I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau
Which brings us to now. I’m 43 years old, and I’d never been alone.
Earlier this year, I decided that it was really important that I get away. Just for a couple of days, all by myself. It was almost painfully difficult to describe why I needed to do it, but I just knew it was something that had to be done. And it specifically had to be done around April or May, as the pièce de ré·sis·tance to my year of self-care and self-discovery.
I had to be alone.
I had to give myself total space… to think, to feel, to grieve, to celebrate. I had to know, beneath the mom and the wife and the homemaker and the blogger, I WAS ALSO STILL ME.
I went into it with no expectations, other than to let it teach me what I needed to learn. I brought books (but it was okay if I didn’t read). I brought my laptop (but it was okay if I didn’t write). I brought journals and crafty things and sketch books (but it was okay if it all remained untouched.) I brought hiking shoes (but it was okay if they never made it out of my suitcase.) If I needed to cry, that was okay. If I needed to sit outside and drink coffee and watch the squirrels, that was okay.
As it turned out, I needed all of the above. I had no phone, no internet, and no outward distractions. It was just me… alone with nature and alone with myself. It was intense, and it was scary, and it was important.
From my journal, on the first night:
I’m sitting alone, in my little cabin. I feel… I don’t even know what I feel. I feel overwhelmed, and yet relieved at the same time. Broken, but so strong. Lonely, but empowered. I am crying, and don’t remember when I started. Crying for the girl that so badly needed this, crying for the girl that was so, so broken for so long. Crying for the woman, who needs to know, perhaps more than she’s ever known anything, that she is enough. Not enough as a mom, or a wife, or a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, but just ENOUGH. As a person. Stripped of all those other labels. I’m enough and I’m crying and uncomfortable and I needed this.
I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I decided that first night (in the midst of a rather severe mental health crisis) to make a little video diary to chronicle the experience.
The rest of my story will be told through those short videos. They’re self-explanatory, but a couple of notes on the first one: It’s real and raw and not especially pretty. Also, notice how I have trouble catching my breath? That’s what the end of a panic attack sounds like. Or the beginning. I don’t even remember. To be honest, most of the first evening was one long panic attack.
Did I learn something new? Am I a new person because of my little 48 hour excursion? Well, no. The thing with life is that it keeps going, no matter how much we’d like to stop it sometimes. No sooner had I arrived back home, I was thrust back into responsibility and errands and obligations. Real life called. But I lost myself in those woods, and then I found myself again. And what I did realize is that that momentary peace I felt, that brief grasp of ataraxia (look it up) is something that I can work on feeling in the midst of the busy. In the midst of the chaos. In the midst of LIFE. And if I’ve learned anything in the past year – anything at all – it’s that life and relationships, even (or especially) relationships with yourself are not something that you can just anoint with a 48 hour balm and expect to be successful. They need constant, mindful, attentive care if you expect them to thrive, and expect them to be healthy and rich and fulfilling and worthwhile.
And as for myself? My little trip reminded me, more than I’ve ever been reminded before, that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how many times and how many ways I keep having to tell myself… no matter what society says or anyone says:
I am me.
And that’s enough.
I just got back from a two-week road trip. We went from Phoenix to Texas to Michigan to Wisconsin to Colorado to back to Phoenix. We stayed with some dear friends who feel like family, we saw some new sights and new cities, we spent some time on the beaches in Michigan, and we bonded – Griswold style.
Most people I know seem to have very strong feelings about road trips. They either hate them or love them. I love them. I find them completely and utterly and bone-crushingly exhausting… but I love them. Watching the changing scenery, eating all the road trip junk food, collapsing gratefully in the hotel bed in some humid, obscure little town in the middle of Kentucky…
But the best part about road trips are the conversations in the car. We talk about everything, from TV shows to music to religion to politics to a whole bunch of stuff I can’t mention in polite society. And also? My kids make me laugh. A lot. I got in the habit of making a list of some of their most memorable quotes several years ago, and road trips (and their resulting dozens of captive hours in the car) prove to be a veritable treasure trove of new ones. This trip was no exception.
Here are some of their greatest hits from the past two weeks, with no attribution, no commentary, and no context. I hope you enjoy. 🙂
Here come the meat sweats.
Don’t eat the baby!
Who farted? (I said there would be no commentary, but I feel compelled to clarify that this question is asked not once, but many many many times any time our family is in the car for any extended period of time)
They’re like little pockets of love.
I have great balls.
So if you chewed it really hard and aggressively, it would have negative calories.
So a tsunami could hit us any second?
The meat sweats come and go.
Screaming is somewhat hot.
You drink one, and you twist the other.
It’s like not hot, but I’m… wet.
There are sixteen ways to kill someone with tweezers.
I have a weird shaped face.
She’d look pretty funny if she didn’t have a mouth.
I feel a baby. GIVE ME THE BABY. But the babies taste better.
My pickle’s stuck.
Was that a joke, or was it just a happy coincidence?
They were talking about the size of their junk when they were in the morph suits.
This tastes like the smell of a urinal cake.
We started from the virgin.
I haven’t pooped since Illinois.
Please don’t peel my onion!
He has to have some alone time with his waffle maker.
It’s all part of the experience.
Last week at this time, my whole family was in Las Vegas, Nevada. The kids and I tagged along on a business trip, with big plans to enjoy the pool, the free breakfast every morning, and the free happy hour every night (the bartenders were lovely and wonderful too… recognizing all six of us and remembering all of our chosen drinks after the very first night)
We were able to catch up with my cousins, one of whom was like another member of the family to us when we used to babysit her several days a week up until she was one. She’s four now, and beautiful, and Tegan’s new BFF and honorary little sister. We had a great time getting reacquainted, and spent several hours playing at the Children’s Discovery Museum, which turned out to be the best children’s museum I’ve ever gone to in my life. We had a wonderful late lunch at a little family owned Mexican restaurant, where Tegan and Luna entertained us by dancing to the music.
In the evenings though, we did the whole Vegas tourist thing, and checked out the strip. We’ve been to Vegas once before, but we mostly spent it going to shows and checking out the hotels and casinos during daylight. Seeing it all at night was a whole different proposition. We’d park in one of those giant, ten-story parking garages, and just walk and walk, taking it all in.
We watched the fountain show outside the Bellagio. We saw a light show set to rock music over Fremont street. We walked around an indoor mall/market thing with a high ceiling that was painted like the sky and made you feel like you were outside. We saw about a zillion street performers doing everything from mime to playing music to making spin art to impersonating long-deceased celebrities. We politely declined the dozens of people trying to hand us their business cards with the naked girls on them. We stopped into a White Castle attached to a casino (because everything’s attached to a casino), and had our very first infamous in-person White Castle sliders, which as it turns out taste exactly like the frozen version you can get at the grocery store.
As an aside, our choice of dinner made me want to watch the cult stoner movie, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle – I adore Kal Penn – so we rented it the following night. But the video had an error and quit during the last 20 minutes, so we never did find out if Harold and Kumar ever made it to White Castle!
But I digress. The Vegas strip. There were a lot of smells, and sounds, and colors, and lights. My first realization was that the very thing that made it all interesting and entertaining was the same thing that made it so very overwhelming. It was the exact opposite of everything we embody. And I don’t mean that from a perspective of judgment; it’s just that we (well, at least the guys and I) are big introverts. We’re homebodies. We’re quiet. We don’t like to draw attention to ourselves. We’re…… basic. What we saw over those couple of nights was very very much NOT basic. It was flashy. It was attention-grabbing. It was loud.
Tegan, who’s seven and all about the sparkle and the only real extrovert in the family, absolutely loved it, right up until the point her feet got tired and she was ready to get back to the hotel. Loved it. Loved the glitz and the glamour and the costumes and the lights. Loved the limos and the expensive cars. Loved the ornate hotels and the fountains and the twinkling casinos. Loved the pretty girls in the sparkly outfits (on a not unrelated note, this will forever be the trip in which she learned what a “pasty” is.) She did not however love those guys with the metallic body paint who were statues one minute, and moving around the next. They freaked her out. I found them sort of strangely fascinating.
I found it all sort of strangely fascinating.
It was fun, and It. Was. Exhausting. On the way home, we stopped to tour Hoover Dam, but otherwise made a beeline back to “basic.” We’ve been home since Wednesday evening, and I’ve barely gotten out of my sweatpants. I’ve been puttering around home, enjoying sleeping in my own bed, getting reacquainted with Netflix, and catching up on normal, quiet, wonderfully mundane things like emails.
Going away is always fun, but returning home is glorious.
P.S. Seriously though, did Harold and Kumar ever make it to White Castle??
Tomorrow at this time, my family will be somewhere between here and Kansas, in the middle of the first leg of our 18-day cross-country road trip.
The last time we took a similar trip, two years ago, I had all these grand plans for all the productive stuff I’d get done during my hours and hours in the car. I’d read! I’d write! I’d edit! I’d make lists!
Those plans were quickly – and unabashedly – abandoned when I realized that what I needed wasn’t time to DO more, but time to just…. be. To appreciate the sites, to sing with my kids, to chat with my husband. I love road trips so, so much. And this time, I have no silly notions about being productive in the slightest. For the next 18 days, consider me “clocked out.” I’m going to enjoy the country, enjoy my family, enjoy the friends we meet along the way, enjoy the time away from the hustle and bustle of life.
It’s Easy Rider meets National Lampoon’s Vacation.
And I can’t wait.
It never fails. Every time we take a cool trip, or have a fun new experience, I swear I’m going to write a completely awesome blog post all about it. I’ll post lots of pictures, I’ll regale you all with funny stories and anecdotes and pithy observations. It will be epic.
And then, um, I return to the real world. I remember, “Oh yeah, I barely have time to shower.” There’s a house to tend to, and 4 days worth of smoky, dusty laundry. And appointments. And yoga training. And the little matter of four kids who have been entrusted in my care. And life.
It’s a shame too, because if I’d written it I could have waxed poetic about the beauty and majesty of the vast open desert, and how it’s become not only the most peaceful place in the world to me, but also a living metaphor for freedom and unschooling and life.
I could have told you about the crazy and deafening winds that first night, how hard we laughed about the frigid temperatures (It’s the Mojave Desert!), and how some of us came so very prepared for 120 degree heat… but with no sweatshirts.
I could have told you that the kids and I looked out the windows the entire time, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Mojave rattle snake, but that the only wildlife we ever saw was jackrabbits, birds, and lizards.
I could have told you how ridiculously sunburned my nose got, not when the heat finally hit mind you, but on the mild and cool second day.
I could have told you how wonderful and rejuvenating it was to spend that much uninterrupted time as a family, with no distractions, no ringing cell phones, no internet, and no TV.
I could have told you about the stars, and the moon, and the coyote. I could have told you about Tegan and her sand, Everett and his holes, Paxton and his juggling, and Spencer and his mad tent-pupping skills.
I could have told you about the little moments, those tiny moments that make a trip great. I could have told you about the ant we watched for a good half an hour, as it worked to saw off a little piece of the dropped peanut, to get a manageable size to bring back to its home…
But alas, a long fancy blog post is not to be.
I did however, make a little video diary (a viary?) that was lovingly put all together into a 20 minute movie by my better half. It will be of absolutely zero interest to anyone else, unless you A) want to listen to me ramble for 20 minutes, or 2) have more than a passing interest in seeing what the Mojave Trail looks like. But I’m glad I have it, because it really was an amazing trip. And even though I won’t have that monumental blog post, I’ll still have the pictures, and I’ll still have the video. I can look at them, and I’ll remember.
“Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ~ Ferris Bueller
One week ago today, we were packing up our hotel room in Chicago. Saying goodbye to our little four-day getaway, and getting ready to board a plane back to Phoenix.
It was a perfect excursion, one that I hadn’t realized how much I needed. From the nightly Happy Hours, to the wonderful restaurants, to the walking and touring of the beautiful city… it was a literal breath of fresh air. Everyone’s asked me what I did every day when Mike was at his conference, and the fact is, I just was. I walked. I nursed a huge cup of coffee at Starbucks while I watched all the passers-by. I did yoga. I took myself to the movies. I sat(!) I took a nap (if like me, you’re unfamiliar with that term, it means to lay down and voluntarily sleep. On purpose. In the middle of the day.) It was an introvert’s dream vacation. The best part though, was that both when I was alone and when I was with Mike, time just stood still. There was no where to be, nothing to do, no one who needed us. For four days, time stood still.
Now that we’re home, there’s no easing back into real life. As if a switch has been flipped, it’s once again full-speed ahead. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. It’s basketball practices and gymnastics classes and park days and cub scouts and physical therapy appointments. It’s life. And I’m reminding myself – again – to breathe. God’s got this. I’m finding myself having to trust, more than I ever have before, that no matter where I am… whether it’s driving to another appointment, sitting in the bleachers, racing the four year old across the park, running an errand, or swirling around in the housework that just. doesn’t. end… I’m exactly where I need to be. Right there, in that place, in that moment, in that point in time.
One week from tomorrow, I’ll add another giant helping to my plate when my yoga teacher training starts. Right now though, I’ll breathe. I’ll sit.
The house is quiet. The birds are singing. I’m exactly where I need to be.
|The sky as we crossed the AZ border last night|
Now that we’re home safe and sound, our trip has officially come to an end, and I can say this without fear of jinxing anything (such a silly feeling isn’t it? But there it is):
I am blown away by how smoothly the past three weeks have gone. Blown away. It truly was a dream vacation for us, and I honestly don’t even have words for how thankful I am for all of it!
First, the driving (hundreds of hours of driving) went without a hitch. Hundreds of hours. Six people. Without a hitch. 99.8 of the trip, we truly and thoroughly enjoyed our time together in the car. There were no popped tires, and no busted transmissions. Even the traffic jams were minimal.
Second, everyone was healthy… the entire time!! We know first hand the crimp that a nasty cold or – even worse – a stomach bug, can put on a vacation. This time there was nary a sniffle.
Third, to paraphrase Dr Seuss.. “Oh the places we went!” How often are we going to get to enjoy the red rocks of Zion, the mountains of Colorado, Niagara Falls, Cape Cod, and Washington DC all in same trip?
Finally, the people. It was a much needed reconnection for the six of us, one that I’ll be forever grateful that we got the opportunity to experience. It was also incredible to be able to visit with so many wonderful people, both inside and outside of our family, and I am humbled and thankful to have experienced so much warmth and generosity… from people opening and sharing their homes and their meals and their companionship and their time. I truly feel an embarrassment of riches right now.
It wasn’t a perfect trip, but it was perfect for us. It was EXHAUSTING at times, without a doubt, but it was worth every hour of lost sleep and every minute on the road. I had grand plans to use some of the time in the car to work on writing some blogs, to catch up on my reading, to study for my personal training test, to edit my Nano book from last year. I did none of that…. and that’s okay!! As it turned out, what I needed wasn’t more time to do more stuff, but more time to do nothing. The time in the car was like 3 solid weeks of meditation, and it has refreshed and revitalized me more than I can say.
I blogged about each day of the trip mainly because I wanted to have it for myself, to remember. I don’t do scrapbooks, only sporadically keep a journal, and am terrible about getting pictures printed. But I can blog. So here they all are, if you’d like to read any or all:
Our Great Summer Road Trip: Day One
Day Two: Small Town Fun
Day Three: Driving, Driving, and More Driving
Day Four: New Friends
Day Five: I’m Tired
Day Six: Niagara Falls
Day Seven: And on the 7th day, they rested
Day Eight: Pizza and Waterfalls
Day Nine: The Big Apple
Day Ten: Grandma
Day Eleven: Back in Massachusetts
Day Twelve: Cape Cod
Day Thirteen: The Beach
Day Fourteen: Goats and Fishes
Day Fifteen: Clamming, Piers, and Candy
Day Sixteen: Long Drives and Good Friends
Day Seventeen: My Souvenir
Day Eighteen: Washington, DC
Day Nineteen: I Told You So
Day Twenty: Final Days
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig
Thank you to everyone who helped make our trip so memorable!
The kids have been collecting little souvenirs as we’ve traveled: a couple of stuffed animals and seashells for Tegan, new baseball caps for the boys. Today, thanks in large part to
peer pressure a co-conspirator a supportive friend, I got my own souvenir: a little stud in my nose. I hadn’t really planned to pierce my nose on the trip… I actually wanted to do it before the trip, but Mike talked me out of it, concerned about the possibility of dealing with complications/infections/problems when we were away from home. But the timing felt right, I was inspired by being with a kindred spirit, and I rose to the occasion.
In other news:
The boys are thoroughly enjoying being around other hardcore video-gamers.
Spencer mowed the lawn at his own request.
I relished a whole lot of baby-holding, as did the kids:
And we braved the heat and humidity for a short walk and bike ride down the street, where Everett rode a two-wheeler sans training wheels for the very first time.
A shortish day of driving that again somehow seemed to take f.o.r.e.v.e.r. It was another smooth ride however (heinous porta-potty and a wasted hour looking for a geocache notwithstanding) and the kids continued to amaze with their patience. Everyone keeps asking what it’s like with all six of us all crammed in the car, so many hours and so many days in a row: Don’t we go crazy? Aren’t the kids at each other’s throats?
Here’s the truth:
Tegan and Everett bicker a little bit now and then, because they’re both in the far back seat, and because they’re 3 and 7. Tegan (understandably) gets antsy when it’s been a particularly long stretch, and Everett is the king of “Are we there yet?” as well as “I have to go to the bathroom.” He also discovered that he can stick his bare toes through the space at the bottom of Spencer’s seat back directly in front of him, which he occasionally does just to try to bug Spencer. And it does bug him. Otherwise, they really do get along. They’re watching movies on the DVD players (some of them upwards of 3 times), napping, taking pictures out the window, chatting, and playing “Would you Rather.” We’re all enjoying the driving.
No matter how fun we manage to make it though, it does of course feel immensely relieving to arrive at our destination at the end of the day. Today was no exception. For the next two days we’ll be in Virginia at the home of my good friend – and fellow unschooler – Alice, who was graciously waiting for us with good food, good drinks, and cute babies.
We spent our final morning at the Cape digging for clams, a first for all five of us (Paxton decided to hang out back at the house with the non-clammers) Aside from the ever-present reminder that I was a long way from my epi pen, it was a neat experience that the kids especially enjoyed. Tegan even said that clamming was her favorite part of the trip, although in all fairness she has said that a lot of things are her favorite part of the trip. The bottom of the marsh was like quick-sand, and it was comical watching everyone trying to break the suction without losing their balance and falling with every step.
We spent the afternoon strolling around in Chatham, a lovely fishing/tourist/shopping town. We walked to the pier where we enjoyed the seals, watched the fisherman unloading their catch, and found our Massachusetts geocache (our tenth different state so far for the trip) We stopped at a traditional seaside candy store, where the kids loaded up on gummy sharks and worms, and Mike and I indulged in a few dark chocolate salted caramels. Those caramels might have been the highlight of my day.
We got the house closed up, said goodbye to Mike’s brother’s families – which was bittersweet – and headed back to his parents’ house for the night.
Our one regret about our time in New England is that despite our original plans to visit some old friends – and some new ones too – our visits never materialized for a variety of reasons. Fitting everything in was one part of the trip that we really had trouble with, and it was frustrating and sad to have to change course at the last minute. There were simply not enough days to make it all work.
Still, we were happy and grateful for the chance to re-experience the Cape with the kids, and excited about the next part of the trip. Next up: Ashburn, Virginia.