August 26, 2011 found Jeremiah, Annalise, and I returning to the Sheraton Colonial Hotel in Wakefield, Massachusetts, for our second trip to the Northeast Unschooling Conference (NEUC).
We set our plans in motion in February, before we had any idea that there would be a hurricane bearing down on the upper portions of the Eastern Seaboard during our visit....
But, a little more than a week before the conference was due to begin, we learned that Hurricane Irene was headed toward Boston, and was also likely to affect our home in Saratoga County, New York, although we are generally not in a hurricane zone.
These facts kept us debating whether to do as we'd planned, or cancel our trip. We watched a lot of weather reports, on assorted channels, and did a lot of talking about the options. At one point, Annalise felt she didn't want to go, but that she would really, really feel sad about missing the conference.
Ultimately, we decided we would go, with the understanding that we would leave if anyone felt too uncomfortable with the weather situation as it evolved. The storm was not predicted to reach us before Sunday morning, so we felt that we would regret not going at all. I would pay close attention to the weather, and they could, too, if they wanted, and I would share with them if they wanted me to.
And so we went, on a beautiful Thursday morning. It was impossible to believe an enormous storm was only days away from us.
We settled into the hotel - with me implementing a few systems to keep myself from losing my cool, as I did a few times last year and the kids alternately amusing themselves with the cable channels we don't get; checking out the hotel, the raffle items and Instant Gratification Table, meeting up with friends; and checking out the vendor tables, funshops, activity rooms, and where their friends' rooms were.
We spent time, over the next days, in the Art Room, the Toy Room, and the computer Kiosk in the lobby. Jeremiah enjoyed ample quantities of Cartoon Network. Annalise sampled funshops on Perler beads, fairy wand and gnome making, graham cracker houses, and others I've since forgotten. We all had time to talk and play with friends; Annalise was taken out to lunch by her friend Gabriella and her family, and both children had a tour of the Unschool Bus.
Friday night found us at the talent show, where Annalise performed an equestrienne show with her stick unicorn, Sea Breeze, and where I sang solo before an audience for the first time, with the accompaniment of the talented and generous Julian Baptista. Jeremiah was an enthusiastic spectator.
All the while, I was watching the weather reports, mostly after the children went to sleep, or when I was in the room and they weren't. All hope that the storm would veer out to sea vanished, and, in the wee hours, we were all uncomfortable enough to decide to leave early. As the sole driver, I chose 10pm Saturday night - time enough to enjoy Saturday activities and free time, say goodbye to friends (the Woodman family left at noon; making it easier to say goodbye ourselves, later), and yet still have a fair safety margin in which to get home, unpacked, and settled in for the duration.
So, in odd moments beginning at about 2am Saturday, I began packing up our things and moving them out to the car. I've found it's easier for me to do most things in short bursts to avoid overwhelm.
I also made it a point to attend those talks I had most wanted to get to, and to give myself permission to take time to stop and chat with friends along the way, to avoid a case of the martyr syndrome uglies that are so common in my family of origin, and which still trip me up far more often than I would like.
I attended a talk by Peter Gray, acircle chat on tweens hosted by Kelly Lovejoy, and an excellent panel discussion with grown unschoolers Idzie Desmarais, Chelsea LaPorte, and Julian Baptista..
We don't prefer our hotel rooms to be cleaned during our stay, and the Sheraton, which is making efforts to lower its carbon footprint, gives us a voucher for doing without. Last year, we ordered room service. This year, we decided to eat in the lounge restaurant, which is cozy and quiet.
Lise finished quickly and wanted to go catch the end of the concert and the beginning of the dance. Jeremiah and I, preferring to linger a little longer, did just that. Then he had a bit of time to help me check out of the room - just as some Air National Guardsmen were checking in, for potential disaster relief, which further spurred our urge to get on the road - and say his goodbyes.
Jeremiah went ahead to the car - he was tired and wanted to settle in for the four hour drive home - and I went back inside to gather Annalise from the dance floor. Saying goodbye was hard; she had been with a group of friends all dancing together. Last year, it would have been hard to deal with her hesitancy, and to understand that, much as she didn't want to be there when the storm came, she still needed more time to separate than the rest of us did.
This year, I was able to give her the fifteen minutes or so she needed without stressing myself out over it, and, later, when we stopped for gas and rest rooms, I was also able to say yes to a few small souvenirs and snacks, without feeling I had to rush the children along....
We made it home at about 3am. The Mass Turnpike had waived its tolls, in the hopes that it would speed people home. (The New York Thruway, though, did not). It was windy and raining, but not npleasantly so, and we were able to get the car unloaded and everything inside, if not unpacked....
We woke Jim upon coming in, and we were all tired, and slept within an hour or two.
As I slept, I could hear the wind and rain strengthening, and we woke to a bona fide storm. Irene had blown herself into a more submissive, but still powerful, tropical storm.
We kept our windows open to the fresh, rain-laden wind, which carried hints of far places upon it. And, since the storm was not posing a threat to us, I took some commemorative photos.....