Reunions and Happy Endings

One of my favorite moments of the summer– when Gus realized it was us! Yes, Q and I are both crying…

Until I was twenty-two, I mostly thought of the word “reunion” in the sense of potluck lunches in the park pavilion, with multiple variations on baked beans and seven-layer salads, and distant relatives you were supposed to know but didn’t.

Then I moved far away from home for the first time and learned how it feels to anticipate seeing loved ones or dear friends after months or years apart.  Then I had kids and learned the joy of bringing your children and their grandparents together after time apart.  A year turned into twenty-five years away from my little hometown and the friends and family there.  Now I thoroughly understand the word “reunion.”

I look forward to every trip back to my hometown to see my parents and my sister and her precious and adorable family.  I’m grateful to get to see my sweet grandma, who still has a sense of humor at 92 and only stopped zipping circles around everybody with her walker this year because of a knee injury.  I’m so happy for any time I get to spend with my aunts and uncles, and cousins (like drinking Pimm’s in the front yard with Aunt Terri, my cousin Jason and his new wife Laura; or the too-short stop by Aunt Lana’s house one afternoon).  And there are still a few close friends who live in the area– like Sue (who shared a nuns-on-a-tour-bus sighting with me this summer), and Jill (who waited patiently while I drove circles around her brother’s house, trying to find it).  Sometimes I get lucky and a friend who has moved away just happens to be in town at the same time I am– as was the case this summer with my fun childhood friend, Emily, who happened to be in from Chicago the very day I chased her mother down on the downtown sidewalk just to say hello.

Visiting Grandma– love that lady!

Sometimes we try to orchestrate a big family gathering– not quite the old-style reunion with seven-layer salad, but maybe a party at the town pool, or a picnic at the park (okay, that sounds kind of reunion-y, doesn’t it?).  I always end up feeling weird about that– like we’re demanding that everyone come see us now instead of letting it just happen or not.  But then if we don’t do one big activity, we end up running around a lot of the time to see people, or waiting at home for them to come see us.  So it’s kind of a tricky thing, and even after twenty-five years I still wouldn’t say we’ve got it right.

This summer there was a different kind of reunion for us.  If you’ve been around here sharing a cuppa with us for a while, then you know of my heartbreak over leaving my sweet, rescue dog, Gus, behind in the U.S. when we moved to London last year.  If not, well, I did write about it a few times– like here, and here.  My amazing, fun, big-hearted cousin– she is my hero– took Gus to her home in Indiana.  He has acres and acres to romp in, a pond, two doggy brothers (including Marley, his best friend and larger twin brother– who’s actually a Great Dane…), and loving ‘parents’ in Josie and her husband, Mike.  Gus’ life is wonderful, and I am so grateful!

I wasn’t sure what to do about trying to see Gus this summer.  His home is a few hours away from where we were staying with my parents.  But more than that, I was worried about how the kids and I would feel after seeing him.  Of course, it did occur to me not to rock the boat for Gus and his new family as well, but anyone who has read a book about dog behavior knows that that is more something we project on dogs than they actually feel– given that they live in the present and all.  Right?  (I was so sure of this when I was reading Cesar books, but how can we really know?)  Anyway.  All these things were swirling around in my head leading up to and during the first week of our trip, and in typical me fashion, I simply chose to do nothing.

Look how happy the kids are: )

Then one day I woke up knowing I deeply, deeply wanted to see Gus.  It all clicked into focus and I realized that, for example, even though I really missed Will last year when he went to college, and even though I knew I would cry when he left again after a visit, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to see him when I could.  The same could be said about Gus, my fuzzy, four-legged son.  I also realized that though I was worried about protecting the smaller kids from more hurt, they really wanted to see him, too.  How could I have forgotten Claire’s poem about Gus?

So I got in touch with Josie and she– wonderful lady that she is– went way out of her way to make a reunion happen for us.  We spent a few precious hours with her, my aunt, and Gus.  He knew us and was ecstatic to see us (photo, above), but he clearly loves Josie as well, and is her dog now.  He would lie down by me for a while, then get up and go for a drink and lie down by Josie.  Seeing that was like balm to my soul and closure to all my wounds about betraying the rescue dog I had promised to give a ‘forever’ home (as they say at the shelter).  I felt peace about something that had pained me for the last 12 months.  That is, indeed, a happy ending.

I do love happy endings.  As an aspiring writer of fiction, I struggle with my innate desire to orchestrate a happy ending, versus the prejudice against a tidy and upbeat wrap-up in contemporary fiction.  Things are supposed to be messy in serious fiction, as well as in our dystopian world.  Maybe that’s part of why I keep stalling out near the end in my fiction efforts (the other part is that I’m afraid to finish things– but that’s another blog and another course of therapy).  I’ve written three-quarters or more of three novels.  Mathematically, that should be 2+ novels, right?  But I guess it doesn’t work that way…

And then there’s a fourth piece, for which I’ve written a very rough, but complete first draft.  This one I wrote for Quinn and Claire– it’s a middle grades story involving a dog and his family caught up in the conflict between rebels and establishment in a magical world they didn’t realize was right under their noses.  The dog is a hero in the story, but the wounds he sustains in saving the children make it impossible for him to come back to the children’s world with them.  He must remain in the magical land.  And though he can be happy there– and the children know he will be happy–  they are heartbroken to lose their beloved pet.  Are you getting any ideas about when I wrote this and why?

I finished that draft a year ago, but have never been happy with the ending.  My kids really liked the first chapters, but I’ve never read any further with them.  Maybe now it’s time to go back and try a rewrite– you know, now that I’ve seen an unhappy ending transformed?  I have no idea how our reality changes the fiction, and I won’t write something that ends in some folksy bit of wisdom about time healing all wounds.  But I think if I could find a happy ending in the real life story, there must be some way to pull out a better ending for the fictional Gus and family.  Any ideas out there?

Life as a Lawn Ornament

My kids and I were Olympics refugees this summer.  “Yes, we live in London.  Yes, the Olympics were, in fact, in London.  Indeed, it would have been exciting to be there,” she says in a weary cheery tone.

But we left.  And though I’m tired of feeling the need to justify it, I’ll explain just once more.  You see, I’m crazy about my family.  Summer is my chance to spend time with the people I love in various distant (from London) places I love.  Not even the Olympics could tempt me away from time in my hometown with my family.  Not even prime tickets to the Olympics– which we didn’t have, anyway– could have tempted me away from time in the mountains with my Colorado-based son and my husband’s family.  Beside, the agency that runs public transport had warned us for months that we were going to be miserable and unable to set foot out our front doors during the Games.  We believed them, and apparently so did a lot of other Londoners.

Anyway.  These Olympics needed to simply keep calm and carry on without me.  The fact that I call London home now made me doubly happy, and kind of proud, to watch them do just that– pretty spectacularly I would say– from various screens across the U.S.

Team photo, 2012

While athletes from around the world went about their business in London, I went about my business in the U.S., performing amazing feats of strength and endurance in such events as the deadlift (suitcases…I momhandled a whole mountain of luggage by myself in Chicago).  Another was the marathon (more than an hour in line for the rental car– with a reservation).  The pentathlon (of remembering-how-to-do-things) in the first hours back in the USA:  drive a car on the correct side of the road, pump my own gas, swipe a credit card (instead of inserting and punching pin), order at the fast-food stop saying “to go” instead of “for takeaway,”  and remembering to ask where the restrooms are instead of where the toilets are (as you must in the UK if you want to be sent to the right place).

Part of the Lawn Ornament Endurance event is to keep a close eye on all driveway activities…

My first gold, though, came in the lawn ornament endurance trials.  I’ve trained for this event through many years of visits to my parents’ home, and I’m happy to tell you that I peaked at just the right time to pull off a once-in-a-lifetime performance.  For several days straight I managed to sit for hours in the Adirondack chair out on the long, shady, front lawn.  The kids rode bikes up and down the long, L-shaped driveway with their cousins.  Mom and Dad and my sister, Heidi, wandered in and out of the circle of chairs throughout the day.  But not me, really– I just sat there.  Early mornings, I took a cup of coffee with me; afternoons I switched it out for an icy Vernors (mmm!).  Evenings, it was sometimes even a cold beer.

Fortunately, this most demanding event did allow me to see several old friends and lots of extended family members while in Ohio.  (Some things are worth breaking your training regimen for…).  I loved each and every reunion, and while I’d love to tell you about some of them– seeing family and old friends, and our puppy Gus again– I think I’ll save that for another day.

You see, today I’m engaged in another event– let’s call it a Paralympic Event, in honor of the games going on now here in London.  (“No, I haven’t been to those, either.  Yes, it really is a missed opportunity, isn’t it?” she said in a sarcastic, weary cheery tone).  My event today is called Techno Hurdles.  Might even be a Steeplechase, given the puddles of chilly water below each hurdle.  It’s a series of challenges, the first of which is to get British Telecom wi-fi to stop hijacking your connection through Virgin Media and sending you pop-up windows to offer their services for a fee despite the fact that they just disrupted the service you are already paying for.  Once you x out and re-establish your previous connection, you have to figure out why the printer and the computer refuse to talk with one another.  Then you have to find workarounds to scan and fax a signature to your daughter in America, because she really needs it today, whether or not the printer and computer are friends.  And, really, I could go on and on, because, (like the Ginsu knives’ ‘but wait! There’s more!’), there certainly are more hurdles to clear.   But you would be bored to read about them, and I would be bored recounting more of them.

Would you judge me harshly if I told you that at 11:30am I am drinking my 2nd decaf, after a regular long Americano earlier this morning?  So yes, my 3rd cup.  Desperate times and all that, mate.  After all, I’m in training.

Half Empty (But Still Rather Full)

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I’ve had a crash course this week in being a half-empty nester.  Chloe left Sunday for the U.S., not to return until some future college break– maybe Christmas, unless we all decide to spend Christmas in the U.S.  Then Clay left on Wednesday morning for a regular kind of business trip– three nights away, returning on Saturday morning.

So it’s been the Littles– Claire and Quinn– and me for the last few days.  What’s strangest of all, maybe, is that because they are not in school right now, we have absolutely no commitments.  We could stay in our pajamas all day and never leave the house.  We could stay out of the house all day and eat every meal out (it’s so CHEAP with only the 3 of us!).  We could stay up all night watching movies, and then sleep all day.  I could neglect to load the dishwasher at night, leave the clean laundry in a pile at the foot of my bed, let shoes build up by the front door until no one can either come or go.

No, I haven’t done these things, not exactly… but maybe bits of them.  Conscience intervenes, you see.  I can’t keep the children in the house an entire day– even if it is raining (but I can let them stay in their pajamas until way past lunch sometimes).  I don’t even want to eat every meal out with the kids (ever watchful of table manners, preventing spills and other catastrophes, and managing bathroom trips alone? no thanks.)  Nix the all-night movie fest, too– we do that on the last day of school, and it takes the rest of the week to recover.  As for the housekeeping?  I hate having piles of laundry in my room (they just get all crumpled and it’s harder to fold them later), and the dishwasher really has to run at night (there’s nothing like coming up for coffee with a clean kitchen!).  There are shoes by the door, though.  Lots of them.  Also mail and umbrellas.

The thing is, all that freedom of having no adult supervision– or at least teen supervision– really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And I guess maybe I’ve grown up a bit myself over the last 19 years– contrary to all expectations.  Bother.  So where do I find my fun, now that Chloe isn’t here to chat at night, watch a movie with me, or go to a cafe with me (and the littles, of course)?  When Clay’s out of town, there’s no one to handle the TV remote and find old NCIS episodes, stream Modern Family from his iPad, or just talk about things.  And there are no Malteasers in the house.

But hang on.  My mothering instincts must be intact, because I’ve just realized I’ve already been subconsciously working on this problem!  While other, “good” parents spend time reviewing math and working on reading skills in the summer, I’ve been helping my kids learn to play Rock Band on the Wii.  (Oh, alright, we’ll do a math page later!)  We pulled the instruments out of the utility closet last weekend– out of all the things we left in storage in the U.S., we brought Rock Band??  But obviously I knew what I was doing with that– because you don’t know summer fun until you’ve jammed out “Dead or Alive” or “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” with your kids!  Quinn’s got the drums, Claire’s the vocals, and I am obviously the guitar queen.  We’ve got some work to do, but you know, we’ll get there.

Classic Rock, with Paula on drums, Will on vocals, and Chloe on lead guitar.

So hey, my nest isn’t feeling so empty now.  We’ve still got enough kids around to cover the parts.  We might even have to go out and buy the bass guitar if Clay wants to play, too.  But even while I work on making this new nest situation work, I’ll be remembering my big kids so far away.  All my kids are Rock Stars, of course.  But Will and Chloe are the classics.  Love you guys!

Here at the Corner of Mulberry and Bliss… USA

We are, for once, in the same time zone as many of you– happy and warm in Orlando.

I’m so grateful to be warm.  To be basking in the sun (with sunblock, of course) beside the pool.  Lovely.

It’s also lovely to be in America.  As much as I like living in London, I guess I’m not at home there yet.  Because this break– first in Marblehead for a week, and now in Florida– feels like relaxing at home.  Tonight we’re watching Pirates of the Caribbean after having spent the day at Disney World– where, of course, we rode the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Funny thing is, I keep thinking of London… there’s a guy in Covent Garden who dresses up like Cap’n Jack Sparrow and poses for pictures with tourists.  After watching the actor at Disney play Jack Sparrow today (and he did it well), I’m pretty convinced that the guy in Covent Garden is actually the real Johnny Depp.  I mean, he does live in London.  And I read in a local magazine that he has been known to surprise school kids in downtrodden parts of London with visits from the Captain.  Maybe Depp gets bored and just likes to go out in character sometimes.  And really, can you blame him?  Once you’ve been Cap’n Jack, how do you go back to being just some famous actor??  Maybe you’d always have one foot in those big leather boots.

That’s kind of how I feel.  One foot here, one foot there.  But my boots aren’t nearly as cool.

Let me back up for just a moment and write a bit about our time in Marblehead last week.  Surreal.  Arriving in Logan Airport felt like coming home.  The rental people gave us a Nissan Quest, the same car we drove when the Littles were babies.  Driving home from the airport, we pulled through the Starbucks (DRIVE-THRU!) and got a round of frappucinos for practically free (well, almost nothing if you convert the dollars to GB pounds).  On the Lynnway headed to Marblehead, I found my mind wandering to what time I would go pick up Gus from the kennel (sad reality check).  Passing the turn to Humphrey Drive I had to remind myself we weren’t going to our house on Glendale.  In short, it felt like we’d simply been on a long vacation, and for the first day or two I often forgot that we don’t live there anymore.

Chloe’s friend Lillie pulled up in front of our rental place at the same time we did, and the girls jumped out of their cars to give each other a monster hug.  It made me cry, of course.  From there, we all saw as many friends as we could.  Claire and Quinn had playdate after playdate, and Chloe basically disappeared for the week (I’m expecting a room and board bill from Jaho cafe in Salem).  Honestly, it got a little exhausting for this mama who likes her down time to write and think and, you know, do laundry and darn socks and stuff (or, um, check facebook and read blogs and stuff).  My friend Laura planned a big “evening playdate” for the grownup girls.  I protested at first, thinking my friends would say, “What? Her again?  Didn’t we just throw a party because she was leaving?”  But Laura was right as usual, and it took so much pressure off of organizationally-challenged-me to see all my main girls at one go!  Thanks to Laura and her wonderful family– and to my friends who took time out on a Tuesday night.  You really are the best… xoxo.

Will joined us from Colorado Thursday night, and the whole family was together again.  I love my family.  And I miss that big guy so much.  We had a frenetic couple of days sort-of all together, a good bit of it spent with our good friends in Belmont.  We were together Easter morning for a simple brunch, and the Easter bunny did come, though we didn’t do an egg hunt.  Then off to the airport and a super-fancy (ha!) Easter lunch at Au Bon Pain before saying goodbye to Will, who was leaving from a different terminal.  Mom that I am, I still get teary thinking about watching him walk away across Terminal A, backpack on his shoulders, his height allowing me to sight him all the way to the pedestrian walkway.  Reminded me of all those years ago when I lamented watching him walk off across the soccer pitch in a first flight of independence (see Potato Chips and Nutella).  One month.  Just one month till he comes to London for a few weeks.

And then on to Orlando for the rest of us.  We’ve been here so many times.  Several years ago, when Claire was a baby, we thought about moving here.  We spent three weeks in a condo just a mile or two from where we are staying this week.  So it was almost home– and at any rate, it’s very familiar.

Beyond that, it is a magnet for all kinds of Americana.  In our two days at theme parks this week, we saw pasty-white families (that’s no criticism– we’re pasty-white, too!) from Minnesota and Des Moines, Buffalo and the Bronx.  We saw sun-soaked folks from across the South.  Cowboy hats and baseball caps and, of course, those nerdy Goofy hats from Disney.  Flip flops and trainers, sandals with socks, and even high heels.  We’re all there, sharing elbow space, screaming together on the thrill rides, competing for tables at lunch, and annoying each other in the endlessly coiling lines.  Of course, we also rubbed elbows with people from all over the world, including a great numbers of Brits– whose children are on half-term vacation for three weeks.  Like us, many of them are putting in some of their vacation time at Hogwarts.

I’ll spare you any further details of our itinerary, but I’m happy to report that Claire has a new wand.  She recently told me, “I really need a new wand.  My old one is useless.”  Apparently, incanting “accio” and waving a chopstick at items she wanted to move was not an effective way to pick up her bedroom.  We’ll see if the new wand can do any better with the summoning charm!

Back to London on Sunday.  Till then– you can find me by the pool!

Hairpin Turns

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Stand up if you remember Witch Hazel!  She’s one of my favorite Looney Toons characters– mostly because it just cracks me up how she leaves hairpins hanging in the air behind her when she takes off on her broomstick.  I can’t explain it, it just makes me grin every time.  I’m grinning even thinking of it now!

Earlier this year we went through a phase where we could almost find Chloe by following the trail of hairpins– at various times we found them on the sidewalk outside our door, we spotted them at the bus stop, and of course we found them throughout the house.  She was in cross country, so running all the time– and I had a fun little mental image of her taking off at a run and bobby pins flying out behind her.  I’m not sure if I shared that with her, because I didn’t want her to think I was comparing her to a witch… and also to avoid bringing up the fact that she was using all those hair pins because we hadn’t managed to get her a haircut in a ridiculously long time.  (Why do some things just seem so hard when you’re in a new place?)

We did finally get her a haircut, and the bobby pin sightings abated.  Now I’m the one using hair pins.  My hair is ridiculous– don’t even get me started.  I haven’t had it cut since July.  There.  I confessed it.  I look like crap and I just can’t bring myself to book an appointment or walk in somewhere.  Maybe today will be the day.  But anyway, these hairpins… they are everywhere!  I don’t think I’m shedding them as I walk through life each day, but there is a little pile by my sink in the bathroom, there’s another little pile by the bedroom mirror where I do my makeup.  I think they procreate.

Yesterday we had a tedious commute home from school.  Buses were quite full and rather hot and smelly (I know I shouldn’t name names, but, ugh!, those Number 13 buses always kind of make me gag the whole ride).  The kids were tired, and my body actually hurt from tennis clinic earlier in the day.  When we finally stumbled off our own C11 bus at the stop just across the street, I did the cursory belongings check (got backpacks? jackets? my phone?).  Then, glancing down, I spotted a bobby pin on the sidewalk.

It made me smile.

And a smile can put a hairpin turn in your day.  Try it!

I’m walking out in a few minutes to do a bit of shopping– hoping to find some little goodies to take back to the States next week for friends.  Maybe, just maybe, I will stop dithering and walk in somewhere for a haircut.  Even a bad one would be better than the ignominy (wow! where did that word come from?) of returning to Marblehead without having accomplished this basic task in 8 months.  Too bad I don’t have enough hair for the style I’m thinking of: remember the principal’s secretary in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off?  It would sure be handy to have a hair-do in which you can stow an endless supply of pencils– or maybe even the keys!

Just finished a Nespresso Americano with milk.  Thanks for indulging my silly train of thought over coffee this morning.   Have a great day– Cheer-i-o!

[…and she dashes off, leaving several bobby pins hanging in the cloud of smoke from her quick exit…]