did.

She was on a team with Hubby and Baby boy and they took turns hiding downstairs and stalking the other team, made up of Gene and my other two boys. There was much laughing and yelling and rejoicing and teasing and my Brazilian daughter ate it up.

An hour later, when everyone else was tired and sweaty, ready to call it a night, she was still going strong. It made me sad that it was her last night. But then again it made me happy, that her last memory at our house could be filled with unbridled fun.

I am not sure which stories she told her family first, when she walked off the plane the next day. But I have no doubt before the day was over she had explained in full detail the war she had participated in, in that American house in New York.

And the next time she comes to visit I will skip the typical American welcome gifts and have a big Nerf gun waiting for her. One with all the cool accessories and plenty of extra bullets.

Surprising Day

It was a strange day, all the way around. Nina had been with us for ten days and it was time to drive to Boston so she could catch a plane back home to Brazil. We had a great time showing her America and in the process of having her under my care she came to feel like one of my own kids. As much as I looked forward to getting back to 'real life' I knew I would miss her sweet spirit. Watching her walk up the hallway to board her plane felt much like watching my own daughter. The connection I felt to her surprised me.

And something else surprised me that day. We decided to leave the two oldest boys home so the minivan would not be quite so crowded for the long drive. It always changes the dynamics of our family unit when someone (or several someones) are missing. On this day I felt it profoundly.

I kept thinking to myself, "so, this is what having just two kids feels like...." Our family feels so right with four. Each has their own personality and own place in our gang. But the sheer volume of people who pile out of the van on any given trip can make things a bit more hectic than say, with a family of only two kids.

Of course we had Nina for half the trip, but once we dropped her off we were down to just a family of four. Two parents, two kids. And two kids ten years apart, being different genders. Both factors that play into the scenario.

Our oldest and our youngest truly enjoyed each other. She took over babying him like she used to when he truly fell under the category. He soaked it up, with no big brothers to impress. She carried him piggy back and never complained that he was too heavy or too wiggly. He gave kisses and hugs freely, which has become more rare since he has officially become a second grader.

We stood on top of the airport garage and watched the planes take off. It was a nice cool day, overcast but breezy, and the peace we felt up there made us want to stay for hours. If there had been some deck chairs available we just might have planted ourselves for the evening.

But finally Nina's plane took off and we were free to leave the airport. Driving back home the car was quiet. Two tired kids vegged out with shared headphones from her ipod. Hubby and I had some nice conversation and then some nice long spells of quiet reflection.

We tried calling home several times, just to check on the two boys left behind, but the call would never go through. Hubby blamed it on my cheap cell phones. I suspected it was more than that.

Sure enough we arrived home just after midnight to find that lightening had struck the huge tree in our front yard while we were gone. It knocked out the phone and internet lines. The boys hunkered down together and waited it out until we got home.

Such a dramatic end to a surprising day. A peek into what life with two daughters might feel like and then a peek into what mothering only half of my children might feel like. And then, to top it all off, a full 24 hours with no phone or internet, to truly appreciate having the technology to keep us all organized.

It is nice to be back to normal chaos.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My New Tattoo

When we moved to NY there were many cultural changes we had to get used to. I had to figure out what in the world a Regents test was. I had to relearn how to say the word "Colonie", with the emphasis on the last syllable. And we had to get used to the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, in the state of NY, has a tattoo.

Growing up in the Midwest, I knew exactly zero people who had been inked. When we lived in Utah, in the land of conservative vanilla, tattoos were reserved for convicts. We had friends visit recently from MO and as their eight year old told a story about a scary guy he had seen on a recent float trip, he added, with his eyes wide with fright, "you know.... he must have been a bad guy...he had tattoos and everything!"

I didn't say a word, just hoped that my little friend didn't go to our local Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies. He might have been the only person in line without a tattoo.

I love asking people what their tattoos mean. You don't generally write on your body for life without the words or picture having important meaning. You can find out a lot about a person by reading their body art.

I don't have any (yet) and don't have plans to acquire any, any time soon. I have told my kids that, in this more liberal culture, they are still not allowed to make that decision until they are at least eighteen. It is so permanent and not a decision to be trusted with the young.

But this weekend I got the closest thing I may get to a tattoo. I had every member of the Bacon Brothers Band sign my leg. I have pondered the idea of drawing a tattoo on my leg for several years. It seems like the perfect 'practice tattoo'. I will get a new leg in a few years so if my interests or maturity level changes I am free to start over.

And I really love this band. I love their music but I also love their people. I enjoy many musical artists - Jack Johnson, Tristan Prettyman, Colleen Baily Rae, John Mayer, Marc Anthony, Kenny Chesney, Rob Thomas, Sheryl ipod is a mix. But I don't know any of them personally.

Through my friend Paul, I have come to know the band just a little bit. And I really like who they are. They plug away at their craft because they love it. It is not making them millions and not buying them expensive toys. But it is bringing them joy. And it makes seeing them play in person a joy to watch. A bunch of guys who love what they do.

So I took the plunge and got myself inked. It makes me feel young, to be sporting some new body art. And I love carrying 'the guys' around with me as I glide through my day. The memories of the night I got my new tattoo make me smile so I have a feeling that just glancing down at my leg on a bad day may help bring back a smile or two.

It is my first ever tattoo. My daughter beat me to the belly button ring (none of those in my future...) but I beat her to the tattoo. At least the beginner kind. And it's enough for me.

Thanks guys. I love my new body art. I'm glad you weren't creeped out when I asked the favor.

My Amazing Friend

In all my forty plus years on this planet I have traveled to a lot of places, lived in a lot of states, and met a lot of people. Some became close friends and some distant memories. I have learned something, even small things, from most of them.

But sometimes I meet a person who intrigues me, in the best sense of the word. Paul is one of those people.

Jeff and I met him at a meet and greet after our second Bacon Brothers concert. I was 24 hours away from having my amputation surgery and it was our last hurrah, a night in Park City to kick off this new life. Of course everyone was crowded around 'the brothers', and Jeff and I are not into the crazed fan thing, so we hung out in the back. That is where we found Paul.
Laid back, sipping his wine, just passing the time away from the hoopla. Right up our alley.

We had a really nice conversation that night and I shared with him about my impending life changing surgery. He seemed genuinely interested and concerned. He shared with us about his life in NYC and his business in the music industry. (the band is a part- time gig for him).

By the time we left that night I felt I had made a new friend. So six months later, when things were indeed working out well with my new leg, I wrote Paul a letter, with an update on our situation. He replied to that letter and we have been friends ever since.

We lived in Utah just two more years and now live in Upstate NY, a few hours from Paul's stomping grounds. It means we can see the Band a bit more, since they play locally a lot more than long distance.

Every time I get to talk to Paul or be around him I am fascinated. He is a master musician and an amazing guitar player. He has a successful business writing music for many different venues and travels the world, pulling it all off. And yet he is still 'just Paul'. No airs, no big head. Just a really nice guy who seems genuinely interested in what's going on in your world. It is a refreshing mix of talent and personable humility. And I am drawn to it.

It was such a joy to see him and the band play again this weekend. It was a small concert, outdoors, in a tent. It felt like a big party, not a sold out rock concert, which made it even more fun. I was entranced by Paul's fingers as they flew through each song, knowing exactly which string to hit for every perfect note.

I am not a musically talented person. I can barely sing and have no interest or ability to play a single instrument. So musicians fascinate me. Jeff is at his sexiest when he has his old trumpet out and is blowing out beautiful notes.

So Paul's abilities themselves are enough to impress me. And when you add to it that great sweet guy personality, it is a really nice combination.

I look forward to many more encounters with Paul. Maybe a few hours chatting at a Starbucks the next time we are in the City. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. And the more I respect him.

Which are really nice qualities to have in a friend. Even one who is way out of your league.

It's Good to be Back

So school finally let out and somehow the treadmill got cranked up to nine. It's been a few weeks since I have been here, posting, and I have truly missed it. Two days after school let out we were at the train station, picking up Nina. She is the 13 year old niece of a college friend who is Brazilian. Our daughter went to stay with her family in Brazil three years ago and now it was Nina's turn to explore the States. We packed a lot into her visit, showing her five of the New England states and playing in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. It was a fun Fourth of July, sharing our country's birthday with a child from another continent. There are so many stories and observations I will share in the weeks to come.

Then we drove to Boston and put her on a plane just as lightening was striking the tree in our front yard. It has been the summer of severe thunderstorms around here. After a day without phone or internet access I was relieved to be back in the high tech world.

The next day I started a six day work week, meaning I worked all night and slept during the day. Needless to say, not much gets done in the 'extra' category when I am working. (and unfortunately blogs fall under the extra label).

Finally, finally I am back. A few days off work are ahead of me and it is starting to feel like summer. We had an amazing weekend, watching one of my favorite bands, The Bacon Brothers, play in a concert in the nearby Catskills. (where the above picture was taken) Afterwards we went backstage and chatted with our friend Paul, who is in the band, and eventually had all the guys sign my leg. Pretty cool night, pictures coming.

So for now it feels good just to be back, checking in with this place that lets me write about whatever is on my mind. And boy is there a lot rumbling around up there now....