Road Trip

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There was this road trip my husband and I took a few years ago. It started in Salt Lake City and wound through Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks before finally, windows down, radio crooning, hands holding, it unwillingly ended at the airport so that I could fly home and he could stay behind and we could hang onto every last detail of those perfectly imperfect five days.

Every February, we escape the New England cold for warmer climates. This year, Forrest in tow, we loaded the car for our first, big family road trip and headed down the east coast.

And here’s what I have to say about it.

  • After you have a child, get stuck with your partner somewhere. Get stuck somewhere without distraction, where no one can look at phones or remember to change the laundry or fall asleep or do anything but be together. Then talk. Ask questions you’ve been meaning to ask and mention things you’ve been meaning to mention and say, “How are you?” and really listen to the answer. And hold hands.
  • Give yourself permission to rest. This is hard for me. Rest feels like time wasted. I am so wrong; it so is not. Rest makes us better people to ourselves and to the people around us. Rest makes us better parents, partners, mothers, fathers, friends, daughters. Lack of rest is abusive and selfish. You’re doing no one any good by toughing it out. Whatever you have to do to get it, do that thing. Separate yourself from the scene. Ask for help. Put it in your calendar. Whatever it is, just rest.
  • America is beautiful. I’ve been struggling with my American pride during this joke of a presidential campaign, but step out of that circus tent and man, this country is stunning. New England with its bare, wintry trees and winding, billboard-less highways. New York to Washington DC, commerce and universities and industry and development and stature. The South, where I’m from, and even on cruise control, the car seems to slow down alongside houses too close to the highway, where big, green trees rooted in a tormented history sway to the sweet, soft sounds of Southern charm. All along the coast, people and accents and cuisine from such different places, crowded within this singular, confused, beautiful country. It was good to see it.
  • We had more fun as two, but we’re more full as three. This is hard to write and I know as Forrest gets older and more independent and can do more stuff, we’ll have more fun than we ever had. For now, he’s a lot of maintenance and doesn’t sleep well in new environments. My husband and I used to pull the car over on a whim to lie down in a pretty pasture. That’s a real thing we did. But, we got to introduce Forrest to family and they held him and we were so proud and he made us laugh with his backseat coos and he hugs and tries to kiss now, and he’s ours. Our two made this three and we get to have adventures together now, and it’s everything I can do to contain my heart when he and my husband hold hands.
  • Invest in the people who make you and your life more joyful. No amount of energy, chaos, time or money is too big an investment in those people. Period.

It’s good to be home.

If you were driving cross country and could take anyone with you, famous, friend or family, who would you choose?

Growth

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My husband grew up in northern Missouri farm country. I’ve been. There’s no stoplight in his hometown and more churches than restaurants, shops and gas stations combined. The one grocery store sells as many feet and hooves as it does chips and soda.

But, that’s not what you take with you. Along with the kindness of folks, you remember the rolling pastures as far as the eye can see, where the sun seems to always be setting or rising just over there. And as it does, it casts sweeping shadows on the community’s most pampered citizens – its livestock.

Which brings me to this: a calf, foal, chick, piglet and lamb can, generally speaking, walk within minutes of their births. Out she pops and up she goes, a little wobbly sure, but on the move. And, there stands Mom, grazing and looking on, as if the whole affair was… meh.

Then there’s us. Forrest is five months old now and we’re celebrating that he can grab his toys, sit up and roll over. We’re feeding him real food and half of it ends up down his front. He “holds” his bottle but if unattended for a minute, it falls.

If plopped in the woods and left… let’s just say I don’t think there’s any predator who can be “rolled over” to death.

So how is it that humans survived those early days, when bipedalism distinguished us from the apes, but all of us had predators? Why is it that the most evolutionarily sophisticated species takes longer than any other to mature?

This past week, we vacationed with my parents and when my genius scientist father posed this question, my suggestion was that humans are more emotionally evolved, so our instincts to nurture and protect our babies allow for slower physical growth and development. In other words, we have their backs so they don’t have to fend for themselves. Sweet Dad. His mouth said, “Interesting theory,” but his eyes said, “college shmollege.”

Turns out, researches have only just begun to prove the most accepted theory, and it’s pretty straightforward. That or I’m completely misinterpreting it. But anyway, here goes…

The human brain is so hungry, active and complex that all of the glucose we produce is gobbled up by its development. In these formative years, the brain dominates our metabolism, so the rest of our body is left hungry and can’t develop as quickly. In fact, when we’re four years old and brain growth is at its peak, “…the brain burns through resources at a rate equivalent to 66 percent of what the entire body uses at rest.” Whoa. No wonder 4- year-olds are crazy town; their brains are on fire!

In other animals, glucose is used more proportionately, so the body physically evolves more swiftly.

Pretty awesome, right? And, it helps me understand my wee son a little better. The knowledge buffet is plentiful and open 24 hours, and his brain just keeps returning for more. It’s gotta be overwhelming.

But, it’s probably also why he laughs now when we sing the “OdeyodeyOh” song or when the dogs wrestle. He sees it, hears it, gets it and that sh*t cracks him up.

So, piglets, I guess you can have walking because I wouldn’t trade that laugh for anything.

If you could tweak evolution so that our babies could do one thing immediately after birth, what would it be?  (Sleep does not count because obvs.)

Source: The uber-minds at Northwestern University. Read more here.

Self

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Over the past week or so, I started feeling boring. Not bored; boring. I’m four months into motherhood and it feels like my globe trotting, last-minute, backpacking self is a distant, mocking memory.

Maybe that spontaneous spirit started looking for another life to lease when my son, Forrest, set up camp. Maybe this is the “new me.” Maybe that’s how it goes.

But, no, that’s not it. That can’t be it because I can feel her in there.

And she’s pissed.

She’s tapping me, whispering stories, taunting me with a glass of all the things we used to do and be and they’re slithering down my throat, and all of a sudden I’m choking on a licorice laced cocktail of whatifs and usedtos.

Because now what? Now we go to Home Depot. A lot. We go to Home Depot and come home and build things and paint things and figure out how to DIY things, all to make this house our home.

Yea, we do other stuff, too. This weekend, we headed to the Catskills for some would-be-snowshoeing-turned-hiking-because-El Niño, and I’m training for the Boston Marathon, which makes me feel a little more connected to my former self, which is in truth probably why I’m doing it.

At times, though, I guess it feels like my outdoorsy, world-wondering self is focusing a whole lot on what’s indoors, right here at home.

And here’s the kicker: I like it. I love how hard we’re working on making these walls and a roof our home, and I love that Forrest sees that. I love that he’s haggled at flea markets with me and hung out in the wood shop with his dad.

He’s a part of this, and I hope that if he sees us labor with our hands and heads then maybe he’ll default to using his, too.

But…

With the same verve as ever, I love all of the places my husband and I have ended up because we’d never been there before or, “What’s down that road?” I love the clunky weight of hiking boots and the sandy crunch of unwashed trail hair and that moment when you look up and…sigh…that view!

So…

Maybe there isn’t an easy answer. The best I can come up with is that I need to embrace both selves; more so, I need to be proud of them. By enjoying our home and nesting in our community, I’m not betraying that spontaneous spirit. And, when my family and I hit the road next for parts unknown, we’re not abandoning home.

If I give myself permission to be both, accepting that compromise is part of the deal, maybe the result won’t feel boring at all.

What does your “other self” whisper to you and how do you answer?