Our bags are packed. We are (almost) ready to go. We fly home tomorrow. We will arrive on Thanksgiving afternoon. We ordered our Thanksgiving dinner while we were still in Melbourne, from a popular and hip restaurant in Salt Lake. Eli has graciously offered to pick it up so we will have a feast ready when we roll into town. (Thank you, Easy E! ❤️)
Five weeks plus one day ago, Dave and I set out for our epic (work trip) adventure. We flew to England then Amsterdam (where Dave’s wallet remains), and then to Melbourne, Australia via Chicago and Los Angeles. On our Chicago to Los Angeles flight, I glanced at the lady sitting behind Dave. She was pilates-fit. Her forehead looked pressed like a starched shirt and plumped like all the best fillers LA can serve up. As I glanced, she glared, which forced me to abruptly move my head.
“Wait? That looks like Christopher Loyd, the guy from the “Back to the Future” movies.”
I turned my head back and quickly googled Christopher Lloyd and his wife, which I believe is his fifth wife. The woman sitting behind Dave looked exactly like her photo pictured in my search. It was Christopher Lloyd. Dave did his best to take a photo surreptitiously. As we exited the flight, Chris (that is what his wife called him) said, “Chris, will you grab my hat?” He did. We were inches from one another. I made eye contact. I smiled; he smiled back. Truth be told, if it had not been Christopher Lloyd, I would have started talking to him, but it just seems weird to make chitchat with a celebrity.
It has been a long, strange, happy, exhausting adventure. The time flew by and often I threatened to fly home:
“Dave, I think you should stay. I already looked at flights and it will only cost 65$ US to change my ticket. You will be fine!”
Dave was never thrilled that I wanted to go home. I wasn’t necessarily homesick. I was tired of traveling. I know. I am the one who is supposed to love, love, love travel, planes, lounges, foreign grocery stores, and exploring new destinations. I do. In fact, this trip has been largely wonderful.
One of the sources of my malaise was that, as soon as we landed in Melbourne, well actually like two days later, I was bitten by a completely insane flying Australian insect. Dave and I were walking to a new park. I was bitten between the Melbourne Women’s Hospital and Royal Park. I felt the sting immediately. I also noticed the accompanying and prompt blood blister that appeared on my arm. The blister was followed by swelling, big red bumps and strange red spots. I truly wanted to itch my arm right off my body.
Then I was assured,
“Beth, it’s inflammation. You know you are allergic to everything!”
It is true. I am allergic to a lot of things. I was not dead yet, so I assumed I would be ok.
That was until like three nights later. It was 1:03AM. I shot right out of bed grabbing my throat. I could not breathe.
“Dave, I cannot breathe!”
I tried to point to the location of my inhaler and any other medication I thought might help. Dave tried to help. We were a disoriented mess: two people in REM sleep, startled awake to a medical emergency. I could not catch my breath. I could see it in Dave’s face. He was scared. I was scared. In seconds I went from coughing uncontrollably to wheezing. I sounded like a crackly-chested seal. I asked Dave to put my Apple Watch on so he could check my oxygen levels. They were good, which gave me peace of mind.
I also knew what it was. I have asthma. I was having an asthma attack. Asthma has never woken me out of a sound sleep. I used my inhaler. Usually after two inhaler puffs I start to feel better. I was not feeling better. I could not catch my breath.
I asked Dave (repeatedly),
“Why am I having an asthma attack? We are in a hotel!”
Tears flooded my eyes. Then they covered my face. I looked at Dave and asked him to look at me. Then I said,
“I need you to hear this. I am really scared. I also want you to know that I have been in regular contact with Eli and have been struggling to get a hold of Kyle. A few hours ago Kyle messaged me. I am so glad. See, if I die tonight, I am glad for him that we connected.”
I am not trying to be dramatic to be dramatic. The dramatic moment and the fear Dave and I felt, stands all on its own.
Seriously, I have never felt the sustained loss of breath like I did right then. I tried to calm myself by sucking on a cough drop. I took some other drugs and noticed the prednisone my allergy doctor urged me to keep on deck:
“Beth, you travel all over the world. I would hate to see you suffer.” I settled on the couch and asked Dave to cue up Netflix. I followed with, “I will not sleep. I will be sitting upright watching a show.”
True to my word, I sat upright all night long. Every time my head dropped, I started coughing and then I would choke as I tried to catch my breath. It completely sucked. A few episodes in, I noticed that Dave slept with the door open in our “upgraded from a room to a suite” room.
“He will hear me. I will not die alone.” I was relieved. He tells me, “Beth, I did not sleep. Instead, I listened.”
The next morning we were exhausted. I was also feeling better. We decided to go to a pharmacy for more meds. On our way out of the hotel, I asked the lovely front desk person where the nearest hospital was in case I needed to make a visit. That is when they talked to me about allergy season:
“Well mate, it’s really bad this year. And we had a thunderstorm last night.” What did not compute to my northern hemisphere-brain is that it is spring here in Australia (and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere.)
“You have asthma? You need to be really careful this week. There have been warnings all over the news.” The front desk person stated.
I really thought they were joking. I was like, “Thunderstorm Asthma. That sounds like something from Mad Max.”
“Beth, (because we were on a first name basis), you have to take it seriously. Please be careful. PEOPLE DIE!”
Hours later the hotel sent me a news article and that we were indeed visiting during the height of the apocalyptic phenomenon known as Thunderstorm Asthma, which involves high levels of grass pollen. And grass is the thing I am most allergic to. Oof! Yes. You read that correctly. In 2016, 3,400 Melbourne locals were hospitalized and ten people died. I decided to do all the things I do to calm down my inflammation response, which included asking our hotel for a non-feather blanket and foam pillows. After receiving approximately ten additional feather pillows and after speaking with the night time housekeeping dude, (who also assured me that “you know Covid is a hoax,)” well, after he spoke to his staff and I asked him if we could avoid the Covid conversations,
“I really like you. You have been good to us. Let’s just agree to disagree on all the Covid conspiracies.”
He reluctantly, yet sweetly complied and two foam pillows were delivered to our room.
I survived. We truly had a lovely time. We were in Melbourne for two weeks. While there we explored the Southern Coast. We also explored Melbourne. Every night we set a goal of walking another direction, to another park, museum or landmark. We loved the National Gallery, walking back and forth over all the bridges that cross the Yarra River, walking through the Docklands neighborhood at night, and peering down seeing beautiful graffiti line the ally way. Our favorite city grocery store (Woolworths) is located on the 2nd floor of the Southern Cross train station. And then the day we bailed on the rental car, we had the amazing adventure of learning that flying fox is just a cute word for toddler-sized fruit bats. We learned this because on the edge of Melbourne is Yarra Bend Park where 50,000 fruit bats gather and sleep in the trees. In the evening all the bats fly a few miles and hang in the trees at Melbourne’s Botanic gardens. We walked under for what seemed like miles underneath and near those bat filled trees. One fruit bat pooped inches from my head. It is the stuff of nightmares.
We connected with dear friends. One hosted us at their beautiful farm, which included wrangling and penning sheep, kissing a lama, petting horses and wrestling a gigantic piece of black netting over six large fruit trees to keep the birds out. Our other gave us a tour of their stylishly cool and very grown up office space.
Today we are in Sydney. We have been here for eight days. Sydney has been good to me and my reactive self. We enjoyed our favorite Messina gelato/sorbetto, our favorite Sunday ferry rides. This time we took the ferry to Watsons Bay where we visited Morton National Park and walked to Pointer Gap Lookout. We visited the Chau Chak Wing Museum at The University of Sydney, walked new neighborhoods and familiar one. We also discovered that are in town during the blooming of the vivid purple flowered Jacaranda trees, and found a groove that made Sydney feel right. In fact, just last night near Bondi Beach we enjoyed dinner hosted by Dave’s delightful French colleague and her delightful French partner, who both love to surf and stated,
“Beth, the way you say that, you get the timing. Are you sure you are not French?”
That was one of the best compliments I have ever received: two French lovers who relocated to Sydney told me, the American, that I remind them of their homeland. Dave chimed in,
“She is. Beth has family from France.”
Then they said they would protect me from Melbourne and its allergens next time we are here: “We will watch Beth.” I quickly interjected,
“Dave, I will connect with a Hemsworth brother until you return.” We all laughed. It did feel like home.
Thank you, Sydney! Dave and I have been staying in the lovely Darlinghurst neighborhood, which is east of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD/downtown), if I have my coordinates correct. Each morning, wherever we are, I wake up with Dave and walk him to work. This is the first trip that I have done every single day, except on thunderstorm-asthma day. Today, I walked Dave down Darlinghurst Road, took a left on Williams, and walked down the big hill past the giant Coca Cola sign. Then as we did our usual diagonal walk through Hyde Park to Pitt Street, I was filled with melancholy.
“Dave, I knew this would happen and I am not sure you will believe me. I recognize I threatened to go home, especially during the allergy stuff, but come on, that is totally understandable, right? Today, I feel a little sad. I am not sure I am ready to go. I really like the rhythm. I have enjoyed my time here.”
True to our boys’ assessment,
“Mom, you love-hate everything!”
This trip has been no different. I love connecting with old friends. I hate thunderstorm asthma. I love where we are staying. I hate that it was not clean when we arrived. I am sad to leave. I am really excited to get back home. Five weeks is long. Flying from London to Melbourne is really long. Five weeks also flew by.
This evening Dave & I had dinner in our Darlinghurst neighborhood at an amazing place with an awesome name, #eatfuh. Yes, that is what it is called. We returned to our rental making plans for tomorrow’s flight. After stress eating 3 gluten free Hob Knobs I picked up in London, I felt a disturbance in the force. It took me another five minutes to realize my jacket was missing. Dave and I walked back to #eatfuh. As we stepped inside, our sweet waiter was holding something in his arms. It was my jacket. Thank you Sydney.
We arrived at the airport this morning. As fate, or Hollywood, would have it, I spotted another actor: Richard E. Grant.
I was like,
“Hey Dave, it’s that actor guy. I really like him. He looks better in person.”
And now we are waiting for our flight. ❤️ Until next time Australia.
The other day I took both boys to the orthodontist. Kyle usually drives himself, but his car was in the shop. I had just returned from the dentist. I had two fillings — both related to clenching my teeth. It was lunchtime and the waiting room was clearing out. As I sat in the orthodontist’s office all numb-mouthed, the orthodontist’s wife, who also manages the offices, came up to talk with me.
“Beth, you Adams’ have had quite a year. How are you all doing?” She asked.
“Yes. We have. With Eli’s broken jaw, Dave’s bad concussion and my broken hand, you would think we were accident prone. I like to say we are active.” I laughed and then explained why I was also talking funny. She said I didn’t have to talk, but then continued the conversation. After telling me about her six kids and telling me,
“The last one to leave home is the hardest.”
“I have the two. Kyle and Eli,” I said.
“Wow!” she said, and continued, “I just assumed you had more.”
Ok. I never hesitate to mention the truth anytime anyone, I mean anyone, including the sweet wife of my sons’ orthodontist, says anything about how I should have more children, which is,
“Yes. I wanted more. I tried for years.”
She was silent. And sure, that particular sentence usually does stop people in their tracks. My guess is within about ten seconds, she had done the math, and realized that Kyle will quickly be followed by Eli. Meaning, I am also at the end.
I am sure she was relieved when I was suddenly called back to talk to talk the orthodontist. Wait. Maybe she just #911s him when things get uncomfortable.
Anyway, with Kyle graduating from high school in two months and Eli graduating in two years, of course I have found myself extra reflective and totally weepy. My mom was right when she said,
“It will go by fast. Enjoy every moment.”
Honestly, I think I have. Nevertheless, I still cannot believe we are here. In fact, I am shocked! Wasn’t Eli just practicing his pogo stick moves for the elementary school talent show? Didn’t Kyle just get bitten by a snake? Wasn’t Eli just learning to ride a bike? Ay-yi-yi!
Instead, here is where we are. I am surrounded by two giant and amazing man-children. Kyle is trying to figure out how he can he bleed every last moment out of high school. While he is making all the minutes count, he is also trying to decide which college to attend, how he can order a tux for prom, can he will handle life away from his girlfriend if he goes away for college. Then there is the huge concern regarding his braces. The question: will he have them off in time for graduation? We are doing everything possible to make that happen and we also understand why Kyle keeps complaining of these pounding headaches that hurt above his eyes and along his jaw.
“You might be clenching your teeth. We get it. Dude, life is stressful.”
Eli is not far behind. Not only is he planning his cross country running career, he is pining for the day his braces to come off, waiting for the snow to melt so he and the dudes can go mountain bike riding, and wondering if his dad will help him upgrade his gaming computer. Eli also thinks that college away from home might be very cool. What? Eli, man, you are my bestie. I thought you would stay close. In truth, I am certain Eli will soar near or far. We imagine he will write for Saturday Night Live or for Seth Meyers, or even the next Bob’s Burgers’ franchise.
Ultimately, my love for my boys has always been and will always be fierce, protective, long winded and powerful. I will cut anyone who crosses their path. Ask the ones I have cut. They will tell you that I do not mess around. I will also do my best to give them the space they need to carve their own path. I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to fly — wherever they want to fly to. Of course I also want them to make good choices, be kind, thoughtful and gracious.
Alas, how do I transition from fiercely dedicated day-to-day mom to the mom who wants help them spread their wings? I have been worried about this moment since Dave and I started making babies. In fact, I always believed that if I modeled healthy boundaries and relationships that the boys and I would find healthy ways to ebb and flow. I always thought it was about maintaining a dedicated relationship with them. I like my sons, so that is easy to do. I also think Kyle and Eli know I am always there for them. I am loyal and I have been their strongest advocate. For them, I have and I will fight fire, monsters, bullies, or stupid people. I also see the importance and the need for them to live their own life, even if it is a life that I cannot imagine. I truly believe that they need to stand in their space, not mine.
Further, I was convinced that if I modeled a healthy and reciprocal relationship with my mom and my mother-in-law, that my relationship with my boys would remain strong. It was not hard. Dave’s mom and my mom are good people and are important to me. What they both do not realize (and do not need to realize) is that I spent way too much time trying to make sure they were happy, or better, I spent way too much time trying not to hurt their feelings, get along with them, and to accommodate them. But then, I began to see that maybe I missed the most significant lesson of all. In my attempt to show them my sons that I love my mom and mother-in-law, I forgot to stand in my own space, or better, I made accommodations and concessions for the women in my own life thinking it would reflect on how my sons treat me (kind of selfish really).
For my mom, I stopped blogging. Ha ha, any of you early bloggers out there may think I stopped blogging because Heather Armstrong (Dooce.com) and I had a fight a million years ago. I wish it were that easy. I stopped blogging because it hurt my mom’s feelings. Again and again she told me how my words hurt her. Then I let her feedback dictate the terms of what I wrote. Ultimately, I did not how to reconcile integrity in my writing with breaking my mom’s heart so I stopped blogging. Sure, in her defense, maybe I could have been more mature about how I shared. I think if I had trusted myself, I would have gained that maturity. I think I have. I bet if I had kept writing, I would have arrived at a place where my mom would feel less pain and more pride regarding the words I put out to the world. If not, at least I would have learned to stand in my own space, not hers. At least I would have the confidence to know that I am not trying to hurt her. Instead I was weak and I did not have faith in either of us to grow. As a result, I was careful. I went out of my way not to hurt my mom’s feelings. And of course, by trying not to hurt her feelings, I always managed to hurt them anyway. My guess is that writing this will may hurt her feelings now.
In the end, our relationship did evolve. Instead of sharing myself, I closed myself off. Now I simply avoid any sort of complicated interaction. I sincerely try to agree with and support her. I respect her perspective and try to reassure her that things are ok. Upon reflection, I only wish I would have seen that had I continued blogging, we would have been ok. And actually, I think my mom and I were much closer way back when we were dialoguing about how I was hurting her online.
So in attempt to learn from my own experiences, I want to give that openness to my sons, even when it stings. Wish me luck.
Now onto my mother-in-law. I value her opinion probably to a crazy fault. She feels very differently about blogging than my mom. Instead of wanting things private, she is outspoken, often conveying how broken-hearted she is that I do not write about her online.
Here is a little story to illustrate why writing about family is difficult gymnastics routine at best, and why I understood my mom’s needs for privacy. Truth and perspective are messy:
…There we were. We were at the end of a long trip. My mother-in-law still insists she paid for all of it. She didn’t. I know even the suggestion that she did not pay for our entire trip infuriates her. My guess is the fact that I am writing that she did not pay for everything will bother her more than anything else I write.
Here is the thing. She takes both Dave’s brother and sister on trips, Mediterranean cruises, and more trips. She also helps them out a ton financially. We have always been grateful that she has been a position to lend Dave’s siblings a hand. That is a gift in of itself. We are also glad she can take Dave’s brother and sister on these fun adventures. In fact, we have always been cool with the generosity she shows them. This trip was her gift.
This trip was her gift.We are grateful for her gift. It was thoughtful. She was thoughtful. Unfortunately, I think she undermines her generosity. For instance, often when she takes say Dave’s brother to Spain, or his sister on another Alaskan cruise, she brings up that this one trip as a justification as to why everything is equal among the siblings. First. Let me be clear. We do not care that she takes Dave’s siblings on adventures. Second, No. It is not equitable. And third, it will never be equitable. And fourth, we do not care. We are happy she can do this for Dave’s siblings. Ok. I sound a little bitchy. I feel a little bitchy. And actually to move beyond my bitchy and to give her gift credibility, I think it is ok to be honest and acknowledge that we paid for part of it ourselves. Like for starters, we paid for our airfare to get on said trip [wink, wink]. And just because we paid for some of the trip in no way undermines that she was generous. She was. And being honest about the parameters, keeps it real, keeps it valid, and allows us to hold space not only for her gift, but what we did too. Does that make any sense? And do you understand why writing publicly about my mother-in-law may not be the best plan? Throwing caution and common sense to the wind, I will take an even deeper dive, and continue our story (and yes, it includes her).
It was July, 2014 and we were staying in Killarney, Ireland. It was our last day at our quirky bed and breakfast. We were sitting at breakfast in a room full of hotel guests. I suggested we stay at this bed and breakfast because I know my mother in law loves quaint bed and breakfasts. As breakfast finished, my mother-in-law looked up at me and proclaimed,
“Beth, everyday I read your blog. Everyday you write about Davy and the boys. You never say anything about me. You never post any pictures of me. I feel invisible.” (If you have read up until here, can you see why?)
I felt embarrassed that she publicly called me out this way. I felt sad that I had made her sad. Then she sat there quietly glaring at me.
I responded. “I do not write about friends or family. It is kind of my rule. I tend to hurt people when I convey my perspective.”
I paused and followed with, “This has been a complicated trip. I am tired and edgy. And I do not want to write anything that will hurt you.”
“You already have!” I wanted to say, (but didn’t),
“Seriously. I know where opening my mouth gets me.”
I wanted to show her what I had privately journaled (and why I try to follow the don’t-publicly-hurt-people rule). I should have shown her all the pictures I had quietly taken of her and her son. I refrained back then. I will share our story now:
We were at a little family owned pub restaurant in Eastern Wales a few miles from Tintern Abbey. My mother-in-law asked that we order three desserts to share. The yummy desserts arrived. My mother-in-law sat at the table while Dave and the boys first stood and then eventually sat around her. She took a few large bites. Abruptly she swatted at Eli.
“Stop. Stop. STOP!” she proclaimed.
She decided Eli had taken too much of the mutually shared desserts and told him as much. I was watching. Regardless, reality had no impact. She looked at Eli, who was standing there holding a clean spoon, and assumed he was the one stealing all of her precious dessert. Both Dave and Kyle had taken a few bites. Still Eli had not had taken any. After she started scolding Eli (again), Dave and Kyle stopped eating. Undeterred, like a fast move train, she was convinced so she scolded and berated Eli (age 11), the youngest person in our group. Dave, snapped, asking her to stop.
“Mom, he is not eating your dessert! He has not had any dessert. I thought you suggested we all share. Mom. Leave him alone.”
She would not stop yelling at Eli. Dave circled her and demanded she leave Eli alone, urging,
“Mom, knock it off! Eli is not eating your dessert! Really! You need to stop this now!”
She ignored Dave.
Steadfast, she persisted, gobbling up her dessert and reprimanding Eli (who was now terrified and standing a few feet from the table). I honestly thought my head would explode. I wanted to jump across the table and throttle her. I wanted to scream, “LEAVE MY SON ALONE!”
In that exact moment, a story she often tells ran through my mind. It goes like this. When Dave was very young his aunt rebuked him for eating popsicle in her living room. I remember how upset my mother-in-law was as she recalled this story to me. Dave does not remember the story. Maybe Eli will forget this moment. I hope so. My mother-in-law never forgets. She shares it with me almost every time I see her. Surely she would correlate, right? No. In this moment she was all tunnel vision. Someone was eating her dessert and she was going to fight til the death. In this moment, she was unable to see how her tunnel vision was hurting her grandson. As tears quietly fell down Eli’s cheeks, he motioned to me. Even though I see her as an authority figure and the mother of my husband,I needed to rescue Eli. I needed to resist my polite inclinations and fight. I needed to set a boundary. Angry, heartbroken and frustrated, I firmly asked her to stop. She swatted back,
“Well. Then. Beth. Eli needs to stop eating ALL of my dessert.”
“He is not eating ALL of your dessert!” I firmly said.
At that, Dave and I immediately stood up and asked the boys to follow us. We walked over to the backside of the little Welsh restaurant. In his traumatized frustration, Eli said,
“I keep trying to be grandma’s friend. She never listens. She wants it her way. I don’t understand. I am done.”
Last summer (June 2017) Dave, the boys and I found our way back in Eastern Wales. We made our way to Tintern Abbey and decided we would find our way to that little inn.
“Hey Eli let’s find that little inn. You can have all the dessert you want. You can have it all to yourself.”
We found the inn. We had built this place up in our memory, imagining the little farm in the back, the great food and the welcoming innkeeper. As luck would have it (or not), we arrived too early for dinner, which meant we were also too early for dessert. The dispassionate owner could not care less about our pilgrimage. Dinner would be served in two hours. He told us we could wait or we could leave. We decided to pass, and probably ate dinner from food that was purchased at a grocery store. Nevertheless, we were there for Eli. And Eli knew it. Eli still wants his dessert. We oblige regularly.
Here is why I am sharing this story now. Since that moment in Killarney, I realized that holding it all in or letting it all out publicly has no impact on the health of my relationships. I cannot control wether my mom likes what I write, wether my mother-in-law is happy with me, or wether Kyle and Eli’s future loves are cool with me. Now taking a huge breath I see that what impacts my relationships is communication, trust, a willingness to listen, accept, heal, and to forgive (on all sides).
Just like my mom and Dave’s mom are responsible for their relationships with their children, I am the mom of these two boys. I am responsible to them. Meaning, my relationship with them is not dependent on how I do or don’t get along with my mom and mother-in-law. And as far as my relationship with Dave’s mom goes, I think my mother-in-law is pretty thick skinned and I should trust her. Things are not black and white. If she wants me to write about her, then I should. Hey, she might even be amused by her hoarding-desserts story or she may hate what I say. (Oh and yes, Plural hoarding desserts stories. We discovered hoarding desserts was kind of her thing. ). Maybe if I am brave enough to write, she might soften when she remembers that at the end of this trip I asked Dave to give her his first class upgrade so she could have a special flight home.
Now back to my stuffing my stories way down my brain hole. See, what I also did by keeping this story and all the other stories hidden, is hide a part of myself, which is totally counter to what I want to teach my boys. I have encouraged them to stand in who they are. I have encouraged them to give me feedback, even the shitty feedback that either breaks my heart or calls me out. On several occasions, for instance, both boys (and Dave) have suggested that I talk (explain) way too much. We may disagree on this point, but not only should they be able to give me this feedback, I should be willing to listen and consider their perspective. Guess what? They are teaching me to be more succinct. Yay them.
And here is the big one. Along the way both boys have pleaded with Dave and me to stop fighting. (Dave and I are robust and impassioned, expletive-laden communicators, by the way). Recently, it was Eli who said to both of us,
“You need to knock it off. You are acting like bickering children.”
Eli was right.
But because I have been in a pattern of hiding who I am, I hid an opportunity to publicly share the fact that marriage is super hard, but marriage can also be really good. I have hidden the growth we have made as a family. Man, I love them. I have hidden so much like. And really, I am very sorry for hiding.
Ultimately, what I realize is getting along with Kyle’s girlfriend or Eli’s future wife is not dependent on how Dave’s mom gets along with me. Just like I want my sons to carve their own path, I need to trust my own path too. I adore my sons and hope we will figure out how to stay close around all of life’s turns. I hope do not annoy Kyle’s girlfriend. I probably will. But I also get it and I do not mind. Because the people they love are important to me!
NOW I hope it is ok that I end by leaving a personal message to Kyle and Eli here.
Boys, you are my heart!
In the end and moving forward, I apologize for hiding me. There is no shame in my past or in your future. I think it is ok that I miss those days of yesteryear. Dudes, you were very cute with all of your sweet dance moves and late night jokes. I also LOVE the men you are becoming. You are both very cool.
A little about me: personally, I think it is ok that I voted for Obama and that it took a very long time to finish college. It is also ok that I am still sad that I did not live in the dorms and it is ok to say that I wish had gone to a small Midwestern liberal arts college. Ok. Sure. That means I probably would not have met Dad. And maybe that implies that yes, there would not be you. So really, because I am saying it (writing it) out loud, I am also able to come full circle and see (and say) that I ended up absolutely where I wanted to be — with you (and dad).
Please know that if you end up going to BYU, or voting for Mike Lee, not only will I still love and accept you, I will listen to you — always.
Mostly, please learn from me. I do not want to let my fear of losing you force me to hide myself anymore. My moms are strong women. Moving forward, my mom can deal with stories about our life, or she can tell me she hates my writing voice and how much pain I cause her. Nevertheless, we will both be ok. My mother-in-law and your grandma can continue to think Eli is a dessert thief, and that I am the Second-Amendment-repealing, antifa, liberal, atheist woman-who-stole-her-best-friend, your dad. But guess what? She will also be ok. I love them and I love you. And if I want you guys to be ok and feel safe being yourselves, and if I want to maintain my relationship with you, then I need to stop being so afraid of losing my mom and Dad’s mom, or mostly, I need to not be afraid of losing you.
Get it? Be you! Trust yourselves. Remember that life is a journey. No one expects you to be perfect ever (especially not out of the gate).
I noticed my phone was almost dead and my adapter was gone. Dave was sleeping. I woke him so I could scold him for taking our one remaining charger. It is mine.
He looked at me groggy-eyed and said,
“You insisted I use it.”
Immediately, I stopped myself. I wanted to bite his head off (literally). Instead, I bit my tongue (again, literally), and apologized for jumping to conclusions. Then Dave sweetly apologized for not giving my charger back. I am angry. I am angry at Dave. That is my uncomfortable truth. I am struggling to forgive. For that I am sorry.
After twenty-five hours in transit, we arrived in Athens, Greece, I was excited and surprisingly awake. We made our way to baggage claim, picked up our luggage, which included one case of Costco Brand Almond milk. Because Almond milk is not always easy to find, that our experiment worked, which was to check a case of almond milk and have it safely travel across the world. With luggage in hand, we walked to the car rentals, stopping to buy two overpriced bottles of water. Across the way we noted the pharmacy we visited the last time we were in Greece. We were all confidant as we heartedly proclaimed,
“Knock on wood. No one had a strange allergic reaction on the plane. This is going to be a good trip.”
Then we rented our unusually nice car and were on our way. As we drove there was a light rain and sunny skies in the distance.
That is when Dave happily proclaimed,
“Look at that exceptional rainbow.”
He was correct. The rainbow was exquisite. It was a beautiful day and we were finally on our adventure. Our Thanksgiving trips have become a lovely tradition. It is Kyle’s senior year of high school, and this may be our last. Consequently, to say I was excited for our time together, is a complete understatement.
Our ferry to Crete was leaving at 9PM. The boys and I would have been ok sleeping, but Dave was determined that we do something purposeful. I suggested some loose alternatives. Nope. Dave needed solid specifics (not like ambling jet-lagged around Athens is a solid play, by the way). Dave won and we drove into Athens. Athens is actually pretty cool and very gritty. It has some of the best graffiti and street art I have ever seen. The food is not bad either. We were there last March 2016. And as cool as the street art is, the boys and I did not want to go back. So again I suggested we do something else. Dave emphatically shot back,
“How about we find something on our drive to the ferry?” I responded.
“Like what? (He said several more times.)
The warning signs were screaming. I firmly and repeatedly suggested we pull over and look at TripAdviser and Google Maps. It did not matter. I know Dave and knew he would not yield, unless, that is I presented him with say a business plan, a plan that included a Powerpoint presentation with accompanying handouts. I was very tired and finally gave in.
We made our way into the city and was completely relieved a few minutes later when we were unable to find parking. I hoped Dave would follow his typical behavior in these situations, which is to get frustrated and eventually give up. Alas, I completely underestimated Dave’s resolve. The lack of parking only served to fuel his determination. We kept driving. I stopped looking for parking. I mean pulled out my phone and searched for alternatives. Dave’s frustration mounted and I saw an opportunity. For a split second I felt like I might have a chance. I began saying things such as,
“Hey, why don’t we just go for a drive, go to the grocery store and enjoy our day,” and “hey, we are so tired. Athens is crowded and dirty, why don’t we do something more relaxing?”
My words only served to solidify his will. We were now in an unfamiliar neighborhood, a mile from the center of town. That is when Dave found a spot. As he parked I plainly said,
“We should do something else. I do not think this is safe. I think someone will break into our car. This does not feel right. Please. Dave. Please, let’s push pause and just go. Really, Dave let’s not park here.”
In response to my words Dave blurted,
“Well, what else are we going to do?”
Here is there deal. I know whom I married. I am annoyingly flexible and paralyzing considerate to Dave’s steadfast vision. I am truly the Ernie to Dave’s Bert. In truth, we are a great match. And most days my ability to bob and weave is the perfect complement to Dave’s clear focus. Yet I still wonder if Dave knows or has considered why he is unable to easily shift his expectations. Sometimes I fight his fixed determination. Because Dave has great ideas, most days I happily go with it. Ultimately, it was Dave’s clear resolve that built a beautiful home and has spent the last few weeks tirelessly building our addition. Steadfastness is just what he does and a strong resolve serves him well. It serves us all well.
I firmly believe that his steadfastness is an inherited trait. Dave’s mom is a force. She is single-minded and often unflinchingly fixates on an idea or a perception. As a result, when she gets an idea in her head, there is very little, if anything, anyone can do to knock her off course. Because we know this, when we traveled with her a few years ago, for instance, we repeatedly asked her with the kind of directness that seems unkind,
“No. Please do not buy the London pass. We will not use it. It will go to waste.”
Nevertheless and undeterred, she bought the London pass. Of course she was surprised and also very sad when we did not use it. Kyle also shares this same single-mindedness. In fact, I would argue that their relentless is what makes the three of them such a success.
…As we pulled up to the parking spot, my heart sank. Ok. I think I have made the point that Dave is a force. And a jet-lagged me did not have the energy to fight that force. Nevertheless, the neighborhood seemed sketchy so I pleaded,
“I am not sure, but this does not feel right. I do not think we should park here.”
Dave did not respond. As he pulled into the spot, a dude on a beaten up motorcycle pulled up next to Dave’s car door. It was weird. We all said it was weird. Then Dave finished parking the car. That is when I grabbed our passports and shoved them in my purse. Then I covered my backpack with my black jacket and shoved it as far out of sight as I could. As I got out of the car, I said,
“Is there anywhere we can hide the kids’ backpacks? How can we get them safely out of sight?”
I took a deep breath and asked the boys to hide their packs as best they could.
I should have done more. I should have screamed like a crazy person and demanded that we get back in the car. I should have been more kind and willing to deal with Dave’s lack-of-a-solid-plan disappointment. I was tired so was he. Instead, I caved.
Dave shut the hatch or our hatchback our rental car. As I walked around our car, I noticed his backpack up against the back window. Then I saw the bright orange priority labels on the Almond milk case.
“Hey, why don’t we pull those orange tags off,” I said followed by, “I just don’t think that is a good place for your backpack.”
Dave pulled the orange tags off. I should have put his backpack on the floor. I regret that I did not try to shove all the backpacks under the seats. In fairness to Dave, we travel often and all over the world. Most of the time we rent cars. As a necessity and on travel days, we have left our luggage fully exposed. Consequently, logic and experience would dictate we were safe. Alas, it was never about not having a plan. I knew we should not park where we did. My gut feelings (and Dave’s, because later he would tell me he had a bad feeling too), could be dismissed as jet-lag, right? Wrong.
So I let go and on a random Athens street we left our luggage exposed. Then we walked into town. I often walk with Kyle as Eli loves to walk with Dave. Kyle would probably like to walk with the guys, but is always kind and waits for me as I pause and take things in. I am grateful for the care and friendship Kyle gives me. It is often during these times where Kyle and I get real. We had a pretty long walk toward the Acropolis to the neighborhood known as Monastiraki that lies in its shadow. As we walked, I said the following:
“Kyle. I think someone is going to break into our car. As a precaution I put our passports in my purse. At least if all of our stuff is stolen, we will be able to get out of the country.”
He agreed. I continued,
“I hope Dad will listen and trust my witch sense. I hope this moment impacts him so in the future he will be willing to go off course. You know I don’t think we should leave our car. None of us do, but here we are.” Then I paused and said, “I really hope you and Eli do not have to pay for this lesson.”
Just a few blocks from the car, as we were passing a bus stop thronged with tired commuters, a gaunt young man that kind of looked like Charles Manson was bouncing erratically from one person to the next with a menacing air. As we approached, he fixed his gaze on Eli, and reached out to him with his hand, holding a lit cigarette. Dave tried to position himself between them, and hustled Eli along, looking back after they were out of his orbit, to see that the man make a similar aggressive gesture toward Kyle and me.
The antics of this street lunatic left us all a little rattled. Another warning sign?
Half way down the block, we noticed a group of heavily armed policemen on the corner, looking at the direction of the disruptive crazy man. As we walked toward them, we hoped they might intervene, but they just kind of stood around. As we passed them, we noticed a small bulletproof police kiosk on one side of the street, and a large schoolbus-sized riot van, with more cops milling around outside. They didn’t seem to be there for any particular reason, other than the fact that the area was a plaza and public park that seemed to be a decent place for locals to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.
Again it was clear that a neighborhood where 20 police officers just hang around in a group might imply that it would be a sketchy place to park your car.
The rest of our walk to the Monastiraki was uneventful and Athens was better than I expected. We ate at Quick Pitta. I wanted to go back to the car. Dave wanted to keep walking up the hill so we could get an Acropolis view. I love the view and was happy to oblige. By then I figured if the damage was done at least I could enjoy this moment. We walked along tiny roads and paths covered in vivid graffiti. At the top we could see the Acropolis across the way. It was the time of day where the sun is a perfect sepia light. We were amazed with feral cats and tiny churches. We made our way back. I was looking forward to the ferry and seeing Crete the next day.
Kyle and I were walking side by side. As we neared the car, I cautioned,
“I will let Dad walk ahead so if the car was broken into, he can see it first.”
Dave and Eli approached the car. It is painfully comical to recall how many times the boys and I urged Dave not to go into Athens, yet no amount of humor can erase what I heard next:
“They got our backpacks! Mom. Everything is gone.” Eli screamed.
He kept screaming and his screams turned into painful tears.
Kyle walked up — stunned. I think he is still stunned. I watched as an eerie sadness enveloped both boys. In that exact second I knew the direction of our trip would change. They had been violated. The things that were most personal to them had been ripped away. I did not stop it. I did not protect them. I should have fought harder.
Eli was pacing and frantic. Kyle was stoic. I was shouting at Dave,
“Dave, I asked you not to park here. I pleaded with you. I demanded. You [insert advanced expletive here] refused. You [insert all caps advanced expletive here] REFUSED!”
“I know. I know. I know.” Dave cried out.
“Why don’t you listen? Why do you get so fixed?” I screamed again. “Why are you so rigid?”
I noticed people walking by and looking at me as I screamed. Our moment is dark and very sad. My boys watched me scream at their dad. They watched their dad comprehend his responsibility.
“Mom! Dad! Everything is gone. Everything.” Eli reached into the car and cut his hand badly on the broken glass.
Dave was now more frantic. Eli was scared and sobbing. Kyle was numb. Then Dave cried out,
“I do not know what to do. I do not know what to do.”
I had no idea what to do either. One of us suggested he find the police. I figured the police would not be able to do anything, but I also understand the importance of a police report.
Dave remembered the police kiosk around the corner, and thought maybe we could ask them for help, so he ran off in that direction, leaving us at the car. As we were sitting there for a long time, Dave was having a frustrating, exhausting, and bizarre interaction with Greece’s criminal justice system.
The cops on the corner at the bulletproof kiosk had no interest in coming to the crime scene, despite having nothing in particular to do. They informed Dave he needed to go to the police station to report the crime. They helped him find it on the map. It was over in the other direction, about a ten-minute walk. Dave ran over, taking several wrong turns on his way, and finally found a darkened building with another kiosk out front, the cop on duty informed him that he should go to the third floor to make his report. Entering the building, there was no lobby: just closed doors and a dark staircase. At the landing of each dimly lit level, there was another closed door and small placards written in Greek. No markings identifying anything or looking particularly police-like. As he entered the door on the third floor, he was in a shabby, mostly empty room, with a hallway down one side and a heavy green door with an opening in it at chest-level. As Dave entered the room, a man’s face peered out of the opening, and he beckoned Dave over. As Dave approached, saying,
“Someone broke into our car,”
he got a better look a the man and saw through the opening that there were several men in the small room behind the green door, he realized that small room was a holding cell. He turned around and walked down the hall, and saw an office that looked just like the set of “Barney Miller” or some other 1970s police TV show, with a couple of hard-boiled middle aged guys in shirts and ties sitting at small desks, and a young woman with a holster on her hip. The woman stood up, and Dave explained why he was there. Like most younger people in Greece we’d met in our travels there, she spoke decent English. She explained that he needed to report the crime at the office of the “tourist police.” She typed the address into Google Maps on his iPhone. The tourist police office was another 12 minute walk in the opposite direction of our car.
When Dave arrived at the tourist police, the man at the desk was a fatherly type with salt and pepper hair. If you wanted to cast a Greek police officer in a movie, you’d end up with this guy for sure. As Dave explained the events of that afternoon, he listened with weary familiarity.
“Athens wasn’t always like this,” he said.
He and his younger colleague gave Dave a stack of forms to fill out. While Dave filled out the forms, he and I had been carrying on a sporadic conversation over text. Eventually, the policeman realized that Dave’s family wasn’t there, and asked where is your wife and the car? He was surprised that we hadn’t packed up the car and all come to the police station together. Dave explained that we had tried to get help nearby, but had been sent to progressively farther-away places. The man suggested that Dave go get his family and the car and return. They would need to take some time typing up the police report anyway. was feeling helpless and panicked, so he just obeyed each time and went to the next place.
In the meantime, the sun was setting, it was getting cold and Eli was calming down.
Two men walked by and then returned a few minutes later with medical supplies. They walked up, and to clean Eli’s bleeding hand, dumped an entire bottle of Betadine on, then dressed his wounds. Eli’s hand looked much worse than it was. The men did not speak English so they called someone who did. On their flip phone I tried to speak with another kind stranger.
His English was not great. I do not speak Arabic or Greek. I assured him we were ok.
They left and came back with two bottles of water.
Kyle asked if he could go for a walk. I said,
“I need you here.”
People walked by, stared. Some stopped and asked (mostly in Greek) what happened. One woman scolded me, pointed several times, and rolled her eyes. Another man admonished,
“You parked in the bad-est of the bad parts of Greece.”
He could not emphasize this fact strongly enough. We were like,
“Dude, we know.”
Regardlesss, no one seemed to understand that we were robbed. Instead their eyes were drawn to the pool of Betadine surrounded by discarded gauze pads. It did not help that the Betadine looked like a blood bath. A few were kind. All of them were foreigners, that is to say, non-Greek. I know this because they wanted us to know that they were not Greek. I appreciated the respect the showed us as they walked up to Kyle, asked what happened and asked what they could do.
By now Dave had been gone for some time. I was at a loss. Kyle’s phone was dead and their chargers and charger cords were gone. I knew we would miss it so I tried to get online so I could cancel our ferry. It was 8:00 AM in Utah. Eli was calm and helpful. Kyle was still quiet. I decided to text my friend Beth to see if she could get online for me. I sent her the following stream of texts:
“I need help” [send]
“Are in Greece and we were robbed” [send]
“This is Beth Adams [send]
She did not respond so I texted my friend, Emily. I did not hear back from Emily either, and wondered if she was having the same reaction.
That is when I realized Beth would never answer the phone, but instead assume my phone had been stolen. I texted:
“I am going to call you now”
It took two calls for her to answer. And yes, she thought it was a scammer.
She texted me the information I needed. Then I made the calls. While making calls and talking to Beth and now Emily, Eli stood by my side deconstructing our situation. I love Eli’s awareness. He processes quickly and feels profoundly. Because he does, is well adjusted and heals fast.
By now we were freezing. Dave was still gone. Kyle seemed more relaxed as he talked to passers by. The two men came back with more water and checked on Eli’s hand. One of them looked at me and said,
“No English.” Then he pointed at himself and said, “Algeria,” and pointed at his friend, “He too.” Then he pulled up his flip phone again and handed it to me. I told the man on the other line that we were ok. As the two men walked off they said, “Algeria! No Greece.”
After what seemed like forever, Dave came back.
He told us that the police were making a report and we need to drive back to the station so they could see the rental car. Kyle and I spread hoodies over the broken glass and sat in the back. We parked illegally (as per the policeman’s request), and went inside. As we sat on the couch, the policeman kindly admonished,
“Greece is beautiful. Don’t let this ruin your trip. You get away from Athens and you are more safe.”
As he walked away, I looked at Dave and said,
“He does not speak for us. You know that, right? Of course Dave agreed.
We were at the police station for a very long time. They had a computer and a phone that we could use. Dave quickly got online to cancel the stolen credit cards and try to deal with our reservations at the ferry and hotels. Kyle and I shared my phone so he could talk to his girlfriend and I could text Emily. Emily and Eli have a great connection and her energy is what we needed. At one point Kyle escorted me to the scary bathroom in the basement. Eli passed out on a couch. Dave and I had several tear-filled heart-to-hearts. Both boys pleaded that we get out of Greece. They were afraid. Normally I push through or assure them things would be ok. Somehow, and even if there is a lot of discomfort, they always are. This time I knew making them stay was wrong. I also knew that logistically and financially it would be hard to stay. Just to be sure we were doing the right thing, I suggested several options like making our way to Zurich to connect with our return flights. Sure, I thought that may be impossible, but maybe the airline would take pity on us. Then I suggested we drive out of Greece to another country. I realized with most of our things stolen how impractical either of these options would be. That is when I suggested we see if we could fly home a few days early.
Dave made the call. That is when adrenaline faded and pure, beautiful emotion took over. I cried as I watched him sob,
“We were robbed. What they took has made it impossible for us to stay.”
I assumed they would give us a few days (like I had planned). The call agent told him there was a flight at 6AM. It was now almost 10PM. Kindly, United Airlines waived all fees and told us,
“We need to get you home.”
We found a hotel, took showers for the first time in three days, and at 4AM this morning we left for home.
Now we are on our last flight traveling from Chicago to Salt Lake City. It is about 9:45 PM. The lights just came on. Over the loudspeaker I hear,
“We have a medical emergency. Do we have any doctor’s, nurses, medical personal, EMTs, or first responders on board? If so, please ring your call light.”
The flight attendant just made the announcement again. Then I heard a call light from somewhere on the plane. I have no idea what is happening. We heard nothing more. For the remainder of the flight there is an unusual amount of turbulence.
And maybe flying through turbulence is a good place to end. Because life is filled with turbulent moments. When we checked into our Athens Hotel, we told Dimitri, the desk agent about our robbery. He looked at Kyle and I and said,
“You have like nine or ten of these hard (turbulent) moments in your life. The sooner you learn how to move through them, the better you will be.”
Dimitri has a point.
Now a week out we are ok. Dave and I are ok. The boys are ok. This week has been hard. Nevertheless, I think we are closer. What I like about us is we are both willing to stretch. That is why we have agreed to listen more, especially when someone pushes pause. I love him for that. I love Dave — always.
I love traveling. I push my kids to travel. In fact, Kyle has eagerly anticipated our summer travel.
“Mom, I could be gone all summer.” He enthusiastically said.
Then yesterday, day six of our trip, Kyle proclaimed:
“Mom, you know how we normally take like nine day trips? I wish this one was nine days. This trip is too long. I want to be back home with my friends.”
Alas, Kyle is a teenager. Teenagers and their moods are my realities. Most often it is Eli who wants to be home. This time it is Kyle. Ok. And in truth, so does Eli. But because he knows Kyle is currently riding the “I miss my friends” train, Eli has risen to the occasion. He is pleasant & even grabbed my hand yesterday. (Um and Yes, to hold it.)
Guess what? I want to be home too. Well, yesterday I did. Ok. Maybe I did not want to be home. I certainly did not want to be here. I white knuckled it the whole way as we winded through the super narrow high-hedge-lined roads to the town we we are staying in: Dartmouth. We arrived and found an awesome parking spot. We checked into our AirBnB. Then the boys and I walked half a block to the local Marks and Spencer’s. Finally able to catch my claustrophobic breath, we settled in for the night. Oh dear God and then it began! The seagulls! They would not stop. Their squeals are like a thousand crying newborn babies. Add the broken washing machine, the incurable jet-lag, and the super bad wifi, I will admit I went a little crazy. Sure, one would argue that these are sissy, first world and privileged problems. They are. We are not starving. We are traveling. We are seeing the world. Kyle can deal with missing his friends and I can find some drying racks, earplugs, and melatonin. Done!
So last night when Kyle told me he was done being here, my heart really did drop. See, typically Kyle is my travel wingman. When Eli and Dave are all bent out of shape, Kyle will say things like,
“Mom, next time we can travel without them,” or, “I will travel with you as long as you will have me.”
[insert achy throat crack]
My boy is growing up. He needs to spread his wings. And as much as I want to tether these two amazing teen humans to my side, I must let them fly. Still heart achy, I went to bed determined to save our trip. Here is where I will pause to offer a
#Pro Tip: The pictures people post on Facebook may not be an accurate reflection of their reality. ( I am sure you already know that. )
In fact, this moment filled me with growth, you know that kind, where your bones throb because they are growing so fast? In that super-speed-growth moment, I had to chosen to move forward, or to bury my head in my tears. I chose to move. See, I love my boys. I want them to love travel and love our amazing world. And once I got over myself (a little), I realized that Kyle was actually handing me a gift. By telling me he prefers nine day trips, I was able to consider why. And then I was able to push forward and remember how we survived longer trips. In fact, Kyle and Eli often say there very favorite trip is when we went to Italy, Spain and France two years ago. We were gone for 1 month, not nine days. So in essence Kyle’s frustration offered me an opportunity. I thought, “What did I do differently?” Structure. While in Rome, Barcelona and Southern France each day had structure. The kids were doing online school at the time. We always made time for homework. Dave needs to put in a full work day. So similarly, on this longer trip, we have to cut our days short, or better, we have to make space for the less desirable responsibilities such as online school. When Dave is back working, Kyle gets bored and then longs for his friends. I get it. I get bored and miss Dave. Sure, we walk around the town, but that gets boring too. There had to be something I could do. I remembered the boys have summer homework. I also reminded them that we would could not fly home just because they missed their friends. I was definitely a little dark and completely truthful when I told them,
“Hey, this trip has kind of sucked for me too. The high-hedge-lined roads are making me insanely claustrophobic and those seagulls are making me go mental!”
And that is when we decided to make a plan:
After sightseeing, the boys would work on summer homework. Then we would hang out and see the town or watch a movie, and maybe even work some more. While in Dartmouth, we tried our new plan. During the day we visited two National Trust sites: Coleton Fishacre and Greenway, the summer home of Agatha Christie. We decided that, as usual, we preferred the airy servants’ quarters at the Coleton Fishacre home. We gave the gardens a seven out of ten. We still prefer Lanhydrock and St. Michael’s Mount near Cornwall. As we walked into Greenway, Eli said,
“Dad, I am getting a little burned out on the English country homes.”
I am with Eli. So instead of reading every little placard or examining every blooming flower, we worked our way through the gardens, lost Kyle, who was distracting himself with Pokémon Go, relocated him and made our way to Agatha Christie’s boat house. There were not a lot of shady spots for Dave and I to sit, but there were a lot of rocks for the boys to skip. Our boys love skipping rocks. In fact their favorite memory of the Cliffs of Moher are skipping rocks in a pond on the edge of the cliffs. Homesick-Kyle and overall-meh-Eli needed this moment. Dave and I sat in the sun while the boys gathered as many flat rocks as they could hold. Over and over they skipped and skipped rocks. They held the one rock up. It looked like a cheese cracker and then we said, “this looks like a cheese cracker.” I may or may not have slipped it into my purse. Then I offered the boys a hundred dollars if they could skip a rock far enough to hit one of the passing boats. Done skipping rocks, we found our way back up a long, winding path. It led us outside of the trust site. The people at the front joyfully let us back in. Instead of making them read every sign, or wait for Dave to read every sign, we breezed on through.
“Mom, really. At this point. I just don’t care.” Kyle said as we entered a few steps ahead of Dave.
He was right. I heard Kyle. As a result I suggested we see how fast we could make it through Agatha Christie’s house. In reality, I know nothing about Agatha Christie’s boat house and not much more about her country house. I honestly do not think it matters. Further, we have seen so many estate homes filed with tiny beds, table settings and portraits. Really? Who paints all of these pictures? Of course I know if they really want to learn about Agatha Christie, they can Google her. My guess is they won’t. Instead, quickly discovering her creepy doll and obscure can collection, having both Kyle and Eli laugh and editorialize the inaneness of Agatha’s thimble collection, and then comment on her super large wooden toilet, is an experience I cannot recreate. Soon (because we saw the house in like three minutes), we met up with Dave on the first floor. He was ready to go up to the second. I know this because he said,
“Are you guys ready to go up to the second floor?”
We all laughed and said, “Done.” Then I said, “Seriously, take you time.” In all sincerity, I want Dave to enjoy Agatha Christie’s summer home too. He did.
And while he did, the boys and I sat outside. Soon Dave joined us. We made our way to the car. Of course I commented on the couple wearing the red shirts. I looked at Kyle and said,
“In this scenario they will be the first to die.” To which Kyle said, “Almost as good as what I said the other day.”
“Mom, when we were near St. Ives, high above the shore, we could see some instructors in yellow and blue shirts. In between them were situated a dozen or so young children — all lined up in the crashing waves for surf lessons. The children were wearing red shirts.”
Kyle was correct. His red short story was awesome!
Now back at the car and singing along to “Hamilton.” Of course we were also making our way down another high, hedge-lined grass luge run, I mean two-lane road. Dave is a rockstar and finessed his way through the insane drive. We made our way to Kingswear, where we waited in the heat for our ferry to Dartmouth. Once in Dartmouth, we grabbed dinner: end of day half price cornish pastys. Then we made our way back to our AirBnB. The kids are in much better moods. I feel a little less crazy. We realized this is the moment we are in. We all let off steam and let go. I made videos about the seagulls. Kyle went out to the water and worked on his art journal. Eli and I spent a long time filling out his Fitness for Life questionnaire. At one point he had to answer questions about my siblings and Dave’s siblings. Dave has two siblings, I have five. After answering questions about Dave’s two siblings, Eli looked up at me and said,
“For these questions I am going to say you only have two siblings.”
Obviously I supported his plan and suggested,
“Let’s just say that three of my siblings were also wearing red shirts.”
Our new structure worked (at least for today). The kids are sleeping. The seagulls are squeaking and my laundry is drying in the humid air. And really, a big reason travel is completely transformative is because it pushes us out of our safe and comfortable spaces and then reminds us that we can.
Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday afternoon, July 10: I sat in my doctor’s office. After waiting for more than an hour, he walked into the room. I could tell he was upset and I knew why. Do not worry. There was no devastating news. He merely wanted to chew me out. I let him. Then I paused.
Here is what happened: Thursday, July 6, I was ready to leave for the hospital — so was Dave. It was 9AM. The hospital wanted me to arrive at 9:15AM. Sinus Surgery would start at 11:30AM. As he sat on the couch waiting, I reviewed the places and times with Dave, like I had done over the last few days.
“You will be done by noon, right? I need to be at work at noon.” He urged.
“Dave, the surgery starts at 11:30AM. I do not know how that is possible.”
As the words left my mouth, Dave started to freak out, so did I. Then memories of the week before flooded my mind.
[Flashback. Several days earlier:]
We were in Oxford, England. Dave, Kyle, Eli and I were sitting in our car ready to leave. Dave was in the driver’s seat. In a panic he started the engine and began to drive. As the car began moving, Kyle abruptly shouted,
“Dad, DAD! Stop the car!”Dave kept driving.
Kyle insisted, “No. really. Dad please stop the car.”Dave slowed down and did not stop.
“What? What do you want, Kyle?” Dave demanded.
As I held my bloodied and swollen hand I said,
“Dave. Please stop the car NOW!”
In the middle of the parking lot, Dave slammed on the breaks. Then I asked Kyle what he wanted to say. Kyle wisely uttered the following:
“Guys. Stop. Look around. Just pause. We need to pause. We need to catch our breath. We need to make sure we are not missing anything. Think. Are we missing anything? Take a second and pause.” We did. After a moment, Kyle continued, “Not pausing is how we got here.”
He was right. I took a deep breath. We collected ourselves and then Dave drove us to the hospital.
It was Monday, June 26, and we were near the end of our three week UK adventure. The boys were completely over the trip, their parents and each other. Kyle and Eli wanted to be home. I knew they were on their last legs as I gently urged them out of the car. Eli put his shoes on slower than a snail’s pace. Honestly, it was painful. I was fried and didn’t know how much glass-half-full I could muster. As we locked the car, Kyle complained about how boring the day would be. I assured him it might be. Then we worked our way out of the tiny car park, through a long alley and unto the Oxford city streets. We stopped, looked at our online itinerary (I found a last minute walking tour online), and Dave led the way. Now the boys were both complaining and swatting at one another. I raised my eyebrows then offered up a bribe: Anyone who makes it through 60% of the day with a good attitude will get a prize:
“Dudes and I will pay you cash!” I paused then said, “Dave, you can play too!”
They boys did not care. They continued telling me how much the other was annoying them, and when they were not complaining, they were fighting. When they were not fighting, they were pouting.Dave did not notice. My bribe was lost on the three of them. Guilt had no effect. No amount of telling them how grateful they should be for their super special and blessed lives mattered. Each new landmark became a nuisance, and the museum Dave was excited to see was closed. [insert that hands pulling on the face emjoi here]. Do not worry. I became an active participant in our collective doom. But then I had a flash. Money is not working, how about I bribe the boys with new books? (Please know I have not bribed the boys since they were like three and in the throes of potty training). Nevertheless, I was desperate. So, with my book bribe uttered, Dave and I took the boys to Oxford’s famous Blackwell’s bookstore. Dave encouraged me to buy a book too. (He is also good at bribing.) I fell for it. I knew what I wanted, yet was not sure where to find it.
“Ask the lady for help.” Dave urged (several times).
I finally did.
As the words left my mouth, immediately I recognized the up and down look this young Oxford student was so clearly giving me: contempt. When I asked for books on memoir writing, she directed me to the “self help” and “bestsellers.” Then she succinctly stated:
“the academic books are down here. What you want is upstairs.”
That is when our day turned around (sort of). Kyle witnessed the entire exchange as I said something like,
“You have judged me to be an incompetent, suburban mom, American tourist, haven’t you?”
“You are only partially correct.” I responded.
By his own admission Kyle was totally impressed with me. From my observation, his elevated mood lasted for like thirty-five seconds. Then he asked if he could go outside to participate in a Pokemon RAID battle. “Whatever it takes to make them happy today” is what I thought.
Moments later we found ourselves standing next to Kyle and like several Oxford college students. One asked me if I would be fighting too.
“No.” I smiled and laughed.
The Pokemon RAID battle was complete. Eli had his new Douglas Adams anthology in hand, and Kyle was carrying a new copy of a book we lost earlier in the trip. To answer your question: Those books elevated the mood for maybe another two minutes. And yes, it was totally worth it.
We walked. I snapped photos. I wanted to remember this place I have never seen before. Eli was also hungry and so was I. And the bitching only escalated. Thank goodness for bright spots in snotty college towns. The folks at Noodle Nation, where we ate some great pan-asian cuisine, were a dream. I highly recommend this restaurant. The food is great and the customer service is warm and friendly.
Now fed, the boys could not implore us to leave Oxford fast enough. After buying them some last minute fruit pies (yes, more mood bribes), we found ourselves racing to the car. The parking meter was past due. Dave is 6’2”. Eli is over 6’ and Kyle is just about 6’. I am barely 5’4”. Like I often do, as we left the Oxford indoor Market, I snapped a few more photos. Snapping those photos only put me farther behind. Like Kyle often does, he waited and ran along side me. I watched as Dave and Eli ran across a street. In full sprint, Kyle and I ran to catch up. With my phone in one hand, I heard the beep, beep of a car horn coming from my left. I turned to looked as my feet kept their pace.
Before I realized what was happening, my sandal caught the edge of median I had not seen. I extended my right arm. And as Kyle observed (with full arm motions),
“You dropped hard and then you slid — also hard.”
Even though I could see my pants were not ripped (Props to the durability of the Athleta Trekkie Jogger), I could feel my knees swell and see the blood begin to seep through the fabric. My right hand was scraped, purple and swollen. I was mortified as I lay splayed out in the street.
Kyle ran to my side, helped me up and screamed for Dave. Within seconds, Dave and Eli were at my side helping me walk. Dave asked me if I wanted to stop.
“Why don’t you sit here for a minute. Let’s make sure you are ok. Really. Beth. Let’s just stop.”
Tears streamed down my face. I was embarrassed. “No. No. Let’s get to the car. I will collect myself there.”
Dave held me up as we quickly walked. The boys were behind us. The crowd was large and moving slow. With each impatient breath, the crowd only seemed to move slower. Within seconds, I grabbed Dave’s left arm, nudging him a little and said,
“Let’s pass these people. They are moving way too slow.”
As I pushed on his left side, Dave stepped into the street.
As he stepped, we heard loud, panicked screams. It was a woman.
“NO! NO! NO!” she cried.
I watched as her bicycle hit the ground as a car swerved to miss her. She kept screaming. I held my hand. The car missed her within inches, continued honking and drove away. The crowd stopped. Now all those slow walking people were screaming too.
“Ma’am, are you ok. Ma’am!” I heard them shout.
Her left pant leg was ripped at the knee. I did not see blood. She was wearing a helmet. Thank God!
“Yes. Yes. I am ok. I am ok. I just need a moment.” She shouted as her tears fell.
People walked her over to the side of the road. Dave gathered her bike from the street. We stood there. We asked. We wanted to know she was ok.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I am ok. I am just late.” She trailed off.
An older woman in the crowd took over. Within seconds the older woman had the injured biker’s phone and was making calls. And from behind I hear a quiet, calm voice. I turned to look. It was a priest on a bike. He was probably 70 and about my size. He tried to help the injured biker. When he saw the older lady take over, he began to talk with us. We watched. We stayed. We asked. We made sure she was ok. Several moments later and when we knew she was more frightened than anything, Dave quietly asked the priest,
“My wife just fell. We need a hospital.”
I showed him my hand and he said,
“Oh my! Yes you do.”
He pointed us the way. Dave and I said nothing as we rushed to the car. Then we said everything. Mostly we were shocked and completely grateful that the woman was ok. Seriously, I can still see the rapid chain reaction.
In the past few days, via an MRI and x-rays, I had it double-confirmed that my hand is broken (a minimally displaced 5th metacarpal fracture and a minimally displaced hamate fracture). My hand still hurts, is still swollen, and my arm is still numb. In a month we will see if there is anything else to address. Honestly, I feel lucky and my guess is everything will heal.
[Flashing back again to that Oxford, England, parking lot:]
After falling and after the woman crashed, it made complete sense that Kyle was insisting we pause. So last Thursday I wanted to correlate Kyle’s wisdom. When things were falling apart, and it was time to leave for my sinus surgery, I took a deep breath and asked Dave to pause. Then we both sat down.
We caught our breath, readjusted, and re-grouped. Sure, I could have gone to my surgery alone, but it is my surgery, my body and I did not want to be alone. Instead, we canceled my surgery. Then Dave went to his meeting.
Ultimately, Dave and I took responsibility. The doctor goofed up too, changing times and mysteriously canceling the original surgery the week before.
[Fast Forward again to Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, July 10:]
As I mentioned, the doctor asked me to come in. He is a good doctor so I obliged. Nevertheless, even good doctors overstep, and I think that is what he did when he chewed me out. I felt shamed, humiliated and scolded. As a result, I really wanted to have my say. I thought about posting a Google review. I considered saying something like,
“This doctor had to prove he was right. He wanted to punish me. He is immature and self-centered. Be careful.”
Sure. I think he was immature and self-centered. I definitely felt punished. I also have compassion. He is frustrated and my guess is he is not getting the full story. Miracles do happen. As he rebuked, I took a note from Kyle. Instead of screaming, I paused. I apologized for any misunderstanding and offered that I could see another doctor. He said, “No.”
I am no saint. I am human. And because I make a lot of really awful mistakes (especially via my words), I get it. I also appreciate that he was willing to move forward. In reality, it was the chain reactions of the past weeks that remind me to consider all sides. See, in all of this, it was my impatience and self-focus that almost got a woman killed. You know what else? Instead of screaming at me or telling me it was my fault, she had perspective. She was rushing and admitted she was. So were we. She did not scold me. She was kind and she was forgiving.
I am grateful she was not run over by the car. I watched it all. And yes, it was completely in slow motion horror. I do not know how the car did not hit her. Wow! I am grateful for the people who were there to help her. I am grateful for sweet priest on the bike. I am grateful Dave, Kyle and Eli were there to help me up. And when I needed it most, Eli quietly put his arm around me. Then as Dave ran ahead to pay the meter, both boys slowly and sweetly walked me to the car. (By the way, we did not get a parking ticket.)
Bonus: The day was not a complete dark hole of awfulness. After my fall and the bike crash, the boys rose up and regrouped. Then they patiently sat with me in an Oxford hospital as we tried to figure out what to do. They did not complain. They kindly waited and laughed when all we had to pay is 6 dollars US. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped for 3 GBP meals and enjoyed the rest of our night. We are lucky.
And of course there is an obvious moral to our story: If we remember to stop and pause, maybe we would not miss appointments, break our bones, or hurt so many others. I hope it will stick.
[Be warned: Not only did we cover a lot of physical territory on our return flight, my words here are all over the map!]
It is 6:30 AM. We are on the last leg of our epic adventure, traveling on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City. The sun is shining through the window bright. I am sitting in seat 17A. The middle seats are empty, and our family has the entire row. Seconds ago I stole my neck pillow back. I feel a little guilty. Dave really seemed comfortable.
Over the intercom I hear a voice. It is the captain:
“We are at a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet …Mad props(yes, he did say ‘mad props’). The captain continues, “We are going to be on time, or very close to it. We are lucky to have four of Alaska’s top flight attendants with us today…Enjoy the flight.”
The return travel portion of our journey home began approximately thirty-four hours ago when I heard the beep, beep, beep of my alarm. I had no idea what was happening. Confused, I said,
“Stop that noise! Seriously, turn it off. Whose alarm is that?” (It was mine.)
It was 3:30 AM — Zurich time. Somehow we showered, packed, ate breakfast, and made our way to the airport. I was patted down in Seattle. At the Zurich airport, both Kyle and I had our bags searched. Then the sweet Swiss airport security agent lady held the two tiny jars up high.
“That is my jam for the plane.” I said, and then I looked at Kyle and mumbled, “Not music, but like real jam.” Examining them she mumbled, or better, spoke German, “[insert German words here].” I listened incomprehensibly. Then smiled when I heard the word, “marmalade.”
“Yes, the marmalade.” I proclaimed.
“Marmelade. Yes. Marmalade.” She laughed and concurred.
She placed the marmalade with my little toothpaste as she crammed all of my small items into one plastic bag. Finally, she instructed me to keep all items in that bag. As I watched her, all I could think was,
“my jam is with my toothpaste. That’s weird.”
We made our way to the gate and as we were boarding, I heard,
“If your name is called, please come and speak to a gate agent.” I heard the name “Adams,” and said, “Dude, they just called our name.”
Uncertain, he listened again, “Adams.”
Sure enough, his name was called, which ultimately meant he was bumped to first class.
Kyle piped in and said, “Mom should get the seat.”
Let me preface this next part and to tell you that in all the years of flying, flights and upgrades, I have never taken the first class seat. Nevertheless, Dave always offers. And yes, on occasion, we have upgraded together. But, because I seem to be allergic to all food, which means I would not fully enjoy the luxury of a first class meal, and because I am also small in stature, which means I fit in a middle seat between the boys more comfortably, I always feel guilty taking the upgrade. The closest I came to taking him up on his offer is when I suggested we give the upgrade to his mom, who was traveling with us. (*Hold up! Do not think I am a sweet daughter-in-law because I suggested Dave give his mom the upgrade. Sending his mom to first class was as much as a gift for me as it was for her. We were at the end of a long journey, a journey, where, for two weeks, I listened to her talk at great length as she detailed her previous trips to England including, but not limited to, things such as the intricacies of every meal, a full-blown accounting of where she ate, details such as how the restaurant was decorated, how many people were also eating at said restaurant, then an exhaustive listing of what she and her companions ate, how the food was prepared, and how long it took for her to eat compared to everyone else. **By the way, I bumped her to first class in the van too. Of course and in truth, I wanted her to be comfortable as we traveled across the country. As a result, I insisted she sit in the front passenger seat. I sat in the far the back. It was great. Dave drove. She talked. I hid. *Please be hard on me and not her. For more than forty years she was an English professor. And is much more accustomed to an audience. When it came to our return flight, I knew I had no more energy to listen so I insisted she have Dave’s first class upgrade.)
Of course Dave happily obliged.
Yesterday was different. A voice screamed. Ok, my voice screamed,
“Beth, take the seat!”
I was exhausted. I needed a break and I really needed a moment alone. So I took a deep breath and I took the seat. Of course I immediately offered to split the time with Dave. (You can check my text messages for proof. It was sort of ridiculous actually.) Dave insisted,
“I think you should stay there the entire time.” Then he demanded, “But you’d better sleep.”
I did. I slept. Even after two flight attendants woke me up, I forced myself back to sleep. Sure, I went back and visited Dave and the boys a few times. Of course I had moments of lonely. I hate being alone all those hours. But people it was awesome.
We landed in Toronto, where we had a six-hour layover, a layover where I sat in the exact same chair in the Plaza Premium Lounge for exactly five hours. For the past few days prior Eli had been bugging me because he wanted to download some Netflix shows. Apparently you can only download Netflix shows on one device at a time and my iPad had the shows. So to help out a brother, who is really my son, I sat and watched my remaining downloads, which were the last three episodes of the teen-suicide drama “Thirteen Reasons Why.” See, I have been watching the show in tandem with Eli. He read the book in 7th grade. And after watching the show, I am now retroactively questioning another parenting choice. I can’t change the past, but I can address the now.
I finished the last episode, and with our food-stained yet comfortable airport lounge chairs facing each other, I announced,
“I am done.”
Like the great literary deconstruction specialist he is, Kyle asked, “What did you think?”
“I have mixed feelings.” I responded.
He shook his head affirmatively and asked, “Like what?”
“For starters, Hannah, the girl whose suicide was graphicaly depicted, announced her despair throughout the show. She clearly stated that she felt: flat, hopeless and apathetic. Consequently, I would argue that it seems a little incongruous that in her hopeless state she had enough energy to make thirteen, very detailed, sixty-minute cassette tapes — not to mention the fortitude it took to procure a cassette recorder … That is a lot of energy.”
“I agree,” Eli piped in. “And to tell 13 specific people why they played a part in her suicide, well, that is a lot! Mom, there were so many things that did not make sense.”
We continued talking about things like teen suicide, rape and why we think narrow literary stereotypes are lame. Through our analysis we compared the merits of real life versus making a best-selling teen novel turned Netflix-binge watch. We all agree. Reality and being yourself should win, including the dirty, less glamorous parts. We also concluded (again), that suicide and suicide prevention was not portrayed accurately or well in this Netflix series.
Our conversation wound down and soon we were on our way to our next flight: Toronto to Seattle. I convinced a tiny, curly haired, and very entertaining teen to trade seats with us. I noticed he was flying alone. I convinced him by telling him he would be sitting behind my sons who would both be happy to talk with him about Pokémon or whatever. He agreed and probably would have moved regardless. But he did move with a lot of back and forth regarding Gameboy Pokémon compared to travesty that is Pokémon Go. And yes, as a level twenty-four Pokémon Go player, I participated in the trash talk. (I am not kidding. In fact I leveled up on this trip.) Huzzah!
When I noticed no one was sitting in the seats in front of Dave and me, I urged Kyle to move so both boys could have their own row. As they stretched out, I asked Dave, “should I have offered the Gameboy kid the empty seats?”
To which he said, “No way! If he’d stayed in the seat he was given, he’d still have someone sitting next to him.”
I let it be, wrapped my clean (because I keep it in a backpack) neck pillow around my neck and turned on a video on the in-flight entertainment system. Ben Affleck was saying words and I could not stay awake. We landed in Seattle delirious and moments later we met up for a quick bite with one of our favorite humans, Justin. And because it was Seattle and because I stated out loud that I have celiac, the Cheesecake Factory wanted to get my order right. They re-made my dinner three times. I did not ask them to keep remaking my food. It was Jen, our waitress, followed by her manager. They insisted.
“We are closing down our kitchen, but we want to get you something you can eat.”
It was a moment of kindness after a very long flight. I was grateful. They continued,
“We don’t want you to get sick or have some weird allergic reaction.”
The food was good. We ate up, found our way back to our hotel. Said goodbye to Justin and found our way to our room.
Here I sit. Around my neck, my pillow snakes. I am wearing noise-canceling headphones, listening to my Spotify Mix and typing away. Now hovering over Salt Lake City, I feel super reflective. I feel reflective as a means to distract me from the mad, turbulence. Our flight path had us do a bunch of wide circles before we finally came in to land. As I cross my fingers and hold a hand to the ceiling (not really), I feel grateful. Truthfully, I am grateful we have embraced the what-you-see-is-what-you-get aspect of life, especially as far as travel goes. As such, I own the moments like when I bring marmalade on a plane, or that I would selfishly help my mother-in-law as a means to help myself, or that for my boys I would totally sit in a seat for five straight hours (because I did) and binge watch Netflix. Instead of shame, I think it is cool that the boys and I have played Pokémon all over the world. And finally, I am so glad that I have learned that profound experiences do not need to be orchestrated by, say, taking the kids to every self-important, humble-brag-to-your-friends museum such as the Louvre or the Prado, unless, that is, you can run them through said museum in less than an hour on “free” museum days.