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Sunday, January 10, 2016

present

If you have gone on a looooong road trip with small children, you know the challenges. You know the desperation around day 2, hour 16 of being all trapped together in a small metal box on wheels. You know how the emotions crackle, frustration bubbles constantly beneath the surface. One might even call the experience traumatic. Might.

We made such a trip this past summer. Winding our way from south central Texas up through vast empty plains, large cities, more vast emptiness, rolling hills... and then finally the woodsy, stretched-out places of central Illinois.

This trip was one that we made feeling the pressure of an impending deadline: we needed to make it for a wedding, so we had to make the trip in no more than two days. We also were pinching pennies, so we stayed at the cheapest hotel we could find at the halfway point.

We did a ten hour day... and arrived at one of those scaryish economy hotels that are parked next to a freeway, surrounded by a field of busted cement and rows of semis. The rooms all face outward to exposed walkways. Ramshackle diners stood at the far end of the hotel parking lot, and the whole feel of the place was dismal. When I went in for our key, I was informed we were on the 3rd floor. Which meant trucking the kids and all our things up, up, up three flights of stairs. (And then make the trip back down, down, down for every random thing we'd forgotten in the van). However, as we climbed the metal stairs up to our room, all I could hear was our kids' excitement. Whhhatt?? We got to sleep all the way up here? SOOooooo cool!! Whoooaaa! Look how far we can see!! This is sooo awesome!!" And I thought, "Yes. Why not?" And, when it turned out that the hotel was noisy and stinky, I again tuned into what my kids were expressing... And they were expressing nothing. No frustration, no disgust. And I thought, "Yes. Why not?"

The next day we got on the road as quickly as we could. We wanted to put the next 8 hours behind us. About an hour out on the road, we felt the warning wobble of the van--and within minutes our rear tire was flat.

Even in this flat tire though, there was beauty. It happened early in the day, so the July heat that was ramping up still was at a lower temperature. It happened yards from an exit ramp. The exit ramp led to an abandoned gas station with the gas station free-standing roofs, which provided shade for Rey to work on the tire. The gas station was gutted, graffitied and overgrown with tall grass and weeds. An abandoned van was left parked outside it. There was broken glass littered everywhere. And again, I tuned into the kids. "What an adventure! Oh, my gosh! Why do you think this gas station is empty? Why did noone what their van? Hey, let's break rocks with a hammer... Hey--look over here...!" And, then I thought, "Yes. Why not?"

Rey put the spare tire on the van and it got us another hour down the road to a Walmart, where we were able to purchase a replacement tire. The wait was around 2 hours. But, we were in an air conditioned place. With food for lunch. And a toy aisle to distract. No complaints from the kids.

That day stretched into infinity. We started and ended the day in that van. Our planned 8 hour drive turned into an almost 12 hour ordeal. Yes, the last couple hours--driving in the dark down unfamiliar country roads--were hard and plain awful. I felt suspended in some horrible dream at certain moments... but, upon arriving, Rey and I looked at each other so very pleased. So happy to know that there is a way to go through hard and yuck and not turn on each other. Not make bad worse.

I don't think it was by accident that the book I had along with me for the ride was Shauna Niequest's Bread and Wine. It was definitely one of my top favorite books that I read in 2015. Among the many things I took away from the book was this thought:

That is, being there. Where you are. And really being present. Not wishing it away, not trying to micromanage or perfect it. But just experience it, and live it fully aware.

I found in my phone a note a made during the trip, and it was so good to go back to it. I wrote:

Often, the attitudes that need adjusting in any given group are the attitudes of the grown ups. The children are often happy to be happy, to be in the moment, on the journey. Their first reaction to many new experiences is a natural awe, joy & sense of adventure. I am finding out that more and more, the best thing I can do is follow my kids' lead. Their need for interaction, connection, time. To tune my rhythms more finely to theirs seems the greatest thing I can do. To not be so consumed and frustrated by how they are not fitting into "my plan" and "schedule", but learning to gracefully bend into their lack of future-controlling. I am learning to more quickly yield my plans to their needs; to give honor to their ideas and dreams; to live life's full joy in the moment that is--not squelching it by wishing it was something that it's not.

Have you seen this to be true? That often we can be taught so much about right attitudes in life if we see the situation through our child's eyes? It's amazing how many "horribly annoying inconveniences" can melt away when we just don't take it so seriously and choose to find the joy even in (maybe especially in...?) the unplanned.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

to aleni... on the eve of your sixth.

Aleni girl,
You are deep waters.
Your make up is so different than mine, that in trying to understand you
I often ache for the ways I don't.
You are fiercely private and serious around those you admire or don't know well.
I see this thing you do--
A sucking in of the lips and a clamping down of your jaws over your lips....
As if willing yourself to be brave, and flawless.
You are often opaque in situations where I wouldn't expect it.
I often have no idea how much you have absorbed, or understood,
Until...
You pipe up sometime or days later saying, "Remember when,,,,?"
And I see just how much you really are taking in.
You are possessive,
You are passionate,
You are focused.
Talented, brilliant, strong, unstoppable.
It is highly important to you that you are right, and that those around you agree with your views.
We are working on that.... ;)
You are a leader.
You are endlessly silly and energetic when you are comfortable,
But extremely embarrassed when you feel put on the spot or watched.
You've alway shunned the camera and the stage.
If I ever put you on display--it's because I forget--
And I want to share your brilliance.
Ok, and there's this.
You are beautiful.
Like breath-takingly, achingly beautiful,
Sometimes, I just get lost in your beauty.
Your mystery.
Your you-ness.
In the beauty of your olive skin, your eyebrows and delicate features...
I see the heritage passed down through your daddy.
I also see your daddy in you in your silences and hidden self,
I see me in you, too--
In the way you like to challenge yourself physically.
To impress yourself with how strong you are,
How fearless.
I was that girl, too.
I see me in your silliness and in your emotional outbursts....
And, really.
I see you!
One-of-a-kind, not-another-one-like you.... You.

Happy Birthday, my darling girl!