Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Toy Story Too

I am not a "cryer." If I get a little teary, that's pretty emotional for me. But there are two movies that make my throat get tight and my eyes tear up, and they are "Up" and "Toy Story 3." Actually, I refuse to even watch the beginning of "Up" anymore. And it's the end of Toy Story 3 that caught my emotions by surprise. Who would ever think that it would be kid-movies that touch me the most? I guess there's something very relateable about the big transitions of life, which is the common theme in those two movies, especially when you're experiencing them yourself!

On the very same day this week, one of my kids left for two weeks working in Portland (that's minor, really), another one moved back to campus after the summer off (I'll still see him on weekends, so that's pretty minor too), and my youngest boarded a plane for Bosnia...for the whole school YEAR! (that's major).

Kate is part of a foreign exchange program called YES Abroad, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. She applied as one of over a thousand students and was selected as one of the 100 semi-finalists, based on good grades, extracurricular activities, community involvement, and interest. She flew to Denver for a weekend of interviews (one in English, one in French) and group activities where she was observed for things like initiative, adaptability, confidence, positive attitude, problem-solving, leadership, friendliness, etc. Then 52 semi-finalists were selected into the program, and Kate was among them.

She was ecstatic.

Actually, I was too. Mixed with a feeling of, "Oh, no, what have I done?"

I wanted her to go. It was a deep desire of mine when I was her age, but alas, my mother would not let me. I begged my mom to at least take a foreign exchange student, but she didn't want to do that either. Four years later my younger cousin took off for a year in Chile, and the experienced changed her life. She went on to travel in Europe where she met her future her husband. Her first child was born in Austria. She translated for refugees. Then she moved back to the States and now works as a foreign exchange student coordinator, placing hundreds of students every year into homes, hosting a new student herself every year, and travelling all over the world with her organization to connect with the countries they work with. My mom, who was such a chicken when I was young, has actually taken in quite a few foreign students since I left home and keeps in contact with many of them to this day. And we have also hosted many students in our own home from all over the world. So when Kate expressed the desire to go, it didn't surprise me and I supported her wholeheartedly.

Last year she was a Rotary short-term exchange student to France. I loved that program...she spent 6 weeks of the summer in France and then brought her host sister home with her to spend the next 6 weeks of the summer with us. It went by quickly, and all through her absence we were looking forward and getting ready for her return with her French sister. We had a wonderful time with the girls, touring all over the western U.S., seeing and experiencing new things, as well as old things made new through the eyes of someone who had never seen or done those things before. Food was more fun! Scenery was more beautiful! Even grocery shopping was exciting! And cooking together was a riot! I tried roasting rabbit via Skype with our host daughter's mother in France, an excellent cook who coached us through preparing the carcass and braising it to perfection. And then when the 6 weeks were done, we "bisous"ed goodbye and went back to routine life as school started the very next day.

But this time, there is no school. No senior year to enjoy. No awards and activities. No school lunches to make. No after-school chats. Just a clean, quiet house and my job and the cat. I feel just a little cheated of our last year together before she was to leave for college. Oh, well. Such is the lot of a mother.

As I watched Kate sort through 17 years of her life and place things in bins labeled, "Throw Away," "Give Away," "Dorm," "Keep" and "Pack," I felt an odd churning of emotion within me. Excitement, anticipation, dread, uncertainty, pride, sorrow, happiness, loneliness, nervousness, confidence...mixing all that with funny dreams and a flurry of activity produced within me---I'm not sure what to call it. Perhaps it doesn't even have a name. Every mother experiences it at some's an inevitable and expected season of parenting. It's "Letting Go." They want to go. We have to let them. And I'm not talking about letting them as in giving them permission, but letting them as in taking our hands off, dropping our expectations, erasing our agenda, ending our plans, silencing our commands and thrusting them forward into their own expectations, agenda and plans...with a smile and a blessing.

So back to Toy Story. As she stood over the 5 bins of her life, she dropped in item after item:  This part of her childhood could be thrown away. This part of her childhood could be shared with another. This part of her childhood would transition to her new life. This part of her childhood would be reserved for future use as an adult. And this part of her childhood had no use except to give her pleasant memories of happy times, special people and proud accomplishments of the past. Some of the things that she lightly tossed aside into the "Give Away" or "Throw Away" box made me long to reach out and grab them back..."Kate, you don't want this anymore?" I was the one with the sentimental attachment! Other things she longingly held as she debated where to place it and I would say, "Oh, Kate, you'll never use that again," and she would reluctantly set it aside. Some things we both agreed were precious and needed to be tucked safely away. Other things we laughed over, hardly able to believe that she had once used it or loved it or made it. And as boxes were filled, I had the Toy Story feeling of her toys crying out, "Don't put us in the box! Take us with you!" Or maybe it was just me whispering, "Don't put me in a box! Take me with you!" And maybe that's why the movie gets me every time. It's not the toys, it's the mother that is neatly boxed up and labeled...not "Give Away," not "Throw Away," not "Future," not "Dorm," and certainly not "Pack," but "Save."

Save for what? Well, the day we put Kate on the plane she had a visa problem. I'm the one who pulled out my cell phone and found the number of the person who had authority to put her on the plane. Then that made us late and the security line was long and she was at risk of missing her flight. I was the one who ran back to the counter and grabbed an airline rep to escort her through security ahead of the line and get her to her gate. Then when we chatted online after she arrived, she told me her stomach had been acting up, full of butterflies. Half an hour later, surprised, she told me they were gone and said how calming it was to talk to her mom. So mothers go into the "Save" box...saved for advice, comfort, prayer, counsel, support, encouragement and approval in times of uncertainty, discouragement, sorrow or confusion as our children navigate their way into adulthood.

So I'm not the nurturer, the cuddler, the playmate, the discipliner, the nourisher, the authority, the decision-maker or the mommy any more. I'm saved for other needs.

Your children are always your children, no matter their age. They will always need you--- maybe not as often as you like or in the way that you are used to, but you are needed...and loved...

and even

a tiny



One of Kate's many piles left behind

Not the greatest picture because of the
light behind her and our great rush
to get her on the plane, but
there she goes!!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dixie Land Delight

I was very surprised to see that the last time I blogged was almost a month ago!  I've thought about blogging but just haven't been able to actually sit down and pound out some words on the keyboard.  After the 4th of July, my summer (usually the epitome of relaxation) became very busy.  My sister went to the hospital one night in excruciating pain with severe nausea and vomiting...medically speaking, it is called "intractable nausea and vomiting," which means it just doesn't stop.  She was there 8 days before they decided to discharge her without a definitive diagnosis.  In the meantime, her kids, ages 6 and 7, were being farmed out to various neighbors and church friends, passed back and forth based on the availability of the kind and helpful people who reached out to them.  After some discussion and prayer, we felt it would be good for me to fly to Virginia to stay with the kids and hopefully help my sister through her convalescence stage.  We booked my trip---a red-eye flight---for just two days later.  I worked hard the next day getting my life in order and my family ready for my abscence.  The next day after that I packed, and then we headed into Portland to attend a wedding rehearsal, which ended just in time for me to catch the 10 p.m. flight to Virginia.

It was just a few months ago that I flew on an all-night trip to Brazil, so I had my gear and knew the routine.  I selected a window seat so I could have something to lean my pillow against (rather than my neighbor's shoulder!).  I pulled out my special travel blanket with wings (ha ha!) and snuggled into it, then blew up my special curved pillow, and waited for the lights in the cabin to be lowered.  Well, they were lowered but only during take-off.  As soon as we reached cruising altitude, lights began popping on all over the plane.  Laptops came out and iPads started playing movies.  What?  Why wasn't everyone going to sleep?

"This is an all-night flight, people!" I felt like saying out loud.

I had neglected to bring my mask and ear plugs because I really didn't think I would need them, since I remembered how dark and quiet the flight to Brazil was.  I certainly needed them on this flight.  It seemed no one was interested in sleeping but me!

Needless to say, I arrived in Charlotte at 3 a.m. my time (6 a.m. east coast time) feeling like I was in a dream as I walked the brightly lit airport corridors to catch my next flight.  All I remember about Charlotte is the white wooden rocking chairs scattered throughout the airport.  Charming, really.  It made me wish I could see the city.  Maybe I'll go back one day!  I found my gate and then ducked into the restroom to wash my face, brush my teeth and reapply my make-up so I'd look and smell okay when I landed in Richmond.

Richmond was expectedly humid, but even when expected somehow it still surprises me.  My brother-in-law was there to meet me and we loaded my carry-on and work bag into the car (I was so proud of myself for packing carry-on only for this trip; I've never managed to accomplish it before!).  We wound through the Virginia roads lined with thick trees on either side.  There are no hills, just long stretches of trees, trees, trees.  It's very pretty and lush, but kind of claustrophobic as you can never see a vista.  It always feels to me as if we are driving through a corn maze, only instead of corn stalks it is tall trees.  We arrived at my sister's house with two very excited kids waiting for me.  I haven't seen my niece and nephew since they were very small, so I was just as excited as they were.  My sister met us at the door looking pale but happy, and we settled in for a visit as well as a time of show-and-tell with the kids, who couldn't wait to share with me their favorite toys, drawings, books and games.  Then I had my own show-and-tell, bringing my suitcase into the family room to pull out the presents I had brought from home and from Grammy.

Our days went smoothly.  I cooked and cleaned for my sister and played with the kids.  Then one evening the pain and nausea returned, so off to emergency she went again.  Now I was on my own.  The kids were hilarious, telling me where to find things and how to do it.  Everything I did seemed to be punctuated with, "Mommy doesn't do it like that."  "Mommy puts that here."  "Mommy says we can do this."  "Mommy says..."  I forgot about the days when your kids actually cared about what you thought and how you liked things done!  I told them that Mommy would have to go on a treasure hunt after I left because I was going to put things in the wrong place many times while I was there!

The days were long, and I wanted to keep the kids busy.  My inclination was to head outside and go to the playground or on a walk through the beautiful trail system surrounding my sister's subdivision.  But it was so darn hot and humid!  We started each day early...breakfast and then out the door, trying to beat the heat, but the heat always won.  It just never seemed to cool down there, not even at night.  And the humidity made it almost unbearable.  But we had fun tromping through the woods down to the reservoir, catching frogs and climbing over logs and taking lots of pictures (after spraying ourselves against the ticks and mosquitoes that were thick in that subtropical climate).  We always arrived home exhausted and very sweaty.  So a long drink of a water and splashing in the kiddie pool were next on the agenda.  Then lunch, then a project to work on for the afternoon or an excursion, like the library, Wal-Mart, and frozen yogurt.  Then it was dinner and some TV time, and finally my favorite part of the day...reading before bed.  I did this with all of my kids for years and enjoyed it just as much as they did.  I was sad when those days were over, but here I was years later with two kids tucked cozily into bed while I sat in the comfy chair beside them and read out loud by the soft evening light.

One night as I read, I just kept sweating.  I wondered why it seemed as though I had never cooled down after our long walk that morning.  Then my nephew complained, "Auntie Karyn, I am so hot!"  "Really?" I said.  "So am I.  We'd better check the air conditioning."  Sure enough, it was 79 degrees in the house.  We figured out how to "re-boot" the air conditioning system and that was good enough to cool us to sleep, but I woke around 5 a.m. sweating in my bed and I knew we were in trouble.  My brother-in-law came home later that day and worked on it for over an hour to no avail.  By now the house was really cooking after another full day without air conditioning in 100-degree weather.  So my brother-in-law told us to pack up because we were going to a hotel.  We stopped at the hospital on our way to visit my sister, and she was looking so much better!  It was good to see her with color in her cheeks.  Then the kids and I got settled in our beautiful hotel room while my brother-in-law returned to the hospital to sleep in the recliner in my sister's room.  He promised me he found it quite comfortable, but I felt a little twinge of guilt in our spacious hotel room with all the amenities!

The next day we had breakfast in the lobby and then walked next door to Starbucks for two kids' hot chocolates and a latte for me, then went to the pool where we hung out for the next few hours, splashing away the hot day and having a wonderful time.  I honestly don't remember the last time I "played" in the pool!  How fun to dive for items on the bottom and do handstands in the water.  I even tried a backflip underwater, which I accomplished, but felt incredibly dizzy and disoriented doing it!  Too old!

When we returned from the hotel, my sister arrived home shortly after.  She was so much better!  They'd had found the cause of her pain, which was what they called "a rare and severe allergic reaction" to a new medication she had just started.  They took her off the offending drug and started her on a different one, and she quickly returned to near normal by the time I left. 

We squeezed in some quality time in our last 24 hours together before I was to leave.  We drove out to the country to Jimer's frozen custard stand, a little red-and-white striped stand that served up sweet and delicious Georgia Peach frozen custard, the perfect southern treat!  Then we went to this fun district called Carytown and shopped and had treats and ate lunch and toured beautiful Monument Street and had a wonderful time laughing and enjoying each other.

And then it was airport time.  The best part about leaving was that I could say, "See you next month!" because they had already planned a trip to see us in Oregon before all this had taken place.

Once the good-bye hugs and kisses were over and I was through security, all I wanted then was just to be home.  The first part of the trip to Dallas was uneventful, but when we landed my whole weekend changed.  Apparently, we had just missed some very violent storms that had caused the airport to close for a few hours.  You'd never guess it by looking outside...the sun was shining fiercely and it was 105 degrees!  But there were 70 planes sitting on the tarmac waiting to unload their passengers, and we were one of them.  We waited for an hour in the plane that grew increasingly hot and stuffy, until finally we were able to get off...and then I found out that my connecting flight to Portland had been cancelled.  Thus began the l-o-n-g night.

Dallas is a huge airport, so I boarded the sky train and rode to the other side of the terminal.  There I stood in line until 11 p.m. waiting to get a new flight home.  Well, that one didn't leave until the next day and wouldn't arrive in Portland until 11 the next night, after a 6-hour lay-over in Houston!  I took it only because I had to, then wearily pulled my luggage behind me as I headed back to the sky train, because my new gate was on the other side of the airport where I had first arrived.  By the time I arrived at my gate it was close to midnight.  They were handing out red blankets and cots because there were literally thousands of people stranded there for the night.  Later my mom told me the news said 200 flights were cancelled and 140,000 people were stranded or delayed.  That is the population of a good-size city!  I spent the next hour trying to nab myself a cot.  First they were over at that gate, then over at that, that gate!  I ended up back at the original gate and saw a stack of them loaded onto an airport motorized cart with people swarming it.  I was just about to lift one off when someone called, "Don't take those! They are going to another part of the terminal."  I wanted to shout, "But I need one here!!"  But I kept my cool and asked, "Well, could you bring me one because I have been looking everywhere for one."  Others weren't so cool.  People were hot, tired and frustrated...and desperate for those cots!  I felt like I was at a refugee camp!  Everywhere you looked were chairs, on the floor, on cots, wrapped in red blankets, trying to sleep in that very bright and noisy airport.  I picked the least-lit corner I could find and set up my cot.  Then I wrapped myself in my travel blanket, blew up my travel pillow, tucked my luggage between my cot and the window, put my blanket over my eyes and tried to fall asleep.  I couldn't.  That cot was nothing more than a piece of mesh stretched tightly across a metal frame that kept me off the dirty floor but did nothing for comfort.  It was hard and unyielding and the bars pressed into my knees.  Then the air conditioning finally kicked in as darkness helped cool the building, and I froze as the the chilly air circulated through the mesh, surrounding me on all sides.  All I could hear was the TV to my right blaring on and on and on through the night the grim news of the Colorado massacre.  I curled up in the fetal position and wrapped my whole head in my blanket and tried to get warm enough to fall asleep, but it never happened.  Finally, dawn came.  I was never so glad to see a pink sky before.  I folded up my cot and stumbled to the bathroom to make myself presentable.  I was so thankful that I had packed in a carry-on, otherwise I'd have no access to my luggage and therefore no clean clothes or toiletries.  Looking brighter and better (other than red eyes), I walked down to Starbucks and ordered a Perfect Oatmeal and a latte, and then plunked myself down in the chair nearest the counter at my gate, plugged in my laptop, and ate my breakfast while reading the news, waiting for the first sign of an attendant at my gate so I could check out my chances of flying stand-by on a direct flight to Portland at 10.  Every attendant I talked to had no hope to offer me, but I kept my seat and asked over and over.  Well, that plane was also delayed.  We waited and waited and waited, getting to know each other as everyone had a story to tell and wanted to share it (or vent it!).  Finally at noon they boarded the plane.  I was way down the stand-by list...of course.  There were only 200 of us displaced and all wanting on that flight!  I texted my family and told them to pray.  Texts came flying back..."Praying!"  My name bumped up to 7.  I texted "7" to everyone and they texted back, "Praying!"  My name jumped to 4.  I texted, "4!" and they texted, "Praying!"  My name jumped to #1!  But then they stopped calling names.  Instead they finished the long boarding process.  I kept saying, "Please let me on that plane, Lord.  Please!"  The flight was done boarding.  The group of stand-bys stood there forlornly, attempting to cheer each other up.  Then, "Karyn Wells" was called from the desk!  I was on!!  I almost ran onto that plane!  How exciting to text everyone that I had made it!  Then I settled in for a wonderful 3-1/2-hour flight...wonderful because I was flying and not stuck for another 11 hours in the airport.  I arrived home exhausted but giddy with relief at being in beautiful Oregon where the air is sweet and the breeze is fresh and fruit grows freely right in my neighborhood.  My shower never felt so luxurious...and my bed, well, you know how incredible it is to sleep in your own bed when you have been gone a long time!  I had texted Jeff to put clean sheets on before I arrived, and he had, so I snuggled deep into crisp, cool sheets and pulled my fluffy duvet right up under my chin and drifted into a sweet and restful sleep...

...and awoke the next morning just in time for church, a 6-mile hike to waterfalls, and company arriving from Canada!