Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sibling Friends

When Jeff and I first met one of the things that drew us to each other was a desire for adventure. We both loved to travel, explore, and see what was going on in this big wide world. There was never a question in our minds that as soon as kids came along, they'd just go along with us.

And they did. At one point we had three car seats lined up across the back seat of our Mazda. We went on day trips, overnight trips, and sometimes week long trips. We were never into the Disney thing or the cruise ship thing. We liked finding our own fun. We mainly visited family and explored the things we found along the way.

When our youngest was 18 months old we dove into our biggest adventure. We moved our little family from Missouri, the only place they'd ever lived, across the country to Washington D.C. It was a crazy year, mainly in the good way, although it was also a year after September 11th so the terror alert was set at red and the van was always packed with evacuation supplies. Our children made friends from all over the world and we explored D.C. on weekends, sometimes on foot, sometimes on bikes. It was the year of constant adventure.

A year later we moved across the country again. This time to Utah. The kids made new friends, we got to know new neighbors and we found a pretty great life there. We explored the ski trails in the winter and the gorgeous red rocks of the National Parks in the summer.

Then came our last (and hopefully final) move. When we move, we move big. This time it was all the way back to the East Coast to this state we have come to love called New York. There are new adventures to find in this area and we are slowly exploring them all.

A week ago we had a few days off and decided to go back down to D.C. to see our old stomping grounds. Sam was a two year old when we moved away and he was ready to make his own memories in that city that the big kids kept talking about. We drove down to Philly, had some fun there, then drove on to Baltimore. We walked around the inner harbor and bought the obligatory refrigerator magnets shaped like crabs.

On the second day we made it to D.C. and unpacked the car at Aunt Sophie's house. She was kind enough to let us crash at her place and not expect us to stick around and visit all day. We spent the next day on rented bikes, exploring the city we came to love when we lived there. I took new pictures and Sam made his own memories. There were lots of sentences that began with, "I remember that…"

When we got back home I sent out the latest adventure pictures to our friends and family. One of my friends at work saw them and said, "I want kids that travel that well when I'm a mom some day. How do you do get kids like that?"

I had to think about it and the best answer I could come up with was "move them across the country a few times." In reality it does make siblings bond. For three summers we had only each other. We'd left friends behind and lived out of Residence Inn while we looked for a new house. The kids became friends and learned to get along with the people they constantly shared close quarters with in the van.

I thought about her question a lot that day. Besides the big moves I suspect our continuous weekend adventures had something to do with it. From the time they could hold their head up in a back pack carrier, our kids have been along for the ride. They've seen many parts of the country that most kids only read about in a geography book. And through it all they had to get along. It was a matter of self preservation.

Now that we have all found new friends in New York, I worry that their friendships with each other are dimming. There are no more three month long drives across the U.S. We still take small trips every now and then but it has gotten harder with work schedules and track meets to work around.

So it was nice to see, last weekend, that even though they can get pretty tired of each other when we're at home, once we hit the road that old familiar feeling comes back. It's time for fun. Time to keep your eyes open and see what the world is going to show you. Fighting with siblings can come later. We're crossing state lines and we're hoping to find some fun along the way.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let Me Talk to Your Grandma

It may remind you of the "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" theory, except it involves grandmas. Not just any grandma, yours and mine to be exact. The idea came to me the other day in the grocery store, in front of a display of severely green bananas.

A woman around the same age as my grandmother walked up and began eyeing the fruit in question with me. She was the first to speak.
"It always makes me nervous to buy bananas that green," she said, as if we had known each other before this moment.

I had to agree, but found out we had different reasons for our concern. She continued before I could say much more than "yeah.."

"As old as I am, you have to carefully consider whether the fruit you buy will ripen…in time."

I suddenly knew what she was implying and was intrigued by the idea of having your fruit outlive you. We went on to have a pleasant conversation through the rest of the fruit section. She told me about her precious husband ("gone ten years now..") and her hand full of far away grandchildren. She asked about my children and we laughed together about how time seems to have wings. Soon enough we were parting ways, both smiling after such a friendly exchange. Our conversation stayed with me the rest of the day.

I pictured her, probably going home to a tidy little house, full of doilies. I could see her putting away peaches and strawberries in a fridge that was dotted with pictures of grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren. I guessed she would spend the evening in a quiet house, curled up in a favorite chair, watching a favorite TV show or calling one of her grown children.

As I returned to my own home, vibrating with chattering voices and pulsating with kid energy I thought of my own grandmother, 2000 miles away. It occurred to me that maybe someone there, in her grocery store, had taken the time to have a conversation with her. I hoped they had. I realized that I had done a 'favor' that day for some other granddaughter out there, by slowing down in the fruit section and taking the time to speak to their sweet grandmother.

Times have changed a lot. We aren't around our extended families as much as we used to be. We all have someone 'out there', someone who could use a kind word or uplifting conversation in the everyday places like the grocery store and the drugstore. Maybe it's a grandmother, maybe it's an aunt. Someone we don’t get to call as much as we should and don’t get to see on a regular basis. So here is my proposal.

Let's all agree that we will look out for each other from now on. I promise to make the time to share a moment with the woman in the grocery store who just may be your cherished grandmother. All I ask is that you do the same. When you cross paths with that elderly woman who takes a bit too long digging in her purse for her checkbook, be patient. She may be my grandmother. Share a smile with her and, if you're feeling generous, give her an encouraging word for me. It's a great big world out there, but by looking out for each other maybe we can make it feel a bit more cozy.

My new grandmother friend in the green banana aisle must have some family somewhere who misses her excellent sense of humor and I would like to thank them personally for sharing her with me that day. As we met again in the checkout lanes I asked her what she'd decided about the bananas. Her reply did not surprise me. With a straight face she confidently said, "Yeah, I'm feeling pretty healthy this week. I took a chance and went with the darkest ones I could get."

I See The Future

It has been a special treat, the past three weekends, to have my niece staying at our house. She is going to an amazing film program at Ithaca College. She has loved making movies since she was a little girl and is finally able to pursue her dream. Her latest assignment involved filming my children and their friends so she camped out at our house with all her equipment.

The last stage of the project involved interviewing her parents and uncle/aunt(me).She spent over an hour setting up the gear and teaching my kids how to be her crew.

All the behind the scenes segments we've seen at the end of DVDs came to life. We learned not only what a 'boom' is, but how they do their job. We learned about slates and sound levels and the sequence of events after the director says, "quiet on the set!"

She is a child I would love to claim as my own. She is well rounded, respectful, funny, smart, and a joy to be around. Now she is knee deep in learning a trade and finding her path in life. I could not be more proud of her. I'm so thankful that "Aunt Judy's house" is a place she feels comfortable hanging out.

All too soon she will be off chasing her dreams, probably in L.A., maybe in NYC. So I soak up times like the past few weekends, when she's still just enough of a little girl to need a place to hang out and be loved.

I Want a Cat's Life

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I wish I could trade places with my cat. I suspect you've had similar thoughts. As you watched your dog lay in the sun while you balanced on a ladder, picking clumps of wet mucky leaves out of the gutter. Or as you rushed by your napping cat, once again running late to an important meeting at work.

Our cat seems to have three priorities in life. Eating, sleeping and prowling around outside, chasing bugs and slow chipmunks. He hangs out all day, moving from the top of the couch to the middle of the pile of comforters on our unmade bed. He snacks when he's hungry, sleeps when he's tired. He answers to no one and his biggest problem is how long he has to stand by the door meowing before one of his thick headed family members gets the hint and lets him outside.

Some days that schedule really appeals to me. No alarm clock telling me when to get up. No groceries to put on the list, put in the cart, put in the cupboards then put on the table. No laundry to wash, dry, fold then repeat. The dust that gathers under the dining room table wouldn't even be on my radar. The stacks of school papers on top of the same table would not be my concern.

I wouldn't know the number of the doctor's office by heart and have a running list of who's had which shots. There would be no permission slips to sign, no checks to write for school lunches, no Christmas lists to make in August. I wouldn't have a need for a bank account or bills arriving in the mail with my name on them. I wouldn't have a credit score or a family history of diabetes.

When I wanted time alone I would retreat to the middle of the teen girls bed, in the room no one except her is allowed to enter. When I wanted love and petting all I'd have to do is jump on a lap, rub my head against a leg or snuggle next to a warm body in bed. Even when I threw up on the carpet and meowed just a few too many times in the night to be let in, then out, then in again, I would always be forgiven because after all, I am so soft and fluffy and adorable.

You can tell I've spent a little bit of time pondering this idea. Every time I see his fluffiness all curled up in my son's arms or tucked under my husband's arm as he goes to sleep at night, I wonder what that life really feels like.

But then I come back to reality. First of all, we got our cat from a shelter. We have no idea what the first two years of his life were like. He might have been neglected, malnourished or even abused. He might have roamed the streets as a stray, never knowing when he'd get his next meal. Maybe he's already paid his dues and he deserves every bit of the spoiling he gets in our house. And no matter how easy his life seems, I would have to give up a lot of the things I treasure if I were to trade lives with him.

He will never know the joy of being a parent and watching a child grow from a helpless newborn to an amazingly competent adult. He will never know how safe and secure it feels to marry a lifetime best friend and share jokes with them decade after decade. He doesn't get to decide what he 'feels like' for dinner tonight. He either gets Cat Chow or Cat Chow. Any deviation from that he has to find for himself in the woods. He'll never have the chance to try a new recipe and taste a new food just to mix life up a bit.

He will never know how rewarding it can feel to be good at your job and make other people's lives better. He will never read a great book and wipe tears from his eyes as he closes the back cover. He will never know the joy of learning and figuring out how this amazing world works. His whole world revolves around our house, our couch and our yard. He will never get to explore the amazing trails and woods of faraway places and nearby parks.

So the next time I'm having one of those days, the kind where half the kids are sick, the laundry is threatening to take over the bedrooms, and the bills are begging to be paid, I will still look at the cat longingly. His life will seem desirable, at least for a moment. But by the time I've doled out the last dose of cough syrup and looked into those precious eyes as a little voice says, "Thanks a lot, mom. I feel much better", I'll know. I'll be sure that the life I was blessed with is the only one I would truly want. I'll let the cat have his simple existence and try to be more patient when I'm letting him outside for the fifteenth time in one afternoon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dying to Have Fun

Not Just Eggs

When I was in the third grade my teacher decided it would be fun for our class to put on an Easter show. This was before all holidays became generic and Halloween celebrations turned into 'fall festivals'. Being one of the tall kids I was stuck in the back row, peering down over the heads of the short kids. It was not such a bad thing to be in the back. No one could tell if you were actually singing or not. Most of the time I was not. Genetics didn't bless me with the ability to carry a tune but the song we sang didn't help the situation. To this day I can still hear the tune and sing the first line: "In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade!"

Those words made no sense to me. Easter had nothing to do with bonnets in my house and I'd never even heard of an Easter parade. Fourth of July parade, yes. Boone County Fair parade, of course (we were in it each year on our 4-H float). But Easter parade? I couldn't imagine, as a ten year old, what floats would even be in an Easter parade.

Coming from a large family we didn't even get Easter baskets. Friends of mine did, so I knew what they were about, but we had a handful of woven wicker baskets, dyed in pastel colors, that were dug out of the basement each spring and handed out to the littlest kids in the family. The bigger kids hid the boiled eggs we had colored the day before. It was all about the game of hide and seek. It had nothing to do with gift filled baskets, bonnets or parades.

The first year we had children old enough to understand holidays Jeff and I had a decision to make. What would Easter be about to our kids? Would it be a large basket full of candy and toys or a quiet day of dipping eggs in colored liquid and later hiding them? It was so tempting to spoil them rotten. More than one year, as a child, I wished for a huge chocolate Easter bunny just so I could bite the ears off first. I didn't want to deprive my kids of that luxury.

Fortunately we didn't have a lot of money in those early years so we couldn't afford anything over the top. I found cute little baskets at the Dollar Store, filled them with plastic grass, one little chocolate bunny each and a few trinket toys. Meredith loved hers. Michael loved his. (they ate the ears first, without even being prompted) But what they loved even more was the egg hunt. For as much as I worried about not getting them the right kind of Easter basket, in the end their favorite part was dying, hiding, then finding the boiled eggs.

The candy was welcome and enjoyed but the memories they made, enjoying this holiday with people they loved, is what stayed with them for years to come. It's the thing I miss about being a kid. Hiding eggs with my siblings, being a part of my family unit. We are spread out all over the country now and just being together for a holiday would be better than any basket, no matter how much chocolate it contained.

I worried that as they grew older my kids would cease to enjoy dying eggs. I have found the opposite to be true. I've cut out magazine articles about neat things you can do to eggs with a bit of dye and every year we pull the "Easter" file out of the cabinet . The kids sort through it and decide what cool thing they will create this year. It is more fun for me too. I don't have to hover over little heads, reminding them not to touch the soaking eggs, wait just a little longer, be sure not to spill the dye. I get to sit back and take pictures, watching them come up with new designs and patterns. From my seventeen year old down to my eight year old, they all create something unique and special. Even my niece, who was visiting us from college, had a blast dying eggs with us this year.

Easter is about baskets and chocolate. But more importantly it's about tradition and family. Getting together with people you love and maybe hiding a few eggs around the yard. This year we will have relatives from New Hampshire here to celebrate with us. I am sure they will be happy to be in the group of 'hiders' then sit back in lawn chairs and watch the little kids scramble to fill up their baskets. Having them here will be the gift. And if they happen to wear bonnets, I won't say a word.