The Travel Countdown

I have the Wanderlust. I love to travel. So does my dad. So did my Grandma Turner. Even if I was taking her on a day trip, she was always ready. Because of her poor hearing, I’d write her a letter asking if she wanted to go to Tallulah Falls the next week. She’d call to confirm, “Hey, Sweet! I got your note! That sounds real good.” Then she’d call again at 7:00pm the evening before our “trip.” “I’ve got my bag packed!” she’d say. I’d laugh and reply, “Ok, great!” and finish the rest of the sentence in my head…”see you in fifteen hours, Grandma!”

No matter how exciting a trip, there’s always a tiny part of me that wants to do a little countdown … to the end of the trip. When I was little and spent the night at my grandparents’ for a week, we did things we didn’t do at home: have an ice cream party every night, drink milk with a splash of coffee, and eat at Steak N Shake if we were “golden good.” (We even earned certificates, 3×5 index cards, with gold stars.) At the same time I wanted to resume my normal summer experiences – playing tennis in the street with my sister and friends, swimming at our neighborhood pool, playing spotlight if we were allowed to stay out till it got dark enough. So while I was enjoying my week at Jack-Jack and Grandpa’s, I was also, in a tiny little back office of my mind, tracking the days till I would be home.

Even on big, exciting trips my count-down tracker runs. The long and winding trip I took on the way to my college internship in Germany had a different count down tracker. It was more like a “heck yeah, I did that and I survived!” check mark. Like the time I arrived in Venice to visit my friend on her trip there, but all of the hostels and hotels were full. Luckily, at the train station people were advertising a campground thirty minutes away by bus. I made it there and reserved my bungalow (check mark, please!) I also made it back to Venice in time to meet my friend to hang out and have dinner. Along the way I met some nice young Swedish travelers and chatted a bit. Lo and behold I saw them at my campground that night and they invited me to join them at their campfire. By the time I got to my bungalow, it was pitch black. I could make out outlines of people lying on their bunks. I climbed into my own bed and instead of drifting off to sleep, thought, “who are these strangers under my bed and on the next bunk over?!” And “why is this window just a hole in the wall?! Someone could just reach their arm in and strangle me if they wanted to!” So I stared at the moon right outside my open window for an hour. When I woke up I was greeted with a glimpse of a man in purple underwear. Soon everyone was dressed and decent (did I sleep in my clothes?) and it turned out that my cabin mates were friendly and not serial killers after all. Shew! Check mark, please!

On a recent Spring Break trip, my oldest daughter and I spent a couple nights with my friend and her two kids on Hilton Head Island. We had a blast. Two moms plus three kids can be super fun. I dare say it was effortless as the kids played so well and we were able to mom one-handed. (With a beach cocktail in the other!) Still, a countdown tracker tick-tocked on that fun time, too, since our next phase of Spring Break was Florida at my parents’ place. There were additionally many check marks more as each boring hour or half hour on I-10 was achieved and put out of its misery.

I’m mid-trip right now. In this case I only have half my family with me. I’m checking all the To Dos off my list:
Good Beer, check!
Good Bread, check!
Time with old friends, check!
Riding the rails, check!
But the little desk calendar in the back of my mind is tracking down “how many more sleeps” (or wake ups as Ellie puts it) until I get to be with the rest of my family. As ready as Grandma always was to start her journey, I wonder if she ever had as hard a time as me at stuffing everything back in the suitcase for the journey home?!

Village of Mothers

Mother’s Day has come and gone, and as a mother for over eight years now, this day has taken on a new meaning. Actually, now that my kids have sprouted from toddlers into kids, I am thinking about their impact on their friends’ houses (are they jumping on Gracie’s bed?!)  and their friends’ moms’ impact on my kids. (Would Gracie’s mom tell them to get down?)  I remember a lot about my friends’ moms as a kid and have a whole new appreciation of the “village” of mothers out there. Did you ever get reprimanded by your best friend’s mom? Or your next door neighbor’s mom? I did. And I’m awfully glad I did!

I could probably write one hundred books on how awesome my mom is. She fed me bottles when I was a baby, she held me in her arms, she kissed me on my forehead when I was sick, she gave me nicknames like doodlebug, little bit, and squirt, she picked me up when I skinned my knee. She disciplined me when I misbehaved. She put the fear of God into me when I stole a toy at a shop when I was five years old in downtown Lilburn. The police station is right across the street! Do you want them to find out what you did?! She let me rest my head in her lap during the sermon at church, stroking my hair while I half listened – half daydreamed. Later on, as an older kid, she taught me tough love by telling me to “put some spit on it” when I scraped my knee again, helping me to help myself. She slept by my side on a foldout cushion when I got my wisdom teeth out (which put a crick in her neck for at least a week, limiting her ability to religiously attend Jazzercise!) She did a million things for me as I was growing up, and she’s still there for me now.

As awesome as my mom is, she’s not the only mom who stamped me with impressions I remember to this day. My neighborhood where I grew up was full of kids and we ran from one house to the next, depending on what was most interesting to do on any given day. We’d jump on the Neville’s trampoline one week,  jump on the O’Lenick’s trampoline the next week, play spotlight from the front stoop of Katie’s house the next week. Inevitably, the moms from all these other houses played a role in my life as well.

Most days I played across the street at Katie’s house. She had one of those cool, new side-by-side refrigerators that made crushed ice! (Most things at my neighbors’ houses were cool and new because, after all, we were the last family on the street to get a VCR.) Katie’s fridge was always stocked with 2-liter bottles of Coke and Grape soda, but I’d fill a Solo cup to the brim with crushed ice and enjoy chewing ice while we played. One day I set my icy cup on a nice piece of wooden furniture and about an hour later I heard Mrs. Fundy talking on the phone to her friend about the atrocity of someone leaving a dripping cup without a coaster! I didn’t make that mistake again.

Once, when my sister and I were jumping on the trampoline and broke out into a fight, Mrs. O’Lenick peeked her head out of her back door and told us that we were too old to be fighting like that. Embarrassed that we were heard from inside someone’s house, we let go of that fight real fast.

When things lined up perfectly, I’d score the opportunity to spend the night at my friend Laci’s house. And when we woke up, we didn’t eat cereal. Mrs. Infield made scrambled eggs! I looked at the eggs, steam rising from my plate, but when I took a bite they didn’t taste the same as the scrambled eggs I ate at home. “These taste funny,” I remarked. “They have cheese in them,” said Mrs. Infield. “That’s weird,” I replied. “Weird sounds a little insulting. Try interesting,” Mrs. Infield said matter-of-factly. (I’m not sure I could keep my composure if someone I take the time to cook for throws an insult my way!) “Hmmm, interesting,” I said after I took another bite. And I cleaned my plate. I also learned not to use the word “weird” again when referring to food!

My friends and I also spent a lot of time in Mrs. Moakler’s minivan heading to and from tennis matches. One afternoon she had to make a quick stop at a neighbor’s house and asked us to stay in our seats for a minute until she came back. As twelve and thirteen year olds, we quickly unbuckled, blared the radio, and were as noisy as we possibly could be until we saw Mrs. Moakler come back out of the house. We jumped back into our seats, but not quickly enough to not get caught. She asked us what we were doing and made the comment, “I’m sure Jody stayed in her seat.” And I knew in that moment what was expected of me. And I wanted to live up to those expectations.

Kids are egocentric by nature; even teenagers don’t truly understand an adult’s desire to keep a new sofa “new” by making and enforcing Eat Only in the Kitchen laws. Looking back on my childhood, I’m glad that all the other moms poked and prodded me with their reprimands, rules, suggestions, expectations, and nurture. Sadly, my mom probably taught me all of the same exact lessons and offered plenty of love and nurture, but I definitely remember lessons (and cheese eggs) from other moms more distinctly. As a mom of a five year old and eight year old, I rejoice in little moments when another mom steps in to help mold my child. It’s one less battle for me and perhaps they will remember the lesson better from Gracie’s mom than from me!








Mommies Get Scared, Too

I love that line in Golden Girls (ok, I love ALL the lines in Golden Girls) where Sophia admits to Dorothy that she felt safe and secure when three year old Dorothy climbed into bed with her “Ma” when she had a bad dream. I feel that way too. While I prefer to sleep next to my husband sans offspring, I do enjoy the comforting feeling every so often of having one of them climb into bed to be “safe” next to mommy and daddy. But back in the day when my youngest was two or three years old, she’d climb into bed and hum for what felt like hours. Knowing it was keeping the hubs awake, I’d scoop her up and climb into the bonus room bed with her. With just the two of us in the confines of the bonus room, she could hum herself to sleep. Under the cool, fresh covers and without the anxious, gnawing feeling that she was keeping daddy awake, I’d drift off to sleep as well. But to be completely honest, I’d never sleep in the bonus room by myself; it’s dark and scary up there! Having my half-pint humming girl by my side scared away the monsters-under-the-bed (ok, aliens outside the window) fears. If only she knew that she was a comfort to me as I was to her!

I’m about to depart for a week-long journey with my five year old, Ellie. We have traveled as a family together plenty, but for this trip it’s just me and my youngest. And we are going abroad. As excited as I am to finally visit old friends again, speak German with Germans, and eat amazing European bread and produce, I’m also nervous! I have always loved traveling and in college adopted the mentality that plans will sometimes go awry – expect that and you may enjoy your trip more. If I lose a jacket or a pair of shoes or miss a train, I can accept it instead of mourn the imperfection and carry on with my newly adjusted day. But what if we lose Ellie’s lovey, Owl?! Oh my God! I can’t even bear the thought.

Even though I was well-versed in European navigation back in my twenties, it’s been a minute since I’ve crossed the pond. I can still vividly remember waiting on the platform for my train to come, hurriedly and sweatingly climbing aboard with my obnoxious back pack, rushing to find my train compartment, heaving the monster of a pack up on the rack, sitting down to finally catch a breath of air and then with a panic, wonder I am on the train to Munich, right?! I really don’t mind the travel-induced mini-panic for myself, and I know Ellie is along for the ride and won’t be aware if we take the wrong train (I mean, she’s not even aware that she has to stop playing with the cat and eat her waffle to leave the house in time for school even after I’ve reminded her one hundred-eighty times.) But I’d certainly hate to get off at a wrong subway stop and make her walk two extra miles. Besides, I don’t even know how the time change will affect her. And I don’t want to carry her for two miles.

There are a lot of unkowns about our trip. I guess that is what makes things so scary. I’ve been watching some of my Facebook friends celebrate their children’s high school graduation and imagine that feeling – an unknown future – exciting and scary! Will they like their dorm roommate? Will they eat at least two meals a day? Will they attend class? Will they fail college algebra the first quarter? (Oh wait, that was me.) Will Ellie enjoy her first plane ride? Will she sleep at all as we cross the Atlantic? Will she eat any food while we are there?

But I also wonder how will she and my friends’ German children communicate? I can’t wait to see! Will she love a Bavarian buttered pretzel as much as me? Will she love eating ice cream at a café in the pedestrian zone as much as I do? Will she pick up on the word Brötchen to order her own roll at the bakery? Will she love browsing at the drug store and grocery store just to compare what is the same and what is different than at home and then buy a tube of toothpaste just to see if it tastes different than Colgate? Well, I imagine she might taste-test candy. And I’ll be happy to join her in that experiment!

The newness of this upcoming experience has butterflies in my stomach just as I had on my first day as a high school German teacher. I want to be a good tour guide to my daughter (meaning I want to ensure we get on the right train unlike the time I shooed my family on a painstakingly slow regional train from Munich to Florence under a train-platform-mini-panic.) True, I called myself, in a tongue-tied German-English moment, Frau Poop, on that first school day, but I also recovered and had several amazing years as a German teacher. I might accidentally order Ellie something she absolutely hates (like when I ordered the hubs Weiβwurst – he was NOT a fan.) But maybe one of those imperfect moments will be a situation we look back on in the future and laugh about. Just please, dear God, don’t let it be a missing Owl lovey!