The kids and I went canvassing today.
We knocked on doors, distributed leaflets, and encouraged folks to vote early to avoid long lines at the polls. We answered questions about absentee ballots and listened to people’s excitement and concern about the upcoming election. Folks kept their comments appropriate, self-policing, I suppose, since children were present.
Most peeked through their curtains or hesitated before answering. I understood. I seldom open the door to strangers anymore. A midday knock can only mean someone is selling something – insurance policies, security systems, a subscription to a magazine. Sales pitches are so annoyingly awkward. How long do I have to listen to this person before I can politely decline? It is easier to pretend not to be home. In a way, I guess we were selling something – democracy, freedom of speech, America. But maybe because it was a sunny day, or because they saw my kids crunching leaf piles and petting kitty cats, most people came to the door.
I have never participated in a Get Out the Vote Campaign before. I have never been a very political person. But my 11-year-old hopped off the bus a few weeks ago angry about the one-sided opinions tumbling from the mouths of middle school boys.
“What do you want to do about it?” I asked her.
“I think I want a yard sign,” she replied.
I have written about kids and politics. In the past, I believed it was important to keep my vote a secret from my daughter, at least until she was old enough to talk about issues, and not just personalities. I still believe this is true. I think it is both risky and reckless when we indoctrinate our children with our beliefs before they are old enough to really understand and develop their own. Which is why we are canvassing twice this year: once for a Democrat and once for a Republican.
I want my kids to see the common ground, which is, let’s face it, where most of us work, live, and eat. I am supporting the Democrat because of her intelligence, her public service record, and her position on early childhood education. I am supporting the Republican because of his courage, his military record, and his plan for reforming foster care. Especially now, in the most vitriolic and divisive presidential campaign that I have ever seen, I think it is essential to remember my job as a parent—to teach my kids love, to remind them that goodness is everywhere, and that we can learn from anyone, even from those with whom we might disagree.
A few weeks ago, I heard a speech by Seth Moulton, a congressman from Massachusetts. I am not from New England. I do not live in his district. But his words stuck with me. “You should want your representatives in Washington to work for you. You should want us to get things done.” To do that, he insisted, they had to speak to folks on both sides of the aisle. They needed to talk to people with whom they disagreed and seek compromise. The most effective bills, after all, are those with bipartisan support.
The need to talk to people with whom we disagree. . . . I confess I have felt afraid this election season. Two days after my daughter placed her first and only political sign in our front yard, it was stolen. It disappeared from a patch of grass near our front door where she had pressed it into the dirt so proudly.
“Who do you think took it?” she asked.
And I could see her mentally scanning the neighborhood. Was it that mouthy kid on the bus? His older brother? That lady down the street who plays her music too loud when she drives by? I did not like the way the theft made her distrustful of our neighbors. More importantly, I did not like the way this election season had emboldened someone to steal. When did freedom of speech become abhorrent, rather than the one idea upon which all of us can agree?
Election 2016 seems to have done this: made enemies out of neighbors. We are willing to hurt people to get our point across. We think that if we just shout a little louder, the argument will resolve in our favor. But it seems pretty clear that such tactics have merely ensured opposition, ire, and stalemate from representatives who ought to be working for us.
You and I will disagree on some things. That’s a statistical likelihood. I hesitate to put myself in a box, but I tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. No matter who I vote for, he/she will not represent all of my viewpoints. Nor do I expect her to. I learn the issues, listen to the candidates talk, and punch the name on the ballot that seems to jive best with my vision. That’s what voting means. And then I expect that person to do battle for me, to argue and compromise, and ultimately, get things done. If that doesn’t happen, I vote for somebody new next time.
After all, we are in charge of our lawmakers, and not the other way round. If you don’t believe me, grab a handful of flyers with the hours of your local polling place. Take your kids. Bring the dog. And go knock on the doors of your neighbors. Chat about potholes or petunias, or whether the city is doing a good job picking up autumn leaves. Talk to folks with whom you disagree. Our politicians might want us to build walls, but we know – we have always known – that bridges are the future.
A version of this essay also appeared on the Huffington Post.
My son is the worst player on this team.
He seldom kicks or throws. Mostly, he skips. When the ball rolls his way, he falls on it, like a grenade, or picks it up and runs, which is frowned upon in soccer. Unless you’re the goalie. Which he isn’t. Because they don’t have those in his league. But that does not stop him from lurking in the box. Not in an effort to deflect scoring, but rather to hang from the goal post and entangle himself in the net. Last week, he started a game of tag during the second quarter. He swatted an opponent and yelled, “You’re it,” before running away down the sideline.
On the way to today’s game, we talked about hugging, and how we weren’t going to embrace our teammates so hard they fell over. “Purple Penguins don’t hug,” I reprimanded, but he has the memory of a goldfish. Just now, I watched my son ninja kick a child who was trying to pass him the ball, and I wonder if we shouldn’t have stuck with the embrace. Afterwards, he ran over to the bleachers to offer onlookers high fives.
Since we only play four on four, everyone rotates out frequently. But even on the sideline my kid is trouble. He karate chops the water bottles, kicks the practice balls into the woods, and sometimes leaves the field entirely to come lay on my blanket and ask me for his post-game apple juice.
He is prone to lollygagging, even during play. When he gets tired or bored or a hankering to cloud watch, he simply lays down in the middle of the field. The other kids dribble around him, or leap over, like cheetahs to his sleeping gazelle. But today, the warm-up seems to have made an impression on him. He’s been doing arm circles for most of the third quarter.
I am embarrassed every time we come here. For the first few practices, I apologized to the other parents. “He’s small for his age,” I said. Or, “He’s never like this at home.” But an apology is only as good as the mitigation of the offending behavior, and it is obvious that my influence over sport decorum is limited at best.
In fact, the only card I really have to play is to pull him from the team. It is likely that the other children would have a better experience if my kid was not there. Every chain has its weak link, every ladder its bottom rung, and every litter has its runt. When it comes to this soccer team, my child is all of the above. Of course, I remember studying group behavior in a college psych class. Even when the “problem child” was removed, someone else just stepped in to take his place. I tell myself that if it was not my son somersaulting in midfield, it would simply be someone else’s.
The one thing we have going for us is that Coach Fox is obviously short-listed for canonization. At the close of every game, he and Henry exchange fist pumps, and he says, “Great job today, buddy!” As though he really means it. As though he has utterly forgotten that Henry spent the bulk of the first quarter grabbing him in the ass.
And so week after week, we don shin guards and bright purple socks, and my son, the runt, the problem, the slacker, happily reports for duty on field 5, much to the dismay of parents and caregivers. Because despite Henry’s skill-less-ness, this is his favorite sport. He wakes up every morning asking, “Is today a soccer day?” And let’s out a squeal when it is, it is, it is.
He is the worst player on the team. There is no doubt about it. But what separates us from the animals, I think, is that we let all the children play together. Cheetahs and penguins, goldfish and gazelles all have their time in the sun. It is a game, after all. And they are children. Ninja kicks and all.
Adapted from Our New Book, Here Be Dragons
I never really liked babies. I love my own, of course. But that’s a genetic imperative. Other people’s babies? For most of my adult life, my feelings ranged from mild disinterest to barely concealed annoyance. I never found their outfits particularly cute or their peek-a-boo games terribly entertaining. And travelling with them on airplanes? I always said I would rather be stuck in the back-row-middle seat next to the toilet, than be sitting anywhere near someone else’s baby in flight. Until, that is, I went to the Philippines. In November of 2013, forty minutes after sunrise, in the wake of the worst typhoon in recorded human history, I changed my mind about kids.
When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8, 2013, it brought sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, and gusts topping 250. Had it hit the United States, its outer bands would have stretched from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. I flew into the disaster zone with a medical relief team, on one of the first Marine Corps C-130s carrying aid workers. We landed on a pitch-black runway in a city with no lights. Amidst the rubble of a military barracks, we established our forward operating base.
The next morning, at first light, we boarded a Philippine Air Force Huey and headed south. What we saw confirmed our worst fears. Nothing was left intact. Even the sturdiest buildings had their roofs ripped away. The storm surge had rushed for miles, reducing houses to matchsticks. Ships lay hundreds of yards inland, like toys dropped amid the debris. I have been in warzones. But nothing compared to the devastation I saw flying along the Philippine coastline.
We circled the village of Tanauan and identified what we assumed was the clinic. Between the scattered rubble and crowds of people, there was no way to land. So we diverted to a strip of empty beach a few miles away. As we approached, people sprinted towards the descending helicopter. The pilot hovered a few feet off the ground, and we leapt. As our ride lifted away, a crowd of villagers gathered. We had been warned that they might try to take our supplies. The opposite was true. They were hungry and scared, but grateful, and they helped us make our way to the clinic.
The makeshift hospital was set up inside the former city hall, one of the only buildings left with walls still standing. Hundreds were already gathered, seeking medical help. Most had walked miles. Wounds were starting to fester, and the air stank of gangrene. I made my way to the second floor where a surgery was underway.
All day and all night, patients arrived in a steady stream, bearing gaping, jagged gashes, many of them showing signs of gangrene. For a rookie like me, those injuries were at least straightforward. Open, clean, disinfect, pack, and bandage. That I could handle.
The “injury” that knocked me off balance, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the typhoon. Late one evening, a pregnant woman arrived on the back of a moped. She was in labor, but struggling. The clinic was blacked out, lit only by the occasional flashlight and our headlamps bobbing up and down as we worked. Patients lay huddled in groups on the floor. Our OBGYN led the expectant mother to the “operating table,” and immediately determined a normal delivery was out of the question. Because of how the baby was positioned, a C-section would be necessary to save the lives of both mother and child.
The surgeons decided to begin the operation at dawn. When the first ray of sun split the horizon, I said a prayer. Please help this mother. Please save this baby. As the surgery began, a few of us huddled on the floor around a camp stove. Someone brewed a pot of tea, and we sat in silence, sipping from tin mugs, straining to hear the doctors talking softly to each other as they worked. Then, a sound I will never forget. A baby’s cry, healthy, strong, and defiant.
I felt the sun warming my neck, looked down into my cup, and wept. I tried to make my tears less obvious. My team in the Philippines included some of the toughest people I have ever known: combat medics, Special Forces operators, a paratrooper from the French Foreign Legion. When I looked up, I could see we all felt the same thing—our faces wore identical expressions of exhaustion and relief, but above all—joy. That baby may have been crying the loudest, but we all joined in varying degrees.
Six hours after that sunrise, we called in a Philippine Air Force helicopter to evacuate our most critical patients. A cardiac case, an amputee, a new mother, and a six-hour-old baby girl were airlifted to Manila. Miracles do happen. Even in the wake of tragedy. To this day, whenever I hear a baby cry, I smile inside.
Even on airplanes.
A version of this article originally appeared on Fatherly.com.
No, I’m not pregnant.
Whenever a woman reaches a certain reproductive age, this is the only “news” that truly lives up to the announcement of NEWS. Sorry to disappoint.
And, no, Ken and I are not getting divorced.
I always find it odd when people think I might be going there. As though it was only a matter of time before I got tired of his shenanigans and he had his fill of my crazy. No splitsville yet. Though he is on notice for the broken sailboat he brought home from West Virginia three weeks ago Tuesday.
The real news is that we have written a book. Together. Without getting divorced. And without anybody getting pregnant. And largely because of friends/readers/wacky people like YOU, a publishing house bought it, and our book will be available on October 11th, 2016. Bonkers.
Here Be Dragons is about how we – you, all of us, actually – were pretty awesome before we became parents. We sailed oceans. We tried skydiving. And then the kids came along and peed on everything. And they made us sad and tired and angry. And we needed to sneak ice cream when they weren’t looking and hide drinks in the garage just to survive the days with those adorable little monsters who took over our marriage and kind of ruined our lives. And then, just when we thought we were never going to make it – never going to drink an entire cup of coffee uninterruptedly again, never going to drive from point A to point B without 19 arguments and 4 bathroom stops, never going to become the grown-ups we’d always planned to be – we figured out something even better: how to be a family. We found joy and purpose and laughter and adventure. Sure, our days are still hard sometimes. But they also got awesome again. Here Be Dragons is the story of that journey.
And we are really excited (and nervous and shy and terrified, actually) to share it with you.
“So, HOW CAN I HELP?”
It’s funny you should ask. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways you can help:
- Order a copy. Or eight. Buy one for your Mom’s birthday, your Dad’s retirement, your sister’s housewarming party, or for that cousin you don’t even really know who is having a baby shower and you don’t want to go, but you at least want to send her something that isn’t a rattle or a blanket.
- Help us spread the word. Tweet, Post, Pin, Snap, or Instagram us. Walk around your neighborhood whacking a frying pan with a wooden spoon and shouting our names. Whether you are high-tech or low-, we welcome the vibes.
- Write a review. If you have a blog or a typewriter, if you write for your school newspaper or the Chicago Tribune, we would be honored if you would give us – our work, our stories, our fashion sense – a little shout-out. And, on October 11th, Amazon reviews will be open for business. We would really love it if some of you guys would write us a review. It only takes like 3 minutes and those ratings really help.
- Drive around with Here Be Dragons in your car. (To sign up, send us a message with “Junk in Your Trunk” or “Dragons in My Wagon” in the subject line — email@example.com). We are looking for a few good missionaries. You never know when you might wish you had a copy to share with a friend or stranger. Plus, we would love to get this book on shelves in independent bookstores and libraries.
- If there is an independent bookstore you frequent, go in and ask them if they will sell our book. If they say yes, hand them a copy.
- Ask your local library if they will stock it. Sometimes, there is a lady behind the desk who does the ordering. Sometimes, it is a guy in a hat. For our library, there was a form.
- Ask your book club if they will give it a whirl. There are discussion questions for reading groups already in the back of the book.
- Invite us over. We already have book events scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Cleveland, and we are scheduling more. We are equally at home in auditoriums or living rooms. We can talk at libraries and bookstores, pancake breakfasts, church luncheons, or supper clubs. We’ll come to your PTA meeting or your military spouses’ tea. We’ll bring books. We’ll make people laugh. We’ll serve pie. (<–Okay, Ken wants a disclaimer here. We only serve pie sometimes. But that’s just because some places have weird rules about pie and other places are way more cookie or brownie friendly, but come and see what dessert appears in your area.) We love to talk to folks about the horror/wonder of raising children.
- Send us warm thoughts. Even if you can’t buy the book, tweet, or meet us, we still love knowing you are out there. Post a comment here or on one of our social media sites. Let us know how you are doing. Let us know when DadvMom.com makes you laugh or cry or throw things.
My mom has priest friend, Father Bob, who has an expression: “So, is it yes or yes?” When he has a couple of projects that need doing – tree limbs that should be trimmed near the parking lot, a committee that wants staffing after Christmas – he goes before the church congregation and says, “So, is it yes or yes?” Are you going to help me in this way or are you going to help me in that way? The expression makes me laugh, but man, he gets things done.
It can be tricky to ask for help. We don’t want to bother you guys. We know you are busy. But we are literally a mom and pop outfit over here, and we can’t do this without you. Check the list above, check it twice, and let us know if it is YES or YES. Let us know how you can help.
As always, thanks for reading,
Annmarie and Ken
I was 19 years old the first time I cried at school.
Okay, actually, that was the third time.
The first time I cried at school was because I spilled grape juice on my white corduroys. Nobody was home at my house to bring me new pants, so I had to go back to class and the other kids laughed at me.
The second time I cried at school was when I lost the Arbor Day poster contest to my classmate, Tracy. I was jealous. I thought my poem about a tree was better than her picture of a tree. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.* When I did not win, I told my friends at recess to play 3-square instead of 4-square, so Tracy could not play. Which was a total dick move. (Tracy, I’m so sorry. Seriously. I don’t know where you are living right now, but if you are ever up for a game of 4-square, please give me a call.) Tracy told the teacher, who pulled me aside and pretty much told me I was being a dick, and when we went back to the classroom, I put my head down and cried until the bell rang to go home.
If we are being technical, I also cried in the bathroom during junior high dances because Steve was dancing with Allison and not with me. But everybody cried about that, plus, it was after school, so I do not think it should count.
But the other first time I cried at school, the one I remember most vividly, was not an occasion when I was clumsy or jilted or mean. It was because someone was mean to me.
I had prepared a presentation about the poet, Elizabeth Bishop, who was not only a luminary writer, but someone who fought during her lifetime to be recognized in the literary canon, which was snooty, and patriarchal, and totally biased against the contributions of women. I gave my presentation with all the exuberance of a college sophomore. I was naïve and excited and proud that I had quoted so many of Bishop’s poems in my presentation, which I thought made me seem smart. I argued that Elizabeth Bishop had paved the way for all poets to unite beneath the banner of POETRY and that even though it was sad she did not reap the gains during her lifetime, I did not think there was any longer a need for a protected space for women’s poets. WE HAD ARRIVED. It was about at this point in my presentation that my professor, an avid women’s poetry guru, interrupted me. “Had I learned NOTHING in her class?” “Had I not been listening to the way women’s voices are SILENCED?” She announced she could not hear one more word from me, and if I did not have something better to say then I should sit down.
In the days that followed, I thought of many better things to say:
–“As a matter of fact, I do have more to say, but I don’t want to hear one more word from you. Good day, madam. I said, good day.” At which point, I flipped my cape over my shoulder, and strode boldly out of the room. (In this version of the daydream, I am wearing a cape, but not a weird cape, more like a sort of poetry ninja/superhero.)
–“If you are so concerned about how women’s voices have been silenced over the years, why are you silencing mine? Please sit down, professor. I am not yet finished.”
–In one version of the daydream, I simply return to my desk, gather my things, and walk to the door. At which point, I turn and say to the rest of the class, “Are you going to sit there or join me in the fight?” One by one, my classmates gather their belongings and exit the room, leaving my professor with her shame. She calls later and begs me to return, begs all of us to return, but we refuse. Instead, Mary Oliver—who was an actual guest professor at my college that term and who, because I was too busy suffering from poetry abuse down the hall, I did not even learn about until much later in life—Mary Oliver agrees to teach me and my classmates about women and poetry.
Instead, in the real version of events, I shook my head, quietly indicated that No, of course I did not have anything else to say, and sat down. As the next terrified presenter took her place at the podium, I began to weep quietly. And though there were 14 other young adults in that classroom, no one said anything to me. No one even looked my way. No one wanted to ruin a chance of an A. Only Dana, who sat in front of me, a usually flamboyant and playful fellow, who had sung “Beauty School Dropout” in a recent school production of Grease, reached over and took my hand. He awkwardly held it for the remaining 45 minutes of that godforsaken class. Afterwards, he said we should go see the dean and file a formal complaint. There was no excuse for the way I had been treated.
But I was cowardly and afraid and thought I had done something wrong by floating an idea with which my professor had disagreed.
I did not fight for myself.
And I did not allow someone else to fight for me.
Instead, I attended that horrible class for the remainder of the semester, accepted my B-, and never took another poetry class again.
When I talked to my kids about going back to school this week, I did not harp on the homework or the spelling tests, or how they should eat their vegetables at lunch. I just told them to be like Dana.
Whenever you see someone left out of four square, go to her.
If you see someone sad about posters or slow dancing or a presentation or pants, comfort her.
When you see someone crying at school, reach out your hand.
And, if that person needs help that is bigger than you, find it. If someone does not know how to stand up for herself, help find her voice. Tell a teacher, tell a grownup. Find Mary Oliver. Don’t let anyone be schooled at school.
Be a Dana.
*What does it feel like to be a tree?
Swaying your branches and shading me.
Does it hurt when you get stung by a bee?
. . .
The poem languished on for about ten stanzas, but my poster paper was really only big enough for about eight, so the final lines had to be squashed in at the bottom, letters smaller and smaller, like the opening credits to a terrible Star Wars prequel.
We are in Canada for a few days.
We were not sure what to do here.
So we made a list.
Everyone got to pick something.
Henry wanted to ride a “train.” He had been watching streetcars rumble by from our third floor window.
Lizzie wanted to go swimming.
Katie wanted pizza.
I considered their typical kiddo ideas and thought maybe someone should choose something, anything, unique to this particular city. I scoured a web page of family-friendly sights and learned Toronto has a zoo, an aquarium, some nice beaches, and a tower. Since we have just moved away from Southern California, we recently experienced a zoo, aquarium, and beaches out there; that left us with the tower. So after breakfast—which we ate nearly at lunch time, since we had spent so much time making our list—we ambled over to the base of the CN Tower. Standing beneath it, the thing was impressive. Really. It dwarfs the surrounding buildings and high-fives the sky with its awesomeness. We were excited.
Except we probably should have ridden this wave of excitement somewhere else.
There was a 15-minute line to buy tickets. Which was nothing compared to what we were told would be a 2-hour wait to board the elevator. The kids nearly fell to pieces when they heard the words two and hours in the same sentence with the word wait. And really, they were the reasonable ones. I, on the other hand, was the nut job, the out-of-touch parent who intended to press on. To wait is good for children, I told myself. It teaches them attributes once celebrated in 1950s movies. Patience. Gentleness. And that thing about good things coming to those who. We would have a nice conversation. Maybe share a snack. Read all the interesting photo captions about the years 1973-1975, when the strong Canadian people constructed this tall tower to the sky.
And man, we made an effort. We looked at black and white photos of concrete being poured. We examined small models of the CN tower, which, while interesting, had nothing on the actual tower we had seen while walking in. We read about lightning, and how the whole place is grounded with copper wire. And all of that took about 17 minutes. Then Lizzie wanted me to hold her. Henry was hungry. And Katie wanted to blame me repeatedly for getting us into this stupid, touristy mess. But the more they complained, they more I dug in.
In high school, I had a driving instructor who talked to us about one-way streets. “One day, you may accidentally drive down a one-way street. Cars will head toward you. You will wonder what is happening. When you discover that you are driving the wrong way,” he said, “at that point, YOU SHOULD STOP AND TURN AROUND.” This wisdom seemed simple enough. If you realize you are heading in the incorrect direction, don’t keep going that same way. Then, one day, I did indeed find myself on a one-way street. It took at bit before I realized it. But when I did, I just kept on driving. It never occurred to me until afterwards that I should have stopped and turned around.
The same thing felt true yesterday. At any point, in the, say, 97 minutes before we reached the base of that elevator, I could have redirected us. I could have called it. I could have said, “Um, yeah, let’s go ride a train, swim, and order a pizza.” So what if those things weren’t very Toronto-y? Instead, we got in a line of people and the more the kids whined and complained, the more I insisted we stay there.
Eventually, we made it up. And it was okay. Lizzie learned to take a panoramic picture with my phone. Katie studied the outline of lake Ontario. Henry counted skyscrapers. All three of them enjoyed a few minutes standing on the glass floor hundreds of feet in the air. But then we waited in line for the restaurant. And the bathroom. And the elevator to get back down.
Hundreds of (Canadian) dollars and nearly five hours later, we wandered through an outdoor exhibit at the Toronto Railway Museum on the way back to our hotel. The kids climbed in a caboose, sat in the cupola, and pretended they were railroad workers on the ladders and berths. They were curious and clambering and happy, and all ten minutes of it was free. This was how we should have experienced Toronto. Briefly, almost accidentally, and on the cheap.
I have made this same mistake before with our kids, dragging them into and across quintessential city sights. In San Francisco, I insisted that they walk with me down Lombard Street, and blocked out their voices when they complained along the Golden Gate Bridge. In Los Angeles, they were too hot at the Griffith Observatory and underwhelmed by the Hollywood sign. In New York City, they loathed Central Park. I have never had the opportunity to bring them overseas, but I envision my children equal parts bored and angry from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. I can just see myself shushing them in front of the Mona Lisa and dragging their tired feet along Venetian canals. As their mother, I feel this is my job. To introduce them to the great cities and wonders of the world, to plant the seeds, and assume that worldliness will sink in years later. Even though these sightseeing expeditions are a misery.
But after this week, I have begun to think differently. Love for a place can take many forms, and wonder is just as likely to flourish in an ordinary neighborhood as it is from atop the most celebrated sight. I learned to love London in its parks and theaters. My fondness for Paris was born in an afternoon of chocolate croissants and shopping for shoes. And Athens came alive to me in the music I heard in the taverns once the sun went down.
Today, because Henry wanted to, we hopped on a streetcar just to see where it would take us. We had no agenda, no sightseeing itinerary, no plan. We rode until we saw an interesting line of restaurants. We hopped off and ate pastries and ice cream, ambled along a cool row of eclectic shops. And when the first child started to complain, we hopped back on the streetcar and rode it back to the hotel to swim. Afterwards, we ordered pizza. And our love for this city was born.
For the first few days of our cross-country trip, I was on a roll. We drove, ate candy, argued about the iPad, and just when we thought we could not stand one more moment traveling together, we arrived somewhere magical.
After that, the kids fell asleep and I wrote about it.
Then I fell asleep and we started all over the next day.
It was a pretty great routine, but like most charmed journeys, this one was unsustainable.
Somewhere around day 5 ½, instead of writing at night, I ate half a bag of Cheetos and went to bed. While this is not a dietary practice I can recommend, succumbing to semi-slothful behavior after several weeks of packing boxes, lugging furniture, and saying goodbyes . . . well, that’s something to which I can give my full stamp of approval. To everything there is a season — a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to pack, a time to move, a time to write cathartically about friendships and farewells, and a time to process all of that with junk food and sleep.
Thus, while I had hoped to amass two weeks of pithy truths and inspiring stories of my family triumphing in the face of roadside adversity, what follows, instead, are the briefest of highlights — some awesome, most ordinary — from the rest of our trip across America:
–We swam beneath a small waterfall. I fell into a muddy creek carrying our only towels. Ken and I argued about crossing other people’s rivers.
–Lizzie, Katie, and Henry rode horses. Ken and I did not.
–I grew tired of carrying Henry one morning, and accidentally set him down in a pile of red ants. The hundred or so crawling up and down his legs bit him/stung him (note to self: look up what it is ants do) at least a dozen times before I realized my mistake and swatted them off. Poor boy had legs like chicken pox. He could only be consoled with watermelon.
–When it comes to catching them, kids love fish. When it comes to eating them, not so much.
–There are good people living in San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. (There are good people living lots of other places, too. We just didn’t go there.) Without exception, even when we had to battle traffic, weather, or adjust our itinerary to make it work, visits with old friends were a delight. If you do nothing else today, look at a map, and scheme a trip to see a faraway friend. You won’t be disappointed.
–I am a mustard snob. I get a little judgy when restaurants only have yellow mustard and not stadium or Dijon.
–I had a grown-up, mostly civil, in-search-of-common-ground conversation with a gun owner and we parted, I believe, understanding one another better. I was reminded to seek out those with whom I disagree. How else will we change the world?
–Lizzie led a horse to water and it did, indeed, drink.
–When we waved goodbye to Texas, a scorpion scrambled beside our car and waved back.
–The closest I came to crashing in 3000+ miles of driving occurred an hour from our destination when the car in front of me slammed on his brakes because someone was weed-whacking fifty feet away. Prior to this, I had never considered gardeners a threat.
–We had Dairy Queen for dinner two days in a row. The food was not good. But I loved it both times.
–I have not been flossing.
For the many folks who have asked, we are safely in Ohio now. Staying with family and living out of suitcases while we search for a new home. Thanks for blanketing the road before us with warm thoughts. We are excited about this new chapter, and looking forward to the big things to come.
More on that next time . . .
Today, the kids . . .
Scrambled over rocks
Slid down rocks
Tripped over rocks
Cut themselves on rocks
Argued about grapes
Fed grapes to the fish
Pretended they were explorers
Pretended they were a family (?!)
Pretended they were asleep
Pretended they were stranded on an island with no grown-ups
Peed in the river.
And probably lots, lots more things I did not notice, since I was not overseeing, directing, choreographing, or orchestrating their play. I simply sat way on the sidelines and ignored them, present only because Henry does not yet swim, but otherwise completely absent from their fun.
Many of us bemoan the fact that our kids “just don’t go outside and play anymore.” And sure, there are some reasons for that. Some of us live in places where outside time is tricky—fences, crime, big dogs, neighbors who frown upon shrieking. But a lot of us live in pretty great neighborhoods. On streets and cul-de-sacs where children could still roam free and dig for worms and play with sticks and create mini-fiefdoms and only come inside when they needed the toilet or sandwiches.
Our kids are growing up. What are we waiting for?
Let’s let them play.