We’ve reached the point where I’m counting the days until I get to go home. It appears that eight days is my go-with-the-flow vacation limit. Last night my task brain switched on and I made lists. Today I’ve not done half the things I told myself I would do today. I visited with my friend and my Grandma instead. I don’t begrudge that. Yet with all the empty-seeming hours it seems like I could get more writing done. Or more things done in general. I miss my usual structures and patterns.
Month: June 2014
Traveling is an exercise in taking yourself out of context.
–Jason Gruber (person on Twitter, who was apparently traveling that day.)
I retweeted the quote, because it perfectly expressed what I’d been feeling. I left Utah and all my usual surroundings. I brought the internet with my in my phone and computer, but increasingly I find myself feeling detached from the goings on there. It is like all those things belong to another life, one I’ve been scooped out of.
In a strange way, I’ve also been put back into a context that I’ve been absent from for a very long time. I’m staying in the house where I grew up. Everywhere I look there are reminders of my childhood years, teenage years, even of my visits as a young mother. I was so glad to fly free and build my own life, because the possibilities excited me. I’ve always been a person who sheds excess things. I got rid of my school yearbooks. I discarded most of the objects from my childhood. (with the exception of books. I keep the books.) Yet here I am in a place which remembers all of those things and stores many of them in solid form.
I would have thought that I’d worked through all this “past and present coming together” with my past visits. It’s not like I’ve never been back, I’ve come every few years. Except, in a way, I haven’t ever come back at all. My visits here have always been short, a week or less, bookended with travel. It was just enough time to visit with my parents and see a thing or two. This trip, I’m holding still. I’m looking around at the house, at the neighborhood, at my old schools, at my hometown. I’m thinking about these things and about who I was. I’m also thinking about who I am now. The more I think, the more I realize that this location is full of people who knew me long ago. Meeting back up with Rae Carson in January showed me the value in reconnecting. Part of me wants to reach out to people. But habit is strong, and, truly, I’m here for my Grandma, I shouldn’t be flitting about like a social butterfly.
I did walk to my old elementary school and back. I’m certainly not the first person to walk in her childhood neighborhood and discover that it feels smaller than she remembered. When I can pick up and drive 800 miles on my own, the walk to school and back does not have the same adventurous feeling it had when I was nine. I did take some pictures for a post I intend to write about what California looks like to me.
Tomorrow I get to have lunch with a friend whom I’ve known since I was twelve. She’s one of the few that I kept in touch with, even before Facebook was a thing. I expect we’ll talk endlessly and wish we had more time. I wonder what pockets of memory we’ll uncover in our conversations.
Home feels very far away and not just in miles. I’m pretty sure it is just a coping strategy of my brain to pack away the home thoughts so that they aren’t cluttering up my thinking space. I certainly am glad that the anxiety has calmed down, or maybe that has just shifted too. Instead of jolts of momentary panic, I’m having restless dreams and my teeth ache. With certain sorts of subconscious stress, I clench my teeth together. I’m not even aware that I’m stressed except after awhile my teeth will hurt. I’m not certain whether it is from being away from home or concern about the long drive ahead of me. It could also simply be triggered by my surroundings and all the churn through my childhood memories.
I remember coming home from college for the first time and realizing that though my parents had kept a space for me, I’d changed so that I no longer fit that space. It used to feel like hard work to retain my changes when I came home. I suppose that was one of the reasons I kept my visits short during the early years. Then it was habit and I had piles of neurosis telling me that I couldn’t leave my home for long anyway. I no longer feel like my surroundings are trying to press me into a space that I’ve grown out of. Instead I feel like I’m living small. I’m occupying a guest space, trying to make sure the house is run as Grandma expects it to be, and be myself in the space that is available. I’m keeping a tight rein on the part of me that wants to reorganize all the things. Because if I lived fully to the edges of me, I would do that massive reorganization. Which would be unnecessary and intrusive. This is my mother’s house, not mine. There is nothing wrong with the way that my Mom organizes. I just have a compulsion to control my environment. I can do that again when I go home. So I focus small, and that means that I feel out of touch with all the things that are not right in front of me.
I miss Howard, Kiki, my house, and the cat. Five more days.
This is a vacation in three parts.
Part one: The family reunion
Part two: The outing days
Part three: Staying with Grandma
Today is the transition into part three. This is fine, because the kids are ready for things to be quieter for a time. So am I. The sunburns from the beach are peeling and we’re all a bit leg sore from walking in the Aquarium and then the woods.
Starting tomorrow the primary goal is to be at my parent’s house and spend time with my 94 year old Grandma. We may do short outings in the afternoons, little things like going to the park, but I expect the kids to be very ready to go home in a week. I’m ready now, though I’m not finished with the things I need to do here.
Gleek was excited to go see the redwood trees. The boys were along for the ride willingly. I guess they’ve learned to trust that Mom takes them cool places even though all she could really say about it was that there were trees. Link was less than pleased to learn that there would be walking involved. He pictured looking at trees out the window of the car, maybe getting out at a few viewpoints. Muir Woods is all about walking. You walk from way down the road where you finally found an empty space. Then you pay to walk inside, where you walk some more. On the way to the entrance Gleek looked around and said in a disappointed tone “Where are the redwoods?” The woodland was lush surrounding us, but the redwood groves begin in a very specific place and that is beyond the gate. Once you get to them, they’re hard to miss.
Gleek watched for a four leaf shamrock, but she never saw one. I’ve seen plants similar to these sold in pots. They’d always looked a little wilty, not struggling, but not thriving. It was really nice to see them where they belong.
Redwoods can live for a thousand years or more. The big ones were all there before Europeans ever thought to travel across the sea. I thought about that as I looked up and up to where they reach for the sky.
I also thought about it as I looked at the new growth which sprouts from the base of a damaged tree. These sprouts might be twenty years old. I wonder whether there will be people to admire them when they’ve grown tall.
We walked and walked. After the first bit, Link stopped complaining. In part that was because I bought him a map of the park, which meant he was in charge of planning our route. He likes that. The main trails are boardwalks full of people. Everyone was polite, but I loved it best when we headed up on a dirt path. It was a two mile walk with lots of up and then lots of down, but we were mostly alone with the trees. I liked that.
I also loved that we passed by a spot that I recognized from long ago. On my sixteenth birthday I brought a group of friends to Muir Woods and we ran along the trails. This picture may not look like much, but I remember standing exactly there while one of my friends took a picture.
I pointed it out to my son, who is sixteen now. It meant very little to him, but for a moment it was as if I could see that version of me, so young and energetic.
Muir Woods was definitely worth the trip, though we spent two hours in rush hour traffic while trying to depart San Francisco. I’ve now done my California-native duty by my Utah-raised kids and given them the experience of inching along the freeway surrounded by vehicles. I imagine they’ll be speaking knowledgeably about rush hour traffic to their friends upon their return. Hopefully they’ll also talk about the trees.
I still love jellyfish. We walked into the room with the stinging nettle tank and I began to cry. A few years ago I wrote a post explaining my love of jellyfish. Those reasons still apply. It was powerful to stand in front of that tank with Link, who is now taller than me. He remembers the jellyfish too, but his memory is a mild nostalgia. He was glad to see the aquarium again though. All of it.
Gleek continued her habit of communing with animals. She had a penguin following her fingers to the point that it toppled off the rock where it had been perched. I caught it on video. Gleek also figured out how to get the bat rays to surface and come close where people could pet them. She also coaxed them to hold still for a minute instead of swimming past.
Gleek goes through exhibits very slowly. She wanted to really absorb each tank. Patch skims more lightly over everything. Fortunately there were enough hands-on activities that engaged Patch’s interest. So he’d play with the lever that let him bury and unbury a plastic flounder while Gleek would stand with her hand to the glass of a tank focused on the fish inside.
Link, being sixteen, and with a cell phone in his pocket, made his own way through at a pace that was not dictated by his younger siblings. Any time my mom sense got to tingling, I’d text him and he’d either rejoin us, or tell me where he was.
I’ve fallen in love with the map and GPS features of my phone. I’ve traveled all sorts of unfamiliar cities and routes in the last few days. I haven’t felt lost at all.
They handed us a map as we walked in the door. It was bewildering, just shapes and labels on a piece of paper that intended to communicate where things were, but at first we had no context for any of it. I kept all the kids close for that first hour, worried that someone would get lost in the crowd. Then we began to know the lay of the land. We correlated places we’d visited with the labels on the map. My kids settled in to their usual museum behaviors. They wandered within an exhibit, but we only move onward to the next space together. The kids watched for me as much as I watched for them. By the end of the day, we’d been all the places and the aquarium did not feel so bewilderingly large.
I’ve added leaping blennies to my list of world’s cutest fish. I didn’t really have such a list before today, but I was so charmed by blennies that I guess I need one now. I found a video of them on youtube, because you have to see them jump to appreciate them. Listening to the audio, I’m pretty certain this video was shot at the exact same tank in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can hear the penguin feeding time in the background. Blennies are like adorable pinky-sized aliens who live on our planet.
The minute that Gleek saw a sign for cuttlefish, she announced how cute they are and how much she loves them. I’d no idea that she even knew what a cuttlefish is. Yet before the end of the day a stuffed cuttlefish came home with us. (Patch acquired a small blue octopus. Link requested that his souvenir money be put in the family fund that is saving up for a Wii U.)
Cuttlefish are indeed cute.
They are particularly cute when they use their little tentacles. Perhaps there is a second resident on my newly created list of world’s cutest fish.
Going to the aquarium was expensive. The tickets have to cost so much to pay for all the maintenance. And when you see a giant sunfish, bigger than a person, swim by only inches away, the cost doesn’t seem to be quite so much. The accounting part of my brain keeps counting that cost. Yet had we decided not to go, I would be regretting it in the same way I still wish I’d jumped into the waves on our beach day. I can’t remember who said it, but building a good life is picking the right regrets. Pretty sure we picked right today.
We’ve been self employed for years, but we’re set up as a corporation, so mostly we’ve handled tax payments through withholding. Then our tax accountant told us about a different way to handle things which saves us money. It all makes sense, but it means that this is the first year that I’m paying estimated quarterly taxes. The first payment was due April 15, so I thought the second payment would be due July 15. Nope. June 15. I discovered this fact because fellow self-employed people were complaining on twitter. I confirmed it and then realized I was presented with a problem. All my accounting things are in Utah, including my checkbook. I am in California for another week. Truthfully it all could have waited a week. The government would probably not have argued with me if I willingly made payment before they had a chance to notice that it was late. But I don’t like to be late on this sort of thing. It makes me anxious.
This sort of thing is exactly why we planned this trip with Kiki going home to hold down the fort. She flew home this morning, which meant that I could call the house and walk her through the process of finding and filling out the necessary payment coupon. Howard was at home to sign the check. (I suppose if Kiki had not been there, I would have walked Howard through the process, but Kiki is really good about going into assistant mode these days. Howard’s assistant mode is really rusty. The dynamic feels backward.) I had the money ready and waiting because of the past few months of careful budgeting. In a way it was all reassuring. There was a problem, an important thing that was left undone, and then thirty minutes later the thing was done. It makes me feel like I might be competent at least a little bit.
I’ve spent some time looking at how I arranged this trip and examining why I made the choices that I did. I’m rarely certain that I’ve chosen right because I can see so many other options. Howard stayed home, which is the lowest stress option for him. It allowed him to recover from being sick and hopefully will allow him to rebuild the buffer. Yet I know that he misses out on some of the bonding which happens with a family trip. Much of that bonding occurs precisely because the trip is stressful. Less stress = missed shared experiences. I can’t see a way to have both. Knowing that I was sending Kiki back to manage the online store was the only way I could feel good about being absent for so long. The last time I spent two weeks away from home it was 1999 and we didn’t have a time-dependent home business. Even there though, I wonder how much of my decision making is driven by unreasonable anxiety. The world would not end if packages waited an extra week. So many of my urgent business tasks are far less urgent than they feel on a daily basis. It is only when I put myself in a position where I can’t jump and solve an issue at a moment’s notice that I’m aware how much of my day is spent jumping to solve issues as if they are emergencies. On this trip I jump and then don’t have any of my tools, so the next few minutes are spent explaining to myself why it will all be fine anyway. So far I’ve been gone for five days. There have been some lovely, long relaxed hours. There have also been hours where my brain jolted with adrenaline five or eleven times because of things remembered or half-remembered that for an instant had me convinced that disaster would result because I could not manage them right away. Those were not my favorite hours.
As of today the reunion part of the trip is over. Most of the relatives have departed home. My parents are off to Hawaii for their golden honeymoon. My sister has settled in to be with my Grandma until Thursday. Then we’ll trade off and I will stay with Grandma until my parents return the next week. That makes today the settling-in day. It is the day when I let the kids watch too much TV and play too many video games. I breathe deep and decide how I am going to spend the time between now and the day when I’m on duty to take care of Grandma. It is the day when I talk Kiki through the business processes that she’ll manage while I’m away. It is also the day where I think through how I arranged this trip and face my guilt that I put Howard and Kiki at home to work while I’m away with the other three kids. I picked the option with minimal work disruption instead of maximal family togetherness. I have to think about that choice. Because there need to be times when I arrange it the other way around. Of course, I could have just said no to the entire trip which would have resulted in zero life disruption and zero extended family togetherness. We all would have missed much with that choice.
I have more thinking to do, but after today we’ll have several outing days in a row which will likely interfere with the thinking. That in itself might be a good thing, as I probably think too much. For today, the kids are playing with cousins, Kiki traveled home safely, Howard is no longer alone in the house, and the taxes are paid. I’ll count that good enough for now.
It was like a wedding reception. My sister-in-law had set up tables covered in memorabilia. There was an honored place for the bride and groom. Tables were arrayed for dinner. My nephews were the waiters. Yet there was very little of the tension that accompanies a wedding. Instead of being newly related and trying to find balance with each other, we were all long-familiar. We’ve worn off the edges and know how to bend around, and love people for, their quirks.
I did not get to attend my parents’ wedding. They held it ten years before I was born. Yet if I only got to pick one, I definitely choose their 50th anniversary celebration instead. We got to see both my mom and my dad in their youth and then we remembered the life they built together and how the rest of us joined it one by one. Reaching the 50th anniversary was the excuse, but the reason for the party was to celebrate our family.
I didn’t expect to cry, but I did. It was the little things that hit me, like this picture hanging from a little tree. I hardly recognize that young couple as my parents, but I remember that quilt. It perished long ago, but I remember laying on it as a little girl and thinking it beautiful. Photo after photo opened pockets of memory, things that I had forgotten about who I was as a child and what my family was like as I grew up. I’m still thinking about all of it. I’m still looking around the town where I grew up and thinking about that too.
We hadn’t intended to have a big party other than to gather the siblings together. My sister-in-law did most of the work for the party and provided her own crew. It was a huge gift, not just to my parents, but to all of us. It is not that having the event changed anything, but it showed us what was already there and had been there for fifty years. When you live inside something, it is hard to see it until there is an event to make you sit up and notice.
My parents sat together as their grandchildren sang to them. They held hands and my dad cried until one of my young nieces ran up to him with a paper napkin and shoved it in his face. Then we all laughed. They were beautiful, this family I came from is beautiful. It has been fifty years in the making and we’ve barely begun.
A Northern California beach is about cold water, waves, sand crabs, sea weed, chilly wind, and sun burns. When I took Florida-raised Howard to his first California beach, he was a bit dismayed. When he took me to my first Florida beach, I watched the gently rippling water and thought it was like a giant bath tub. They are each beautiful in their own ways. I can’t honestly say which I prefer, but I do know which one feels more like home.
I spent some time with my eyes closed just feeling the wind on my skin and listening to the sound of the waves. Oceans are loud, very little else can be heard with the surf right there. I like that some. With so much ocean noise there was less space for my own circling thoughts. This is good, because I’m tired of the tight little circles my thoughts have been taking lately. They wear a groove in my brain and I can’t tell if they make sense anymore.
I didn’t get all the way wet. The water was shockingly cold on my feet, and I measured that against the wind. I knew if I got immersed, I would be very cold for quite awhile afterward. I just recovered from being sick. In fact I’m not certain that I’m a hundred percent better yet. So I dabbled in the edges of the water. I watched the kids body surf. I got sandy and a little bit sunburned. I admired the haul of sand crabs. I ate sand with my lunch. And I closed my eyes to listen to the surf, feel the wind, and taste the salt in the air. Yet when time came to leave, I carried regret with me up the hill. My younger self jumped the waves and rode them to shore. Somewhere in the years, I became a person who counts the cost and makes “smart” choices. I wonder if this is something that comes with age, or if I’ve just become unable to dive in and participate without thinking so far ahead that I don’t fully commit my energy to the task at hand. I was wise to not chill myself, but there is something to be said for profligate joy in the moment.
It has been hours since I left the beach. If I close my eyes I can feel the wind pressing against me, as if my skin remembers having to resist all morning. I washed off the sand, but I can still feel it against my feet. It will be years again before I’m back at a beach. I wish I could store up the feel of the wind and the pounding of the surf. If I could just tuck it into some corner of memory and pull it out sometimes that would be lovely. Instead I have some pictures, which show my eyes what the beach was like, but don’t help me preserve the sound, feel, or smells. I brought home a little shell. It is a tiny, ordinary thing, but I can touch it. Perhaps in the touching, I will be able to remember. It will work for a time. Then I’ll have to arrange to have another beach day so that I can remember again all the various inconveniences and discomforts that are an essential part of a day at the beach. They’re all part of what I love about the beach.
We drove past little houses as we left. Perhaps some day I’ll rent a little beach house and spend several days out on the beaches. Of course, first I’ll have to learn how to leave my regular routines without anxiety, but that is a separate consideration. For now, I need to sleep and dream of beaches.
So I was sick and there was book shipping. Then I was still sick because of ear infections on top of flu. When my head cleared I was a little focused on my upcoming travel and on the anxiety related to that travel. Then I drove for 11 hours in one day. Now I’ve landed at the houses of my relatives and all the rooms are filled with people to talk to. So blogging has been sparse and it is likely to continue to be sparse until I have quiet spaces to process my thoughts and write them down. In theory I’m packing my head full of things to sort.
This is the sort of week where I find out on Friday that a beloved friend suffered through a major medical event on Monday. She left me a voice mail message about it on my home phone, which I never checked all week. I’d still not know except a mutual friend called to say “Did you know…” Fortunately the crisis is weathered, and recovery can happen at home instead of in the hospital. Truthfully there really wasn’t any more I could do if I’d known. I certainly would not have taken my sickness to go visit in the hospital. My friend is well cared for by those more closely related than I. She knew my lack of response was not for lack of caring. We had a good phone conversation today.
It just underlines how I’ve only handled the bare minimum of what needed to be done this week. Voice mail unchecked, email not answered, several social things cancelled. Sometimes my brain wants to start fretting about all of it. Because at my current energy levels catching up will be impossible. Instead I just need to rest and trust that in a day or two I will have more capability than I have today.