Why You Can Go Home Again

This one really isn't packed. I've seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on one once.

This one really isn’t packed. I’ve seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on once.

A few weekends ago, I went to Cincinnati to pick up my children after their visit with friends. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced since I lived in Ukraine and traveled back and forth every summer. No, it wasn’t a good bowl of borscht (although I kinda wish it were) or a packed trolleybus in 90 degree heat (very glad it wasn’t that). What I experienced was that feeling of going home again.

I drove into town from the south and caught sight of the skyline across the Ohio River. I have never been a big fan of cityscapes, but seeing it reminded me of how my husband always pointed it how beautiful it looked when we drove into Cincinnati from that direction. I drove across the Ohio River and remembered that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in the very narrow space between the wall of the bridge and a semi truck in the lane next to me. That bridge was the one that gave me an unreasonable fear of accidentally driving over the edge and plummeting into the water below, not knowing which child to save if they were all buckled into their car seats. I’m glad I rarely cross any bridges these days! Even more glad my kids can swim!

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

Seeing the place we used to live and our friends who still live there reminded me of a few things.

1. Living in a new place and navigating around it for the last year, I forgot the feeling of knowing where I was going and understanding where places are without having to plot out my driving plan ahead of time or plug addresses into Mapquest. Being back in the place we called home for 13 years made me miss living somewhere that I felt connected to in a deeper way than just knowing the path to the grocery store and back. Not only did I remember where things were, but I remembered that sense of really being a part of life in a particular location. It takes a while to feel completely integrated into the new place, and being back home reminded me that we aren’t really at that stage here yet.

On a positive note, though, moving somewhere new shows us all that we really can learn a new place, find friends, and fit in. We may feel a sense of “otherness” at times, but we still feel like part of what’s going on in our new place. I think that has built confidence in our children, and I’ve seen them become more outgoing and mature since we moved.

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I'm not the one holding the camera?

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I’m not the one holding the camera?

2. Not only did I see places I remember, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year. In my experience, when I see the people I know and love after an absence, I often feel like we are just picking up where we left off. Maybe I have these grand ideas about emotional and exciting reunions, hugging and crying, but in reality those things don’t usually happen to me. When I arrived at my friend’s house to pick up the kids, one of her children greeted me nonchalantly, and then my friend walked in the room. We both said, “Hey!” like we’d just seen one another last week. I love that. I wouldn’t trade that easy familiarity for all of the hugging, crying, made-for-tv-moments in the world!

The kids and I went to dinner with other friends on the spur of the moment. I called them up, and before I knew it we were all sitting in Skyline laughing and eating and having fun. More fun than I remember having had together when we actually lived within five hundred miles of one another. When you live close, you just think you’ve got all the time in the world to get together…but then you don’t.

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

On the way back to Nebraska, we talked about how weird it was to see everyone and how Nebraska seemed almost like a dream. The children wistfully said they felt like they’d never left Cincinnati in the first place. I reminded them how nice it is that we have people we love in both places, how if we’d never moved we would never know that out here on the prairie live a whole bunch of great people! My children are learning early in life a lesson I didn’t realize until my adult years. A seasoned missionary once told me, when talking about how hard it was to leave people you love, “When you’re a missionary, no matter where you go, you’re leaving people you love, but you’re also going to other people you love.” That concept has stuck proven true time and time again in my life.

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter's. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world's best ice cream place?!

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter’s. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world’s best ice cream place?! Alex looks a little less-than-ecstatic about it, though. Can you tell who the introvert is after a lot of social interaction?

3. Some things are more important than sleep. I hadn’t willingly pulled an all-nighter for years. Having babies cured me of the desire to stay up past about 1 am. However, I stayed up late both nights I was there. One friend and I stayed up until 4 am! Does that time even exist anymore? After hours of sitting on the couch talking about everything in the world, she asked me, “What time is it?” I looked at my nearly useless watch that has not one real number on it, and my exhausted eyes crossed. I said, “I think it’s 4:00. Is that what this says?” The next night I went to Applebee’s and then cruised around Colerain Township with my former coworkers until way late. Who needs sleep when you have such a limited time together?!

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

I think that the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not true that you can’t go home again. Home just changes definition, becomes more fluid, and grows to include a new place after you leave the old one!

 

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15 Ways Marriage is Better After 15 Years

Aw! We look sweet together after all these years.

Aw! Don’t we look sweet together after all these years?

Last week Andrew and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Actually, we celebrated all week. Our kids went home with my parents after our vacation and visited friends in what became a whirlwind tour of the Rockies and the Midwest. We had a week to ourselves, a luxury we don’t get all that often.

It’s so interesting to me how having children around changes us. I don’t notice it when they’re here, but within a day of them leaving, I saw a difference in the way we related to one another. The stress level in the house decreased almost the minute they left. I didn’t boss anyone around because the ones who needed bossing had migrated to other parts of the country for the week. We went out to dinner a lot since eating out costs much less for two than it does for five, and we enjoyed picking out restaurants we wanted to try instead of going somewhere that offers Kids Eat Free or Happy Meals.

Not only did we ruin our diets for a week, but we also went to a movie. And then another one. That’s right, folks! We saw two movies in a row! They even had stuff like bad words and scary scenes, and we didn’t even have to worry that we were corrupting the youth or ensuring a week’s worth of nightmares. Not only did we see two non-cartoon movies, but we stayed up late to see them and did not get home until after 1:00 am. This is something that has not happened in our lives since the advent of children.

keep-calm-and-enjoy-fifteenSo all that nice time alone with just my husband right around our fifteenth anniversary got me thinking about what’s better about marriage after fifteen years. Here’s my list of Fifteen Ways Marriage is Better After Fifteen Years:

1.  We already know what each other likes. If we’re going to a movie, we can predict with accuracy which one the other one is going to like. I can tell you that if we’re going out to dinner, Andrew is going to like to go to a Chinese buffet, especially if he’s had time to plan and didn’t have lunch in order to get good and hungry.

2.  We already know what each other doesn’t like. This comes in handy when we’re mad  and we really want to get under the other person’s skin. Not that I do that or anyone ever should. No, never do that.

3.  We can wear whatever and the other one doesn’t care. In fact, after fifteen years, I could probably wear the same set of pajamas all day and all night for three weeks, and he would either not notice or just not inquire about it. This is, in my opinion, a good thing. The pressure’s off. We’re both accepted into our little club of two.

wedding pic4.  We’ve got a whole bunch of shared memories. Of course, in our case, one or the other of us doesn’t really remember all of them. Which leads to number five.

5.  We’ve got another person around who reminds us of things we might have forgotten. If he can’t remember what our third baby looked like when she was born, I know where the baby album is. It works out.

6.  We don’t stress out about buying some fancy schmancy gift for events like anniversaries. Giving gifts gets somewhat tricky when you share a bank account. Am I buying him a gift with his own money? This year on our anniversary, Andrew and I were driving to work and he said, “What do you want for our anniversary? I thought maybe you’d like to go shopping at Goodwill for a new outfit.” We both laughed because shopping at Goodwill for a special treat sounds pathetic. But there was a pause and I said, “Actually, that does sound pretty good!” And he said, “I knew you would!”

7. Our lives are solidly intertwined. Is that piano in the living room mine or his? Neither. It’s both of ours. We don’t have much that we can point to and say it belongs just to one of us. When he gets a new job and moves to a new place, so do I. Yesterday I read an article about what happens when two married people both have careers that require them to move around a lot. How do they decide whose career gets priority? I read that and realized this has never been too much of a problem for us. We decided the career priority question satisfactorily a long time ago.

Watch out! There's been a fight...or 500 fights.

Watch out! There’s been a fight…or 500 fights.

8.  Things we argued about in the beginning are still issues between us. We can’t change our personalities and the fundamentals of who we are, and in a lot of cases those are at the root of many arguments. However, we have figured out some ways to cope with those issues. And how horrible would it be if we were bombarded with new and mysterious issues each time we solved one set? That would be terrifying! At least when there’s some disagreement between us we know what we’re up against.

9.  We’ve persevered through some stuff, and a lot of it has been rough. That’s something we can feel proud of. Sometimes the only reason we stayed together was that we promised God that we would. Looking back, we have enough experiences to know that sometimes just staying and changing one little thing in our relationship or in our responses to each other is enough to make a big difference. When the rough times end, we are glad we didn’t give up.

Us, black and white

Faux artistic, black-and-white photo

10.  We probably have many years ahead of us. We’re not just starting out with stars in our eyes and a whole life ahead of us, but we probably do have a lot of years left together. We’re young enough to travel and try new things and old enough not to waste our time on things we don’t enjoy.

11. We’ve got a routine for most of what we do. We’re not reinventing the wheel every time one kid has a dentist appointment or someone gets sick. We know who does what, and things run a little more smoothly because of that.

12.  We survived our children’s baby, toddler, and preschool years. This was a feat, and, although I don’t remember quite a bit of it due to severe sleep deprivation, I’m proud to say we made it through, and we’re all still alive.

This was Emma's third birthday, the time when things started getting easier on the kid front.

This was our youngest’s third birthday, the time when things started getting easier on the kid front.

13.  We haven’t yet reached our children’s adolescent years. I am not saying more because why worry over the insanity that hasn’t yet happened?

14.  We have someone to come home to. When Andrew goes on a work trip, he knows we are waiting for him.

15. We are a family now. Not just a couple of people starting life together but a real group with a group identity and a collection of shared experiences. We’re the people in our lives who will know each other for the rest of our lives. Friends come and go, but family is forever…and our kids can’t escape that fact, even if they run off to visit far away friends in another state for a week!

family photo

 

We Crashed a Family Reunion

This is how I sometimes feel when visiting relatives.

This is how I sometimes feel on vacation. I know I’m not alone in this growly, too-much-fun-is-just-too-much feeling.

I am smack dab in the middle of a week of visiting relatives. And by relatives, I mean step relatives. My youngest daughter, surrounded by my stepfather’s family at a reunion, looked at me with a look of shock and awe and said, “Are all these people my relatives?!” She’s grown up with my stepdad as one of her Papas. He’s treated her like a regular granddaughter. So how to answer that question? Do I say “No, these are just some strangers who have taken us in and treat us nicely”?

I thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, they are your family.” She’s heard all about divorce and remarriage. She knows that Papa isn’t my dad, but I think she needed to fit the new people into her life in some manner, and this was a good way. After all, you can never have too many people to love your children, right?

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

Besides, these relatives are actually really great. My mom and stepdad, Tim, have been married for twenty-some years, so even though much of his family lives in Colorado and I live in Nebraska I’ve met many of my stepdad’s relatives before. I went to their family reunion about 18 years ago, when my parents’ divorce and remarriages felt somewhat fresh to me still, and I was unsure how to answer that question of who they were to me myself. I felt strange as an outsider coming into their homes and meeting all of them. Would they even want me there? But they accepted me as one of them from the beginning. Treated me like one of the family when I probably did not, in fact, seem like one of the family to them. Even so, I felt accepted by them.

Last weekend we packed up our car and my parents’ SUV and headed west to Colorado. The vacation promised greatness from the beginning because the children rode in the car with my mom and Tim, and Andrew and I got to spend the entire eight hour trip alone in our car! We all checked into a hotel in Denver, and each night one child slept with my mother, giving us the luxury of only two children, one per parent, and a much easier bedtime routine.

We did some typical touristy things.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Not pictured: Buffalo Bill's grave...or maybe not. There's controversy over whether he's actually buried there or not.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Notice that there is at least one stuffed animal in every photo. This is true of just about every picture ever taken of my girls.

Crossed the Continental Divide...

Crossed the Continental Divide and had our picture taken…along with a stranger’s fingertip. So glad we have that little bit to remember him by!

In the evenings, we had dinner with Tim’s family. The children were shockingly polite. My son even impressed his elders by removing his hat during introductions and inside the house. Nobody argued. Nobody spilled anything or had any wild bodily fluid episodes… not even the children!

The very best part of the whole trip so far, though, happened after a discussion of an injury of my mom’s and how she still is taking medication for it. This came on the heels of a conversation about how Colorado has legalized marijuana, so naturally someone commented about how Mom should self-medicate her injury while at the same time enjoy the state’s newest legalized drug. Of course, my mother would never, ever do such a thing, and that made the joke even more funny.

Andrew and I were talking to Tim’s sister-in-law, who was hosting us at this reunion, and told her about the joke. We said she should have made brownies and sprinkled them with some parsley to offer my mom. She laughed and said, “Well, actually, we have brownies for dessert!” We laughed at the irony and thought no more of it…until she came out carrying a tray of brownies and sporting a twinkle in her eye. She held them out and offered them to us. “I made these special brownies for our guests from out of state. Because you can’t come to Colorado without sampling some!”

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

This was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. This woman, a sweet and beautiful great-grandmother with wonderful artistic ability and a soft-spoken demeanor, offered my mother a plate of pot brownies! I still laugh just thinking about it.

Maybe it’s because this other family hasn’t been intimately present in every minute of my business or because I have only a few pleasant memories of them at two short family reunions. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an adult in their eyes and have been treated like one from the first day, or because I don’t hold them to the high standards with unreachable expectations like I do my own family at times, but sometimes other people’s relatives who have become your own can be a whole lot of fun! And maybe answering my child’s question the way I did showed me that it’s ok to love stepparents and that loving one group doesn’t mean I don’t love the other.