“Losing” Mini Me

I’ve been away from the blog for quite a while. I have had plenty of subjects that are worthy of a post, but some I am not comfortable sharing yet, and others were just not striking any deep resonance within me to write about. In a way this is good because it means nothing especially terrible has happened. Plenty of great memories have been made in the last six months, including a husband and wife trip to Spain and Italy, and a family trip to Philly, Stone Harbor, NJ, and NYC. At some point I’m sure I will post about these wanderlust travels. Today, I want to talk about our youngest son. My taller-than-me male duplicate. My mini me. 

Brennan turned 18 in June. He graduated from high school in May with his International Baccalaureate degree and a departmental award in History. He is such a bright kid. His book smarts far exceed mine. He loves to learn, and really enjoys physics and history. I am one proud mama. We must have done a few things right along the way because he has grown into a wonderful young man. We have been preparing him for this moment his whole life. I knew it was coming, but time goes too fast. On August 23rd, We moved him into his college dorm. I had to say goodbye to my little boy. My mini me. 

We have been fortunate because our eldest, Ethan, has been commuting to college while living at home. We still get to see him every day. We know where he is most of the time, and we know he is safe when he comes home at night. I knew It’d be hard when the first one left, I’m sure it will be hard when the second and third do, but you never really know how it will feel until they are gone. I tell myself we are lucky. This is a good event. a GREAT event. We succeeded, HE succeeded, but I miss my boy regardless. I miss my mini me. 

It is getting better day by day. I even go a few days without texting him now. I try to give him space. Space to grow, to learn, to thrive. The nights are the hardest. I think it’s because even if he were gone all day before, he always came home at night. I don’t know where he is, what he is doing, or if he made it back to his dorm at night anymore. I have to rely on what we have taught him, the decisions he makes, and God’s protection. Stay safe, my mini me. 

I love you, Brennan. This house will never be the same, but this world will be better because of you, and I’m proud to be a part of it. You be you, my gift from God. My mini me.

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“A Storm’s a Brewin'”

We have had a house guest this week. A nasty and violent visitor reeking havoc where it is not wanted. We have been free of its wrath for several years. I guess our time was up. Stomach flu, we abhor you.

Bill stayed home Tuesday, to keep tabs on me…..from a distance whenever possible. I had spent the night with the porcelain prince, and although he proved useful, I did not ask for, nor want, the date. It had been years since I had spent such time with him, and hope it’s years before we meet in this manner again.

Shortly after 9am, Bill came running to the bottom of the stairs in concern. The visitor was raging again. Loudly. Once he found me resting peacefully, he started searching for the source. The youngest child was at school, the sleeping, middle child,  was fine, and the oldest was at chemistry class….or not. Ethan had made it to school, taken a quiz, turned in a paper, and told his professor that he was ill and would have to make up the lab. He raced home at break-neck speed, pulled into the driveway, grabbed his bag, opened the car door, dropped down to the ground, and decorated the front lawn with his breakfast. He was driving my car.  Bonus points for keeping it outside. Number one child, was the second victim.

It was at this point that Bill and child number two started to bond in brotherhood, to protect their right to health.  The Clorox wipes and Lysol came out. Lines were drawn. We are here. You are there. Do not cross this line.  They went to the raw juice bar, and downed immunity ginger shots together, then questioned their sanity as the intense spice burned its way down to their bellies. They each had an extra large green juice chaser, cooling the flame,  and cleansing the body, in hopes of further protection. They swore their allegiance to health. They would not fall.

Yesterday, for whatever reason, after 24 hours of reprieve, it felt safe. I don’t know why I thought it was okay to take a deep breath, but I did. I continued washing the linens, towels, and bacteria-laden clothing, optimistic that a full family infection had been avoided. Unfortunately, as I walked past Brennan late in the afternoon, he angrily mumbled….”a storm’s a brewin,’ and I blame you.”  Dad walked in minutes later, pumped his fist in the air as he saw Brennan, still residing in the land of the living, and shouted “Solidarity, son! You’re still on the island!” He was answered with doubtful head shakes. As I write this, the second child is the third to go down.

There were only two left on the island. Father and daughter allied. Fist bumps ensued. Who would be the last family member standing? How long would they last? Realization hit. The allies became competitors.

At 3:12am, unusual activity is heard from the bathroom, and lights are being turned on. From a dark bedroom the sounds of the third child…..”Hey, Dad?! Are you off the island?! I imagine a fist pump may have taken place n that dark room. The fourth has succumbed. Survival of the fittest.

Carleigh is still going strong. I fear she may be dripping in germs, but she has a reading at mass today, and she has no signs of illness. May God protect her and her classmates from our unwanted visitor, and me from their parents, if things go awry.

 

 

Hiding in the Bathroom

Let’s face it. We’ve all done it at one time or another. You just can’t handle it anymore, and you head into the bathroom for a few minutes of peace and quiet. It’s one of the few rooms in the house where you can lock the door, and convince all but the smallest of children, that it’s best to give you your privacy.   If your lucky, you can sneak in with a glass of wine and a good book. Turn on  the shower, and  up the music, to block out noise (and claim you couldn’t hear, if called), and you never know, you could get mommy-alone-time for…..and I may be overestimating……….10 minutes?!

For whatever reason, men do not have the same problem as us. No one follows them and sits outside the door. No one screams from another room, begging for their attention.  If this does happen, they ignore it, and it goes away. The persistence just isn’t there if it’s not the mom.  In my house, the men use this to their advantage.

Bill goes into the bathroom every morning to get ready for work. He takes his iPad with him, and listens to music, and reads his book. I’m pretty sure he has no intention of spending a long time in there, but he gets distracted. “I’ll just finish this chapter.” “Listen to _______ song.” “Hey! That reminds me of _______song.”    I have to strategically plan my bathroom usage around this habit. Do I go in before him? After him? Or do I just go in once I hear the shower water go on, and screw the privacy rule?!

When Brennan was little, if a situation came up where he was asked a question that made him feel uncomfortable, he would say “I have to go to the bathroom, ” and sprint away from said conversation. As he’s grown, it has continued in some form or another, and although he doesn’t actually leave conversations anymore, he won’t hesitate to avoid them before they begin. He uses this method to escape unwanted tasks, as well. When it comes time to unload the groceries, or put them away……nature calls. Time to vacuum……going into the bathroom may result in parents forgetting for a few more hours, and due to the fact that I can be absent -minded…it works!

Ethan doesn’t even try to hide the desire to flee. If I am going into his room to ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer, and he feels he can’t escape the conversation with half-hearted responses, he will push past me to relocate to the bathroom, and  will hide for as long as it takes, reading, or watching videos, until he feels the coast is clear. He is a stubborn kid, and can outlast the best of us, so this tactic works amazingly well.

After years of finding safe haven in this room, the boys have found that they LIKE hanging out in there, even when not avoiding the wrath of mom. Overall, I don’t mind, but even though we are lucky to have two bathrooms, we do not have an endless supply of hot water. There are nights I hear the boys’ bathroom door close, and I make a beeline for the upstairs bathroom, so I can take a HOT shower. Who would have thought that I would have to worry about my teenage BOYS  bathroom time more than my daughter’s?! No one warned me!

As I sit here writing this post, Brennan is in the bathroom, sucking every ounce of deliciously toasty water out of the hot water heater. He should be out in an hour or so. I will eventually go bang on the door and ask him to save me some hot water, and later I will take a less-than-satisfying lukewarm shower, while the family finds ways to need me, immediately……..if not sooner.

 

A Letter to Our Adopted Christmas Family

I don’t know you, nor do you know me, but you have been heavy in my heart since I heard. This December, during a time that should be joyful and merry, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, you have lost a loved one. A mother, a daughter, a sister. It was sudden, and tragic, and my heart breaks for you.

She left you precious gifts, her two young sons, Jay, and Em. Since Jay is two years old, he may grow up with vague memories of his mama, but Em, at five months, will not. They will grow up knowing their mom, through your eyes, their loving family. They may never again feel their mom’s arms wrapped around them,  at least not on Earth, but they will have you, providing endless love and support.

I have had you on my mind constantly this last week. I have seen a picture of mom, Jay, and Em, and my heart breaks for those beautiful baby boys. For their grandma who has lost her daughter, and the rest of the family as well. Christmas will never be the same for you. I hope you can find peace knowing that she is safe in Heaven, and will be watching over the family from above.

You are beginning a journey that you never expected. It will take a level of strength that you may not even realize you possess. Those boys will not forget the sacrifice that you made in raising them, and you will say it was not  a sacrifice. It is what loving families do, and you could never imagine NOT doing it. Make no mistake, it is a sacrifice, but one you will love and cherish forever. Their mama would be proud of you, and can be at peace knowing her babies are in your hands..

When I heard from my friend, when I heard what had happened, I jumped at the chance to help. We, and several of our neighbors, buy gifts for families experiencing difficulties during the holidays. We have gotten together for breakfast on Christmas morning for years, and instead of exchanging gifts, we give to others.  It is one of my favorite December activities. I love the shopping trip, picking out things for children to open on Christmas morning, hoping to bring them smiles and joy. This year is different, though, it feels more personal, it hits closer to home, I suppose because my friend actually knew your loved one, and that it comes in the wake of a devastating accident. One that could happen to any one of us, at any moment.

It is a small act, I know it’s not much, but I hope it helps a little in this difficult time. I wish I could do more. I wish I could take away the pain you are feeling. I pray you find a few moments of happiness this Christmas, whether it’s watching the children open gifts, reminiscing about the good times with the boys’ mom, or merely being in the comforting company of family.

You are in the thoughts and prayers of many this holiday season. May God bless your family with peace and love this Christmas, and always.

 

 

 

 

The Death of a Son, The Death of a Star

In the early morning, before the sun rises, a mother should feel like her children are safe. They are home,  protected from the perils of the outside world. She would never expect to wake to find her chid, gone forever.

Early this week, I learned that a longtime friend lost her baby.  His father lost his only son. Their teenage child  took his own life, and now they will never see him grow up, go to college, get married, have his own children, change the world. A sister has lost her big brother. She will no longer have him to look up to, get advice from, be protected by.

It was a beautiful, warm, and sunny fall day, and it should not have started with the death of a child. How dare the world keep moving; people eating, sleeping, laughing, dancing.  This family has lost a child, and it feels like everything should stop, if just for a day. Of course, that’s not possible. People die everyday, but at times like this, when someone close to you is grieving, and you are grieving for them, it feels like it should. It’s so much worse when it is a child.

I never knew Adam, but I wish I had. I have learned that he was an extremely bright and talented boy. He was full of life. A friend to everyone. He could play just about any instrument he picked up, and was very involved in his community theatre program. He  knew more about any given topic, than many adults. Nothing went unquestioned. It was his endless quest to learn about the world, and dream of a better tomorrow.

As with many highly intelligent people, Adam was quirky, and thus tended to be bullied at school. He had been depressed for quite some time, and I’m sure the bullying was wearing on him. His family and friends were trying to help him through these tough times, but sometimes it’s hard to get through to someone who thinks they can handle it themselves. He was a compassionate soul, who wanted to spend his time uplifting, and helping, others. He loved to make people laugh.  He brought light to so many lives, while silently, his grew darker. He wanted to be strong, and self-sufficient, but he didn’t have the tools to deal with something so dark and cruel.

The despair overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t see the light. He couldn’t figure out how to climb out of the dark hole of pain he found himself in. On Monday of this week, a child took his own life. He would never have wanted to hurt his family, he was beyond the point of realizing what the aftermath would be like for his loved ones. His pain was a thick, black fog. Overtaking him little by little until he was lost.

As I stood in front of poster boards full of pictures of Adam, I saw so much light and life in him. It is hard to fathom having him there one day, and gone the next. How do you continue on after your child has died? Are all of those wonderful memories enough? I know for me, the belief in Heaven comforts me. Hoping that he has found his younger brother, and grandparents that passed before him. I am usually too uncomfortable to approach the deceased at a funeral home. I pray for them from afar, but not this time. I had a chat with Adam during the visitation. I told him that I hoped he had found peace, and that I wished he could have found another way. I asked him to watch over his sister and parents, to protect his family.

This morning, on my way to the funeral, a rainbow stretched across the expressway, on a beautiful, sunny day, with a spattering of raindrops on my windshield from one tiny cloud in the sky. I fumbled with my phone for a bit trying to get a picture. It seemed to remain in the sky for longer than it  should, until I finally got a few shots. I put down my phone, looked up, and it was gone. I thanked Adam, and God. I have no doubt that rainbow was from him.

As the funeral started, in the auditorium which I imagine his plays were performed, a place where he most likely found reprieve from his sadness, I looked back to a standing-room-only crowd. It was full of students, parents, teachers, friends, family, and maybe even some who knew neither him, or his family. Strangers come together in a small community like his, especially when a child dies so tragically, and unexpectedly. As the music began, chills ran down my spine. It was “Over the Rainbow”  by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. I later learned It was his favorite song. He loved to listen to the song, and then play it on his ukulele, interchanging over and over again. I get it. You’re watching. Well played, Adam, well played.

 

On the Corner of “Hope” and “Faith”

Bill has always said I can make a friend anywhere. Usually I have no problem striking up a conversation with a total stranger, but for months I have wondered about the stories behind some of our local “sign holders,” and have been too afraid to approach.

They appeared a few years ago, out of the blue it seemed. Along a major highway in our area, at every intersection. Different people, all the time. I hardly ever saw any one person twice. We all wondered what was going on. Were they drug dealers disguised as homeless? We’re they just looking for easy money? Did they work in shifts?  It couldn’t be legitimate, so we drove on.  As the weather got worse, they dwindled in numbers.

It has eaten away at me since the beginning. It breaks my heart.  I want to help. When we lived in Shanghai, we were told to be careful of the beggars. They make more money begging than working, so that is what many do, hanging around areas where westerners live. Regardless of this warning, I used to give a handicap gentleman in Shanghai money when I passed him. He never asked, but I knew he needed it. He was sweet. He always smiled and said hello, even on the days that I didn’t give him anything. I enjoyed our little interactions, which were limited by the language barrier.

When we were on vacation in Chicago, my daughter, at the age of 8, had the compassion to give a homeless guy outside of the Disney store, a few dollars of her allowance. When we were in Washington D.C., my fourteen year old son asked if we could buy a homeless guy a sandwich and drink at Starbucks, which we did, and the oldest son volunteered at a food bank during his senior year of high school. We often give to charities for the needy. We have taught our children to give to the less fortunate, yet I kept passing them by on the street.

Lately, there has been a gentleman standing by a local church. A beautiful church, which was recently deemed a minor basilica by Pope Francis. He is almost always there. His sign says “Family Hungry, Need Job, Do Anything. ” Carleigh and I gave him a dollar once when we were sitting at the light, but it is on a major street, so there is no time for chatting. He is out there in any weather. In below zero temperatures, biting wind, and blowing snow.  This made me believe that he must really need the help, as it is only the diehards I see out there now. The same people, all the time. Today I decided to take him a hot chocolate, and talk with him. As I turned the corner to park, I saw he was smoking. I had a judgemental moment. He was buying cigarettes with money he could use for something else. I almost left, but I didn’t. I’m so glad I stayed.

His name is Steve, and he is 60 years old. He is Catholic, and occasionally attends mass at the church which he stands by. He rents a room about 25 minutes from the corner, and takes the bus to get there. He has two children. A fourteen-year-old daughter, who according to him, is just beginning to blossom, and a twelve-year-old son. They live with his ex-wife, and mother-in-law about a half hour away from where he is standing, in the opposite direction from where he lives. He sends money to his mother-in-law for the kids, as he says his ex-wife is not trustworthy. He visits when he can. He appeared to choke up a little as he told me that his kids do not know he stands on a corner.

He grew up on the east side of Detroit, and is a florist by trade. He worked in his parent’s flower shop on the corner of Jefferson and Alter. When the area started deteriorating, and they were robbed, they closed down. His parents are now both deceased. He took care of his mom for the last six years of her life.

His most recent job was as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, but it closed 8 months ago. He is always looking for work. He just applied for two more jobs. He said he has found jobs standing on that corner, or the other one he uses two miles south. He takes day jobs that people offer him until he finds something more permanent. He is trying to get enough money to pay his room rent.

After about 10 minutes of chatting, he tell me he has to get back to “work.” He doesn’t  want to miss a job opportunity. I gave him five dollars and told him good luck and God Bless, that it was nice to meet him. Then I left him there. Standing on the corner of “Hope” and “Faith,” holding a sign, repeating the Rosary over and over in his head. Looking for a break, but not giving up.

 

 

 

Adventures on a Chinese Movie Set

Lights , Camera……Action!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yesterday, Bill, the boys, and I headed to the Chedun Film Studio, just outside of downtown Shanghai. Over the weekend we were offered the opportunity to be western extras in a movie, and I thought it would be a fun experience for the kids. We portrayed a British family in the 1890s, on holiday in Yokohama Japan.

The day started at the insane hour of 3 AM. Yuan-Yuan arrived at 3:30 AM to watch Carleigh for the day, and Mr. Tao arrived at 3:45 AM to take us to the studio.  Once at the studio, we were “fitted” for costumes. I use this term loosely, as this process was much like what I would do with my kids while out shopping. “Turn around, Honey, let me put this up to your back. Try on these shoes. They’re too big? Can you walk in them? Okay they’re fine. You’ll grow into them.”  We were dressed in clothing which was appropriate for the time period.  Unfortunately for the boys, this consisted of ruffled shirts (about a year ago, Carleigh was calling Brennan a new nickname; “Ruffles.” She must have known this was in his future.)

After putting our costumes on over our own clothes (good thing it was a cool day), we were sent to “makeup.”  This consisted of Ethan’s hair being slicked back with mousse and hairspray, much to his distaste. Bill, Brennan, and I were given hats, and I was the lucky recipient of bright red lipstick and nails, and I mean BRIGHT red. When completely costumed, Bill look dashing, Brennan looked adorable, Ethan looked like a preteen who was just glad he wouldn’t be seen by any of his friends, and I look completely hideous.

Once filming began, we were put into key positions and told to act as if we were choosing a restaurant, walking down the street, watching a fight, etc.  The day consisted of lots of sitting around, blowing dirt from the set street, bathrooms with no toilet paper or soap, a really bad Chinese breakfast and lunch, and nothing to drink but water and one packet of instant coffee with powdered creamer, but nothing to stir it with. From what Bill tells me from his experiences in the past, this is nothing like how they do it in the States. From our experiences in China; par for the course.

Brennan as usual attracted a lot of attention. His gregarious personality is always a hit here, and at one point he had a line of the men and women of “makeup” waiting to have pictures taken with him. The hat and ruffled shirt made him look especially adorable, which didn’t help his chances of hiding when it came to the Chinese camera. He was targeted for photos all day long. They also love to watch him play his game system on breaks, and were often looking over his shoulder.

It was a long day, and we didn’t arrive home until 7 PM. I made sure the kids took showers and ate, and then took a shower myself, and went to bed. It was 8:26 PM. It was an experience, and I can’t really say it was fun, but I can say it was interesting, and we did get paid. I don’t think it is something we will do again, but I’m glad that we did it. We were Americans, playing British tourists, in a Japanese movie, filmed in Shanghai, China. Not many people can claim that.

 

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.Iwish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not to worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

 

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.

I wish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not too worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

SEE: Strength, Endurance, Enlightenment

Years ago, when Ethan was very young. Bill said that he wanted to send him on an Outward Bound trip when he was older. Outward Bound is an amazing organization that was developed during World War II by Kurt Hahn. It was developed to help seaman to deal with the harsh conditions. To build character, confidence, and the ability to survive in those conditions. For many years now, it has helped both youth and adults all around the world to do things they never thought possible. In July 2010, at the age of 14, Ethan went on a two week trip to the Smokey Mountain National Forest near Ashville, North Carolina to backpack and mountain climb. Scary stuff for both child and parents. He returned a new kid. Almost a man.

In October 2012, Billy came up with a “GREAT” idea, at least in his mind. Brennan and I had been having a hard time making it through his tween years with a constant battle of wills, remember he is me in male form, and Bill thought an Outward Bound Parent/Child trip was just what we needed. I disagreed.

First of all, I am not a camper. I have always said that my idea of camping is going to a Howard Johnson. In other words, I don’t camp. Ever. At least I thought that was who I was. Secondly, how would I deal with my Ostomy? I didn’t want people to know about it, and I didn’t know how I would deal with hiding it with no bathroom facilities…….and in a canoe. The trip was a four-day camping, and canoeing trip through the Everglades. Hours and hours, miles and miles of canoeing, and camping on little islands at night. But with my recent experience-it-all attitude. I couldn’t say no.

The day after Christmas 2012, with a fever brewing and illness setting in, Brennan and I left on a plane headed to Fort Myers, Florida. Bill said that maybe we should cancel since I was getting sick, but I wouldn’t do it. We had already had to cancel a major family vacation that summer to deal with a mysterious stomach virus I had for a month. I wasn’t going to do that to him again, so off we went. That night in the hotel my fever seemed to spike. I don’t know how high, but I had chills and asked Brennan to cover me with a second giant, down comforter, then popped a few NyQuil. I was going. Period.

The next morning I woke up feeling a little better, but not…”Hey! Let’s go paddle a canoe 10 or 15 nautical miles and be on, possibly, alligator-infested dark water until 10pm tonight”……kind of better, but that was what this was all about, right? Doing something you didn’t think you could. If I got too sick, they had people that could come get me. I never did tell them how sick I had been. I just asked if it was okay if I had cold medicine with me, as our paperwork said they had to know what everyone had medication-wise. This rule was generally for the kids on trips, as the counselors doled out medication when parents weren’t included.

After our half-day of getting to know one another, team-building, and loading boats, we were on our way. Sunset would hit about an hour after we left, and I asked for aspirin, saying I had a headache, but knew my fever was starting again. Luckily, that was the last time I would have a fever. The remainder of the trip was just cold symptoms and bodyaches.

That first night, because of our late start, we paddled through the dark Everglades until 10pm. They had started the trip by mixing up the groups, and I was in a canoe with a 13 year old girl. A tired, young girl, who had to go potty. Together we were a sad team that first night. We were always at the back of the canoe pack, and crossing the big bay areas in the dark was scary! Maybe more for me than her, as I had someone else’s child with me! The area was full of Mullet fish, but everytime I heard a “plop” in the water, I feared being followed by an alligator. I was also worried that the rest of the group wouldn’t realize how far behind we were, and that we weren’t with them anymore. On the last large bay before the island we were to camp on that night, God and I had a little chat. He came through for me. Good guy that he is.

As dawn broke on that second day, I woke from my sleep under the tree I had hung my mosquito net from to birds chirping and flying overhead. I will never forget it. It was beautiful. It was the first moment that I thought…. “I got this.”

We had breakfast and cleaned the dishes, packed up our stuff, had a group meeting with charts and compasses and planned our route for the day, loaded the boats, and we were on our way again. On this day, the boats were filled with either two kids, or two adults. Another long day, and 15 to 20 nautical miles later, we arrived at a peninsula on a small island on the Gulf of Mexico. It was dark, but only about 7pm, and the winds were pretty rough. The canoes were slamming into the beach on the wrong side of the peninsula from where we had to camp. We had to get out of the canoes to pull them around the tip of the peninsula, over razor-sharp, crushed, oyster-shells-of-death. We were required to wear tennis shoes at all times, and now I knew why. Brennan was behind me with another young man, maneuvering their canoe around the beach. God and I had another chat. Luckily, we all came through unscathed and we spent the night sleeping on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise.

The final day of heavy paddling was a test. We had to plan our route, use our compasses, and help each other to arrive at our destination without help from our counselors, who followed at a distance. It was a shorter day, and we were in the boat with our own child. The route ended at The Everglades National Park where we went ashore, ate dinner, and wrote notes to our child, or the child to the parent, to be mailed six month later. We discussed what we had learned about each other and how the experience had effected us. Following dinner, the children were to direct the adults on how to turn our five canoes, and the boards that were stored in the bottom of them, into a floating island to camp on. The adults were required to follow the children’s directions without comment. We paddled the “island” to just outside the park limits to camp for the night. Each of us had an area of about 2 ft wide by 7 ft. long to sleep and store our stuff on.

As as I said, I was still experiencing cold symptoms. I had run out of medication, and this would be the first night without it. As I fell asleep, I apparently started snoring. Loudly. Brennan elbowed me in the back. I stopped. Fell back to sleep. Another elbow in the back. Repeat. I wanted to sleep. I was exhausted. Finally, I fell asleep, apparently acceptably quiet, and so did everyone else.

It was COLD that night. Really cold. I was so glad that I had Bill to snuggle up behind. Until I realized…Bill wasn’t there.  That would be one of the guy counselors I was spooning with. Aaaaaaah! Turn towards Brennan…go back to sleep. Still cold…..so glad Bill is snuggling up to me…..”Wait a minute….! Now he is spooning with me!” Awkward! Apparently they had warned the kids that this might happen, due to the space limit, but forgot to tell the adults. In the morning, when we woke, I apologized for the unintentional spooning, and for what Brennan called my snoring. He said it sounded like I was “calling to the whales.”

After breakfast, we paddled back to the park on our floating “island.” We passed by individual canoes going out for the day. We looked like we were rolling in from the ocean, and got a kick out of the look on people’s faces. We cleaned the canoes, and all the equipment, then we met to talk about what we had learned and how we felt we had grown as individuals.

By the end of the trip, we were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, but we had achieved great things, and seen some amazing sights. We had learned how to read compasses, and nautical charts. We learned how to navigate the hundreds of small islands in the Everglades, and use natural landmarks to identify where we were. We had made and cleaned up three meals and a few snacks a day, and packed and unpacked canoes more times than we wanted to count. We had worked as a team. Four adults, four kids, and two counselors. We had also seen beautiful wildlife, phenomenal sunsets and sunrises, a bright, big, full moon, and been visited by dolphins.

After returning to the hotel in preparation to fly home, I would summarize the trip on Facebook. Perfectly. “It was amazing and miserable, frustrating and enlightening, ugly and beautiful. I hated it and loved it. It was the most  precious time with my little man.”

No one can ever take that time away from us. No one will ever know how awesome it was. We will never be the same.