Sunday, November 25, 2012

Priority Time

I have just returned from a thousand mile journey over the river, through North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and through the woods to grandmothers house with my two sons ages 22 and 19. We traveled the distance in a small Toyota to celebrate Thanksgiving and grandma’s 80th birthday.  While trapped in the back seat I had time to reflect on my mother’s 80 years and on research articles I’ve been reading about the amount of time families spend together.  Family time spent together has been declining steadily since the 70’s. We are consumed by our electronic distractions. TV’s in every room and car, smart phones in every pocket, video games and the internet keep us entertained and connected to the world yet often disconnect us from the family members we live with.

My parents believed that family needed priority time. In fact, it was my mother’s life work in ministry to get that message out to families across the country.
My mother believed so strongly that family needed priority time that she and my dad planned summer vacations that would ensure that for six to eight weeks our family would be trapped together in small spaces free from the distractions of work, friends, TV and all modern conveniences.

Some of you may have read previous stories about our cabin in the woods of Nova Scotia (August stories). But the year before we headed to Canada my parents locked us in a station wagon for 8 weeks and drove us from Massachusetts to California and back visiting National Parks along the way.
My father packed his camera and my mother packed her tiny bladder. The combination ensured that we would stop every 30 miles along the way. My dad would stop by the side of the road for beautiful photo opportunities and my mother would stop at yucky gas stations on the side of the road to pee.  Or at least this is what I thought. But now after many road trips with my two sons I now know that my parents really just wanted to get out of the car and away from their children, even if only for a few minutes!
I have a new appreciation for the sacrifices my mother made to ensure our family spent priority time together. Eight weeks in a station wagon listening to your children argue for 6000 miles without the distraction and entertainment of a DVD player, satellite radio, video game, or smart phone is a feat worth honoring with some type of medal of valor.

It is truly amazing that after all the mishaps, mayhem and madness of our family summers (which you can read about in future posts) my siblings and I are still very close. We have escaped from the station wagon and are spread out over a thousand miles but we are tightly bound by the experiences provided by parents who believed that family takes priority time.
So my friends, although I recommend long road trips with your children only to the very brave, I do recommend we all back away from our screens and spend some time with family. Enjoy the mayhem and create the stories that will last for generations.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

You Don't Leave Family Behind

I am getting ready to begin a thousand mile journey with my two sons. We are heading north to celebrate Thanksgiving and grandma’s 80th birthday. I’m dreading it. It is not the celebration and time with family I dread. It is the hours trapped in a small car with my sons that I dread. Recently at the dinner table my youngest, 19 year old Joel, proclaimed, “I’m your child. It’s my job to annoy you.”  We had a big chuckle about that and I informed him that he was doing his job very well. But in the back of my mind I was thinking . . . “one thousandmiles with no escape . . .”

And then I remembered my parents. They were brave, very brave. Or perhaps they were just crazy. I’m not sure. My parents put five children in their station wagon for a seven thousand mile, seven week journey from Massachusetts to California and back visiting National Parks and exploring Canada on the way home. The year was 1973. There were no DVD players, iPods, or hand held game systems to entertain us. There was only Beth, age 6. She sang. She hummed. She talked. She played loudly with her dolls. She believed it was her job to entertain us and shetook her job seriously.

So it was not surprising that after five weeks and thousands of miles on the road, we left her behind. It wasn’t intentional. Really, it wasn't. We pulled into a gas station in the middle of Utah and we all poured out of the car to use the restroom, stretch our legs and enjoy a momentary escape from each other. We all piled back into the car and continued on our journey.

I was always in the “way back” of the station wagon with Beth so I immediately noticed that she was not with us. I leaned over the middle seat where my teenage brothers were sitting to tell mom and dad that Beth wasn’t with us. My brothers grabbed me, pinched me and whispered in my ear, “don’t you say a word.” So I didn’t and we continued on down the road.

It took my dad about 20 minutes to realize that the car was silent. He pulled over on the side of the road, stopped the engine and got out. He ordered us all to line up on the side of the road and he began counting. He stared at us and said, “Where’s your sister?” I broke down in tears and stuttered through my sobs, “We left her at the gas station and they wouldn’t let me tell you!”

My dad instructed my mom to get back in the car. He looked at my brothers and me and said, “You don’t leave family behind.” He then turned, walked away and got in the car with mom. They drove away. They left us behind. They returned with Beth and we never left her behind again.

I’m guessing that in my journey north with my sons there may be moments when I’d like to leave them behind and perhaps moments when they'll want to leave me behind. But we’ll remember my dad’s words, “You don’t leave family behind.”  We’ll enjoy the ride, the holiday, the birthday. We’ll endure the ride and we’ll all get back home. We won’t leave anyone behind.

Hear more about my awesome sister in my story:
"Blonde, Beautiful and Bubbly"  click for download

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank you Veterans

I had planned to share a totally different story today before I realized it is Veterans Day. I woke up thinking about the men and women who serve our country and make sacrifices everyday that the rest of us can’t even imagine. I woke up thinking how often we take our freedom for granted and don’t think for a minute about the soldiers and families affected by their years of service. Often their years of service affect their lives long after they have served.

I was married to a veteran for 18 years. Sam served in the Marine Corps in the early 70’s and was a Vietnam vet. I met Sam 15 years after his service in Vietnam and although he rarely spoke about his combat experience I knew those years were never far from his mind.

I knew one night as we drove home to West Virginia from Massachusetts after a visit to grandparents. Russell was just a baby and was seated in the car seat behind the driver’s seat of our little Toyota Tercell. It was the wee hours of the morning. I was sleeping. Sam was driving. We were on Interstate 81 somewhere in Pennsylvania. Russell had a propensity for projectile vomit at odd and random moments. I woke up as the car was swerving all over the road and Sam was screaming, “I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!” He was holding on to the back of his head and vomit was streaming down his neck. Russell had awoken, thrown up and fallen right back to sleep. When Sam came to his senses and was able to pull over to the side of the road we had a big laugh about that one. Actually, that story has been repeated for over twenty years and still makes us laugh.
But just beneath the surface of the laughter there is the memory of the wounds suffered that can’t be seen. I knew those service years haunted Sam long after he left the Marine Corps.  I knew by his nightmares that woke me from deep sleep. I knew by look on his face when a patriotic song was played. I knew by the sheer bravery it took for him to bring his sons to the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. and attempt to share with them his experience. I watched him crumble before that wall and be swept up in the arms of other veterans, complete strangers to him who helped him heal a little bit that day. I knew and I said a little prayer each time I kissed the scars on his face.

It is my hope today that we all stop and give thanks to all the men and women who serve our country. It is my hope that we say a little prayer for them and for their families. It is my hope that we as a nation do whatever it takes to help our veterans heal the wounds of battle, those visible and those unseen.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Confessions of a Sugar Junkie

We’ve begun the season loved and hated by sugar junkies all over the country. We move with ease from Halloween candy to Thanksgiving pies to Christmas Cookies to Valentine’s chocolate to Easter jelly beans and chocolate bunnies . . . and on and on it goes.

All the sugar flowing through by veins recently reminded me of my former addiction to Dairy Queen.

I was an exhausted mother of two young boys struggling to find my pre-pregnancy body somewhere beneath the extra padding of motherhood. My husband, Sam, was a long haul truck driver more often on the road than home. So one afternoon when he was home I jumped at the chance to leave him with the boys for an hour to go walk on the community track.

It really was my plan to walk, really it was. But as I drove into town my car just drove right past the track and pulled into the local Dairy Queen. I went inside and ordered a Brownie Sunday and sat down in a booth by myself. HEAVEN! No boys to referee or clean up after. For a few quiet moments it was just me and the SUGAR.  It was a beautiful thing.
I got back in my car thoroughly jacked up on sugar and drove right past the track without even thinking about a walk. I drove home and went into the house. When I arrived Sam asked me if I enjoyed my walk. In the brain fog of all that sugar I had to think for a minute about what he was talking about but quickly regained some sense and said my walk was great. He smiled at me and said, “That’s good. While you were walking at the track someone left your wallet at the Dairy Queen.”  BUSTED!!

I returned to the Dairy Queen, collected my wallet and immediately drove to the drive up window and got a cone to go. I drove past the track, again, and went on home not even thinking about a walk.

I think that perhaps this is the season to forgo my sugar addiction and be rid of the extra pregnancy pounds. I’ve moved far from the Dairy Queen. My boys are 19 and 22 now. It’s probably time.  But on the other hand there are those Dunkin' Donut pumpkin munchkins . . . I can pick them up at the drive through and my wallet will never leave the car!