Archives for posts with tag: travel

Two families wait in line

A mom in her 30’s cradles her son in her arms
Two elementary school girls sit at her side
Silent on the concrete bench under the awning
Hair pulled back tight in braids
Pale pink lace dresses, two pairs of new sandals
One red, one white
A miniature white button-down man shirt
Tucked into tiny pressed navy shorts

Baby boy bounces from knee to knee
Tiny fingers pop bits of cereal into hungry mouths
Immaculate, contained, quiet

Greying father and mother sit in the front
Two pre-teen girls sit with their chocolate puppy behind
Parked at the curb in their restored vintage van
Hair wet and stringy tossed everywhere
Damp bathing suit underneath a faded junior lifeguard sweatshirt
A cat t-shirt stained with spots of paint and food
Over too-small blue shorts
Hand-me-down flip flops, bare feet

Dog wrestles in the back seat
Hands shove sandwiches dripping with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise into uninterested mouths
Relaxed, loud, bored

Both families wait for permission slips to roam over borders and return home

Numbers are called
One family enters
One walks away
One White
One Latino

Which is which?

Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

lifevest

(Journal Entry from October 17, 2014)

My mother-in-law once told me that when you pray for patience, you don’t actually get patience. Instead what you get are experiences that workout your “patience muscles”, helping to expand your ability to remain calm and endure.

I pray. I pray a lot. Every morning I stand at my little makeshift altar…

(Side Note: To the best of my knowledge, there is no “Altars for Dummies” book, so I just made up what sits on mine. It lives right inside our front entranceway. So if you see a candle burning next to a chocolate chip cookie please don’t assume that we pray to the Keebler elves.)

…and I say thanks for all that is in my life. Sometimes I tick off the big ticket items, sometimes I just stand there and wrap myself in a feeling of gratitude. I send blessings to those that I love, those that need assistance and generally all that exist across time and space (didn’t know that you were prayed for every day, did you?). I don’t usually ask for anything specific, mostly just a general, “Hey, thanks for keeping me from doing anything monumentally stupid lately” kind of a prayer, but there is one thing I do pray for, every morning and every night before I go to sleep. I pray that I live a higher life, one that brings me closer to enlightenment (whatever that means), where I live mindfully and in a spirit of abundant love. I pray that I become more aware or “awake” to what is truly unfolding before us, and to have the wisdom and the strength to live in a place of presence and light, so that my light might shine and reveal the way for others.

I really should rethink that prayer and start asking for a road bike or something.

I am currently sitting on an Emirates flight to Dubai, where in another four hours I will get on a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Yesterday, I was back in NY with my family, burying my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. The past two months of my life have read like the script to a Malick film. I have been consciously breathing through weeks of watching The Universe lay before me life event after life event, one more breathtaking after another, some filled with joy, others with heartbreak, and all filled with grace. I am utterly exhausted and shell shocked, as these events are the kinds that grab you by the collar, shake you back and forth and shout in your face, “Wake the fuck up!”. And now I’m on my way to one of the most sacred and spiritual places on the planet, without my husband or children, but a friend of twenty years, one that has known me through two decades of relationships, bad decisions, and realized dreams. She is on her own quest, which is crazy and inspiring since 15 years ago (almost to the day) she and I were simultaneously in the biggest upheavals of our then just forming adult lives. And here we are again feeling vulnerable and raw and trying hard to stop our knees from knocking as we stand here ready to take whatever comes next.

This is going to be one hell of a trip.

SkycoasterThat is the crazy thing about letting go of the side of the pool. You become enamored by, even addicted to, the freedom. (Wow! Look at me! I can swim on my back! I can float while looking at the sky! I can somersault in the water! I can… cough, hack, choke… get water up my nose.) There is a feeling of empowerment that comes with an almost unrealistic edge of invincibility. Almost.

When my now ten year old was seven, we took her to a Six Flags amusement park. Tall for her age, she was able to ride all of the adult rides, but I never thought that she actually would. To be honest, I never even gave it much thought since I was terrified (and could still be classified as ‘deeply concerned’) when it came to anything higher or faster than a tea cup. So when she decided that she needed to ride The Skycoaster, I wasn’t too happy about it.

The Skycoaster is a new and interesting way to test your ability to not wet your pants in public. Up to three people are strapped together into a harness and hooked to extreme bungee cords, then they are slowly pulleyed to the top of a 175 foot steel arch (15 stories into the air). Once at the top, they dangle precariously until given the go ahead via bullhorn, at which time one of the individuals releases the securing line and the three bodies, like eggs knocked off of the refrigerator shelf, drop straight downward at 60 mph until the line catches, somewhere around 150 feet, and the remaining guide lines swing the cascading bodies (possibly in cardiac arrest at this point) up between the arches into the sky. Free falling. And flying. At a seasonal amusement park. With my seven year old baby. And we pay extra.

My daughter was instantly hooked the moment she saw people whizzing above our heads. “Come on!” my husband pleaded. “You go with her and your brother because you’re all about the same size! It was fun! She’ll love it!” I had never suspected that my husband had taken out an insurance policy on me, but now…

As my brother, myself and my daughter were slowly being pulled to the top of the arch, I could taste the nacho and snow cone flavored panic rising up into my throat. What if she loses her mind? What if we need to stop and get down? What if I throw up on those heads in the bumper cars? What if this all goes very, very wrong?

“I realize I only have a broken truck and a dog, but I don’t have all of my affairs in order,” my brother whispered, not really joking. My daughter looked up at me with question in her eyes. In that moment I realized, we were the adults. It was our reaction that would set the precedent as to whether this was going to be a thrilling adventure, or an event that would cost my daughter years in adult therapy.

“Fairies,” I blurted out, as we climbed high enough that the peaks of Vermont looked like hilltops we could run down not far in the distance. “We could turn into fairies. I bet, if we think hard enough, wish for it with all our might, once that cable lets go, we can really fly. Come on, say it with me, ‘Fly. Fly. Fly’.”

Our arms linked together, for the last remaining feet of climb, the three of us — me, my brave seven year old daughter and my terrified 34 year old brother chanted, “Fly. Fly. Fly,” as we were pulled to the top of the world. We were given the signal, my brother pulled the pin, and we dropped, head first, towards the ground. As the cables caught us and we swung past the arches, I was still chanting in my head as we let go of each other, spread our arms and flew.

This week, I have let go of the side of the pool again. I realize now that leaving my life in NY and moving to California was a huge step, but still the first of many others. In August, I will compete in my first triathlon — a mini — and I will have the bravest person in my life, my daughter, by my side. Together we will conquer our hatred of running, overcome our fear of ocean swimming and learn what it is to be a team. And in October, I am leaving my brave girl and our family to take a spiritual trek into the Himalayas, an incredible experience that will change me and return me to those that I love who have also changed in my absence. Like falling out of the sky, I know that I lead the way in terms of expectations and reactions, so I take these new adventures not only as challenges that will elevate me as a person, but also as a mother, my highest honor. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and blessed.

Time to start swimming.

firstschoolwalk

“You don’t live at the ocean and not go to the beach everyday. What’s the point?”

This is what I told my mother this morning on the telephone. She agreed. For some reason she just figured you go once or twice and that is that, you simply continue on with your usual daily existence. But then, she doesn’t live near the ocean. She has never lived near the ocean. She has visited a handful of times, but then retreated back to her house inland, far away from a coast. You visit, you walk the beach, you get your fill and then you go home. That is her experience, and that is what makes the most sense. And I would have to confess that is probably what I thought too. Even when I went to college in Rhode Island, I didn’t go to the ocean everyday. Just wasn’t that big of a deal to me… well, at least, who I was at the time.

Not anymore.

Today marks the first full week of us living in California. Hard to even see those words materialize on my screen and believe that I’m actually the one typing them. There were so many moments in the last few months where pushing myself to put one foot after another, hell even breathing, was difficult to manage let alone comprehend, but here we are. We did it. We dared to realize a dream, and then we did the unthinkable… we made it happen. Despite the fear and anxiety of putting such a grand scheme into action, the world continues to spin on and no one has died. And every day not only do I get to wake up and smell salt air, I remember, “I did it.”

I would be lying to us all if I told you that I’m worry free. I would be lying if I told you that there aren’t moments where I’m gripped by paralyzing fear, where in a flash I think of a moment in my life back home that I’ve said goodbye to and realize that I will never see again. The wind gets sucked out of me as if I’ve been punched in my gut. Tears sneak their way into my throat and my head goes soft. I almost lose it.

But then I catch myself and breathe. Change cannot come without desire, without need, without a surrender or sacrifice of some kind. I wanted this, I needed this and all I have to do is live in the moment, not the past. I could no way hold onto those moments anymore than I could script the ones I have right now. So best enjoy what is passing before my eyes now or else time will flash past once more and I will be welling up all sad about this very moment and how it too has passed.

I also have moments where the What Ifs seep into the cracks of my happiness. What if the kids hate it here? What if the work dries up? What if I’ve fooled myself into thinking this is what I wanted all along? Again, the What Ifs are me projecting my worry into the future. Do my kids hate it right this minute? No. They love it more than I could have imagined. Is my husband still working? Yes, in fact he is the happiest I’ve seen him in years. Is this still what I want? Hmmm… let me think… kids happy? Check. Husband happy? Check. Me? Check. Ok, this moment works, let’s just ride this out right here, no past and no future. If I can stay right here, right now, then we’ll be just fine.

Upon arrival, walking through LA International Airport, my 6 year old turned to me and said…

“Mom. You know what? If I look around and say, ‘I live here. I live here.’ I get all scared, so instead I keep telling myself, ‘This is a trip. This is a trip,’ then everything feels like it is ok.”

I’ve taken that and applied it to life in general. This is all just one big trip. And why would I pay so much to be on it to not enjoy it now. Why wouldn’t I go to the beach every day?

sidebyside
(photo credit: me. And I swear to you that these images are not retouched… except for erasing some water droplets that got on my lens in the Guam shot.)

There was a lovely man, with crazy hair, that proved that time is relative some years ago. I understood this to mean that waiting an hour in traffic when you are late for an appointment was actually akin to doing so in years, and spending an hour catching up with an old friend goes by in the time it takes a hummingbird to dry its wings. You know, the uncomplicated, easily digestible understanding of time. Then I traveled to and from an island in the Pacific to a town in the Northeast, in the winter, with children, and time became an entirely new concept for me.

No matter how much I prepared, how many activities, sleep aids and herbal supplements I packed, I now realize that I was preparing for something that I couldn’t possibly comprehend. Kind of like packing to climb Mt. Everest, and being sent to teach English to a group of small children in a Thai village. Not even English… Swahili.

Going there was taxing, but not insurmountable. We chased the sun as we flew west, and spent 21 hours in daylight. This just tricked us into feeling like we had lived through the longest day ever. Once we boarded our last flight (4 hours long), and the night sky descended upon us, we were toast. We tumbled off of the plane, out into the 86 degree humid air, and into the loving arms of our family. Congratulations, you have now arrived at Bliss State! We spent some short hours celebrating, then off to bed. It was midnight Guam time, 3pm our time.

In the days that followed, I quickly gave up looking at clocks, converting time zones and worrying about sleeplessness. It was easy. When you wake up in Guam at 3:30am, you simply strap the paddle boards to the car and go off in pursuit of some night snorkeling. And as you do so, you are treated to the most symphonic rising of the sun over the ocean that you can imagine. Even the rain, warm rain!, brings you waves of joy. You think to yourself, “Thank goodness that I’m awake and I did not miss this!”. And later, around 4pm when your children are passing out asleep trying to go to the bathroom, you simply scoop them up, kiss them on the cheek, place them into bed and look forward to swimming with the phosphorescent fish in the wee hours of the next day.

I never knew what time it was in Guam, and I didn’t care. When the sun came up, I was there waiting. I ate when I was hungry and went to sleep when I was tired. Our days were so filled with sun and warmth and activity, that we simply dropped when we couldn’t stand anymore. We were exhausted and happy.

I realized that I had put so much time and effort into worrying about my kids and the long flight and the time difference, that I never even gave the actual experience any thought. Perhaps that was a good thing. I can’t even say that our trip exceeded my wildest expectations, because I didn’t have any. But if I’d had… it blew them away.

And perhaps this tactic also backfired on me when I never gave a thought to the trip home. I can’t help now wondering if there was some way I could have steeled us against the jarring affect it would have upon us to return. I doubt it.

To come home, we boarded an early morning flight to Hawaii (7 hours) and crossed the international dateline. The day before we departed it was my youngest’s 6th birthday. Now, in Hawaii at 6:30 at night, it was her birthday once more. For this second birthday, Oahu pulled off a rainbow, right outside of our terminal as we disembarked our incoming flight. The sun was setting and the breeze was magical. My husband and I looked at each other with a flash of panic. Quick! How do we stay? How do we keep the inevitable at bay? My husband actually begged at the airline counter for any solution that would keep us in the Pacific breezes just a little longer.

“I’m sorry,” sympathized the agent. “Unless one of your children is either severely injured or desperately sick, which would prevent them from flying, there is nothing that I can do. You will have to board your flight.”

Our children will never be able to question our love for them. We thanked the man and left Oahu, Hawaii for Newark, NJ in February.

Hawaii to NJ was 9.5 hours, most of it filled with fitful sleep and repeated movies. Immediately following was a final 1 hour flight to our hometown, complete with no onboard bathroom, a 6 year old’s bladder, and a spilled carrot ginger drink. We arrived home at 2:30pm, miraculously collected all of our bags (I’m always thrilled and amazed when all of my luggage ends up where it is supposed to be. For this very reason, I will forever believe in Santa Claus.), and stumbled out into the NY afternoon… grey, brown, raining, snowing, cold.

The days that followed… well, I’d like to give you an honest recap of the days that followed, but frankly this must be what it is like at the beginning stages of rehab for a meth habit. Sleep became an elusive drug that was never available when we needed it. We try to go to bed at a decent hour, only to be wide awake to start our day in the middle of the night once more. However this time, there was no symphonic sunrise or gentle tradewinds to greet us – just darkness and snow and ice. So we’d toss and turn and cry. Sleep is like a lover who has moved on; the harder you to try to embrace her, the farther away she gets.

Nights felt like days, and days felt like Hell. That first morning I dragged myself out of bed, after 4 hours of sleep, at 11am terrified that I’d be left behind in the Guam time zone. Grocery shopping seemed like the most reasonable and less demanding activity, however it just intensified our feeling of culture shock. I craved to find myself once again in a sea of happy, vacationing, polite Japanese tourists, hearing nothing but their giggles and soft voices. Instead I was met with angrily knit brows, ashen flesh and the bitter sentiment that we’d all been orphaned in this godforsaken frozen wasteland and it was every man for themselves.

By the second full day home, I was desperate for a solution. Experts say that spending as much time as you can in direct sunlight will increase your melatonin and speed your recovery from jet lag. Yeah, great, I live where the light is like weak tea with a strong shot of whole milk. These grey skies did nothing for us. So, I thought perhaps we just needed some re-orienting to something familiar, warm and exhausting, and I made us swim at the local Y for 3 hours.

It was great and worked like a charm for the children – they slept for 12 hours straight. I don’t know if that would have worked for me. I got a call 15 minutes before midnight from my sister who was going into labor and I was the birth coach. Two days back and time to help deliver a baby. Most definitely the crowning achievement out of all of my beyond-my-bloody-mind moments.

After 3 days and nights with 3-4 hours of sleep, sporadic at best, and dangerously high levels of caffeine in my system (in my dreams, I would be lost and confused, and go searching for coffee to help me re-orient) I found myself dreaming while I was awake. My husband would be trying to hold a conversation with me, and I’d throw something in there about it raining macaroni, and quickly realize that despite the time on the clock, I needed to go to bed.

Perhaps it is only when we are so far out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone and the cushion of what we’ve come to expect, that we are able to perceive our situation and the reality around us in a new and never-before-considered light.

That first night, at 2:17am, in a pathetic bit of parenting, I turned on what would hopefully be an incredibly boring television show for my children to help them fall asleep.

[image of snow laden forest]
“Do you hate the cold? Are you tired of being stuck inside all winter? Why not live where it is warm and you can swim, snorkel and surf all year round? You don’t have to be rich to live in Hawaii, you just have to want it.”

I looked around to find the hidden camera, and in my delirious state, wondered how Alan Funt could hide in my closet.

“You know what Mom? I could live in Hawaii, as long as we brought all of our pets.”

Thank you Universe. I’m reading you loud and clear.

dharma
We have stumbled upon a secret government project to create a race of super humans here upon the island. Everyone here is extremely fit and is either training for (or just completed) a marathon, triathlon or Iron Man. 5ks are for fun or for the children. You can recognize the specimens because they are all clothed in race t-shirts and say things like, “Oh, you can do this, it’s a short triathlon.” Our first few days here, my sister-in-law ran a half marathon rather unwillingly since she hurt her back the day before. She won, of course. Her medal was a beer bottle opener and a plastic carabao bank. She is excited to run their international marathon in a few weeks. What human would be excited to run a marathon with a toy as a prize? A bionic human designed for world domination, that’s who.

Brian lost 10 lbs. in our first 4 days. I can now fit into my sister-in-law’s Speedo. We’re tan, fit and exhausted. We may just move here.

aganabay
After several days of feeling like a pebble in a washing machine, we’re just beginning to get acclimated to the time, temperature and sun. We’ve spent several mornings waking hours before daylight was even a consideration, which gave us the opportunity to night snorkel, learn to paddle board in the dark and watch the sun rise. Brian and I are in the middle of dive certification. Between the 15 hour time difference, and sitting under 20 feet of water for the last few days, I’m no longer actually in my body. I think I’m floating somewhere about 3 feet above and to the left.

I now believe in ozone depletion. 50+ SPF is the starting point of sunblock here, with re-application every 30 min. Even with 50, 70 and 110 SPF on, everyone is getting burned. Today is a day of hiding.

Guam is exceptionally beautiful. The skies are pink and fluffy and the breeze feels like a slow kiss from a new lover. The sea is teeming with life, fireworks under the water. It is so easy to just exist in gratitude when every waking hour isn’t filled with fighting the cold. Reconnecting with our family after 2 years is like finding a favorite lost sweater – warm, cozy, familiar. The children move together like swarms of bees, eat like lions and drop into bed with smiles on their faces. We are truly blessed.

winterforestWe are a few days and several hours in the countdown until departure to Guam. I have chores and errands that shoot randomly across the screen of my mind, like passing cars on a busy highway. ————- water the plants —————

———- mail out kid’s thanks yous ——————– pack Benadryl ———–

I try to catch them and stuff them somewhere safe, like catching fireflies in jars, but they are fast and I’m easily distracted. This morning, as we were getting children ready for the bus, I found myself digging out sun hats and considering sunglasses options for a 5 year old. Luckily, the girls made the bus with their more appropriate winter woolens instead.

There is a deeper, darker thought that surfaces these days, one that overtakes my usual neurosis about losing camera bags and blizzards delaying our flight. What if I don’t want to come back? What if, when standing in the warm sun, looking out over a sparkling azure ocean filled with a rainbow of fish, surrounded by a lush green landscape, my spirit breaks free and I crack and out oozes my resolve and my strength and I am unable to climb onboard that plane that carries me back to a land frozen under ice and snow and obligation?

————— clean out the fridge ————————————————

——————————————- call the plow guy ———————-

I guess we’ll just wait and see.