Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thank You, Kerrville

As children, my brother and I spent many a vacation in Kerrville, Texas at my grandparents' house.  Now, you may be thinking that Kerrville doesn't necessarily sound like a luxurious place to vacay, but like my mom's parents' place in Maine, my dad's parents' place set in Texas' Hill Country is a kid's dream, and one that has a special place in my heart.

The property is 9 or so acres within a 3000-acre working ranch, so opportunities abound for exploring creek beds for arrowheads, skipping rocks into the lake, finding the perfect walking stick, and keeping an eye out for deer, blackbuck antelope and mouflon sheep.  When we were kids (gloriously before insurance premiums took the fun out of nearly everything), we galloped on horses and dove from the diving board at the community pool.  We played tag on the windmill out front (so much for parental supervision!), tiptoed across the cattle guard, and baked many batches of cookies and peanut brittle in Grandma's kitchen.

My grandfather, a mechanical engineer by trade, could build anything.  I felt so privileged to be invited into his workshop to help construct delicate miniature furniture that outfitted the Victorian dollhouse he made for me.  He built model planes that really flew.  He once sawed off half his pinky finger just before a big camping trip, and decided to leave it off because he figured he didn't need it much anyway (although I think he especially delighted in shocking the younger grandkids with the real live version of the ole 'separating your finger from your hand' trick).

I felt wistful as we entered the property this year, reaching the place in the hill that descends down towards the lake where you can spot my grandparents' windmill and barn from across the valley.  I wished my kids could have met my brilliant grandfather, whom we lost far too young to early-onset Alzheimer's.  I told stories about him, and Alex (whose middle name comes from his grandfather) said that he figured he got his grandfather's good building skills.  I like that he feels a connection to someone that is special to me, despite the fact they never got to spend time together.

I do feel so fortunate that my kids get to spend time with their great-grandmother.  This year, she taught all the great-grandkids how to play Charades, and Jackson got a lesson in a few solitaire card games.  In my parenting moment of the year, I bribed Kenyon with a promise of candy to entice him to come out from hiding underneath the table and participate in this picture with his brothers, cousins, and great-Grandma.

We followed the typical Thanksgiving itinerary--gorged ourselves on my mom's cooking, hung out, and played Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Mexican Train.  The kids got some good time in with their cousins.

We picnicked and explored at Dinosaur Rock one afternoon.  
What picture of any Nana and Papa with their grandkids would be complete without the obligatory grumpy 3-year old smack dab in the middle?

On the way back from the picnic, a group of horses were clustered right by the road, so we rolled down the windows and stopped to say hello.  

Um....horses' heads are big.  I astutely noted this as the horses stuck their heads inside of our vehicle.  Well, hello there!  It was part cute (my mom's thinking), part frightening (my dad's thinking) to pet their soft noses and eventually thank them for their congeniality but we must really be going now, don't you have some hay to nibble on or something?
Mom with an overly friendly horse
One night, Jackson braved the cold with my two cousins that he idolizes and my aunt (nicknamed Uncle Nora) to witness the Christmas Parade in Comfort, TX.
We'll be roughly 9,000 miles away from Kerrville this time next year, likely not celebrating Thanksgiving at all, but the feeling of family will stay with me despite the distance.  I love these people.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is There Such Thing as a Tissue Sommelier?

Friendship is unnecessary, like art...
It has no survival value; rather, is one of those things that give value to survival.
~C.S. Lewis

We don't have family in town, but we are so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends.  Denver is the only city I've lived in during my adult life, so I don't have much to compare it to in the realm of making friends as adults,  but people are really friendly here.  And cool.  You know where I met many of my friends?  Through my involvement at my kids' school.  I'm not talking about the 'Crap, there's a school function and now I'm going to have to chit-chat with a bunch of fake people' kind of friends, but real, down-to-earth friends.  God, I love this school.  I'm coming to the realization that the fact that my kids' school is what I'm truly going to miss most during our year away either makes me a lunatic, or incredibly blessed.

Jury's still out on that one.

Some friends have suggested that we throw a going-away party before we leave for Australia.  While that sounds like a great opportunity to see everyone, especially those friends that we consider dear but only see once or twice a year, I balked, saying that I would likely just be a teary-eyed disaster.  Hell, I cried at my son's end-of-season soccer party when his coach had the audacity to talk about the spring season and then looked at Alex and told him that he's looking forward to having him back on the team the following spring when we return.

You see, Alex's soccer team is made up of kids from his 1st grade class--one of the dads is the coach, and the end-of-season party was held at the cozy restaurant Satchel's on 6th, which is owned by another dad.  He opened up his restaurant just for the occasion and served a delicious grilled salad and braised short ribs, with wine aplenty.  Warm atmosphere, good people...I wish I could blame my tears on the wine, but I didn't even have a sip.  

Really, Annie?  The fact that your son will miss out on a year of soccer team participation elicits tears?  Yikes.  I guess I just really love life here, so even though I'll be back in a year--hopefully with my kids at the same school, although it's not a given--I'm just really going to miss everyone.  Don't get me wrong; I'm incredibly psyched for this next year and am having way too much fun in the evenings planning a rough 3-week camping itinerary...but I'm still going to miss everyone.

As I was in the midst of writing this post, I received an email from two friends (that I met at the kids' school, damn them for being so awesome) saying that they weren't going to accept not having a going away party and tossed out some ideas.  Want to know the height of lameness?  At the dinner table tonight, I told Sam that I have the nicest friends ever, and couldn't even get the words out about the party without crying.  Then I had to explain to the boys that I wasn't sad, I was just really happy.

Did you hear that, Sara and Laura?  Better pick a place that is known for their selection of fine tissues.  And hey, maybe start being a little bitchy so this whole process could get a little easier on me.

Love you guys, and I look forward to you rightfully ridiculing me when I sport an affected Aussie accent just over a year from now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Over the Edge

A couple of hard weeks dealing with a friend's death on top of the usual stress of preparing for our journey has put a couple of chinks in my armor.  This recent Travel Vaccine Fiasco just about put me over the edge...

I'm not anti-vaccine by any means, but I do believe in being informed about what is going into my kids' bodies and why.  I followed a modified vaccine schedule, spreading shots out a bit even if it meant more needles, because I didn't like the idea of overwhelming their little immune systems with multiple vaccines all at once.  By the time Kenyon was born, giving newborns vitamin D supplements was standard practice.  I declined, because really, it would be an effort to not get enough vitamin D in Denver, with its more than 300 days of sparkly bright sunshine.

In preparation for our trip, a phone appointment with our insurance's Travel Clinic informed me that Sam and I would need Tetanus/Whooping Cough and Hepatitis A vaccines, and both older boys would just need the Hepatitis A vaccine (Kenyon had already had it, as it was standard by the time he came into the world).

Jackson, at 3 years old
As always, I asked what symptoms to watch for in case of a terrible vaccine reaction, and the shots were uneventful--the nurse gave me the handy tip of doing a few push-ups, even just against the wall, to reduce post-vaccine muscle soreness, and it really worked well.  Jackson, Alex and I were in the elevator heading out when Jackson leaned against the wall, saying he was really tired and wanted to rest when we got home.  We walked across the lobby towards the other elevator that provides access to the parking garage.  As we headed down to the garage, Jackson weakly said he didn't feel good at all, that he felt like he was going to throw up.

The doors opened and we stepped out into the parking garage elevator lobby, where Jackson's legs buckled, body collapsed, and he lay there totally unresponsive on the ground.

Jackson, at 5 years old
Inwardly, I was in complete panic mode, thinking of the possibility that he was having some freakish reaction to the vaccine that was just pumped into him.  I struggled, trying to lift him, but it quickly became apparent that his 8-year old body as dead weight is too much for this mother to carry.  The jackets and vaccination papers that I had been carrying were strewn all over the place.

Time stopped for me there, with my son lying limp on the tile floor.  With no one around to help and me unable to lift him, I had to drag his seemingly lifeless body into the elevator to get back up to the main lobby.  Alex was awesome; I'm sure he was totally freaked out inside but he stayed calm and I didn't notice it at the time but he swiftly picked up all the stuff that I had dropped and rode in the elevator with me.

Jackson, at 7 years old
Frustratingly, the elevator didn't appear to notice the emergency and took its merry time bringing us up to the main floor, where I dragged Jackson out in to the lobby and yelled for help; at this point he still wasn't conscious.  As nurses ran over, he was finally starting to open his eyes, and we took him in a wheelchair back up to the doctor's office while I tried to not completely lose my shit in front of my kids.

Turns out he just fainted; they said it's fairly common for boys to hold their breath while they get a shot and then it catches up to them a few minutes later when they're on their feet.

He was completely back to normal a short time later, but me?  I am ready to either spend some time locked away in a mental institution or at a spa.  Given our finances, an institution seems far more likely.

Who finagled me into this having-children-that-you-love-more-than-life-itself business?  I could be sipping Mai Tais on a beach with my biggest worry being deciding between the conch fritters or the lobster tail for dinner instead of trying to make peace with the terrible predicament of a mother desperately loving three human beings and not being able to protect them from life's dangers.  What worries me most is that in the grand scheme of things, this fainting incident was super minor, and it almost took me down for good.

There's no way I'm going to survive parenthood.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

6 Weeks

A glance at the calendar jolted me awake this afternoon. Yes, the calendar. Who needs a shot of espresso when you've got a year-long journey halfway around the world with your husband and three children looming? We've got a mere six(!) weekends left, and one of those will be spent with my extended family in Kerrville, TX over the Thanksgiving holiday.

You may be wondering how The Preparations are coming along (my mom is, at the very least). We fixed our front door lock that suddenly appeared to have crapped out after only 105 years of keeping families safe. When Sam opened it up for some exploratory surgery, it turned out that it only needed a little oiling and it's good as new; man, things were built to last in 1906. We also did some major fall yard cleanup and art teacher hoarding scrap lumber removal.  Winters in Colorado don't allow for showy blooms; I wish that the yard would look prettier when the Aussies arrive, but at least they'll be pleasantly surprised when spring hits.

I'm going to do a dry run of packing up just my stuff this weekend to get an idea of how many bags we're looking at--I was hoping to have one bag per person, with one extra 'stuff' bag (5 sleeping bags will account for most of that one, even with those handy suction bags to reduce their size).  Our Australian counterparts, with one less child than our family, are bringing 8 bags, so I could be terribly underestimating our needs.  We shall see.

Thanks to our awesome Aussie family facilitating the communication/mechanic's inspection/negotiation, we are thisclose to being the proud owners of a used Australian minivan.
You see, we have nearly a month down there before school begins, and I would much rather spend that time camping amongst kangaroos and goannas than dealing with Terribly Boring Logistics (especially because let's face it, Terribly Boring Logistics always fall on my lap, not my husband's).  This car purchase is one huge check off the Terribly Boring Logistics list.  Cars, like everything down there it seems, are more expensive than here, but the 1995 Toyota Tarago (known as a Previa in the United States) should work just fine.

I've been keeping an eye on the Wollongong local newspaper to get an idea of life down there, and this article from yesterday's news (Driver Dies As Car Bursts Into Flames After Hitting Kangaroo) didn't do much to assuage my driving-on-the-left-hand-side-of-the-road fears.  So, not only do we have to make sure we're keeping on the left side, but we also have to dodge kangaroos?  It makes me wish Sam has spent more of his time playing video games; that surely would have prepared him a bit more for this experience.

I have not named a car since my first, the beloved 1974 blue Volkswagen Super Beetle that my parents, in some momentary lapse of judgment, purchased for me the summer before I turned 16 so I could learn how to drive a stick shift.  I sat in the driveway the day I got it, listening to the turn-dial radio, listening to Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Beastie Boys cassette tapes, and thinking that I was the luckiest girl in the world.  He didn't have a name until Tyler Evans (who looked like a game show host even back then, in a good way) in my college Spanish class gave him one, but 'Dexter' fit him perfectly.

I think it's time to name another car, considering the bond we'll have with this one as it will carries us on our travels.  I'm thinking we should call him Ferdinand, after the famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan.  I'll let you know once I see him in person if the name fits. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanks, Tom

Take 1
Jackson, my son with an absolute replica of my logical/spelling bee/orderly brain, has surprised me recently by writing song lyrics.  He sings them, and I've heard the younger two walking around singing them as well.  They're catchy.  I'd venture to say they're good, maybe even great if you take into account the fact that he's only eight years old.  He's hesitant to attach himself to being a musician, but I told him that the only difference between a song and a poem is that one is set to music (although I'm neither a musician nor a poet, so what do I know?).

I saw him write a couple of lines today; he said he came up with them as he took out the trash.  I can't divulge the lines here because they may or may not be written in a letter to his Nana and Papa that will be mailed tomorrow--but they reminded me of the lovely, heartbreaking Tom Waits song, San Diego Serenade.

I never saw the morning til I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine until you turned out the light
I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody until I needed the song

I never saw the white line til I was leaving you behind
I never knew I needed you until I was caught up in a bind
And I never spoke I love you til I cursed you in vain
I never felt my heartstrings until I nearly went insane

I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west
I never saw the moonlight til it shone off your breast
I never saw your heart until someone tried to steal, tried to steal it away
I never saw your tears til they rolled down your face

Just before bedtime, my two oldest boys and I sat in silence, listening, as I played the song for them.  I love that they're at an age where I can share things, and they can appreciate things, that are meaningful to me.

Take 2
I'm quick to move on after holidays--the day after Christmas, I'm itchin' to get the ornaments nestled into their nicely divided Tupperware bins, the lights neatly wound (although they have an uncanny ability to tie themselves in complicated sailor knots by the time the next year rolls around), and the tree out by the dumpster where the city picks it up to turn into mulch for spring gardens.  I'll find rogue pine needles hiding out under the couch and in doorway crevices until long after the tulips have bloomed, but still, it feels good to move on.

Likewise, and especially in anticipation of the snowstorm headed our way tonight, I packed away the life-size skeleton, tombstone, and other Halloween goodies that helped make our house 'definitely waaaaay spookier than any other house on the street', as Alex declared every time we pulled into the driveway over the last couple of weeks.

I also removed the plants that brought so much beauty and life to our front porch since warmth was the norm, and the vines of morning glories that had fiercely wound their way up our railing.  They had done their work, bursting open their violet blooms for us to enjoy as each summer day began, and now it was time to rest.

As I carted the load out by wheelbarrow to the alley dumpster on this evening before a snowstorm, before my friend Meghan's service tomorrow, a lump rose in my throat.  Seasons change, loved ones leave us, and we must move on.

I think Tom Waits will be the soundtrack for my evening.