It is amazing to have so much chosen family scattered across several states (and counting!). It can also be hard, especially when the friends you really want to see live a hefty four hour commute from home.....
More and more, we are planning road trips to Massachusetts and New Jersey, where we have friends we connect deeply with, but who are too far for spur-of-the moment adventures....
At NEUC, Gabriella Woodman and Annalise hatched a plan to get together again at Halloween, so that they could trick or treat together. Since our rather rural area requires driving, and since that had lost its charm for the kids, Jim and I decided that he could manage without the car so that the kids and I could travel to New Jersey ( we don't mind long drives,Sylvia is an awesome hostess with a big house, and Jim would rather ride his motorcycle, so it all works out beautifully.
So we packed our bags and some favorite toys (Annalise) and games (Jeremiah), and headed out......arriving many hours later, because I have a rare knack for getting lost, which of course leads to all sorts of adventure along the way to pretty much anywhere.....
And we were greeted, with loving open arms, a warm, cozy house, and the type of deep and easy friendship that simply picks up right where it left off the last time, only better.
This stands, as so many things in my life so happily do, in bright and glorious contrast to the way things were within my own family of origin.
We arrived at the Woodman's at around 9pm...we had planned to be there somewhere around 4ish. As I was trying to unravel the unintentional tangles I had put into our route, we didn't take time to call and explain our delay....we were simply focused on making it safely to our destination.
Sylvia called just as we were getting into her town, and she and the kids chatted and confirmed the last few turns for me.
In less than five minutes from our arrival, Jeremiah, 10, and Harry, age 5, were playing a Nerf gun war with Sylvia's husband, Jim, and Annalise and Gabriella, both 7, were dangling stuffed animals from the stairs and creating loveliness at the kitchen-floor art studio.
And I was seated comfortably at the pleasantly life-strewn kitchen table, with a cup of coffee just the way I like it, an ibuprofen for my throbbing right knee (it has begun not liking long drives, and will tell me so), and a tall glass of cold water.
Over the next days, there was bread making, pizza making, French toast, pancake, and sausage making, Nerf gun warring, games playing, baby and stuffed animal and snow play, swinging and hanging, walking, trips to the thrift store and farmer's market and Halo Dairy. There was an art class at an Audubon nature center for Annalise and Gabriella, and a karate class party for Harry and Jeremiah.
There was talk, and laughter, arguments, and making up. The girls took a lot of baths in the magnificent claw foot tub, under a Van Gogh print, and made it there spa. The boys explored Wii games, Jeremiah's new 3DS, Plants vs. Zombies......Phineas and Ferb, Spongebob, Horseland, Powerpuff Girls and Fred 2 were enjoyed by some or all of us., I browsed the lending library, and finally read some John Holt books: Learning All the Time, and How Children Learn.
Annalise began reading in earnest, staring intently at the game boxes on the shelf. Some or all of us played Sorry!, Battleship, and belly-laugh inducing rounds of Banangrams (this was a new game for the children and I, and we were all hooked!).
We were having such a good time, in fact, that I only took a few pictures during the weekend.....
This trip brought into clear focus a part of what has kept me, over the last several years if not longer, from feeling comfortable, welcome, or at home in the house I grew up in, and where my parents still live.
I am reminded of a specific event - Christmas Eve, three years ago. My parents had called to ask (well, it was a thinly veiled command, really) us to come down (we live just up the road), so that we could hang our stockings. Jim and I had been protesting for years that we didn't need stockings, but the traditionhad eon out, so far.
I prefer making personalized gifts to shopping in crowded stores, and had gotten my first laptop computer just a few weeks before. Since my parents weren't online, and I take a great many digital photographs in the course of our living, I thought I would make DVDs of some of the best shots.
It was a fantastic idea, but, as I had never before done anything like this solo, and the computer was still very new to me, there was a pretty steep learning curve for the project, and what I thought might take a week or two of pulling and editing pictures, captioning, and burning, became a PROJECT that consumed all the time I could give it and clamored for more, more, more.....
When I ran out of DVDs (which were also taking hours a piece to burn; something else I hadn't anticipated....) on Christmas Eve, Jim took the kids out to the store to buy more.
So Jim went. but, at 7 and 4, the kids were not nearly as easy to get quickly through a store, and, if they had been home, I would very likely have gotten next to nothing of the project tended to.....
The kids being with Jim, though, meant that things would be slower on that end of things.....and they were.
By the time we made it to my parents' house with the freshly burned DVD, we were running 3 hours late. I was frazzled in the way I think only mothers who are trying to be everything to everyone, all at once and perfectly, can be frazzled.
What I needed was to be welcomed inside, met with Christmas cheer and the warmth of my loving family.
What I got was a frosty reception, and the definite feeling that, because we were running late, we were no longer welcome. It didn't seem to matter that the purpose of the visit was ostensibly to hang stockings and exchange gifts. Our gifts were barely glanced at.
My mother barely cracked a smile, even at the children. and her responses were either grunts or sighs, acerbic, or nonexistent.
It was days later when I found out, through my father, that, although we had spoken on the phone twice during the time I was finishing the project, and although she had said it was all right that we were running late, she was actually furious about it, because they had had other things to do, and we were holding them up.
It wasn't a pleasant visit, and, the next year, I did not go with Jim and the kids for the Christmas visit.
I understand that my mother and father had other plans,. and our delays posed an inconvenience. I had even asked my mother if she still wanted us to come, due to the lateness, and she had insisted that she did.
It would have been simpler for me, if we'd waited, because I would have had plenty of time to finish the project in a leisurely and enjoyable way, and it would have given more time for the many things I still needed to tend to to make Jeremiah and Annalise's Christmas magical. Truthfully, I hadn't been eager to go, wanting the time to have a mellow evening with my own family, and the joy of being all together.
But I had wanted to please my mother, and so we had gone....
And been snared by her passive-aggressive, "I don't really care whether you're here or not," reception.
I have come to a place in my life where I choose, without anger or guilt, to be where I am truly wanted. Where people know that I do my best to keep my commitments, and that life with children is by nature unpredictable. Where things not falling into line is not seen as disrespect, but as something we've all experienced from time to time.
Where I am welcomed, even when I'm late and frazzled, with love and kindness and acceptance.....
Now I leave you with the end of that wonderful weekend with the Woodmans' - trick- or treating! =D