Monday, June 29, 2009

Iowa Part 2: Going to My High School Reunion in a Gorilla Suit

The difference between LAX and the airports in Iowa is almost laughable. I was relieved to be stuck in an airport in Iowa. Small, clean, quiet and practically deserted. After confirming that there were absolutely NO one way car rentals and rejecting the idea of a $250 taxi ride, the guy at the Avis counter gave me the card of a man who apparently had a 12 passenger van for situations just like ours. I called him. He was available for $200. WHAT?? I asked the guy at the Avis counter where the Koala was and if we could sleep at the airport. He called my bluff on both counts pointing me to the Koala and the place we could sleep. Sigh. I changed the baby, called my mom and then watched the older kids zoom around on their Heelies in the deserted airport while I munched on the last of my granola. My parents didn't have a car big enough to come and get us and I wasn't interested in waiting two hours anyway for my Dad to get there only to turn around and drive another two hours back. I swallowed my pride and my bank card and called "Gene" back to get a ride. He said he wasn't available anymore but would send someone else for us. What did that mean? I didn't even care. I was just thrilled I wasn't out there on that tarmack or stuck in Chicago. 20 minutes later Min from Vietnam was helping us into his small taxi. My oldest daughter sat in the front seat so I could hold the baby in the back with the other two. Once again, she was giddy with the freedom of not being restrained in a moving vehicle. Min and I hit it off immediately. Between my years in Japan and my years in L.A. I was probably one of the only white people he had met in Iowa who could understand his Engrish. (That was NOT a typo, but it was possibly politically incorrect.) We started talking about Obama and health care, parenthood and family values. It was too dark for my kids to do their activity books and the batteries were all dead on their electronic toys. All they had was the conversation between me and Min. They were definitely getting bored and the baby was bouncing off the taxi walls. By the end of the drive she was smacking Min on the shoulder over and over again while he shrieked in feigned pain to make her laugh. (Min had two young children so he understood the game.) Finally we were at my parents' place. I gave Min the website address for "The Power of Moms" to pass on to his wife, $200 in cash (ouch!) and we were home! It wasn't even 11:00. 9:00 Pacific Time. Not bad.

The next morning my inbox confirmed my hunch was correct. There were several messages from Orbitz informing me of multiple delays and gate changes in Chicago that ultimately ended in a cancelled flight around midnight. I might have been in my clothes from the day before, but my children and I had slept all night long at my parents'house! After basking in the glow of my victory for a few minutes I was ready for the next task at hand: retrieving my luggage and car rental an hour away at the airport in Moline, Illinois. I didn't want to take a shower yet because I have about fifty thousand toiletries I like to use to handle my frizzy hair, blotchy skin, etc. and I wasn't about to start experimenting with my mom's make up and hair products for my 20 year high school reunion.

I called the airport to confirm my bags were there. Two out of four had made it, but mine wasn't one of them. There were flights coming in every two hours with more luggage. The reunion started at 6pm in the same city as the airport. I started doing the math and realized my last hope was the 3:40 flight. My dad and I would leave Iowa City at 2:30 to get to the airport in time, I would have an hour to drive home, an hour to get ready and an hour to drive back to the reunion. That would take me up to 7pm. One hour late is fashionable after all, and when does one want to look more fashionable than at their 20 year high school reunion? It was only 10:30 in the morning but I started hyperventilating at the thought of my luggage not making it in time. What would I do? Forget about my de-frizzing creme, I didn't even have clean underwear! In all seriousness, my Dad - bless his little heart - suggested I go to a costume shop and get a funny costume, like a gorilla suit, and make a big splash at the reunion. Wouldn't that be funny? Here I had spent more money than I should have on a nice classy looking outfit from Ann Taylor and my Dad was trying to comfort me with the suggestion of going in a gorilla suit! Brilliant.

Still in yesterday's travel clothes, my dad and I headed to the airport around 2:30. By the time we arrived my heart was pounding. Was it there? My round brush? My cute white jeans? My jewelry and lipstick? Or would I be going to my high school reunion in a gorilla suit? We found a locked glass cabinet with several pieces of luggage inside. I saw the two pieces the airline had referred to earlier but nothing else. I wasn't sure if the 3:40 flight had unloaded so I wasn't in a complete panic yet. My dad could tell I was uneasy so he started encouraging me with his funny plan again. I left him at baggage claim while I headed over to the United desk. I approached the desk with great trepidation. My verdict was just moments away.

I inquired, told my story just to get a little pity and waited while the guy at the counter checked his computer. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. I had a bad feeling about this.

I was right. No luggage. Sorry, lady.

I could hardly believe myself but I actually started to cry right there at the United desk. Honestly, I couldn't help myself. Any mother knows how exhausting it is not only to prepare for a trip but to survive the trip and here I was exhausted and unshowered in yesterday's clothes being told I had nothing to get ready for my 20 year high school reunion. It just all came out there at the United counter. I could tell the guy working the desk felt really really bad that he was somehow indirectly responsible for this woman crying at his desk so I apologized for my display of emotion and went to find my Dad.

If I thought I had used all my adrenaline up the day before I was wrong. After wiping away my tears and thanking my Dad, I loaded up my two pieces of luggage in the car rental and headed for the mall.

My first lucky break that day: my make-up bag had made it into one of the pieces of luggage that arrived. Now for everything else. First stop, Dillards for shoes. Second stop, beauty supply store for defrizzing creme, round brush and hair straightener. Fourth stop, Ann Taylor for an outfit. (Second lucky break: not only did they have the same outfit, it was now half off and I still had the tags on the outfit in the luggage! Yay me!) Fourth and last stop, Target for tampons. (Every woman is smiling knowingly at this point.) I did all of this in just over an hour. I raced back to my parents' place and got ready as fast as I could.

Long story short, I made it to my reunion. I was three hours late, but at least I wasn't in a gorilla suit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iowa Part 1: I Got The Golden Ticket

For the first time ever in the history of our family trips (as opposed to vacations which do NOT involve small children) I started packing several days in advance. I was determined to enter "travel day" well rested, calm, cool and collected with everything we needed in it's proper place. This is never more important than when we are flying since there can be no retrieval from the trunk for that missing whatever. It is also never more important than when I am traveling alone with my four children and have limited hands. Navigating LAX can be intimidating for a single guy with one compact little carry-on let alone a mother with her entourage of four children and all the stuff needed to keep them happy on a plane from Los Angeles to Iowa. I went to Ross's 75% off luggage "event" and got a rolling suitcase for each of my three oldest children to help with the check in process. Each of them also had a backpack for the plane carefully packed with electronic devices, books, activity books and snacks that they were absolutely not allowed to see until travel day. I would carry everything else needed for myself and my toddler. I thought about packing extra outfits and toothbrushes in our carry ons in the unfortunate event that our luggage was lost but voted against it in the end because of space and weight.

Other than one lost boarding pass (replaced easily) and the royal fit my toddler threw in security because she had to remove her beloved shoes (see previous post) we breezed through the craziness that is LAX and kissed Daddy goodbye at the security gate. (Thank goodness he helped us up to that point!) Now the fun would begin.

I was actually quite surprised and feeling rather smug as I sat there with my four ducks literally sitting in a row happily playing with the contents of their backpacks as we waited at our gate. After getting on the plane my lucky streak continued. My toddler fell asleep in my lap about 30 seconds before the plane took off and while the others were absorbed in their activities I watched "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and an episode of "The Office". My preparations had truly paid off. This was better than a quiet night at home! Not only was I surviving the plane trip, I was enjoying it!

Once the movie ended Rachael woke up and the kids started to get restless. Luckily, we were just about to land so I could handle a few minutes of restlessness. Just then the pilot's voice came over the intercom. He explained that there had been a huge storm in Chicago (our first stop) and due to the high volume of flights backed up to get into Chicago we were being re-routed to Des Moines. Des Moines! Hmmmm. That was just two hours west of my final destination, Iowa City. I decided right then and there that I would do whatever I had to to get off that plane in Des Moines.

After landing and while we were sitting on the tarmack, I immediately approached the flight attendant. "I have four kids, a shortage of food and diapers and my parents live just two hours away. Is there any way I can get off here in Des Moines?" She gave me a big long spiel about legalities and impossiblities trying to placate me while simultaneously rejecting me. I tuned out the last part of her speech as I zoomed in on the pilot at the end of the aisle. "Can I talk to the pilot?" She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a look that said "it won't do any good" and told me I could go ahead and try.

A few minutes later my kids were sitting in the cock pit having their picture taken while I looked at pictures of the pilot's kids. We were getting off in Des Moines! He said I could even get my luggage if I had my little locator stubs. I did. A few minutes later we entered the hot and muggy world of the mid-west and were directed to a big van that would drive us over to the airport. A man who had to speak at a funeral the next day was also with us. We were waiting to hear about our luggage when I noticed Rachael was poopy. I asked the man if he minded if I changed her. He did. He actually told me he might "lose it" because he had never had any kids and couldn't handle it. Then he started banging on the side of the van door to hurry up the people deciding about our luggage. What a dope! I was giddy with the rush of having actually pulled off an escape from what I was convinced would have been an all nighter in Chicago. I felt like I got the Golden Ticket and here he was ticked off that things weren't moving fast enough! My kids were better behaved and more patient than he was! (Rachael was thrilled that she was in another moving vehicle without a restraint so she didn't even notice her poopy diaper.)

In the end they didn't give us our luggage. At the time I remember worrying a little that I wouldn't have it in time for my 20 year high school reunion the next night, but at that moment I was just focused on getting us to Iowa City for the night. It was already 8:00 and diapers were low and snacks had run dry. After checking all the rental car companies in the airport and coming up empty (no one ways) I was back to square one. How were we going to get to Iowa City that night?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If the Shoe Fits

Rachael has a shoe fetish. She changes her shoes several times a day and usually wants a pair that is slightly too big for her. I think she likes to be able to put them on and take them off by herself. I also think she is having fun wearing the shoes of her older siblings. She ends up looking like a clown most days, flopping around the house and getting frustrated when the shoes occasionally come off. Despite this, she has to have shoes on at all times. She even insists on wearing them to bed.

I recently got a new pair of tennis shoes. She had to try them on. As she tried to get up and walk in them, she was unable to take a single step without falling down. In true toddler fashion, she immediately began to cry and throw a fit. “Those are mommy’s shoes and these are Rachael’s shoes,” I tried to explain. She would not be comforted.

As I was trying to encourage her to wear shoes she could walk in, I thought about how all of my children are always trying to fit shoes that are too big for them. My five year old wants to have sleepovers, my eight year old wants to stay home alone, and my eleven year old wants a cell phone. Much like the toddler of the house, they “cry and throw a fit” when I point out they just aren’t ready to fill those shoes yet.

It’s hard to get children to stay young and enjoy their age, especially with older siblings to imitate. Kids want to grow up, despite their parents wishes to the contrary. I wish I could help them realize how great it is to be young and free, to relish the stage they are in. Kids think that somehow their life will be better when they are older and bigger. As adults, we understand a little too late just how great it is to be six years old. And six years old never comes back. I want my kids to get it when I say, “You will grow into that pair of shoes eventually, appreciate the shoes you’re in!”

The irony is not lost on me: we do the same thing as mothers. We mistakenly think that life will be easier or better once we’re ready for that next pair of shoes. “When I’m done nursing.” “After she’s potty trained.” “As soon as all my kids are in school.” “Once he gets his driver’s license.” “When they go to college.” We likewise “cry and throw fits” when things don’t always move along as quickly as we want or progress in the way we expected. We need to learn as much as our children to enjoy every stage and phase of life because we don’t get them back and each one has its own special joys as well as challenges.

I made the stupendously idiotic mistake of taking my toddler swimsuit shopping with me last week. Before I could even get into the dressing room she spotted a large wall about a half a block away covered in children’s crocs. She thrust her body forward, pointing as she crooned one of her first and favorite words, “shooooooes”. I knew I would never have a chance until I bee lined it over there. Her mind was set before I even got to the wall: bright yellow. The salesperson let her “borrow” them while I tried on a few swim suits. When I could tell she was at her limit, I put the suits on hold, tried to distract her with the escalator and snuck the crocs off her fat little feet. 15 minutes of howling later I did what any unprincipled and desperate mother would do: I bought the blasted crocs! She was as happy as a clam and has been wearing them every day (and night) since.

Despite the harrowing shopping experience (which I vowed never to repeat) I felt satisfied at the end of the day. Why? Because Rachael was no longer wanting to wear big floppy shoes that kept falling off her feet, causing her (and me!) grief. She was happy to wear her bright yellow shoes that fit. Imagine that.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Unread Letters

My oldest daughter is nearing her 12th birthday much to my chagrin. I keep telling her to stop growing up but she just won't listen to me! Last week she spent five days with her school class in Valley Forge. As in Pennsylvania. As in the opposite coast from where we live. When I first heard about this trip I was more than a little nervous about my little girl being so far away and I doubted she would even want to go. The school offered a week long program at home for those who wished to opt out and since she is kind of a home body and not very adventurous I thought she might like that option. We talked about her going to Valley Forge if my husband could go along as one of the chaperone parents, but it didn't work out. To my amazement, she said she wanted to go to Valley Forge anyway. It was a year before the trip. Surely she would change her mind as the trip got closer. When it was time to do all the paper work and start spending large sums of money she still insisted she would be fine, she really wanted to go. "Okay," I thought, "but she is going to get really homesick and miss her mom and dad." As the week of the trip neared and we were gathering and packing all the last minute items on the check list (I added a family picture to the list) she kept gushing about how excited she was! "She doesn't know what it's like to be away that long; the nights will be harder than she thinks," I worried.

The weekend before she left, my husband and I were on an anniversary trip. I happened to bring along a random information sheet about her trip and noticed for the first time we could send letters to our children in advance. What a great idea! I used the hotel stationary and both my husband and I wrote lengthy descriptions of everything we were seeing and doing along with advice for being homesick. I admonished her, "You'll be home soon enough so try to enjoy this experience as much as you can!" The letters I sent from the hotel would only cover the first couple days of her trip and I forgot to send one the day we got back as well as the Monday she left. I was very worried not only about her being the only child not to receive mail, but also about her feeling homesick and wanting a connection to her family back home. I hated to think of her feeling sad or lonely, so on Tuesday I wrote three separate letters, schlepped my two youngest children to the post office (always a dreamy experience, especially if the line is long and there are Disney bubble envelopes hanging low to the floor) and sent all three letters in an express envelope with each letter labeled "Wednesday, Thursday, Friday." There. I had done all that I could. Whatever happened from here on out was out of my control. I could only hope she would be okay.

It was a long week. No cell phones aloud. No emails. The only contact she would have from us would be those letters.
I was glad I had gone to the trouble.

She got home at 12:30pm on Friday night. Both of us exhausted, we didn't talk much that night, but it was nice to have her home safe and sound. She was back under my wing where she belonged. The next day we talked about the trip and I was genuinely surprised at how nonchalant she was about the whole thing. It almost sounded like she wished the trip were longer. When I asked her if she liked the letters, she gave me a sheepish grin and said she "didn't have time" to read them! What! Didn't have time? I was spluttering incoherently in my mind but kept it cool with her and just laughed it off. Never even read them. Had an amazing time. Wished the trip were longer.

I guess she's growing up after all.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Family Trips are NOT Vacations

My husband and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary in April, but we didn't manage to get away alone together until the last weekend of May. What a dream! We were only gone for two nights and three days, but I felt like a completely different person! We have very rarely gone away like this so I had forgotten what it was like to sleep in, eat slowly, and stare into space uninterrupted. I enjoyed every second of every minute. We were in the quiet little coastal town of Cambria, just north of San Luis Obispo. We've often talked about driving up Pacific Coast Highway together and we finally did it. (Tho' we'd love to go all the way up the coast someday. Cambria is only about 31/2 hours north of Los Angeles.) We went to Hearst Castle, checked out the elephant seals, ate yummy food, walked the beach, visited a gorgeous nursery (Brandon wanted to check out the bonsai) and shopped for trinkets for the kids in the "quaint" downtown shops. It was heaven. Absolute heaven. THAT is the difference between a family trip and a vacation.

Bad News Bears

Does baseball get any more exciting than at the Little League level? I don't think so. My eight year old son William was on a team this year that only won 2 games out of 13 (or was it 16?) during the season. Then tournament began. The first game was scheduled the same night as our church's annual father and son campout (which they wouldn't miss for the world) so we were a little disappointed thinking he wouldn't make what would probably be the last game. They were playing a team that had easily beat them before, but somehow they pulled off a win with some pretty amazing plays from the accounts we heard. We were thrilled! We could make the next scheduled game so we were happy, assuming once again this would be the last game. That's when it started to get exciting. All the moms were up and out of their chairs actually cheering and getting nervous for once. I couldn't help but remark to one of the moms, "this was a lot easier when we always lost". I thought I was going to have a heart attack each time my son was anywhere near the ball. We won THAT game which then put us into the championship game against a team that had only lost ONE game during the season. They had handily beat us badly two times. What you have to know is that our coaches and our parents were all about just having fun and making sure all the boys had a good experience. Our coaches would give everybody a shot at all sorts of positions even if we were losing - they were really great guys. So now we are in the championship game against a team that was known for being fairly competitive. It played out like a movie right down to the huge, red headed son of the tall, good looking coach getting a homer every time he was up to bat. I'll make a long story short: by the last inning we were winning 1-0 and they were up to bat last. There had been so many strike outs and outs at first that only one run had been made the whole game so the other team was pretty excited to have two on base. There were two outs. My blood pressure was going through the roof. I thought the mother of the pitcher would pass out. There was only one more boy up before the red headed son of the coach. Can you imagine the pressure on that poor kid up to bat? He did manage to hit the ball, but they got him out at first and that was it! The A's, the losing-est team in the Pinto's 8 league won the championship! It was classic American Little League and my son was on cloud nine! (It wasn't too bad for the "fans" either.)

Every Day Can't Be a Disney Day

I've been trying to get back on track with my psycho "in a perfect world" schedule. This particular day that meant taking the two little girls to the library. (That's what good moms do, right?) Part of getting back on track is also getting everyone on a better sleep routine which was disrupted by the previous night's Little League game. I pressed forward though, waking everyone up early in the morning so they would conk out early that night. If only it were that easy. The baby was kind of spacey and whiny at the library. While I was trying to pay my big fat fine she started to throw a royal fit on the floor for a completely unknown reason. This is a new development happening more frequently than I would like. Bee line to the frozen yogurt store (a promise to the five year old) where she has another tantrum I am able to properly de-code: I want my gummy bears ON THE SIDE, Mom! NOT ON THE FROZEN YOGURT!!!!!!! Okay, deep breaths. I managed the rest of the frozen yogurt store without incident and she fell asleep as I pulled into the driveway around 12:30. Perfect! "She'll nap and wake up before 3 when the kids get home" I think to myself "and I can take care of the jury summons, the overdue tax payment, medical bills, the check list for my daughter's Valley Forge trip, sign ups for soccer before it's too late, etc. etc. etc." (LONG nasty list of paperwork that has built up.) While transferring her to her crib, the person that is building me a kitchen office (I have no office space right now, hence the paperwork build up) shows up unexpectedly (which is better than NEVER since this project is taking FOREVER) and wakes up the baby enough that she remembers her recent goal of resisting sleep in any way, shape or form. She spends the next hour hollering in her crib as I try to occasionally go in and help her back down. Did I mention a friend and her two children under 3 came back from the library with me and I'm also trying to make them lunch and set up a slip and slide? That's when the plumber showed up. Then a sales dude from Utah. I'm not making this up. It was a circus. I finally gave up, got the baby up and committed to not let her sleep until at least 6:30 when she could feasibly go down for the night. The friend went home and I spent the next 20 minutes going through the automated phone system for the LA court system to try to get excused from jury duty. (Please tell me 4 young children is a good enough reason!) When I was finally transferred to a person I hear "all circuits are busy" and to try later. Click. Now it's just about time for the older kids to come home from school and they showed up at the door with my sister in law's two older kids who asked if they could come over to play. I know my sister in law has been a little sick and since I am suspicious I gave it to her and I have a very very strong and active guilt complex, I say . . . YES!! Shoes off, backpacks open, snacks please, slip and slide, I want to go first, she hit me on purpose, can I have more snacks, do you have a different swimsuit, can you tie this, I need to use the bathroom, do you have a towel, turn the water down, will you get me some milk, it's time to come in - GASP! - it's 4:20 and the baby has fallen asleep in the highchair!! Argh!!!!!! My sister in law arrives and takes her kids after I explain to her older daughter 5000 times that I am not comfortable having my 11 year old "babysit" her at my house, and I leave sleepy head and the five year old with Kate while I take Will to a quick orthodontic appointment. This is by far and away the highlight of my day. To feel comfortable enough to leave Kate in charge for a bit and go alone with Will to that appointment where I sat for 20 blessed minutes mindlessly sifting through a magazine was wonderful. (I regretfully left my beloved planner in the car.) Back home at 5:30. Everyone is starving despite the 23 snacks they ate after school 2 hours ago. I pulled together some gyoza, rice and strawberries for dinner. Brandon got home around 7 at which point I had totally given up the fight! A wise woman knows when she has been beat, and I was beat! Just burn me at the stake, kids! Brandon let me have a minute to myself back in our bedroom where the laptop is today but then he started a robot building project with Will. Why is this happening at 7:30 on a school night? I have no idea. All I know is Elizabeth is now sitting on me "practicing" her recorder in my ear for the concert I will have to attend in a few minutes I am told. I have no more will to resist. "Where's the concert?" Next I'm in her bedroom watching the concert, the baby (who refused to wake up until 6:30) is racing wildly around the room with glee at the sound of the recorder which is driving me out of my mind. You know at this point the house is a wreck, but the missionaries from church don't mind that OR the time (8:00) when they show up unannounced just to "see how we are doing". Thanks, guys! (I know sarcasm is NOT a good virtue.) By 9:30 I am hiding out in my bedroom trying to make the day go away by going to sleep as dear Brandon plans to endure the baby's shenanigans until she goes to bed. Right at the moment I assume everyone else is in bed and I can drift into blissful oblivion I hear a HUGE clang from the bathroom. Sounds like a towel bar broke and fell. Sweet! Just another day in paradise.
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