Lyrical Laughs

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Can I keep a secret?

I have a secret. By the way, I stink at keeping secrets but it’s safe to divulge this one now because the cat was let out of the bag shortly before you read this.

There's something about having that savory tidbit hanging on the tip of my tongue that makes it difficult to hide my excitement. Spouse has heard me say many times that I won't be divulging whatever little surprise it is until just before it happens, but inevitably I blurt it out under the pretense of, "I don't want to mess other plans up." Yeah, right. This explains why my parents took to spelling things out when I was very young so I wouldn't know about birthday or Christmas presents, and resorted to spelling them backwards at one point.

Back to the secret. Ready? Spouse and I are going to be spending Thanksgiving with First and Second Born and The Groom, but the girls don't know it yet. In fact, I'm counting on everyone to not tell them before we get to surprise them with it Sunday afternoon. I can’t even describe how happy this makes me. Well, I can but that would be another whole column.

As time goes by and our kids have started doing their own thing, it’s already becoming more difficult to spend holidays together. When Spouse and I were dating and for the first several years of our married life, we spent the holidays bolting from one house to another. It usually went something like this: Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house, and a second dinner at his folks’ house, then Christmas morning and breakfast with his family, dinner with mine. It was exhausting and sometimes not much fun, especially because Spouse’s gang was very relaxed and stretched the day out while my parents were more rigid about having dinner at a certain time - and also not very good about sharing us. It wasn’t until we moved to Maine that things had to change, simply because we were no longer ten minutes from our family homes.

As much as I love the meaning, wonder and spirit of Christmas, I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving. As a family, the four of us would start the morning off watching the parade on television and sharing a big breakfast together, then having dinner later in the afternoon. It was a no-rush day and I didn’t care if I had to make macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for a fussy kid while Spouse and I enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings – we were together.

The reason this trip to Atlanta is happening is because Spouse doesn’t want to have to put up with me after not seeing one or both girls for an extended amount of time. Even though we’ve been lucky enough to see Second Born twice in the past few weeks, our last visit with The Love Couple was when we helped them with their move from Philly to Atlanta in April. That means it’s been seven months since I’ve seen First Born. I usually start sending that “I want to see my kid” vibe around month four. You can see where my partner is wise to typically consider making plans around month three for us to plan a trip.

We broke the news to the girls by showing them this column just before talking to them... they were definitely surprised - though The Groom was in on it (and he only slipped with one comment that put First Born on semi-alert, but for the most part he did a spectacular job of not spilling it, considering he’s just one step above me when it comes to keeping secrets). Now it's less than 24 hours before we're all together, and I am beyond happy.

May you each have much to be thankful during this holiday. For me, getting ready to spend the week with my family makes me feel a kid at Christmas. Even better than that - I’m a mom at Thanksgiving.

We won't be dressing like this for Atlanta!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

But someone really DID want to see our slides

It was Saturday morning of the first full weekend in November. Spouse and I were barely recovering from going over our budget, when I somehow missed a call on my cell phone. The caller, a friend from church, left a message.

“Hi there, just checking in to make sure you’re all set to speak at our meeting Monday evening. Have a great day!”

Wait - what??

We had agreed months ago to talk about our wild and crazy Budapest and India trip from last winter at an upcoming meeting for the women at our parish. The problem was that we were convinced it wasn’t until December. Oops.

After a few minutes of spouting out how we couldn’t possibly put something together that weekend with everything else we planned to do, and how it wasn’t fair that we had such short notice (she told us about this during the summer), I called her back determined to gently let her down.

I failed. She’s good.

Our weekend was spent downloading – or is it uploading – photos from our phones and the cloud. I still don’t really understand where the cloud floats around but it sure had a ton of stuff in it. Then we had to try and remember exactly which monument/bridge/traffic jam was where. While I worked on putting a Power Point presentation together, Spouse looked up some details on several places in case anyone was curious about those little known facts. In the end we had 76 slides, our garb that we wore for the India wedding, and a few other trinkets from our travels.

Too many slides? Did they need to see the slide with the peacock feather vendors in India or the artful presentation of eggs we had in Budapest? Maybe not, but we left them in. Perhaps that’s why people dread seeing personal slide shows – it gets so personal that you can’t relate to “one more slide” of a family vacation. But I will admit it wasn’t so easy to cut back once I started putting it together. Everything was fascinating even a year later.

I flipped through the slides, if you can call it that on a laptop, and Spouse did the majority of the talking. There were a few times that I wished I had stuck in “one more slide” to make a point of a certain area we visited, but based on comments and questions, I think our audience found it interesting and entertaining. I know I did, because it brought me back to where we were just about one year ago and reminded me how we will never regret the time or money spent on this trip.

The first part of our presentation was from our visit to Second Born while she studied in Budapest. Looking through pictures of the Christmas markets in Budapest made me long to go back and experience the festive atmosphere and breathe in the scrumptious scents of mulled wine, bread pizza and pastries. Budapest and neighboring countries know how to do Christmas markets right.

The main part of our slide show was The Love Couple’s India wedding.  Recalling the beautifully arranged rooftop ceremony surrounded by The Groom’s family and friends brought a smile to my face at the thought of how they welcomed us into the fold. There were also other amazing memories such as the magnificent vision of the Taj Mahal. It was a world we never expected to see and will always recall with a touch of wonder.
It was fun to reminisce for a night and not see too many yawning, glazed expressions. I can sympathize with someone being forced sit through a slide show, but hey, at least this one time we were invited.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

This is just a test... for the empty nest

Winter is around the corner. Those vibrant fall colors we enjoyed this season have taken their final bow. Deep red, fiery yellow and bright orange leaves that made an awning as we drove down country roads now sit in brown piles on the ground. It’s coming to the end of a season, and for our family, the end of one more thing. College visits.

Last weekend we visited Second Born during Family Weekend at her college in Where-the-Heck-Am-I, Pennsylvania. It’s strange to think that besides her graduation in May, we could be completely done with making this trek. Where did these past four years go?

From 2006 to 2010 we did the same for First Born, only it was less than a two-hour drive instead of the interminable nine-hour expedition we just had.  You would think I’d be glad to get these trips over with, I know. But the end of college visits means so many changes and a few uncertainties.

It doesn’t seem like ten years since we left our oldest at her college campus of choice in New Hampshire and we started this process of watching our girls mature and take wing with dreams and goals of their own. It was pretty easy the first time – we only checked out a few schools before First Born made her decision. The second time, not so much. Fifteen schools later, our baby girl had narrowed it down to three. I’ll even miss that part, those initial nervous steps onto a college campus for a tour where a guide hopes to convince you that this is The Perfect College.

First Born gently broke us in to the idea of not having her here with us. Second Born took “not here with us” to a completely different level, between a long distance school and a study abroad. Spouse and I have gotten pretty good at the empty nest thing, but now I realize this has simply been practice. After 28 years of having at least one offspring living home at some point, are we prepared for the real thing? Are we really ready to be on our own?

Just to balance that thought, here are a few things I won’t miss.

FAFSA. This is a long, tedious, exhausting form that must be filled out in order to apply for financial aid – and I don’t know any parent who shrugs it off. It makes you question your memory, your parenting knowledge and your finances.

College meal plans. These institutes of higher learning have a way of convincing you that your student will starve if you don’t sign them up for a full meal plan. Of course, that naiveté diminishes with each year, when you realize your kid has been eating wraps and guzzling smoothies at the school deli… the one that doesn’t take dining hall credits.

Trying to beat every other parent for Family Weekend hotel reservations. If you don’t start in March for that October, you may as well tell your kid that you’re bunking with them for the weekend. Graduation was even crazier. In mid-March the rooms for next May were finally released, and gone within a week. Thankfully, I got through because I was obsessed with checking the website or calling every day since January. I was almost to the point of trading recipes with the reservationist at the Hampton Inn.

Life will change, this era of having a college student will soon come to an end, and the empty nest will be really, completely, officially empty. But I think a part of our kids will always need us. After dragging us through 15 college visits, I have to smile… Second Born will probably beat that record when she brings us to look at apartments.

The girls - pretending they'll be around forever