Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Family is Everything

Road trips are so therapeutic for me. Even with the kids (which I realize may sound crazy to some people). In two weeks, it will mark 3 years since moving to Northern California, and in that 3 years time, the kids and I have made the 12-hour drive between the Bay Area and Phoenix, AZ at least 7-8 times. We've had the routine down, every time - it's all about the destination - meaning, when we stop at the halfway point to spend the night, it's usually at a hotel right off the highway. We stop, eat, sleep, and hit the road the next day. No extras. But this year, we did it a little differently - with new intentions. More on that later...

The therapy part of the road trip comes in waves. When the kids and I start driving, I take song requests from the kids, and I sing along with them as their (now) 9 and 7-year-old personalities come out in the funniest ways. While I still think my kids are "so cute", I learn in these moments of togetherness how "cool" they are, too. They are kind to one another in the beginning of the road trip. Considerate of one another's space, song choices, sharing of the breakfast I brought for them to eat on the go. It's very sweet to see their love for one another displayed in the simplest ways. Of course by hour 4.5 we go through a period where I swear their brains have been beamed by the dudes from Men In Black, and they have forgotten everything we have taught them on kindness and respect towards your sibling, but it's usually something a little truck stop snack can fix in a jiffy. The final 2-hours of the drive are my favorite. The kids are either asleep or listening to the playlists I created for them on our old iPods. Quincy's in the back listening to LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" on repeat, Paloma's listening to "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack, while I have on the Indigo Girls, or Counting Crows, or Gin Blossoms, or Joshua Radin - music that I don't have to skip around on, I can just let it play while I watch the landscape change slightly, as I reflect on the last 6 months of our life.

Since March, I have felt a sense of connection to my community and a purpose within it, in a major way. This Spring, I have said to myself repeatedly, "My cup runneth over", because of the joy I was receiving in my heart each time I was interacting with my kids and their friends through our various activities.

First, their performances in the 50th Annual Beach Revue this year were just so amazing to be a part of. I seriously LIVE FOR the Beach Revue. As someone who grew up on the stage (first my parents' living room, then an actual stage from grade school through high school), my heart bursts with excitement each time this event rolls around. To help guide these kids on stage, teaching them how to have stage presence at an early age, gives them SO MUCH CONFIDENCE - they will carry it forever. To show them how their dedication to each other, and the hard work they put in each weekend at rehearsal, pays off in the end - well frankly, it leaves me giddy for at least a week post-performance. Sure, I'm usually sick and run-ragged by the end of it, but it is a natural-high that I don't think I can adequately describe to someone who's not a fan of the stage.

Here is Paloma performing "Rock and Roll All Night" by KISS with her fellow 1st graders (she is 4th from the left) (they appear after the brief skit by the 5th graders):

Here is Quincy performing "U Can't Touch This" by Oakland's own MC Hammer with his fellow 3rd graders 
(they appear after the brief skit by the 5th graders):

Just as Beach Revue was coming to an end, baseball and softball season was starting for both kids. I was coaching Paloma's 6U Mermaids team this year, and Quincy went up to the Mustang Division (3rd/4th graders) where it was his first year of kid-pitch. The kids are bigger and stronger than the previous division (those 4th graders look HUGE!) so I was only slightly terrified that he would get hit in the face with the ball. Luckily, he only got hurt once, catching a line-drive at 2nd base with his arm instead of his glove, but after an inning on the bench, and a WIN by his team (the Panthers), he was fine. Coaching Paloma's team this season was so fulfilling for me. My love of the game was truly reinvigorated through these Kindergarteners and 1st graders - they were so committed to learning the game, and crushing the ball! I was super-fortunate to have an amazing assistant coach and parent roster as well. It takes way more than two people to run a team, and these parents pitched in even if they didn't know the game. They were willing to learn alongside their kids, and I guarantee those will be memories they each cherish down the road.

Paloma excited for her end-of-season Mermaid cupcake, and Quincy's team receiving their 2nd place medal after the Championship game

This elementary age is SO FUN for me as a mom. Watching these kiddos learn new things about the world, and forming their own opinions is fascinating. Seeing how much they grow from month-to-month just blows my mind.

Example: Quincy's comic-book-style drawings

Example: Paloma and her gymnastics

Encouraging them to face their fears is something I need to lead by example, and so being a mom at this stage is teaching me how to put myself into situations of growth, and trying new things. In the past few months, I have gone on thrill rides, done a zipline and ropes course, and kayaked for the first time, all in an effort to face my fears (heights, the immensity of the ocean, etc), in hopes that they will see me not die or get hurt, and they will feel brave enough to try something. It's working for one child more than the other. 😂

This photo reflects that sentiment perfectly

Me attempting to zipline, and holding on too tight, which caused me to go SO SLOW that I thought I was going to get stuck, and then I finally loosened my grip at the end and experienced what it was really supposed to feel like😂😂
This is what it's SUPPOSED to look like:

Since the end of April, we have spent at least two weekends per month with family of some sort, which has been absolutely wonderful.

Lake Merritt with Grandpa Meredith and Mimi
 Taylor Swift Concert with Alynsia and Lisa
My Mommy came to see us!

Our first trip back to Iowa as a family in four years!
We had a blast connecting with family, and friends from Solon's childhood and college days
 Uncle Tom
 And Tatyana
 Louie and 2/3 of his kids
 The Prince Family
 Aunt Sandy
 I love this moment between Quincy 
and his great-grandpa Leroy
Cousin Kelly
 The kids with "Pap"
 Uncle Dicky and Aunt Sandy
Family Time
Marcus aka Man!
Michael and Kathy

Fishing with Papa Allen at Lake MacBride
 We even fulfilled a life-long dream of mine to visit 
the Field of Dreams in Dyersville

For some, this place may have just been a stop off the side of the road, but for me, this lived up to the hype and provided me with the nostalgia I needed to feel in my heart. 
The Field of Dreams movie was about your dreams coming true. Spending one more day with my Daddy is a dream I will always have, and for a moment, I was able to talk with him and feel him beside me as I reminisced about the dozens of times we saw the movie together as a family, and how much he loved the game of baseball. 
We laughed, and I also couldn't stop crying, as we made this beautiful memory as a family.
 On our way to the airport we made a couple last stops... 
to see Romeo and "Biggie"
and to pay our respects to our family members 
who have passed, especially Gaga who we lost this year

After we returned from Iowa, 
the Stromski family stopped in the Bay Area for a visit on the way to their new home in Washington state!

For Father's Day we went sport fishing 
in the San Francisco Bay

 Paloma made the first catch of the day!

The Castro Family came to visit us, 
and experience all that San Francisco has to offer
A visit from my Colorado cousins kicked off July 
We spent the 4th of July with Sasa & Tony, 
and a surprise visit from Mimi and Grandpa Meredith

The next day, the kids and I hit the road for AZ, stopping in Los Angeles for the day to visit a museum, and have dinner. Earlier I mentioned new intentions on our long road trips. I really wanted to take advantage of leaving earlier than normal with a plan of attending a museum with the kids (to help break up the drive), and since we were in LA, I wanted to reconnect with friends and family that I haven't seen in a long time. We were lucky to have a chance to reconnect with my cousin Charbelle, who lived with my parents in AZ while I was in the dorms at ASU (almost 20 years ago), and whom I haven't seen since our wedding 13 years ago! It was so wonderful to catch up and hear about her life since the last time we saw each other. 
The kids were so happy to meet another cousin! 

The purpose of this summer's trip back to Phoenix was mainly to be with family. There were 17 of us who came from out of town, to join our AZ family in celebrating my grandma, Mama Mimi, on her 95th birthday. It was wonderful to be with so many of them for three days in a row.
Our drive home included a stop in Gardena, CA to see my cousin Kerry's new house, just down the street from her husband's job at SpaceX
 And a stop in Monterey for the night, where Solon was finishing a work meeting

The summer road trip allowed me time to reflect on the blessings of family, and how grateful I am that we have such a big, beautiful family, full of various personalities and interests, and how much we love each other. I thought about the friends we have, whom we think of as our chosen family, who also add so much to our lives, even if we only get to see each other once or twice a year. I spent many hours of the drive reflecting on how I choose to raise my kids, and how grateful I am to my parents for the examples they gave and lessons they taught me along the way. I thought about how much has changed in the almost three years since my Dad passed. I listened to John Denver's Greatest Hits and remembered day trips through Arizona with my parents and my brother. I thought about how my place in the family is changing, as my little cousins (whom I still see as babies) are marrying and making new career choices, Solon's little cousins are heading to college, and our babies are growing bigger every day. The cycle of life is an amazing, and bewildering thing. Solon and I are trying to grab life by the horns, and set an example of adventure and kindness and positivity and love for our kids. Cherishing life, in the moment, as often as we can.

With one month left of summer, there are still more adventures to be had, before the kids are off to 4th and 2nd grade. Until then...