There and Back Again

Reflections & Ramblings: Volume Twenty-Nine

I woke up yesterday at 3:30am and couldn’t fall back asleep. My mind was racing about all sorts of things, unable to calm down. It was one of those sorts of mornings. 

I reflexively grabbed my phone and began scrolling through Facebook. Most of social media feels like a mess right now, but especially Facebook. It’s so full of cynicism and memes and political banter that I don’t know why I torture myself by looking at it like I do. 

So I switched to scrolling through some websites hoping to find some articles, any articles, that weren’t about Covid-19 or masks or how poorly our county is responding. It’s almost inescapable. 

After mostly failing to find any interesting articles, I decided to just go ahead and get up for the day. I had a long day of ahead of me. Later that morning I would be driving to Davenport, Iowa to rendezvous with Sarah’s mom and step-dad so that I could pick up our boys, then turn around and head back home. Micah and Ezra spent nearly the last month with their grandparents in Indiana, having the time of their lives and building wonderful childhood memories. This, as it turns out, has been one of the few unexpected blessings of this summer. 

Sarah and I have been packing up our apartment slowly but surely these last couple weeks. In a couple more weeks we’ll be moving into a different home on campus. I think my brain is trying to comprehend this big change that is finally coming into view as it sits on the horizon of the future. The excitement of a new home with the stress of packing and moving creates the perfect concoction of conflictual emotion in me that I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that I wake up at 3:30 with anxiety and can’t fall back asleep. 

After a few hours, it was time to start heading out. I threw on some joggers, a comfy shirt, and my Birkenstocks, and started to head out the door when I remembered that I needed to grab a mask. Even after about four months, it still hasn’t become a habit to remember a mask on the way out the door. Not sure I want it to feel instinctual either, I suppose, but this is our reality now. I was to briefly meet my mom, who lives right across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, on my way out of town. I met her in a Burger King parking lot, masks on.

On the drive out I was excited to have some alone time. That’s hard to come by these days. With our girls quarantined at home with us each and every day, I’ve not been able to have much time spent in solitude. 

Iowa isn’t the worst state in America to drive through. Rolling green hills with endless fields of corn swaying in the wind. Countless windmills spinning in mesmerizing unity. If you allow it, driving along Interstate 80 can be a freeing and almost religious experience. 

I listened to an audiobook for a while before the effects of getting up at 3:30 eventually caught up with me. Plus, on the road it’s easy to let the mind wander. A good book does that on its own; it stirs up swirls in the river current of the mind that unwind in their own ways. But audiobooks keep going, whether or not you’ve been paying attention or decided to chase off down some lane of memory. After being lost in thought for awhile I realized I had missed a couple minutes of the audiobook, so I switched over to music for awhile. 

I turned it up loud and sang along. I’m unsure the last time I did that. 

I also listened to some of my favorite podcasts before making it to Davenport. By the time I shifted the car into park I felt challenged and inspired, and also refreshed. Good podcasts can do that. 

While I waited for their arrival, I decided to get a drink from the Starbucks drive-thru, but when I pulled up there was a sign posted saying that their system was down and that if I wanted a drink I’d have to come inside. 

I haven’t been inside a business in quite a while now. I’ve strategically avoided them at all costs for nearly four months. Knowing that masks are mandatory at Starbucks encouraged me to go ahead and order a drink. 

After I ordered my drink the barista told me, “Hey man, I really like your Polaroid Tattoo!” 

Anytime someone references any of my tattoos, I am kind of am stunned. It’s like I forget I have them or something. I still don’t feel like a “tattoo person,” I suppose. And I still feel judged by some people that I even have them. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive due to some residual shame that I must still carry around with me after being in conservative institutions.

“My what?” I asked.

“Your tattoo. It’s badass!” He said, motioning at my arm.

I looked down. “Oh, right! Thank you!” 

I gave him an awkward smile afterwards, kind of embarrassed I didn’t pick up on what he was saying right away. 

But he didn’t see it. I had a mask on. 

After waiting outside for a couple minutes, I saw Pappaw’s white truck pull off the interstate and start heading toward the parking lot. I hadn’t seen my kids in twenty-six days and there they were right there!

They quickly hopped out of the truck and I immediately demanded hugs. They were eager to give them. We loaded the dozen or so bags of stuff of theirs into the back of my car and loaded up ready for the return trip home. 

Micah fought off tears, his face turning bright red with exasperation and probably a flood of conflicting emotions. It choked me up as I saw his watery eyes look longingly to his grandparents. 

Lots of goodbye hugs were given before this chapter of their summer was closed. We said goodbye one last time and we pulled out of the parking lot.

Micah was still trying to not cry, holding back tears. I told him that it was ok to be sad. And if he needed to cry that was fine. It’s sad to leave grandma and pappaw. He hid his face in a blanket for a couple minutes as we pulled back onto the interstate. 

I was talking with a friend the other day about our childhood memories of coming home from time with our grandparents. It’s hard to think back and remember exactly how I felt as a child. We both couldn’t recall strong feelings one way or another. 

But as I reflected back on my childhood, I thought about the mornings of getting up early to head back home at the end of a summer vacation. We would usually stay at my grandparents’ lake house out here in Nebraska. At the end of our summer vacation we’d get up before the sunrise to pack the van and get an early start on the road. I inherited my dad’s early rising tradition, it would seem. 

In the dark mornings on the day of departure there was always a sharp, rushed energy in the air. A week full of vacation experiences had come to an end. Life was about to get back to normal. And there was this sense of need to get on the road as soon as humanly possible. 

My grandma would always shuffle out of her bedroom to see us off. With curlers still in her hair, she would slice up a piece of her famous chocolate meringue pie or a big corner cut piece of brownie and serve it with a small glass of milk and set it on the dining room table for me and my siblings to eat before we were headed out. It was one last chance for my grandma, Mama as I called her, to spoil us kids before we saw her again, probably not until the next summer. 

Memory is strange and unpredictable, but the details are all still quite vivid. The sound of the kitchen door creaking open and slamming shut as my dad loaded the van. The darkness that hovered over the lake before sunrise, along with the faint sounds of the nearly invisible waves of water hitting the shoreline and dock. The taste of the chocolate pie, whose meringue had somewhat deflated since the first day of our vacation. It still always tasted great, though. 

What will our boys remember of this summer’s time with their grandparents? Three and a half weeks is a long time to form wonderful, lasting memories. It excites me so much to know that they’ll think back to the summer of 2020 as the summer they spent those carefree days at Grandma and Pappaw’s house, out in the country of Eastern Indiana — every day an adventure. This, a bright spot in an otherwise overwhelmingly drab time.

The car ride back home went about as expected. The first segment of it was filled with lots of recounting of all the highlights from the last few weeks. Oh, how they loved their time with Grandma and Pappaw and their big lovable dog, B.B. King. 

The time was interspersed with Micah fighting back tears. He almost seemed like he was ashamed to be sad. I told him it was totally ok to be sad because it is sad to be leaving Grandma and Pappaw, but I reminded him that Mommy and the girls were waiting at home, and that they all were very excited to see him and Ezra. That cheered him up a bit. He still hid his face under a blanket each time, though.

We listened to a fun podcast called “But Why: a podcast for curious kids.” Children from around the country and world call in with all sorts of questions about topics like sleep or coronavirus or ask specific questions like “Are jellyfish made of jelly?” and the podcast host and other professionals answer those questions. We learned and laughed together.

With a drive of this length I didn’t know if we’d be able to avoid a bathroom stop on our drive home, but eventually they started nagging me saying they needed to stop for the bathroom and that they were hungry. So I pulled off on the next exit that had a gas station and McDonalds. 

Right as I was telling the boys that this was just going to be a quick pit stop, the navigation said, “Make a U-turn at Rusty Wallace Drive.”

The air conditioning was out inside the Love’s gas station. They had portable units spread out around the building, but it still felt like a sweltering 95 degrees or so inside. We were in and out as quickly as possible.

Before we got back on the road the boys said they wanted Happy Meals, so I pulled through the McDonalds drive-thru to order them some early dinner. I ordered some fries for myself. As the cashier handed me the two red Happy Meal boxes he said, “Here’s their Happy Meals.” And then he handed me the sack with my fries he said, “And here’s your happy meal!” He then let out a huge belly laugh as if it were the funniest joke in the world. 

His laugh made me laugh. I hadn’t realized how much I needed that. 

After answering the question “How much longer till we are home?” about three-hundred times, we made it home in good time. The girls all cheered in excitement as the boys walked through the door. There were hugs to be had all around. What a sight to witness. What a life we live. I am so grateful. 

And so now we all readjust to life together again, with a move soon to happen, and a very uncertain future regarding school and what this fall will look like. In the meantime, we’ll take it one day at a time, savoring the moments we have together in this way, remembering that each day is a blessing to be lived into as fully as possible.

Published by Andrew

a ragamuffin dad planting some sequoias

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