You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

Oh, The People You Meet

When you are sightseeing by yourself, as I was last Friday, having extended my time in England by a day so I could checkout London, you really don’t have anyone to talk to, except for strangers.  Most strangers are busy doing their own thing – especially on the subway.  I didn’t see anyone making small talk there!  They either talked to the person they traveled with or were silent.  I, being alone, was silent.

However, sightseeing and being unfamiliar with an area forces one to speak to at least a handful of strangers to get around.  My first was just a block from the hotel at the bus stop.  I had been told to catch the U3 bus to the airport where I could then get a day pass for the London Underground.  The person at the front desk had been kind of vague about where to go.  And I didn’t know how to read the signs at the bus station.

There was a British family standing there so I walked up to the woman who was probably the grandmother and asked if the U3 bus stopped there.  She told me that it didn’t and that I needed to walk down to the other one.  As I walked away, she suddenly called out (calling me “Darling”) and said she was mistaken – the bus did indeed stop there.  I know it was a little thing and she probably calls everyone “Darling” but it still made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

The next was a fun guy with dark skin and maroon hair (I mention the dark skin only because it made the maroon hair that much more striking).  He’s the one that advised me to buy a day pass that didn’t allow me to ride until 9:30, which was a little over half an hour away.  The advice saved me nearly $15.

After that, there was no conversation.  Except with the people taking my money at the various gift shops and at lunch.  I just walked around on my own.  More on that experience and its effect on me tomorrow.  Suffice it to say for now, it was a quiet day.

Until the end.  Tired and sore, I began to make my way back to the airport.  Problem was that I hadn’t eaten dinner and didn’t want to pay airport or hotel prices.  So I stopped at the Acton Town station and walked to where you run your tickets to leave.  I decided to ask the man working there whether there was any place to eat near the station.  He said no.

“But if you just go one more stop,” he said (referring to a different line than the one I needed to go back to my room), “there’s a good Tex-Mex restaurant.”

I was too tired to laugh but managed to tell him, “I’m from Texas.  I really don’t want to eat Tex-Mex while I’m here.  I’d rather have something local.  I mean, it might be interesting to experience your take on Tex-Mex, but…”

“Well,” he said, “if you like Curry, there are several Indian Curry Shops across the street.”

“I’m burned out on Curry now.  Is there not something on the way back to the airport?  Maybe some fish and chips or something?”

He quietly named off the stops to himself, shaking his head at each one.  One stop, he told me he wouldn’t send me to.  “I wouldn’t want to send you to the Detroit of England,” he said apologetically.

He finally said that if I’d be willing to go just one more stop on that out-of-my-way line, there’d be a whole host of restaurants to choose from.  So I reluctantly dragged my aching body back onto the subway train.

When the doors opened at the first stop, I seriously considered just getting out and trying the Tex-Mex place.  But my resistance to eating Tex-Mex along with my physical desire to not get up out of my seat and my growing reluctance to sit in a busy restaurant by myself kept me planted.

I had no choice but to get off at the next stop, being the end of the line.  On my way out, I noticed a pastie shop.  When I looked in their glass case, I saw “Cornish Pastie” and thought to myself, “Hey, now.  That’s local and I’ve never had one.”

When I found out the flaky pastry was stuffed with seasoned meat, potatoes, and onions, I exclaimed that that was exactly what I was looking for.  The price (under 5 pounds) was also right.  She asked if I wanted her to put it in a bag.  I started to say no, that I planned on sitting at one of their tables, when I realized she was offering to solve several of my problems.  I was past ready to be back in my room and I didn’t want to sit and eat by myself.

I was so excited about my purchase (silly, I know, but in my defense, it’d been a really long and tiring day), that I took the time and steps to return to the ticket man at Acton Town.  I proudly held up my bag and said, “I just wanted to thank you for recommending I go on to Ealing Broadway!  I got a Cornish Pastie and I couldn’t be happier!”

“Oh, honey!” he exclaimed. “That’s not dinner!”

“Oh, it’s exactly what I wanted,” I countered. “It was something local, inexpensive, already prepared, and something I could take with me.  Perfect!”

He looked doubtful but reluctantly said I was welcome.  I then realized that I didn’t know which terminal the subway had taken me from that morning.  That knowledge was important in that it was two different trains and only one of them was near the bus station that would take me on to the hotel.  I think the man was starting to worry about me but we talked through it and I took an educated guess and chose wisely.

Back at the airport, I caught the bus that would return me to my hotel.  I saw us go by the hotel but since we were on the other side of the street, I assumed that I would need to wait until it looped back around.  I saw a young woman looking anxiously at a map to the same hotel.  I told her that it would come back around right about the time the driver stopped and announced something I didn’t catch.  She asked if we needed to get off and I said I didn’t think so.  The guy behind me gruffly insisted that we were to get off the bus now.

I soon found myself standing on a dark street several blocks from my hotel, on the wrong side of a busy, four-lane road, with a very small college student from Tokyo.

“Wanna walk together?” I asked.

And so it was that I ended my solo sightseeing adventure in the company of another solo traveler.  We made light small talk together and ran across the street when we saw a break in traffic.  It felt good to walk alongside someone.  All in all, those last two people went a long way to restoring my sanity after a full day of living inside my own head.  What a blessing.

Good Morning

Did I mention that all three kids were gone last week?  I have a post planned about how I think we will handle the empty nest based on our time last week, but for now I want to talk about my relationship with Hal.

Hal went to visit grandparents while his older siblings were at summer camp.  They left a week ago Sunday; he left Monday.  They returned Saturday; he returned Sunday.  We met my mom halfway to retrieve him.  I saw them exit the restaurant we were meeting at so I hopped out.

He saw me and raced toward me.  I scooped him up and gave (and received) a big hug.  Before I had a chance to ask how he was doing, he had spotted something behind me and was squirming to get down.

That something was his Daddy.

My reunion with my son was done.  There was Daddy, after all.

You might think I’m bitter, but really, I’m not.  He’s a Daddy’s boy and I understand why.  I mean, they spend all day nearly every day home with Daddy over the summer.  Daddy takes them to school.  I go to work.

Hal is remarkably devoted to seeing me off properly when I do leave for work.  Take Monday morning after his return, for instance.  I entered his room and gently rubbed his back to wake him up before I left.  I rubbed and rubbed and then gave him a kiss on the cheek.  He didn’t really stir until I said, “Hal, I’m heading to work now.”

He hurried to an upright position and wrapped my neck in a tight hug.  “I love you, Mommy.  Have a good day at work.”

As I prepared to walk out the front door a few minutes later, he called out, “Wait, Mommy!  I want more hugs and kisses!”

He could have stayed in bed – that’s what the other two would have done.  But instead, he ran down the hall to repeat the farewells.  And then he opened the door as I walked down the sidewalk and repeated all his well wishes, adding that he would lock the door behind me (a request I make frequently when leaving).  He opened the door again to ask me what it is I do at work.

I could almost see the little wheels in his head turning as it dawned on him that he really had no clue what I do at work.  Pausing to consider how to explain to someone so young, I finally said, “I write programs that run on computers.”

“Oh, ok.  Have a good day, Mommy.  I love you!”

We had to do double and triple good night hugs that night because I was leaving for the airport early the next morning.  I would not be going into his room to say goodbye.  This didn’t sit very well with him.

My first day of travel was such that it was well into the evening before I had a chance to call home.  While talking to my husband, I could hear Hal in the background yelling something about Good Morning.  “Why are you saying Good Morning?” my husband asked.

Eventually, Hal got on the phone and he told me Good Morning and suddenly, I understood.  This was his first opportunity to speak to me that day.  And it is very, very important to him that he tells his Mommy Good Morning.  It’s the first thing said to each other every day.  It’s why I never sneak out unless it’s unquestionably too early to wake him.  It’s part of how I know just how much he loves me.

Good Morning, Hal.  Mommy misses you very much.

My Trip in Pictures… Sort Of…

Here’s some pictures and related observations from my recent trip:

This was not my burger.  Mine was a lot of food but still manageable.  The salt shaker and glass are there to provide reference.  The coworker who ate it had to eat it in layers, using his fork.  I think he was a little embarrassed at how many of us wanted to take a picture of it before he dug in.

 

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I stood next to this sign waiting for the elevator at the hotel long enough to begin questioning whether the man escaping down the stairs was properly proportioned or whether he was built rather like Barbie, with excessively long legs.

I then pondered whether that was acceptable since the goal was to show walking and thus there should be some emphasis on the legs.  Surely it’s a more acceptable reason than Barbie’s.

I think perhaps the hotel elevator was a bit slow.

 

20140502_110018

The problem with juxtaposing these two bumper stickers on a nearly black tinted window is that it really looks like one bumper sticker.  I couldn’t figure out for a minute why the driver’s German Shepherd looked so much like Master Yoda in sunglasses.

 

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Okay, ladies and gents, this is why grammar is important.  My response to this board at an airport restaurant was, “Hell no, I don’t want to try one of the burritos you sold last year!  Even if you do still have one that the purchaser hasn’t already digested.”

They wanted to convey two points.  One, that they sold a lot of Cancun Burritos last year, implying they must be pretty good.  And, two, that you should really try one.  Trying to combine those two thoughts into one sentence didn’t work too well.

What I Learned on Travel Last Week

Some random lessons learned from my recent business trip:

  1. Taco Bell is not open at 5:30 in the morning, even though you thought they should be since they are open at 1 or 2 in the morning and now serve breakfast.  Why wouldn’t they just stay open 24/7?
  2. Spending nearly an hour standing in line at security will convince you that, yes, it really is important to get to the airport two hours before your flight.
  3. Sometimes you get the full body scan when you go through security.  Other times, they randomly let you go through the priority side, which allows you to leave your shoes and jewelry on.
  4. Sometimes you get lucky and get a full suite complete with a living room and couch while your coworkers get regular ole rooms.
  5. Sometimes all it takes to get a good night’s sleep is to pull the refrigerator out from under the counter and unplug it.  It’s best to move it back before housekeeping arrives.
  6. Nutella cheesecake from Fazoli’s is worth every penny.
  7. It truly is possible to eat out too much.
  8. People can’t hide their quirks when you spend a week together, even if you aren’t sharing a room.
  9. While you can take an empty water bottle through security, they will not let you drink the water that you forgot was in your water bottle after they’ve scanned it.  Your only choices are to let them throw it away or go back out of the secure area.
  10. Your desire to continue forward will override your desire to have a water bottle.
  11. You will later regret not having a water bottle.
  12. Your Kindle will keep a charge much longer than you expect when it reaches the state that warns your battery is low.  Long enough, at least, for an hour and a half flight.
  13. Even if you’ve never really traveled by yourself, there are actually plenty of signs at airports to get you where you are going if you just slow down and look for them.  And if that fails, the people working there are friendly and helpful.
  14. Some people apparently expect the bus driver to exit the bus and take their suitcase onto the bus for them, even though they have only the one suitcase and no small children running amuck and the suitcase has a tall handle and wheels and the owner of the suitcase was apparently able to maneuver it all the way to the bus stop just fine.
  15. The bus driver apparently anticipates these surprisingly inept people and accommodates them.
  16. You will feel sorry for the bus driver as he struggles to rebuckle and you will surreptitiously stare at the woman and wonder if it’s the high heels that make her require assistance.
  17. You were unexpectedly wise to take a picture of the sign indicating your section and row in remote parking.  But when you return, you will almost forget that you did that and rummage through your purse looking for the scrap of paper you hope you jotted it down on first.
  18. That NPR member station fundraising campaign that was driving you crazy when you left on your trip will still be going on when you get back.
  19. You’ll decide that music suits you better anyway.
  20. As soon as you start to feel confident about your ability to maneuver in busy big city traffic, you will get lost.
  21. If you are excited to get home, you will encounter a traffic jam.
  22. Life with three children will overwhelm you when you return but that broad smile on your momma’s boy’s face when he sees that you are home will stick with you forever.

Irony

One of the best parts of my recent trip was all the extra time I had to read while there. My Kindle can keep a charge forever and holds hundreds of books.  It’s awesome.

When I left the hotel early enough to get to the airport two hours before my flight, I was almost giddy about getting to read for an hour or two plus another hour or two on the flight. I sat down at the terminal,  there so early that only a handful of other travelers were there. I got out the boiled egg and muffin from the hotel, pulled out my Kindle,  and turned it on.

Battery Level is Low

Your battery is getting low. Please charge your Kindle.

Seriously. The irony, for me, is that I carried my charger on my person on the way here. But I put it in the suitcase for the trip home. So now what do I do?! I am so devastated that I’ve seriously considered asking the other passengers if they have a charger I could use.

P.S. Some folks will think this story ended with me pulling out my Kindle and wonder why in the world I felt compelled to share. That’s because this terrible Android WordPress app on my phone thinks the save icon should be equivalent to “publish”. I tried to save it so I could use the camera to take a picture of the low battery message. *Sigh* So now I can’t even write blog posts for fear they will all run this morning!

What Happens While He Is Away

Things happen while spouses are away. I think this is a variation of Murphy’s Law. It’s true. You can handle almost anything while two of you are at the helm; but as soon as one of you jumps ship, the other is treading water.

Last year, we went through a series of weekends where my husband was gone and a different kid got injured each time. These weren’t minor injuries – they were “should I go ahead and take her to the emergency room?” kinds of injuries. By the third weekend he was gone, I was worried sick about the yet-to-be-injured child. He fortunately escaped the weekend unscathed.

When I joined a Boy Scouts Venture Crew on their 2 week hike at Philmont Scout Ranch back in 2005 when Jane and Daryl were almost 5 and almost 2, I called my husband from base camp before we hit the trail. He was flustered and sounded almost angry at me. Why? Because Jane had rolled out of bed in the middle of the night, cutting her back on the corner of the nightstand, resulting in a deep cut whose scar is still visible today.

Last weekend (9 days ago – not yesterday), my husband left with some colleagues to attend a conference several states away. Since he’s the stay-at-home parent who takes and picks up our children to and from school, this was a significant burden to me. I lined up a friend to pick them up from school some days but it still didn’t seem likely that I would escape the week without spending some vacation hours.

We played games at some friends’ house the night before he left and were out late. When we got home close to 11:00 pm, I noticed water on the floor around the toilet in the kids’ bathroom. We thought maybe it came from Jane’s shower and dried it up. Then I used the bathroom, flushed, and… surprise! Water on the floor.

We dried it up and, out of curiosity, my husband flushed our toilet on the other side of the wall. Surprise! Water on the floor, oozing out from under the wall.

“Do you want to deal with this on your own tomorrow or do you want to investigate now?” He asked.

Some crowbar pulls later, he had torn the bottom edge of the paneling behind the toilet loose to reveal rotted drywall and green pipes. We repeated the flushing experiments and watched the water ooze out. Actually, with the wall gone, we could now see that the water was gushing out… and running down the wall behind the vanity. The ooze we could see previously was just the overflow. The drain was backing up each time we flushed. Obviously, we had waited too long to get our septic tanks pumped and the heavy rain that day had done us in.

We laid our tools across the toilet lid to signal to the children not to use the toilet and I headed to bed shortly after midnight. There’s a third toilet at the other end, on a separate tank, so all is good… right?

His alarm went off at 5 am Sunday morning and he quickly moved to the other end of the house to keep from disturbing me. At one point he came back and whispered in my ear, “Sweetheart? The other toilet won’t flush either. Do you want to stay at the Hampton?”

Hmm. Stay in a hotel room with three kids. Go to bed when they do unless I get a suite. Return home at least twice a day to take care of the dog. Or board the dog too? This conference is getting expensive, indeed.

I returned to sleep for a brief time where I had a vividly stressful dream that involved showing up to church and being responsible for everything from breakfast to bell ringing to reading the liturgy. And nothing was going well.  It was foreshadowing for my week.

I struggled out of bed a short time later and rustled the children, who had fortunately all showered the afternoon before. I told Jane to use the far toilet and not flush. I told the boys to pee outside. I took on the uncomfortable task of waiting until we got to church to relieve myself.

We hurried out the door and as I locked it, I heard commotion over at the truck. Apparently, the boys had been playing in the truck the day before and Hal had left the back window wide open. Right before the major thunderstorm. The seats were soaked.

I was fairly sure I was going to break under the pressure. We arrived at church and Jane setup for breakfast while I prepared my Sunday School lesson and took care of my other responsibilities. The bell choir director asked me to play a chime part in the choral response. One of the other bell ringers asked me to play her part in the final hymn. Was it my nightmare coming to life?

Actually, no. The morning ended up being everything you wish that worship would be for you every single Sunday. I had to slip into the choir loft while they sang the anthem so I’d be there for the choral response. I sat on a step out-of-sight and leaned against their pews and listened to them sing The Old Rugged Cross. I sank down into a deep happy, peaceful place.

I entered the church building that morning feeling broken and defeated and dreading the week. I left with all the same problems but feeling capable of taking them on. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I could do it.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because…

I tried to do a load of laundry Sunday afternoon and learned that it, too, feeds into a septic tank. I had fun quickly pulling everything off the shelves next to the washing machine so I could try to soak up all the water rushing down the wall with only 10 and 5 year old boys as my assistants.

On Monday, I called the septic clean-out company the organist had recommended and was lucky to get a same-day appointment. Better yet, I could pay over the phone and didn’t have to be present.

Then I got a call that afternoon. The man was out at my house and had a problem. There are three tanks. One at one end and two chained together at the other end. He couldn’t find the one at one end (servicing a toilet and the washing machine). He could only reach the second one on the other end (the other two toilets and the showers) because the lid on the first one was collapsed and filled with mud. He didn’t think there would be a point to draining the second one if he couldn’t reach the first one. We’d need someone with a backhoe to clean it out and then repair it.  And I’d need to find the cleanout for the other one if I wanted the man to pump it for me.

Since we had to go to Middle School Open House and Destination Imagination practice and run to Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, it was dark by the time we got home. I had cleared the waiting-to-go-to-the-dump debris stacked where I suspected the cleanout to be in the short time I was home between work and the evening activities, but then had to shovel by flashlight after the boys went to bed in order to find the cleanout, which had gotten buried by the foundation repair people a year or so ago (I’m guessing). Jane just loved helping me out by holding the flashlight. While texting. The septic guy was booked on Tuesday so it’d be Wednesday. Another evening of the boys peeing outside and the girls not flushing.

Oh, and while at Lowe’s, I discovered that I had lost my Visa card. Somewhere. And while shoveling outside, I discovered at least one place where the mice have easy access into the house when I watched one run away from the flashlight and in through the dryer vent. Jane liked witnessing that too.

The next day, I verified with the septic guy that he needed not just the cleanout clear but the space above the actual septic tank as well.  The tank whose exact location was unknown.  That evening was filled with volleyball practice and the elementary school open house so again, that work had to wait until after dark.  But at least I discovered before dark that my credit card was lying near one of the septic tanks, having slipped out of my pocket the previous day.

Jane absolutely had to do a load of laundry so I pulled the hose out of the drain and stuck it out the window, attached to a garden hose so the water wouldn’t drain too close to the house.  Then I moved all that debris a second time to make sure it wasn’t over where the septic tank was likely to be.  I just knew, looking around, that the tank was under the riding lawn mower.  The mower with two flat tires.  Between Jane, me, and the truck and tow-straps, we got it moved.  And I learned the next day that that was, indeed, exactly where the tank was.

That night also involved a difficult conversation with Jane about choices she was making concerning her friends and how she was treating them.  The next day, we had a working septic system again – yay! – but her attempt to reconcile with her friend had gone poorly.  So more heart-to-heart.  The teenage drama continued the next night when volleyball practice did not go well and her stressful worrying about the estranged friend continued.

I must say, though, that even though I was on a raw emotional edge by Thursday evening, it was still easier to deal with my teen’s problems when I wasn’t also worrying about where people would poop.  I also decided, at my husband’s urging, to go ahead and require the dog to sleep in her crate instead of our bedroom so I could get a good night’s sleep (her snoring and sudden decisions to explore cause me problems).

And it worked.  I was getting a great night’s sleep Thursday night when I was awakened by someone pounding on the front door.  I knew that they must have been banging for awhile because it dragged me out of a very deep sleep.  I flew out of bed and grabbed my phone off the charger: 2:00 am.  I stumbled to my bedroom door and as I prepared to open it, the heater kicked off.  All the noise confusion stopped and I stood there, trying to figure out why I was up.  Whoever it was had stopped banging on the door.  But, wait.  Wouldn’t the dog be going nuts if someone was really at the door?  Yes, no one was at the door.  I suspect now that the knocking was the heater.  Something else to investigate.  And so much for a good night’s sleep.

The weekend brought a volleyball tournament a little over an hour from home and – lucky us! – we had to be there at 7:30 in the morning both Saturday and Sunday.  I love waking my children at 5:30 in the morning on weekends.  And because of the earlier-than-expected start on Sunday, we got to spend several hours at the church Saturday afternoon so Jane could get her National Junior Honor Society volunteer hours, no longer being able to fix breakfast for the church as planned.

Still, by Sunday afternoon, we were able to play a couple of games together and we had a nice home-cooked meal at the table, so I guess we finished strong.  But I was too beat by the time my husband got home around 11 pm to do anything more than raise my head from my pillow and say, “Glad you are home.  Good night.”

I really am glad he’s home.  And not just because I’m happy to return to team parenting.  I kinda like the guy.