Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Magic of a Sunset, And Maybe a Road Trip

"Run, we have to catch it! It's almost gone! Hurry, we can't miss it!," I was urging loudly as I screeched the minivan sideways into a parking spot by the beach. We took off our flip flops and all started running toward the ocean. "We only have a few minutes left, hurry!," I shouted into the wind as we ran.

I tripped over the edge of my long dress and it ripped a little bit, but I kept running. The kids were lagging behind but still making their way in the white sand, dodging the scattered people that were on the beach. Suddenly I stopped and gasped. "There it is, we didn't miss it," I exclaimed bending over putting my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. "The sunset. Isn't it beautiful kids? Look at it."

We all stood, speechless, looking at the pink and red sky as the sun dropped below the horizon. The sound of the waves rolling onto the shore and the seagulls searching for treasures left my the afternoon beach goers. The people that dotted the shoreline looked like enchanted shadows from Peter Pan--some darting in and out of the water, others walking hand in hand down the beach. 

"It's magic, isn't it?," I smiled at the kids. "This is what we couldn't miss."

We got there just in time, just as the sun was setting.

This was one of my favorite nights from our road trip across 10 states that lasted 21 days. I have so many more wonderful memories from our journey. Seeing museums and memorials that I have never seen before in D.C. even though I have been there countless times in my life. Going to Universal Studios and watching my kids, even the cranky teenagers, fall in love with Harry Potter's Wizard World and roller coasters and adventure rides. Jumping into a pool an hour before it closed at a rinky-dink motel in North Carolina in the dark with my clothes on because I didn't want the kids to have all the fun. Eating so much junk food we all craved salads and carrots when we got home. Hearing my kids laugh and sing and have fun together. 

It was chaotic and unorganized and spontaneous and mostly very fly by the seat of our pants kind of travel. Most of the time we didn't have any "have tos" or timelines or schedules. If we wanted to stop at Peach World, we totally could. Okay, I was the only one that wanted to stop at Peach World, but the kids ended up thinking it was fun and JT got a shark tooth necklace for $4 there so he was happy.

JT's travel look. lol

We also stopped on the campus of Duke University when we were passing through on our way to see my brother in Savannah.  Our plan was to take a picture of the boys outside of the basketball stadium because they are big fans. After we took the picture we found a giant spider that we were all enthralled by and were taking pictures and videos and guessing what kind of spider it was and promising we would add it to our list of questions we had for Google when we got back on the road. As we were talking, JT noticed there were people inside stadium lobby. He pulled on the door and it opened. We crept inside. Turns out there is a whole museum type display with glass cases full of trophies and memorabilia and pictures. There are also interactive booths with crowd noise piped in along with the fight song. There were several other fans wandering around the exhibit. Then like a scene out of a movie, a gentle old man walks over to us and asks us if we'd like to see center court. "Yes please!," we replied eagerly.

"I'll take you the back way," he said softly. As we walked down the back halls, he talked to the kids about the history of Duke basketball and when the wood was put in and how old the railing is. He also asked them about their lives and if they played sports. The kids seemed to feel really comfortable talking to him because they were telling him stories about their football games, cross country plans and Wade proudly told him he recently ran his first 5-K and got a medal. Once we reached the court, he told the kids and me to take a minute and enjoy it. We stood on center court and breathed in the history of all the games that had been played there and the talented athletes that had been on that floor. As we made our way back upstairs, the grandfatherly man talked to Peyton and Lucy about keeping up their grades and staying focused if they wanted to go to college. We thanked him and he nodded and smiled and said, "I'm so glad you all stopped and got to see this." And then I think he might have disappeared into the wood panels from 1931 like a ghost. I'm just kidding, but he seemed too perfect to be real. 

Wade wanted to take pictures too,
 so I bought him a disposable camera.

That's the point of my road trips--I want to give my kids a sense of wonder and adventure in the ordinary stuff and encourage them to let go of the timelines and schedules sometimes and stop and enjoy it all, even the seemingly ridiculous. Peek in the windows, open the unlocked doors, notice the spiders, buy the cheap shark took necklaces, talk to people on the beach, jump in the pool with your clothes on, and don't ever not appreciate the beauty and power of a beautiful sunset. 
Lucy capturing the sunset on her phone. Makes me proud.

I wish this was my back yard...for real.

As I wrestle with trying to fit back into "normal" life, I have to remind myself of those things too. I have to remember that even though I truly struggle with organizing my life and my kids' lives and that I don't feel like I will ever fit in with "normal" life, the things I can teach them and show them have some value. 

Yesterday I almost had to quit my job because I forgot to sign Wade up for the program he goes to before school, since my job at the preschool starts before his elementary school. And this wasn't my first time forgetting to do that. I frantically called and emailed and apologized to the program and my boss. "I think I'm pretty good with the kids and my gosh I love them, but I'm sorry I'm so unorganized and I'm working on it I promise," I told my boss. Luckily, she was wonderful and helped me and I still have a job at the preschool. 

I do that a lot--I mess up calendars and schedules. I forget stuff. I always have library late fees, always. And I say sorry, a lot. I hate that my kids see that. I feel like a failure at "normal" life.

But on the road trip it's different. I get to show them a side of me that I hope they remember along with the apologizing side...someone who appreciates life and people and sunsets and oceans and finding new roads and ways to get places and connection and adventure and being alive. That's important too right? Maybe. Hopefully. 

Here's a little recap video I made of our trip:

road trip 2017--A million good memories from Jumping With My Fingers Crossed on Vimeo.

Heard a TON of country music and while it's not my fav genre (at least new country), I fell in love this song and it's how I felt and feel and ahhhhh.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

No Magnet This Year--Storytelling, Advocacy and My Kids

"I don't want a magnet this year when we go to D.C.," Wade informed me before we left for the first part of our road trip. 

"Okay, why not?," I asked.

"Because I don't want President Trump on a magnet on our fridge," he said. 

I silently agreed. 

"Maybe we can get a different souvenir this year, maybe a magnet with a picture of the Lincoln Memorial or heck maybe a Nationals hat," I suggested. "Hopefully there will be a magnet with a new president added in 2020 that we want to get."


Last year I took the kids to D.C. to a rally to call for more attention to and action on climate change. We also met with Senate staff. We had talking points. We took pictures in front of the White House. We listened to the Hamilton soundtrack on the way there, and quoted it and sang it all over D.C. It was fun and interesting. I was grateful for the opportunity to show my kids that they have a voice and encourage them to use it.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a few more memorials and went to a gift shop and bought postcards, a parchment type paper with a copy of the Declaration of Independence on it and a magnet with all the presidents.  

This year was different in so many ways. First of all, Trump. Maybe that's the last of it all too. Instead of moving forward, D.C., with Trump at the helm, feels like it's moving backwards...denying climate change, the budget, healthcare, shaming people, all the tweeting, all the negativity and the bravado and the coldness and the corporate-ness and Jesus, all of it. There was no f&*$ing way I was getting a magnet.

But I did want to try and make a difference and connect with staffers and maybe a Senator or two and try to create change, or at least help stop the backward motion. I didn't just want to encourage my children to use their voice in their government and their community, I wanted to urge them to. And show them the way.

We went with a group that I am so proud and honored to be a part of, Moms Clean Air Force. They have taught me so much about climate science, activism, advocacy, how to be a part of it all and help make a difference. 

In the park beside the Capitol building, we attended a "Play-In." There were activities, speakers, musicians, prayers and hula hoops. There were Republicans, Democrats, women, men, mothers, grandmothers, teenagers and babies. And a drum line! 

I am not kidding when I tell you that marching with and dancing to a drum line was an actual dream of mine.
Dream realized. It was amazing.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke to the crowd.

After the Play-In, we headed over to the senate office buildings. This wasn't our first rodeo, we felt prepared. We had practiced our talking points the night before in our hotel room. During our first meeting of the day, I turned to the kids and asked if they had anything to share. I sat back proudly watching and waiting for their rehearsed answers. They said nothing. They shrugged and quietly said something about how they want to protect the environment. Um, what? "Children, what about your prepared statements?," I said through a smile like a nervous stage mother. 

But then I remembered why we were there. We were there to tell our stories and tell our elected officials what matters to us and why it should matter to them. So, the kids started talking about how they love to fish. JT and Wade talked about the giant catfish they caught at their grandparents' cottage on a lake in Michigan. The senate staffer talked about how he liked to fish. That led to a discussion about protecting lakes from pollution. That led to talking about protecting the environment from corporations that pollute, and ultimately a conversation about climate change. 

After our first meeting, we were all more comfortable telling our story and asking people to work to protect the health of our lakes, our air and our future.

As we walked the halls from meeting to meeting, several people stopped us and thanked us for being there. "It really makes a difference for people to come to Washington and meet with us," one staffer told us. "It's a bubble here and it really helps when regular people like you guys come and talk to us and remind us why we are all here."

Our senator from Michigan, Senator Gary Peters, was gracious and kind. His staff has always been so great with my kids too. And Sen Peters happens to have a great record protecting the environment, helping to take action against climate change and working toward environmental justice in our area.

Our last meeting was with a U.S. Representative that probably has a magnet with Trump on his fridge. I was happy that his staffer agreed to meet with us, but also a little nervous.  As we sat down the kids starting talking to him about their love of fishing and sports. They all seemed very comfortable with each other. We spent the longest time in this office and actually enjoyed our time there. We talked about other issues like financial aid for college, public education and more. Even though I am not sure we changed his, or his boss's, mind about climate change, we connected. We found common ground. We didn't sit down with him and angrily shout at him about our agenda (sometimes in some places that is necessary however), instead we found a way to start building a relationship and start moving forward, not backward. A lesson I'm going to take back home with me, better than any souvenir. 

But we still didn't get a magnet. Maybe we'll get one in a few years.

I want them to know their voice matters and that they can have conversations and relationships with people that don't agree with them. Even if their fridge magnets are different.

I want them to know their health and their future is worth protecting.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Totally Unprepared Road Warrior

We drove straight to the beach. The kids piled out of the minivan and ran into the ocean. No bathing suits. No towels. Just sheer excitement and a hell yeah we drove a billion hours to get here we are going to jump in right away kind of attitude.

We arrived three hours too early to check into our rental house, so we eventually found a public bathroom to change out of our wet clothes from our spontaneous ocean dive and into our bathing suits. But nobody remembered to pack towels, so we drove to the nearest gift shop. I searched for the cheapest towels in the shop. I found some for $6.99 a towel. They weren't the most colorful but they would dry us off, I hoped. 

The towels did indeed dry off the kids as they got out of the ocean. But they were also the kind of inexpensive towels that left little bits of cheap terrycloth all over after patting dry. No need to wonder which kid was mine on the beach....not the one with the bright orange rash guard, nope mine was the one with little bits of blue terrycloth sticking to his wet/dry skin. 

Who drives a billion hours to get to the beach and forgets to pack towels?  This experienced road tripper, that's who.

That story is from last year's road trip. 

I leave tomorrow for this year's epic journey across a few states. I'm feeling nervous because I'm not packed and my plans are loose. But then I think about how unprepared I was last year, and really every year, and how much fun we've ended up having.

If there is one thing I've learned after driving thousands and thousands of miles with my four children over the last decade, it's that road trips are the best of times and the worst of times and make for the MOST INCREDIBLE MEMORIES THAT LAST A LIFETIME AND MAKE THE GREATEST STORIES.

Forgetting the towels is one thing, driving through Georgia in a minivan with no air conditioning is a whole other thing.  But yeah, I did that too. It was so hot, but funny and ridiculous and we survived with some funny stories.

One year we were (okay, me, I was!) obsessed with The Sound of Music. We watched the movie and sang the songs through six states. My motto if anything went wrong was "what would Maria do?" The answer was usually sing a song and feel better, so that's what we (I) did.

A lot of times I forget to plan beyond the destination. Like the time my goal was Graceland. After we did the tour, my kids asked "now what?" and I said "I have no idea."

One year I didn't really have a plan of where or what we were doing, but I made T-shirts for everyone. Priorities! 

Up until last year, I didn't use my phone or even a navigator thing-y. Nope, I looked up the routes on my laptop and wrote it out on whatever I had handy the night before, usually paper plates. That sounds so old school but remember using maps?! I mean what a lost art. Maybe I'll go old school and use paper maps one year. 

Over the years, we have collected maps; had countless McDonald's fries and milkshakes; spontaneously stopped at the birth places/museums of former presidents and inspiring people like Helen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr.; we've stumbled upon amazing art exhibits and fun free concerts in parks; we took goofy pictures everywhere with state signs and different props; bought peaches every year from our favorite fruit stand in Alabama; seen sunrises and sunsets over mountains and oceans and highways that are simply unforgettable. 

We have been road trippin and finding silly photo ops for forever. This picture is pre-Wade.

My favorite place that sadly closed down after a million years. SOOOOOO glad we stopped several times over the summers. When in doubt, stop and experience...that's my motto on road trips.

We always look for the genie.

I LOVE tours.

We've visited family and stayed connected to people and places that help tell the story of who we are. We've laughed over and over and fought with each other, and laughed again. We've learned so much about our country and people and ourselves.

Looking through old pictures and memories I found this from 2015 and it is the perfect reminder of WHY I keep doing this and why I hope I always will:

"Hitting the road with no real plans, a minivan full of kids and a heart wide open helped me be less afraid.

This road trip wasn't full of fairy tale endings, monorails, parades or fairy dust--it wasn't Disney World. 

Instead it was a real world adventure that connected my kids and me to pop icons, civil rights leaders, inspirational women and political leaders and cousins and family members, and a region that has a complicated heritage, and the idea of slowing down and listening and learning and paying attention, making the most of wrong turns and hitting the open road, and it connected us to each other."

I'm completely unpacked and unprepared, but here we go. 
We leave tomorrow for THE summer road trip.