Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Going with the Flow

Long summer days leave more time for early morning walks with friends and girls' nights out on back patios. Sleep can be elusive but the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and moments with friends who have been cocooned by work and weather throughout the winter and spring can make up for lost Zzzz's.
At several recent gatherings we have chatted about being "Mom" to teenagers and adults, how often we're the butt of their jokes or their teasing, especially since we bear the load of planning and prepping for major activities.

My family laughs at my need for plans and schedules, the lack of spontaneity that causes me to freeze when some brand-new chore or event lands like a bomb in my carefully plotted calendar. My husband joins the kids in teasing me about my need for advance warning and they all ganged up on me at a dinner in Rome. I joined the joke on myself at first, mellowed by a glass of wine, but eventually grew tired of the sting and threatened to walk home alone.

When I relayed the story to friends, they all had similar examples of being the butt of the joke. "That's just part of a Mom's job," one said.

Another chimed in with a story her next-door neighbor told. "She was at dinner with her adult kids and they teased her for her routines and her long lists. They told her to 'just go with the flow' and she got so angry she shouted 'I AM the f***ing flow!!'"

We chuckled as we strode along the greenbelt, sounding out those words in our head, on our tongues. The rightness struck me at that moment, how my schedules and signups, my plans shaped the daily lives of the kids until now, when they plan their own work and social events. I was the flow, and easy for them to say 'take a break' or 'let it go' when I've been paddling the boat for almost 20 years. Now they will start to understand why it can be difficult to drop plans or miss events, lurch from the plan to the unknown. It will still be easier for them to do as they're each only planning for themselves, but maybe someday they'll understand the plan and love it - as I do - when the plan comes together. They can be their own flow, and I can lay back on the lifeboat and take a rest.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Giving Care

I forgot how Daniel reacts to anesthesia.

Silly me, for planning any work or activities on the same day that he got his wisdom teeth out. I was rapidly disabused of my faulty logic when the nurse came out of the procedure (finally) to say, "he's very emotional - I need your help!"

"Now you need me," I thought but didn't say as I picked up all my belongings from the waiting room where I'd spent the last two and a half hours, "You should have let me go back with him for the IV and pre-op stuff so he wouldn't be so anxious."  

Daniel was moaning and weeping and incoherently asking one question repeatedly as I took his hand and tried to get him to slow his breathing. The machine monitoring his heart rate beeped like crazy as he muttered "air ar air ods" over and over.  After ten minutes of this I finally understood him saying "where are my air pods?"

"You brought your airpods to the surgery?" I asked in disbelief. "Where did you put them and why?" Daniel gestured wildly to his pocket; I looked in both and under him but no airpods to be found. I dismissed this as A. Ridiculous and B. More than I could handle at the moment.  The nurse and I helped a weepy, staggering Daniel out to my car, where he limply lifted a hand for the seat belt and began crying again about  - you guessed it - airpods.

The emotional outburst slowly diminished over the next forty minutes as I sorted piles of drugs on the counter where William's meds had just abdicated space. From ACL surgery to wisdom tooth removal, over the last two weeks I've remembered the every-minute crisis care and nursing skill that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with mothering children. This type of hands-on, sacrificial, round-the-clock care is not so common with children in their late teens and early twenties, and boy, do I NOT miss it.

Difficult to maintain a calm, caring presence when Daniel's meds wore off and gave way to anger, frustration and stomach issues. Similar scenes floated to my consciousness of his early surgeries: tonsils and adenoids removed when he was two, ear tubes put in when he was four. I guess I can be forgiven for forgetting or blocking out those difficult days, after all the twelve years intervening have been full of other adventures.

Caregiving is HARD, and so many of my friends and family are in unexpectedly difficult times of caring for others. Teachers are overwhelmed by serious needs of students, pastors are similarly drowning in the needs of their flocks, and we all know how stressed medical professionals have been over the course of the pandemic. Friends have aging and ill parents to care for, spouses have their husband or wife, parents have ill children and children have parents who are sick. At least, I reason with myself, we are so fortunate that both the boys' surgical procedures achieved good results and the recovery time is fairly quick. Having lived with chronic pain myself for the past ten years, I am appreciative of solutions that promise relief.

I wish our society appreciated caregiving, because it demands so much from human beings and makes other parts of our lives difficult: other jobs (that actually pay), time to restore ourselves, time to sleep, even. I'm grateful for the friends and family who take care of me and firmly resolve to be a much better patient in future, whenever the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Two Million Envelopes

While checking out at Trader Joe's this morning, I opened my Alexa app to make sure I got all the necessary and asked-for items. One line on my list was unexpected - "two million envelopes." I texted the family chat to see if anyone really needed envelopes, and shook my head at Alexa's spendthrift ways and lack of concern for the environment.

Which of course brings me back to our Italian vacation. European countries have much less space and fewer resources than we have in the US, so they use both more economically and in environmentally friendly ways. In Florence we couldn't find paper products anywhere, and we had to look after spilling red wine on the kitchen table in the VRBO (repeatedly). No napkins, towels, or other wasteful items - only sponges and dishcloths that had permanently changed colors by the time of our departure.

Also a source of amazement - ages-old fountains in certain city squares and taps that perpetually run, offering clean water to anyone stopping by with chapped lips or a reusable water bottle. We filled up at taps all over Venice and even Rome, receiving clean, free water in the middle of the city at sources that were established hundreds (or more) years ago.

Cars are small, streets are small, apartments - you guessed it - small. When Tiziano told us that our VRBO in Venice was his childhood home, we walked around and marveled at how the space could hold an entire family and their (for lack of a better word) household junk. Then we realized that there was no space for household junk - no storage for Christmas decor, baby objects, high school letter jackets, ancient photo albums, and the like. They must have just got rid of all the stuff we accumulate, because there are no public storage spaces for rent in Italy, none that we saw, anyway.

We usually travel abroad with one small roller bag and one backpack per person, so we each got used to traveling with less, wearing the same clothes repeatedly, and eating the food from each apartment before we left it. Because each household in Italy has a maximum amount of electricity they can use per day, we were warned to turn off lights and air conditioning whenever we left the apartment, and not to run too many appliances at the same time. One of our GF restaurants in Rome ran afowl of this provision and we sat through a blackout one night when a few too many watts were demanded of the system.

The Italians we saw live perfectly well with a little less, a sense of limits. In fact, they live better in some ways; they eat better food, have better public transportation, put less stress on the earth and have better fashion sense. Not too many European women walking around in athleisure gear; I had to up my game just to be a tourist!  I came back with a strong desire to get rid of as much as possible, to live bigger while making my footstep a little smaller.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Italy Trip, Part 2

Today I'm typing from the surgery center waiting room while William goes through pre-op for his ACL repair. The surgery has been on our calendar for over a month - we postponed it so that William could go on the Italy trip - but it still feels like a big, unpleasant surprise. Our minds have been occupied by train times, COVID tests and itineraries as opposed to pre op therapies. I hastily read through a number of articles last night and was alarmed to see that patients should forgo alcohol and caffeine for a week or two before surgery - two things William definitely consumed in large quantities via espresso and red wine.  But only one article mentioned that, and his diet was certainly healthy and varied, his legs in good shape from all the walking.

We were so fortunate on our trip to only have one day - really just one evening - of rain. The surgeon specifically warned us to be careful on rain-slick cobblestones as slipping or tweaking the knee could cause further damage, so on our last night in Venice as we ran through a downpour to the train station, I hovered by William's elbow yelling, "hold the railing" on every slippery bridge and city square. We don't think he did any further damage, but won't know for sure until the surgery in a few hours.

Rob and the kids teased me unmercifully throughout the trip, for my panic in the rain, my proclivity for (very) long walks, my occasional misunderstanding of where to wait in line for a tour. They really got a kick out of the evening I left my purse in a Florentine restaurant after a meal full of the local specialty - beef - and a full glass of red wine. The young waiter came running out in to the street holding my purse extended in his hand, yelling "Madam, madam!" Fortunately our VRBO was across the street and we were lingering in front of the door as Rob manipulated his key in the faulty lock.

My eyes flew wide open as I felt the purse missing at my side and realizing the full force of my mistake. I nearly bowed to the waiter in relief, saying "Thank you! Grazie! Thank you so much!" The kids laughed at my expression, claiming that I liked the young Italian men and just left my purse on purpose so one would chase after me. They reminded me of how much I liked the proprietor of our Venezian VRBO, a young man named Tiziano who had grown up in the small home. I protested that he just reminded me of them - my kids - but they chuckled each time he used "What's APP?" to send me recommendations or make sure that we were OK.

I was alone in Venice due to the one major mishap on our trip. Rob's flight from Newark to Venice was delayed a day due to mechanical difficulties with the plane. After sitting on the runway for hours, his plane was taken back and he was moved to the same flight 24 hours later. That second flight was also delayed, and Rob landed in Venice with just enough time to take a cab to the train station so he could join us on our trip to Florence. We cheered as he ran through the plaza to meet us on the station steps, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged but finally able to catch up.

Today Aden starts her new job and Rob dives back into his. I plan to wait on William all day and make sure that we have what's needed to recovery: crutches, an ice machine (still unclear about this one but friend told me to ask for it), pain medication and whatever food he can stomach. And so our next journey begins, closer to home but still to parts unknown.

Monday, May 30, 2022

A Visit to Italy, Part One

It seems impossible now to remember the hesitation we felt in booking tickets to Italy. After the trip of a lifetime, difficult to grasp my concerns for booking museum passes I felt we might never use, making an itinerary for cities that felt - post-pandemic - as far away as Mars. But everything worked: we were undeterred by strikes of cabbies and railway workers, COVID test requirements, William's bum knee/torn ACL, Rob's board meetings on Zoom from our Roman apartment - nothing got in the way of a magical ten days.

It helped that all of Venice, Florence and Rome seemed to share our YOLO sensibilities, mobbing San Marco Square, the Duomo and Trevi Fountain respectively and filling the air with a babble of foreign phrases. One language spoken by all: adherence to spotty requirements for surgical masks, which were omnipresent, attached by elastics at elbow or wrist. Italy had just lifted most mask requirements except for on public trains and in confined spaces (like the Vatican Museum or the Catacombs of San Callisto), so we didn't often need to wear the mask, but like all other tourists we had them at the ready.

A genial British woman living on the military base in Naples filled us in on life in Europe during the pandemic. As we waited in a winding line for the Duomo, she said "It was terrible here. We couldn't leave the house for almost three weeks when my husband tested positive, even though I was consistently negative. Nor leave our town to travel anywhere in Italy for two years."

Apparently, Italy's travel restrictions for in-country travel had lifted in March, when she came round to Venice and Florence with visitors. "No lines at all then," she said, waving a hand at the jam-packed square around us. "We waltzed into every attraction without a wait." When I asked what had happened between late March and mid-May, she said "The UK and Germany and many other countries lifted all restrictions for travel on May 1st in anticipation of the summer season. Everyone in Europe is on the move, and it will be even worse when schools are out in the States and UK."

While I briefly pined for empty squares and non-existent lines, I felt buoyed by the commonality I could see and feel in my fellow travelers, a joie de vivre, an excitement that spread to each member of our family. We were on a private journey, focused on new sights and sounds and only vaguely aware of current events as they popped into our phone notifications or in Italian squares marked with the blue and yellow colors of the Ukraine flag. (Sentiment ran strongly in support of Ukraine and several tour guides asked us to pray for those affected by war as we passed through ancient churches and tombs.) But mostly we could escape the news....except for the morning we learned of the massacre in Uvalde. That was a difficult day, and I cried while praying those affected in the majesty of St. Peter's Basilica.

We had plenty of opportunities to light candles and pray, with a church in every square -  practically on every corner - marked by wealth of the Catholic church, strong faith and appreciation of beauty. Ancient, magnificent works of art lay hidden inside modest exteriors of old basilicas, sudden marvels like the tomb of Galileo or the stole of St. Francis stashed in small chapels of places we just wandered into by accident. 

Other surface impressions: walking everywhere from the cool of the morning through the heat of the day, adding up to record numbers of steps by the time we returned to the apartments after a late dinner. Glorious food and wine in every shop and restaurant, some of the best meals of my life - all gluten free and luxurious with fresh protein and vegetables, olive oil and careful seasoning. Wine that I could actually drink without ill effect, sharing carafes of house red with Aden and William (legal there) and getting silly for the stumbling walk back to the VRBOs over ancient cobblestones. 

I can't drink wine in the US - something in it makes me sick here, either sugar or preservatives we guess but don't know. I also can't have gelato or cheese in the US at all unless I want to be writhing on the floor for hours after, but in Italy I had gelato at least every other day and occasionally ate fresh mozzarella without pain. I probably shouldn't have done so, since the casein protein is unchanged between the US and Europe, but we threw culinary caution to the winds and enjoyed every minute of the superior food and wine in Italy.

I toured the same three cities thirty years ago with friends on a whirlwind backpacking trip of Europe. With far less money and time, I had less ability to relish the art, absorb the atmosphere, eat the food. The second time around I had more of every resource and it was profoundly different. Rob and I watched our children's faces as they took in the magnificent sites that will hopefully stick with them for a lifetime: coming around the corner of the Accademia to see the David under lights, seeing the glowing dome of St Peter's from a night walk across the Tiber river, encountering the Duomo in Florence for the first time. A sense of awe, of mystery and joy - these emotions usually hard to unearth but perpetually near the surface on this fortunate journey.