Tag Archives: family

Eclipse!

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My husband and I have talked about taking the Crescent to New Orleans for as long as we’ve been married. Earlier this summer he finally found a reason to buy tickets. He was determined to be in the path of totality to see the eclipse. A lot can happen in twenty years…In our case, we added three extra people to our family. Instead of a cozy berth for two, he ended up booking three roomettes for our family of five.IMG_4968

The train was scheduled to leave Charlottesville at 10:30 pm, but we didn’t actually leave until midnight…

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The step to the top bunk was also the lid of the toilet…IMG_1083Directly over the toilet was the fold down sink…

We woke up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast in the dining car…

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We arrived in Greenville a bit rough around the edges after a night of very little sleep.

FullSizeRender 44A shuttle bus took us to the campus of Clemson University and we found a good spot for viewing.

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IMG_4988IMG_1163It was a very, very long drive in a rental car back to Charlottesville. We didn’t get home until 3 am, and then…it was back to work!

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The kids start school tomorrow.

I’m so sad the summer is over, but seeing the eclipse together was a memorable way to cap it off.

 

Badass

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On Saturday we witnessed naked hatred and violence like we had never before experienced in our relatively sheltered lifetimes. It shook us to the core. That night I asked my husband to make sure the garage apartment was locked up. We awoke to a world where the advisability of going to church had to be weighed against safety concerns. As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I looked warily at my daughter’s playhouse and wondered if it could possibly be sheltering a Nazi sleeping off a day of liquor-fueled rampaging in our once peaceful little town. On Tuesday, the words I heard spewing from the incontinent troll in the White House hit me like a punch to the gut. My heart was filled with blind rage. I could not muster any love or light that night.

As I tried to settle down to sleep, my phone kept pinging with messages being sent by people spreading the word about a candlelight march that would begin at 9 pm the next night. We would retrace the same route that the tiki-torch-bearing losers took on Friday to reclaim the Grounds of the University of Virginia. There was, is still enough fear of violence that there were no posts to social media. I know people who came with mace for fear of being attacked. People were spreading the word only to those they trusted.

In the morning my daughter heard me discussing my plan to go to the march with my 17-year-old son. The fear I saw in her eyes made my heart ache.

“Is that safe?” she asked.

“There will only be good people there,” I reassured her, “It’s being kept off social media and people are only finding out about it through trusted friends.”

“But you know they’ll find out about it,” she said. They meaning the people she had seen on the news…the people with faces contorted with rage and hatred…they who were brandishing clubs and guns at our friends and clergy.

“We’ll be very careful,” I said, “I promise.”

That night I came home after a welcome dinner for our university’s new international students to pick up my son and my husband who had decided to come. To my surprise, my 15-year-old, who is usually in bed by 9, said he also wanted to come with us. I felt torn for my 12-year-old daughter, who was now faced with the choice of being by herself at night, or coming with us. She chose to come.

As we walked to Nameless Field, she clutched my hand.

“We’re parked close enough so that we can run to the car if there’s trouble,” she said as if to reassure us all.

“Don’t worry. Just stay close to me. I’ll protect you,” I told her as I squeezed her hand, “You know I would lay down my life for you…And I’m kind of a badass.”

This statement would not stand. She looked over at me, not quite rolling her eyes.

“I would lay down my life for you. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. And way more of a badass.”

IMG_1050And she is.

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Darwin helps us evolve…

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Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

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Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley

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From the cultivated beauty of Bodnant Garden, we drove on to the wild beauty of Cwm Idwal…IMG_4450IMG_4452IMG_4458A stone path guided our steps…IMG_4466IMG_4465IMG_4488IMG_4494

…to a lake:

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It was a bit windy…

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Actually, it was CRAZY windy!
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Brooding Heathcliff moment.

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No brooding here. This is the face of a man in his element.

 

The Great British Open

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We are home after spending ten days in the U.K. with our family. Can it really be just a few days ago that we were winging our way back to Newark? After an eight and a half hour drive back home to Charlottesville, minus one missing suitcase, we collapsed into our beds and dreamt of all the places we had been and the family we had just left…

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I love this photo, because it brings together my family and my husband’s family through my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt. My vision-impaired mother-in-law is trying to read the back cover between stitches!

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Playing for Granny

One of the things we had planned to do was to go to the British Open, which was being held not too far from where we were staying. We decided not to buy tickets when we realized we would have to stand around for hours in the cold and driving rain if we went. We consoled ourselves by holding our own British Open.

We divided ourselves into teams of two. Team “My Dude” (our 17 year old) and “Granddude” easily outperformed the other teams to win the tournament.

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“But that’s OK,” I consoled my partner after our third place showing, “The third place finisher in the British Open got $684,000 this year!”IMG_4128

We rounded out the day with a quick detour to pay homage to our kids’ favorite sports team:

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Old Trafford, “Theatre of Dreams”

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This Man U fan was delighted to get a photo with some of her heroes.

 

 

 

Family Reunion in the U.K.

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We got back home from our family reunion in Arlington, did a gazillion loads of laundry, and repacked our bags once again for our family reunion in England.

We spent a night with my sister and her family in New Jersey before heading to Newark. En route to the airport, we made a special drive-by pilgrimage to the “dollhouse” (as my mother always called it) that we lived in for a year in Cranbury, NJ…

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Ready to board…

Finally on the plane!IMG_0632We made it! My son’s IT skills were put to good use almost immediately upon our arrival.

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Helping Granny with her iPad.

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My husband is sitting underneath a portrait of himself as a child. He says that whenever he looks at the picture he tastes pineapple, because he was given a “pineapple-flavoured ice lolly” to help him get through the sitting.

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Helping Granddad with his Bakewell Tart.

Going to the cinema with Granddad…IMG_0661

 

My Chariot of Fire

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“I’ve known this car longer than I’ve known you,” I recently told my 11-year-old daughter.

“I don’t like it when you tell me that,” she replied.

I was surprised by her reaction on two fronts. First, it revealed her suspicion that in our 15-year-old workhorse minivan a.k.a. my Chariot of Fire, she might have a rival for my affection. Second, I hadn’t realized that I had ever told her that fact before.

When we first bought the minivan, my memory was a lot sharper and I wasn’t so prone to repeating old stories. When we went shopping for the car, I was shockingly great with child (with my second son). I caused unease wherever and whenever I lumbered into sight.

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Two days before Baby #2 was born.

As I got behind the wheel of a spanking new car to give it a test drive, the young salesman slid into the passenger seat and looked over at me nervously.

“Uh…when are you due?”

“Aaaaaaaany minute now,” I said, “For all I know, it could happen right here, right now.”

He blanched visibly.

Until this time we had driven hand-me-down cars. The purchase of a brand new car was made possible only by the generosity of my grandfather, who had died recently and left a sum of money for each of his nineteen grandchildren. My husband and I planned to use the money I received from his estate as a downpayment for the car.

The fact that the money came from my grandfather was problematic. He was the scion of a family of Catholic martyrs, three generations of whom were massacred by the Japanese in one day. During the occupation, he was a leader of an underground resistance movement, and as a result, was repeatedly arrested and tortured by the Japanese.

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My grandfather is on the left. My mother is in front.

Three generations later, our lives still reflected that history. My father, whose family also suffered under the Japanese occupation, refused to ever buy Japanese products. Once when we were visiting my brother, who was in college at the time, he noticed a pair of flip-flops on his floor.

“Why are you wearing Japanese shoes?” he asked curtly.

When he saw the futon upon which my brother slept, he said: “That’s a Japanese bed.”

My husband and I had our hearts set on buying a Honda Odyssey, but given my family history, it wasn’t at all clear that this was going to be politic or even possible at all. I finally screwed up the courage to ask: “Uh, Mom? Do you think Grandpa would be really upset if he knew we used his money to buy a Japanese car?”

“Do what you want!” she replied waving off the question in her usual no-nonsense way.

When we drove in our new car together for the first time, my husband remarked: “Wow. You’re a much more confident driver now.”

“Yeah. Because I can SEE.”

It was a revelation for my vertically challenged self to have a commanding view of the road. I did feel confident, and I felt free. I learned to love driving in my minivan.

My sweet pimped out ride. See that Albemarle County Schools magnet on the gas cap? Custom, Baby. I’m thinking about having flames painted along the sides next…

It is not a fancy car. We bought the base model without any extra frills. When we transport other people’s children, they will often stand expectantly by the door, waiting for it to open automatically.

“Oh, sorry,” I have to explain, “You have to open it yourself.” Latterly, I’ve had to add: “You have to give it a really hard yank to get it open.”

My mother always shakes her head when she gets into her preferred second row seat on the right and silently surveys the detritus strewn about the cabin. But you know it’s bad when children make comments about the mess.

The exterior of the car is not pretty either. Within weeks of owning the car, my husband backed into a fire hydrant.

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The fire hydrant dent and the sticker for my last neighborhood’s community association.

My initial reaction took me by surprise. I was elated: There! It’s done. And it wasn’t me! And now, I really could be free. There were many more dents and dings along the way…none of which were worse than that first one, and none of which we ever bothered to fix.

Each dent is a reminder of where we’ve been. The first one? That was in New Jersey, where we were visiting my sister and her family. The latest one?

IMG_3827That’s paint from the entrance to the garage of our new house…the fourth one we’ve lived in since buying the car. The dent in the rear door came from a friend who offered to help me pack for a sabbatical year in North Carolina. As she was leaving, she lost control of her car on our driveway’s steep slope and slammed into the back of our car. The indicator light showing that the door is not closed all the way has thereafter remained forever lit. Another dent came from a teenage girl who rear ended us while talking on her phone. When I inspected the damage, it didn’t seem worth taking her insurance information given the condition of the rest of the car. I immediately regretted it when we started driving again, and my kids noticed her get back on her phone. I leapt from my car and ran over to her, shaking with rage and shouting at her like a lunatic in the middle of sleepy little Crozet.

This sticker is from my first teaching job in Charlottesville, or Lynchburg rather. I would leave in the early hours of dawn and drive an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the campus of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

IMG_3825.jpgWhen I first went to get the faculty parking sticker, the woman behind the counter explained to me that students needed to go to a different office to get their parking passes. No one would mistake me for a college student now. And now Randolph-Macon Woman’s College ceases to exist. (It’s become Randolph College).

We’ve been expecting car trouble for years, but it has continued to hum along without complaint or issues. We have since inherited two back up cars, knowing that the day would eventually come when we would have to give up our minivan. Only very recently has it begun to show mechanical signs of age. Yesterday, my husband took it to the dealer and they diagnosed a very expensive transmission problem. It is time for our beloved minivan to ride off into the sunset. I spent last night cleaning out the car in preparation for donating it to NPR. Among many other things, I found the tray of an old stroller, spilled snacks that could very well be fifteen years old, cassette tapes, DVDs…

I know it doesn’t make sense to grieve for a chunk of metal, but I do. It has carried our babies home from the hospital. It has held car seats and booster seats. That little boy in the first photo just learned how to drive in it. For fifteen years now our car has safely ferried our family for miles and miles. At almost 270,000 miles, we could have circled the earth ten times. We could have driven to the moon and a good bit of the way back down to earth.

After all this, what is there left to say, but this:

Well done, my good and faithful Chariot of Fire. Thank you.