Monday, August 11, 2008

SOL Tour - Update #2

As this has truly been a vacation, I adhered to a self-imposed rule that I would "unplug" for awhile and not blog or answer emails. It has actually been nice to detach myself from the electronic umbillical cord for awhile although I will admit to checking my emails should anything important come in.

Our SOL Tour has honestly been one of the most relaxing and fun-filled times of our lives as a family. We are on our last day here in Chicago, and have pretty much been treated like royalty by our friends and have done every possible inexpensive thing we could come up with!! Thankfully our friends live much as we do and understand our need to conserve funds, and they always have a ton of great ideas for cool things to do, coupons to use, ways to make things fun but not costly. I am always amazed at how little we spend to have so much fun when we are all together. A group of 10 could be enormous in terms of funds needed for entertainment, but that never seems to be the case with all of us. We have walked downtown and explored much with day passes on the transit system, we all agreed that one of the highlights of the trip here was the Lincoln Park Zoo which is free and terrific with fantastic exhibits. We went to the free fireworks show at Navy Pier and had a picnic dinner there after seeing the fountains downtown. We each carried backpacks on our daily adventures filled with lunches and snack packs, and it was a well-managed production which I watched in utter disbelief as in military-like style bags were packed and lined up for all of us. We went to a concert which was a true sight to behold as the "cheap seats" were far more fun than the "real" seats. They have a grassy area where you can hear the music but not see the performers, but it was a hoot to see how the place packed out as people made it a real event by bringing along little tables, candles, fresh flowers, wine, etc. and the sort to create an upscale "tailgating" kind of party so no one even cared if they could see was all about the companionship and picnic!

We went to see Dominick's cousins and also were warmly greeted and it was nice to reconnect after so many years. In short order the kids all acted as if they had known one another forever, and our family quickly became addicted to playing their video game "Rockband" where Dominick totally got into pretending he was a lead singer and Matthew's drumming skills looked cool even if he didn't hit a note right! hahaha! Me...well...I'll just take poetic license and leave myself out of it as I made a fool of myself but had a lot of fun. We got to visit with two of Dominick's cousins and their kids along with his aunt and uncle, whom the boys had never met. It always brings me up short to see Dominick with his Chicago relatives as he suddenly falls back into that more Chicago-like persona and it is so funny as he slips in and out of it so easily. I loved the fact that the boys got to meet some of their extended family which they have never before had the opportunity to meet. Living where we live, which I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, we are admittedly kind of isolated and it is not an inexpensive place for anyone to visit us or for us to visit others easily. Airfare is phenominally high from or to Montrose (Think minimum $450 per person and often as high as $800). So air travel is often pretty much excluded for us unless we drive to Denver or someone flies into Denver and we drive the 5 hours there and 5 hours back to pick them up. So this was a real treat for all of us, and in fact we barely missed seeing Dominick's niece from California who left after a visit the day we arrived. The funniest thing happened on our way back from their house when Matthew lifted up his short sleeve and yelled out "Hey...wait a minute!" and realized that his female cousins had made good on their threat and "tagged" him, using lipstick to write a message about Princesses on his upper arm.

Throughout every leg of this trip, we have been invited into people's homes, offered rides, meals, and hospitality the like of which we have never before had. Having a family of 5 stay with you even for one night, let alone for a week as our dear friends have had, is like experiencing a mini-invasion. Despite our best efforts to pick up after ourselves and to offer to help in any way we can, we know it is above and beyond the call of friendship to invite our family for a visit or to use someone's home as a stop-over on our way somewhere else. We have been blessed beyond all measure in the way that matters most...we have been blessed with friendships that are true and lasting, and that is what makes us wealthy. In fact, I feel right now like a millionaire if my wealth is measured differently than most would measure it.

I also recognized something about myself during this trip that I need to work on. I am completely and totally uncomfortable with having anyone take care of me. That may sound weird, but it is true and it takes something away from the caretaker to resist it so much. Throughout the past week I haven't lifted a finger, I have been pushed out of the kitchen, told by a 16 year old boy that I need to relax and let them "pamper" me, and have pretty much been treated like a Queen, which is a very unusual role to find myself in. I think I define myself as a "Caretaker" which is what I have been doing for many reasons in some form or another since I was in my mid-teens. Especially at this stage in my life, I have been in continual serious Caretaker mode as we have added to our family 3 times in 8 years and plan to bring two more into our fold. With the backgrounds our children come from, I have to be in "top form" all the time, anticipating needs, predicting possible outcomes, looking for areas where there are gaps in life experiences and trying to come up with strategies to bridge those gaps. Then there is the daily juggling of schedules and planning of our lives, which is part of every mommy's life. It is a pressure both Dominick and I gladly take on as it is also our greatest delight, but I think I am just now acknowledging how hard it really can be at intense it is and how easy it is to lose myself and my marriage in the daily meeting of needs of the kids.

I have always tried to blog honestly about our life, and don't think I sugar coat things, but what I have failed to adequately capture in words is what goes on inside my head constantly as we worry about what we might not be aware of that will prove to be a problem in the future that could be better addressed now, or if we are making the right choices as we raise the kids and guess at what is best for each one and for our family as a whole. Decisions about schooling, dealing with adoption related issues, adding older kids to our family and the impact that will have, the logistics of day to day life and how best to make sure each person in our family feels treasured and special...all of that adds up and as the Mommy I am pretty much in charge of all of that and so much more. For many of you, it is just the same as well as I certainly don't see myself as unique in that regard.

But for this week, most decisions were out of my hands. I didn't have to worry about how we were getting anywhere or what we were going to do. There were no concerns over what to make for breakfast, how many chairs we needed to take with us, or even what to carry. Like a well cared for child, I found my snacks in my back pack and I just had to follow along. I was told to sit down and do NOTHING, to read, to watch TV, to simply "be". My head was basically empty of all worries or planning. I had tons of hugs and laughter filling my heart and head instead.

That, my friends, was a gift I'll never forget.

Other moments on Stage 2 of the SOL Tour that I will never forget include:

1) Listening to upraised off key voices coming from the back of various buses and trains as the kids all sang songs of squished frogs and smashed peanuts that they learned at church camp...and seeing the slow smiles creep across the faces of fellow passengers as they listened to the sounds of all of our children just being the happy kids they are. Ok...and maybe a few grimaces on some passengers faces as well...I DID say off-key! Hahaha!

2) Looking backwards and seeing all three boys joyfully holding hands of their best friends as they looked up in wonder at tall buildings and busy city streets...and knowing that the hands that held theirs really loved them.

3) Having a discussion after the picnic with our adoption friends about how at first Kenny thought that we had been his birth parents who had left him and came back for him. Joshie was standing there and looked up at me in all his innocence and brought tears to my eyes as he asked "But why did you leave ME?" and it became immediately obvious to me that still we have not quite yet "made it" with him as I once again explained we never would have left him. And I was left wondering when he will fully comprehend his beginnings.

4) Heaping plates of spaghetti and "gravy" that will forever be embedded in my mind as a LaJoy meal that bridges the generations.

5) Matthew's heaving shoulders under my hands as he tried to hold the tears in check as he waved goodbye to our friends as Dominick, in a role reversal, took them to the airport as they left today for a trip and we remain behind in their home until our flight tomorrow morning. As we came back into the house after bidding them goodbye from their own front porch, he dissolved into sobs saying "I wish they never had to move, Mommy".

6) The sounds of the cicada's as they competed with the BoDean's concert in the twilight...and thinking how the noise reminded me of something out of a Stephen King novel.

There are many more, but these immediately stand out in my mind.

We have to get up tonight at 2:30 AM to get to Midway for our 6:00 AM flight to Denver. We are planning on doing nothing more than smashing pennies on the nearby railroad tracks, watching a couple of movies and taking a quick drive past Dominick's old house that he grew up in. We MIGHT just stop by Fannie May and pick up a few chocolates for some friends back home.

Upon arriving in Denver we are on the road again for the 5 hour trip back home as we rush to get there in time for Joshie's best little buddy's birthday, which has been rescheduled a couple of times so that we might be able to attend. Then it is down to serious planning for our church retreat this next weekend where we will enjoy our hometown friends and have a big Group Slumber Party in the dorms there. I am a bit worried as I am doing a lot of the planning for it and I am not at all sure it will turn out OK, and I have to lead an afternoon session which will also be a first for me.

So I will continue to enjoy the last hours of doing NOTHING and then turn my head and heart back to real life...which is pretty darned awesome itself, even if it IS hectic!

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