It’s Like I Love Them or Something

I woke in the middle of the night with an image from the movie Captain Fantastic in my head. In one scene, Viggo Mortensen (who was nominated for a best actor Oscar) looks at his son through the rear view mirror of their live-in bus. His son has just shaved off his long brown locks, and Mortensen’s character has just shaved his beard. Both were done as an outward sign of an internal change of direction: a tangible demonstration of their respective rites of passage. Father sees son, a look of acknowledgment crosses his face – a look of respect for his son’s this-is-me statement. He runs his hand across his head. The son looks back, slight smile, head tilted up, and runs his hand across his jaw. I think it’s my favorite moment in the film (of which there are many to choose). It communicates a paragraph’s worth of words in two motions and one long look.

I love words. I like to read them, say them, hear them, even invent them sometimes. I talk A LOT, and I write, and I read my writing aloud before I post it. I even talk to our bunny to have an excuse to say words out loud when no humans are available to listen. But I think often the most significant form of communication is silence. Either for good or for evil.

When my husband gave me the silent treatment early on in our marriage, it hurt more than nasty words ever could.

When I have moved past angry to brooding-quiet, my kids know it’s serious.

When I catch my husband looking at me from across the room, I carry that look in my heart all day.

When my kids get my total eyeball attention and a grin, they feel loved more than if I spew a slew of complements. And they carry it with them, too.

And so. I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to try (try, I say) to be a little quieter this week. I’m going to attempt some face time with each child, and with my husband. Because A. it can’t be done in passing, which means connection, and B. it will stick like glue. I’m going to sit down with my son and look in his green-blue eyes and smile. It will be weird – he will get to fully indulge the adolescent mantra that parents are insane. I’m going to touch his pre-facial-hair-face and hold it in my hands. The same for my middle-child brown-eyed girl and my not-so-tiny-anymore blue-eyed beauty. I’m going to say “I adore you” with my eyes, with my hands. And with my flared nostrils, because Mae will love that. For my husband, well, that’s private. I won’t go into that here. But I won’t be jabbering, that’s for certain.

I’m sure the creators of Captain Fantastic didn’t predict that some mom in Kansas would take that tiny slice of their film and be moved to action. That’s what art does, though. Good art, anyway. It moves people – to consider, or re-consider, to realize, to feel, to act. That one scene went a long way. I’ll let you know how the experiment goes. I predict eye-rolling, giggling, and maybe a request to play video games. But my hope is for connection. To stop and look long enough that words aren’t necessary.

Me. Giving up words.

It’s like I love them or something

 

And Then

Well.

All three of my children are now in full-time school. Under someone else’s watch. Outside of my home and my care for a good portion of the day. I was excited for this moment to come. It’s been 11 and a half years since I started having kids, quit my job and stayed home full-time to be with them. Today, when I dropped off my sweet girl and walked out the school doors, I didn’t feel much. “That was anticlimactic,” I told my husband. Which felt completely wrong. In the span of three minutes I changed from being a stay-at-home, full-time mother to not.  With no fanfare or recognition of the tremendous change. The platform of the last whole chunk of my life was removed and I was walking on nothing. I almost put my arms out to get my balance. I got to the car and sat for a moment, and then the tears came.

Those tears were unexpected. I love her enormously – this is not a case of wishing to be rid of a troublesome child – but she was ready, and I was ready. I thought I was ready, at least.

I had my list. Of all I would accomplish today in light of my new, open schedule. How organized and in-control I would feel after such an opportunity. But I was a blubbering mess and knew the list-tackling wasn’t to be. I had to work out these big feelings. And I do that through writing. I had to take stock of the last decade-plus to know how to turn my mind in a new direction and move forward.

So here’s a summary of those years, to help myself grasp the immensity of the occasion:

  • Hours and hours of wiping bottoms or the messes made by them.
  • Hours and hours of being peppered with machine gun style questions. Rapid fire, not waiting for an answer before the next is delivered.
  • Hours and hours of making food for small people, nearly none of which was appreciated (“Mom! I said I wanted peanut butter and raisins!”, “I don’t even like bananas!”, “Ewwww, this looks sooo gross!”), and then cleaning up the mess of the unappreciators.
  • Picking up toys and sorting toys and organizing toys and getting rid of outdated toys and buying new toys and repeating.
  • Having babies (like actually being pregnant, giving birth to them, nursing them and waking up all night with them – years of this).
  • Playing cars and pirates and vikings and lego, then princesses and babies and “family” and doing one thousand puzzles and playing one million board games (I recommend “I Never Forget a Face,” “Animal Upon Animal” and “Secret Squares”).
  • Mommy-and-me music and gymnastics and swimming and art classes.
  • Grocery shopping with someone (or more than one small person) asking for every third item they see. Including: big carrots instead of little ones, Mango Tango, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, donuts, yogurt, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, M&Ms, gum, sugar cereal, cheese sticks (SO expensive! Come on. It’s still just cheese.), all the toys in Target, DVDs, bikes, iphones, junk from the $1 section, sparkly puppy dog purses, Minecraft t-shirts, and once, randomly but wonderfully, artichokes.

Those are all negatives. Here are some positives, and reasons the transition is a tough one and not just a celebration of freedom:

  • Hours and hours of snuggling with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, and elementary school kids when they let me (this counteracts a bunch of those negatives at once).
  • Getting to watch my children reach new milestones, say their first words, take their first steps, discover the squishy delights of play-doh, build their first lego creations, say their first inadvertent cuss words, complete their first puzzles, eat their first fistfuls of sand, and all the other firsts I was able to experience spending all day with them.
  • Play dates that included other moms so as to maintain sanity and enjoy the company of other grown-ups, which fostered some of my most treasured friendships.
  • Years of not having a boss.
  • Waking up to little voices (even crying or mad ones) instead of alarm clocks.
  • Deciding on a whim to go to the zoo. When will I do that alone?
  • Going to the park. Often.
  • Witnessing the whole deal. How they change and change and change. Watching and seeing and taking in their growth. That’s a big one.

So, it seems it was a good run. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all dreamy. It was just like life: a mix. One part of the entire story of my whole life span. I did my job – well at times, very poorly at others (see: the time I hid in the basement from my toddler son who was making me, literally, crazy). It wasn’t my life’s work, it was a decade’s work. I am not just a stay at home mom. I am a writer and a reader and a bit of a painter. I am a good cook and a bad mathematician and a passionate-if-not-fabulous Zumba dancer. I am an extrovert and an introvert, depending on the moment. I am a mother and I am just another human being. I simply needed to remind myself what the heck just happened. A necessary moment to recalibrate and take a gigantic, deep breath. And cry. I clearly needed to cry.

Done.

Now I’m ready for the next phase of the story.

It begins with “And then…”

And He Went. And I Let Him.

I let my son walk out the door this morning into potential heartbreak.

I wanted to keep him home. Hold him close. Shield him from hurt and hard choices. But I didn’t. I let him get into the car and drive off to meet his fate.

“School drama,” as he put it to another parent overhearing his dilemma, had erupted. Drama indeed. He came home yesterday with worry, and it followed him to bed. It woke with me in the night and said hello as soon as I cracked an eye this morning. A dull, gray cloud hanging above our house.

We talked it over. He called a friend to clarify a misunderstanding. He worked it through with Marc and then again with me. “I wish I had taken notes about everything so I knew what to say tomorrow” he fretted as I tucked him in. I told him the truth was all he needed to remember. All he could offer.

We dealt with the reality of the situation, not trying to escape the uncomfortable yuck he would face today: people will be mad; their mistakes aren’t on you; yours are; the number of people in the world who love you is greater than those who will be upset. As he wisely said the other night “It’s all about perspective.” Yes, buddy, it is. If my 11 year old can carry that through his day, I will be happily astounded.

The weight of carrying your child’s hurt like a trunk full of bricks on your back is…heavy. I could say I didn’t sign up for this when I became a parent, but that would be a cop-out lie. This is exactly the sort of thing a mother agrees to take on when she decides to give birth to or adopt human beings. To attempt to guide these small people through the maze of living. To help them discover the wonders present. To walk with them through the various levels of heartache. To be on their team when no one else will pass them the ball.

But it’s harder than I could imagine. Letting go enough to let them feel some pain, to learn from their own mistakes, to allow risk enough for them to feel the glory of their own triumphs. This is the work of restraint. Of not meddling. Of letting our children become.

There’s a song on Foy Vance’s Live at Bangor Abbey album (also his Joy of Nothing album, but I prefer the live, alive version) that has pointed me toward a phrase I’d like to employ in my life. For my whole life. It seems to be about the breakup of his marriage. An anthem of survival – something we could all use. It busts the album open with guitar, violin and drums, and this humble but matter-of-fact declaration:

Well I tried to do what I felt was right
And I know I fucked it up sometimes.
But at least my heart was open.

That last line is the title, and the point of the song. The astute reminder of how I’d like face my days. As well as what I hope for Luke.

Knowing that my son faced something hard, Mama Bear wanted to take over – protect and defend. Give a lecture to the entire 5th grade class. Overreact and pull him from school and wrap him up in my love to ward off all pain, therefore ruining his chances to grow at all.

But the better and harder reaction is letting my heart stay open. Calming down, doing what seems right, and avoiding building a protective wall, for me or my kids.

Luke didn’t balk about leaving this morning. He seemed ready to face the day.

His heart seemed fully open.

I want to guard that tender little center of emotion and character, but my job as Mom is changing. Mama bears have to let their cubs try to survive at some point – maybe when they’re the equivalent of 11? I had to let him go try. To do what he felt was right, perhaps mess it all up, and hope he retained his open, loving, forgiving heart.

And he went.

And I let him.

Deep breaths. Nervous anticipation for school pick-up. A propped open heart. These are my companions today.

Thank you, Foy Vance, for the beacon in the darkness. It’s helping.

I Didn’t And It Wasn’t

I drove with my kids to Chicago for Spring Break. By myself. Meaning I was the only adult in the car, able to drive, needing to stay awake. Anyone who has taken a road trip with me is now wide-eyed with horror and amazed that we survived. During our entire trip last to Los Angeles, up the coast to Seattle, and back to Lawrence, the only portion I drove was across the street in Yellowstone. I have what my friend calls carpolepsy – the desire to fall asleep as soon as the engine starts. I’m like a baby. When she fusses and you can’t get her to settle, put her in a car and the gentle motion does the trick. If it wouldn’t also mean death, I would hop in my minivan at the first sign of insomnia.

But as evidenced by my ability to write today, I did not kill four fifths of our family last week. In fact, I wasn’t the least bit sleepy for almost the entire trip. The solution: podcasts and copious amounts of green tea. It felt like I became a full-fledged adult on that trip. Able to drive long distances all by my damn self. It was life-changing.

It seems like a juvenile realization for a 41 year old woman. Who’s had many jobs and been married for 16 years and had three babies and does all sorts of grown up things every day. But sometimes, even as an official adult, you experience something that makes you feel more free, more independent, more capable than you have before. Like the first time you talk your credit card company into removing a fee. Or making a complicated recipe and enjoying the delicious result. Or giving birth. When I pulled up to our friends’ house in Hyde Park, having followed my GPS correctly over seven interstate highways, and a trickier back-road route through rural Missouri and Iowa, I was tired but happy. Look at me. I got us here. We didn’t die and we didn’t have to pull over so Mommy could sleep by the side of the road. You have an adult as a parent. Congratulations.

Maybe you don’t get it – what a big deal driving eight and a half hours was to me. Allow me explain how extreme my carpolepsy has been over the years:

In college I took a spring break trip with two friends to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from Kansas. (Not the spring break for which three collegiate girls heading to the distant beach hope.  It rained nearly the entire time. I remember seeing two movies in a row one day and eating overly, extremely, I-can’t-emphasize-enough-how-fried, fried fish at a cheap buffet one night.) I drove maybe two hours total.

Marc and I have driven to the panhandle of Florida three times, and I remember driving through part of Louisiana. That is all.

Last summer we took a 31 day road trip all over the west half of America. During the entirety of our adventure I drove across the street in Yellowstone Park.

My husband prefers to drive. In part so he doesn’t have to dole out snacks, change cds, read chapters of books aloud, break up KidzBop vs Raffi arguments. And we both know my typical driving contribution is only minimally helpful – as soon as Marc scratches the surface on work emails I start fading. So, for real, people, I never drive further than Wichita, KS alone.

This trip to Chicago was a big deal. And I just decided to go for it. I figured if it wasn’t going well, Columbia, Missouri would become the destination. We’d get a boba, play at a park, and turn the car around. Better than driving into the ditch. But like the little engine that could, I thought I could. And I was right.

We had a fabulous time seeing our dear friends. We went to museums, played at parks, spent hours reconnecting with some of our favorite people. And we made a memory to savor for years to come. Overall, a complete success. (minus the tornado sirens in Springfield IL while in a Cracker Barrel without a basement/ hotel with the tornado “shelter” located seven feet from the front desk). And all because I decided to try. I could have failed, and that would have been a different lesson. And resulted in a different post. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and this is my happy post of victory over carpolepsy.

Yay for green tea and the era of podcasts.

And yay for trying. There’s not much else you can do.

 

 

Everyday Days

I had a hard time letting go of Christmas.  And I’m having to talk myself into facing the new year.

As I sat in Christmas Eve service, in the very back because we are always, always late, I had a view of the entire sanctuary full of fellow human beings, singing hymns I’ve known since before I could sing along.  My back row seat forced perspective on the experience.  Our inability to arrive on time was good for once.  This familiar, happy tradition was working it’s magic on me.  There was no place I would have rather been.  Even Hawaii.  It was warm, the lights were low, the excitement of present giving and getting was in the air.  But beyond all of the comfort of tradition, beyond the good feelings floating around the room, this was a solemn celebration of something greater.  Of the very hook on which my life hangs.  The fact that I got to share it with others who agree was sweet icing on the cake.  This was what all the hype is about.  

Then Christmas Day – the intense joy of giving my family gifts they will love.  One of my favorite ways to spend a morning.  Then good food with my people.  Remembering who made any and all of his possible.  Just. The. Best.

And after all the anticipation, the preparations, the world lit up with twinkly lights in shared revelry – it was over.  The let-down, for me, was heavy.  “Only 87 days until Easter,” Luke said cheerily a few days later.  Which fell with a thud on my heart.  I saw the expanse of cold, dreary winter before me and wanted to get in bed.

Not surprisingly, as soon as the Christmas decorations were put away and I had turned to face the next few months, my desire to travel kicked in.  It always does this time of year.  The internet conspires and sends emails about all the trips I can get – to Europe and the Carribbean and Mexico – for a steal right now.  Clicking on them and scrolling endlessly while I should be folding laundry is my addicted response.  It’s hard to decipher how much of the this is a good, natural longing to explore and how much is me trying to escape reality – the source of all addiction, though travel is less detrimental to my health than others I could choose.  Marc does not have this addiction/virus/inborn personality trait, so he can’t relate.  And he gave me a taste of my own medicine the other day – one of those times when your spouse tells you something you don’t like, to which you react poorly but later realize was wise and worth taking to heart.  He reminded me of the strategy of self-talk.  I preach this all the time.  Reminding yourself of what is true – in this case that we have a great family, a lovely home in which to spend time, that winter doesn’t last forever, that life isn’t only about excitement and things to anticipate.  Yep.  All true.  He was right.

So, I’m taking my own advice.  I’m telling myself what I need to hear to move into these next few months of wintery blah with, hopefully, contentment.  Maybe even happiness.  And I’m going to remind myself that the hook on which my life hangs doesn’t disappear when the twinkly lights are packed away.  The fanfare is gone – the everywhere and communal reminders aren’t present to help me – but these are the moments of truth.  The regular, everyday days that are full of smaller, less flashy hopes and joys.  When you have to look harder for them.  In the way your kids play a board game and giggle and grow a touch closer.  In the blessed warmth of long underwear and good slippers.  In your four-year-old’s desire to nuzzle noses.  In hot green tea and a scone, in your husband’s blue eyes, in a God who is not fickle like you.  In a new year to start small.  To go back to the basics and let that be enough.

So here’s to a new year and all it will be – big and small, flashy and simple, amazing and ordinary.  And the ability to appreciate every bit.

 

Don’t Hold Me Down

We went apple picking last weekend.  Or we tried to go apple picking.  Unbeknownst to us the apples were all gone.  We drove for an hour plus, arrived at the orchard, noticed it was devoid of customers and got out of the car.  We wandered around the grounds, passing pumpkins that didn’t get chosen for Halloween.  Gift shops full of fall merchandise – apple pies, pumpkin butters, holiday jams.  A petting zoo of farm animals.  When we rounded a barn toward the apple trees they were bare.

That morning I talked Marc into visiting the area where my family picked apples when I was a child.  I thought of driving through the hills of Eastern Kansas into Western Missouri – yellows, oranges, and brilliant reds wrapping the winding back roads.  The picnic spot we often visited.  Walking in the orchards under the tempered fall sun.  I wanted to experience it again, but with my own children this time.  Let them see and feel the same things I did.  Recreate my fond memories to pass along to them as gifts.  But, luckily, the folly in my plan was made clear as the day went on.  Luckily, because it taught me something.  Folly, because everything changes.  It does, it must, and it’s good.

The leaves had all fallen by this first day of November, on which I hadn’t planned.  A few specks of pale yellow remained, but mostly the bare trees of winter lined the roads.  Then the orchard was picked through.  We joked about the free rotting apples on the ground – “Would you eat that if you were the guy in Unbroken?” – but there would be no picking today.  We tried another orchard close by, but the result was the same.  Clearly apples in the same area are on the same ripening schedule.  No apples here, no apples there.

I remembered this orchard.  There had been a conveyor belt where you could watch how apples were sorted by color and quality.  But it was turned off for the season. The only apples left to buy were Jonagolds which – yuck.  The kids raced plastic ducks in a contraption made of feeding troughs and halved pvc pipe behind the main gift shop.  I wandered the aisles looking at Christmas jam, trying to make the trip worth something, but it was no use.  Jam wasn’t enough.  We left with a jug of cider.

So it was a bust.  As far as making memories goes.  But for me it was a valuable way to waste a morning.  Marc was kind.  My motives were clear to him from the moment I suggested the trip, but he left me alone.  He let me try, probably knowing we would fail.  Because trying to recreate something that has happened before, especially something that carries the weight of childhood memories, is a dangerous goal.  It’s bound to flop, and that’s good.  My family now is new.  Its own entity, separate from the family in which I was raised.  So it makes sense to create new memories that are our own.  My childhood memories can remain my childhood memories and retain their value.  To me.  And as we create what will be my children’s memories of their growing years, the burden is off to make them equal to mine or the same.  I’m free to let them be what they are.  No pressure.  It feels wonderful to let that go.

What a silly thing to hold me down – fond memories.  I feel a lightness in pushing them off.  They can sit next to me, I can remember them when I want, but they won’t be a weight any longer.  “Hi memories.  I remember you; you were great.  Nice to see you.  Gotta go – new things to do.”

Luke and Lily came with me to Starbucks this morning, books and activities in tow.  On our way from the car Luke told me about a memory he has of coming here with Marc, getting hot cocoa and playing games.  They did that a few times one winter.  And it hit me that I don’t have to try to make memories.  They happen all by themselves.  I just have to think about what I want to do, what we want to do, and do that.  And it will magically, inevitably turn into a memory.  And as long as those things don’t mostly suck, they will be fond.  If we wrap them in love, and laughter, and especially if they involve a treat, they will be remembered as great.  Even if they do suck, they might be fond.  That’s how memories work, thank goodness.

In light of my new perspective of recollection, today I created the memory for my kids of getting chocolate croissants and reading while Mom wrote for her blog.  Sitting at the window seat like a grown up.  So simple.  And so much better than a two hour road trip for apple cider.  I’ll totally take it.

Planting Seeds

We arrived home at midnight and it felt like another dimension.  The house seemed strangely familiar, like something I’d seen before but of which I didn’t have an actual relationship.  As in a dream I walked from room to room, remembering what our couch looked like, recognizing the kids in the picture frames as my own, realizing that our kitchen table doesn’t match our kitchen at all.  And we were only gone a month.

31 days to be exact.

During the last days we wished so hard to be home, in our own beds, eating homemade food, pulling clothes from drawers instead of packing up our bags every morning.  And then we were there.  And it was weird. Like “I don’t think I live here.  I’m pretty sure I live in my car.”  And I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in my house, in Lawrence, KS, in the middle of the country.  I felt pulled toward the coast.  For obvious the-west-coast-is-beautiful reasons, but also due to a mysterious tug of the heart.

Like it just fit.

Those who know me will find this ironic.  And possibly infuriating.  When I moved to L.A. in 1999 with my new husband, solely because that is where he wanted and needed to live for his work (movie-making), I hated it.  Truly, I did.  I dreamt of Lawrence constantly for two years, longing for the familiar place I understood – its seasons, its trees, its small-ness.  L.A. was foreign and crowded and hectic and enormous.  It took me several more years to really think of it as home, or one of my homes, and be glad about it.  I was happy when we moved back to my roots after having our first baby.  We took a collective sigh of relief for the slower pace, the bike-able/walk-ableness, the non-existent traffic.  I had been overwhelmed for years and was ready to settle the hell down.  Lawrence was the perfect place for having babies.

But (if you read my earlier post My Old Friend, you’ll know) when I reached Los Angeles and the central California coast on our trip, I was shocked to realize that this felt home-like, too.  After all those years of struggling to enjoy life there, I found myself pulled toward it.  Suddenly it felt familiar.  Which is such a funny turn of events it proves you never know what’s coming.  No one would have pegged me as headed to the West Coast when I was younger, and no one would suspect I would want to go back.

So why the inconsistency?  Why the fickle hatred-to-longing feeling?  Is it The-Grass-is-Greener Syndrome?  Is it because I’m (cross my fingers) done having babies and don’t need as much settling down as I did before?  Is it a legitimate pull toward something, or a restless running away?  Is this a problematic theme in my life – discontent – or a stages-of-life reality?  I do not know that answer to any of these.  I’m pondering.  And the pondering will continue as home prices in L.A. are well beyond our means for now.  But the seed has been planted.  We’ll see how it grows, or if it dies in the dirt of settling back in.

If you have a freakishly inexpensive home in South Pasadena you’d like to rent out for part of the year, specifically during the months of February and August, let me know.  In the meantime, here’s to pondering, and the idea of home, and awesome road trips that might just change the course of your life.

 

Boyhood

Another night of driving in the dark.  This trip has had many.  Tonight’s took us out of Yellowstone National Park, through part of Grand Tetons National Park, to our lodge.  A full, blue moon above the Absaroka Range and a handmade Spotify playlist were our companions and they gave me perspective on our road trip for the ages.  A collection of singer-songwriter stuff set the mood and worked it’s magic.  Hero from the movie Boyhood made me melancholy the moment I heard the first line, like a potion of guitar chords and earnest lyrics.  I looked at my boy in the back seat, nearly not a boy anymore.

Luke called a friend three times on this trip, a first for him – missing home, missing friends, thoughts far away on his own life.  He gave us a good 10-year-old dose of attitude, a pre-cursor to the next eight years.  And he posed for pictures with a serious face, clearly thinking he was cool and maybe even good-looking.  These are new concepts for him, and for us.  And it made the significance of our trip sink in.  Nearly gone are the days of us as the center of Luke’s life.  His allegiance and interest are shifting outside of our family, as it should be.  Just as the brain science and child development books say will happen.  He’s writing the preamble to his declaration of independence, slowly pulling away and becoming himself.  Which is good.  Which I love.  And which makes my heart ache.

There were many moments of connection with our only son on this vacation: when he listened to the Start Up podcast with us, season 1 and 2, which prompted all sorts of good questions about being an entrepreneur, dating relationships, appropriate and inappropriate swearing; making massive sandcastles on the beach with Marc for hours; a long walk involving deep questions and answers with my cousin and me; hugs and kisses and snuggles.  So all bets are yet to be off.  But I know those moments will become fewer and farther between as the years go on.  As the hormones rage and his brain re-wires itself.  Making this epic road trip one for the record books, as one of the last times Luke (mostly) wanted to be with us for a while.

I’m not a mom who longs for the days of babies and toddlers and changing diapers.  Those were precious and cherished years, but I’m great with remembering them instead of living them again.  However…I’m not immune to the heartstring-tug of change.  Of knowing that this road trip will not be possible in this form again.  Luke will call friends more next time.  Will complain more about not getting Taco John’s.  Will think Marc and I are dumber and even more out-of-touch.  (I already understand less than 10% of his obsession with Minecraft.)  The reality of that hurts.  It’s inevitable, and ultimately what’s best.  But a little bit sad.

As we drove through the dark, I looked back at Luke, up at the bright moon, and wanted to cry.  Just for a minute.  At that moment, everyone was happy – the girls playing “triage” with their fake laptop (learned earlier on the trip from a visit to the ER – see prior post for details), no one melting down despite the late hour, Luke pondering his upcoming Minecraft youtube channel.   The trip took on a rosy haze of nostalgia, though it wasn’t yet over.  I saw into the future by weeks and months and years to the time when we remember this trip as a past adventure, laughing at the mishaps, smiling at the good times and skimming over the bad.  And I prematurely looked back with a smiling, aching heart at this trip when the moon shone down on our car full of kids, on our boy who was still a boy, shuttling through the dark summer night.  Into the future.

 

Wilder Mind

All road trips need a soundtrack.  And because this one is so long, there’s been a lot of music involved.

One of my favorites:

1. Mumford and Sons’ new album, Wilder Mind.  I’ll always remember hearing it for the first time: driving through the pitch darkness of Southwestern Colorado/ Southeastern Arizona, the music’s heated, pumping energy keeping Marc and I awake as we tried to make it the last four hours to Flagstaff.  Passing by the Four Corners at midnight.  Kids asleep in the back.  So different from their other albums, which I also loved.  Charged and wild and fabulous.  Full of emotion: angst and anger, love and celebration.  The blackness of the night aided our listening – sound and stars and a two-lane road were all that competed for our attention.  I could hear the intricate rhythms, the crackle of Marcus Mumford’s voice, the feeling busting out of the lyrics.  It was musical magic.

Some people don’t like the change in style that Mumford and Sons has played with on this album.  But I like both the old and new.  If they were lesser artists, I might wish they stayed with what they knew best, but clearly they do everything well. So I say let them be, and enjoy what they create.

We’ve listened to the album again and again at other moments: along the Pacific, among the vineyards of Napa Valley, through the redwoods on our way to Eureka (again at night – again amazing), but the first time was something set apart.

This trip will equal that album in my mind forever.

 

*My kids listened to Pop N Fun 1 and 2 as we drove through the redwoods, so they will equate the beauty of those majestic, ancient trees with the Mexican Hat Dance and Who Let the Dogs Out.  Awesome.

 

My Old Friend

We haven’t lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years.  I only lived there for eight.  So really, I should feel less at home there than I do in Lawrence, Kansas where I’ve spent the greater part of my life.  And mostly, I do.  But on this trip back to the land of my twenties, my young newly-married self, the landscape has felt surprisingly familiar.  The landmarks have seemed less like famous places to visit than old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  The magnolia trees and neatly trimmed bushes, the tropical flowers, even the bermuda grass bring nostalgia.  Not that my twenties were so great – they weren’t (marriage was hard, I felt awful, I didn’t know yet who I was).  But this place has clearly carved a place in my heart I didn’t know the depth of until this trip.

We drove north from Calabasas along the coast today.  Stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch (hello, sunshine and delicious grilled veggie sandwich), past countless rvs parked on the side of Highway 1, grabbing a slice of ocean view for themselves.  Past surfers and surf to the left, parched hills and shrubs to the right.  The drought has made the landscape different, like a friend who has gone gray and wrinkled with age, whom it takes a minute to recognize.  But as you stare you see that familiar face, beneath the wear and tear, and smile.  As we turned inland toward San Luis Obispo, our destination for the night, a rush of “Oh yeah…I know this,” hit me like the waves I had just been watching.  I remembered this exact drive from many trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting and fabulous, frivolous wandering.  The high hills that rise into mountains in the distance.  The curve of their backs lit up by the sun.  They welcomed me like a relative coming home for a family reunion.  “It’s so good to see you.”  Hug.  Kiss on the cheek.

“This could be the Flint Hills,” Marc said as we drove north of Morro Bay.  Perhaps why this place has always felt so familiar.  Like a taller version of my beloved, treeless rolling scape in Eastern Kansas.  With an ocean to one side.  Enough sameness to be instantly comforting when I first glimpsed the area at twenty-five, but different enough to be new and completely alive.  And on this July afternoon in my 40th year, happier in almost every way than when I was twenty-five, the Central Coast of California feels like a worn, nubby blanket from my youth.

The next phase of Highway 1 rises in elevation, craggy and majestic above the Pacific.  It’s a bit more foreign to me.  Grand and romantic.  Flashier and louder in it’s “look at me” popularity.  I’ll enjoy the drive along it’s cliffs, taking in the scenic views.  But my heart belongs to it’s lowly neighbor to the south.  Less dramatic, but dearer to my heart.  Quietly beautiful.  Full of air and sunlight and space.  I’m even more at home in crowded, crazy Los Angeles, where I spent a good chunk of my younger years peeling back it’s layers.  Southern California and the Central Coast are my second home, I was surprised to realize on this trip.  More a part of me than I knew.  Surely willing to welcome me back like an old friend the next time I get to visit.