In reflection: England with the teen

A few reflections on traveling with the teenager…

We are both really glad we did this trip with Symone. She learned a lot – not just about the places and the people we visited, but little things that make life more functional like how to navigate putting your passport somewhere you can reach it quickly, or paying attention to addresses and train numbers so you know what’s happening and can get around.

We both feared that she would put up resistance around food, but she shocked us with her adventurous choices. Wood duck pate, pigeon, cuttle fish in wasabi ink sauce, lamb curry, and beetroot cole slaw were things she ordered that she’d never had eaten if I served it to her at home. She ate without complaint and enjoyed most all of it.

She loved all the things we did and she noticed and delighted in all the little differences. She loved the quaint touches of the Cotswolds, and actually enjoyed the more traditional museum-like stops we made. I never once heard, “I’m bored” and I never found her on her phone outside flopping at the end of the day in bed. She loved eating in the pubs and quietly eyeballed all the dynamics at the bar.

We noted a persistent symptom of teenage hood – not really understanding where your body was, where other people’s bodies were and where to position your body to take advantage of what was next. She’d often be facing backwards, standing in the middle of the road, knocking over old-ladies with her backpack, and not reading the social cues of others to understand when to start moving. This teenage feature was less annoying than dangerous. More than once we had to shove her out of harms way as cars came speeding along narrow roads.

Another notable transitory teen affliction was not knowing how to alleviate one own discomfort. She’d be hungry, tired, frustrated, wet, entangled, or stuck between one awkward place or the other, and not know what to do to help herself – she’d get snappy or sullen when we tried to assist.She felt shame at being stuck in a physical or emotional spot that she couldn’t navigate out of, and didn’t like that we had to intervene. We explained more than once that we weren’t down on her, and that any correction we made was about giving her more tools to be awesome.

While it didn’t surprise me, I was delighted how deeply she dove into the art. Even the lace work and the tapestries caught her attention. She noted the ages of the ‘ladies’ of court not being much older than herself and was horrified at how they spent their days. The Tate modern really exposed her to a lot and she seemed to process it all pretty well. There was a video of a performance artist walking down a market street carry a bowl of blood and periodically dipping her feet in so that she’d leave bloody footprints where her she walked. Symone asked a lot of questions about that piece, and really picked at the notion of breaking social convention to make art.

A number of artists represented in the museum had works that explored gender in various ways. These artists were breaking ground in the 50’s and at the time their work was completely off-the-charts controversial. Symone didn’t even blink. A sign that maybe we’ve moved the social needle a bit?

She really came alive in London – and seemed to feed off the city’s energy. Kaety and I get drained of our super powers in the city so the contrast in our collective energies was a bit wonky. We let her agenda drive things while in London and she got a taste of what the city offered.

We saw very little of the sullen teen and much more of the young woman – we were both relieved that she was able to take advantage of the trip and really stepped up. Valuable, good time!

Planning for England…with a teen!

When we asked 13 year-old Symone what kinds of things she’d like to see and do in England – she replied, “I want to see the British version of Taco Bell, and Big Ben.” 

We looked at each other and then kindly excused her from the planning committee. The mission to broaden her horizons was more critical than we had initially imagined!

We leave tomorrow for England…with a teenager!

This trip will be Symone’s first time out of the country and while it’s not the most challenging trip it will be a good introduction to ‘the other’ and hopefully open her head up to the idea of a bigger world. 

The Middle School years have been hard on her (and us). We want to create a dynamic, strong and resilient woman so we’ve got to start providing her some stimulus that lets her start building an identity as member of a much larger and more diverse tribe. 

Neither us of expect the trip to go flawlessly –  even with the warnings to monitor and mange her own emotional states and negativity we know there will be some ups and downs. 

When reviewing our tactics and strategies for helping Symone with the trip Kaety flippantly said, “It can’t be worse than taking an 18-month old armed with plastic forks on a 6 hour flight to Hawaii?”

I just looked at her and shook my head and recalled something a friend often says in a tone of sage laughter, “Bigger kids, bigger problems”

But concerns aside, when has a little discomfort ever stopped us!! We are all in, and we are taking the amazing, developing, beautiful, sassy, difficult teenager with us to explore a new land.

We keep getting married

The first time I asked her to marry me she paused and said, “When I can understand marriage as something other than a trap I will marry you”.

I had smiled and understood. I kissed her because I could see in her face a fear that she had hurt me. I wasn’t hurt. I knew where she had come from.

As we grew closer and we each came to learn that love didn’t have to cost anything…the baggage started unpacking itself.

“I do” followed shortly after the last heavy bag had been opened and all the rocks we found inside returned to the river.

The day we got married was one of the best acts of freedom and independence we’d ever committed to.

Since then we’ve become big fans of getting married. We find places we want to get remarried in and we rewrite our vows to each other every day.

Sometimes we get married doing the dishes, sometimes it’s in the midst of awe, and other times it’s holding each other in heart break.

Tonight we got another round of oysters and Kaety decided that she wanted wedding cake. I started the fire early so the coals would be just right by dinner time while Kaety and the boys made a cake.

It was a wonderful evening by the fire. The oysters were perfect. We had Grammy Robin over and talked about love and the children. We ate our cake and got married once again – this time with the kids gathered around waving their plates and demanding cake. Some of them were wearing ear muffs for some reason.

It was lovely.

Emmett, the Milkshake and the flat Nutria

We planned a little time away for the whole family on the river this weekend at Kaety’s dad’s Alsea fishing house.

Less than 2 hours into the weekend our party train was a flaming wreck laying sideways in a ditch.

We struggle with Emmett. He’s a wonderful kid that spends a lot of time in some sort of hysterical crisis state. We have therapy, medication and management supports in place for him and most days we feel like we aren’t winning.

Some perceived injustice around a milk shake tipped Emmett over. He couldn’t recover himself and had to be dragged screaming out of the Waldport Big Wheel. Body activity is usually the key for getting him back to reality so he and I left Kaety and the rest of the kids to finish their meal and we walked.

6 blocks later I was still dragging a screaming child. 13 blocks…half a mile…on we marched – and on he screamed.

I nodded and waved to people on their porches, who smiled and waved back as I drug a rail thin Gollum-like character locked to my side screaming and writhing for his precious – aka a milkshake.

The walk was good for me as well. My seething rage was calming as I marched through Waldport and I began to wonder why no one was calling the police.

Just past the half mile mark I figured he’d wind down.

He didn’t.

We left Waldport proper and headed up the Alsea. The screaming child spooked up a couple of cranes – which were pretty. We screamed past two fishermen who nodded to me. Again, I was surprised that they didn’t reach for their cell phones to dial 911 as the screaming dialog next to me included, “You aren’t my real dad, I can’t walk any more, why won’t you give me any water, I’m going to say the F word and hurt you!”

We screamed past a creepy guy sitting in a black suburban. Emmett paused in his scream-a-thon Lon enough to ask if the guy in the black suburban was the Guatemalan Drug Lord that Grammy kept talking about. Once we got our drug lord myths cleared that he resumed his psychotic fit.

We had an additional momentarily promising pause in the epic Alsea fit when we found a flattened and dedicated nutria. Unfortunately the milk shake injustice was stronger than a compelling dead thing and he resumed his screaming march up river.

The plan was that Kaety would pick us up when she and the other kids had finished their meal at the Big Wheel. Emmett and I done about 3 miles of 911 worthy screaming when I started to formulate the idea that to be a successful kidnapper you just have to adopt a demeanor of long suffering. We made it all the way to Thompson’s nursery, still screaming and carrying on when I finally saw Kaety pass us and park in a turn-out ahead.

With the truck in his eyesight, but out of hailing distance, I bent down and negotiated his reentry into society.

We agreed that he’d enter the truck without whining, screaming or crying and that he’d make no mention of the inciting milkshake. He had calmed down, and with the respite of the truck so close, he agree to my terms. The consequences for breaking any part of the agreement would be more walking.

As I opened the door to the truck to get him in he screamed, “No fair! I wanted a drink of the milkshake!!”.

I pulled him back out of the truck And said to Kaety, “Find another pull out about a mile up the road”

The next day was going to be a full of things much more complicated than milkshakes. We decided we’d call Grammy and see if she wanted to spend the day with Emmett.


Goodbye Sydney

Our plane left Osaka at 5:30 pm and we spent the night flying back against the sun to arrive earlier that day at 3 pm. When we landed I got a series of texts and calls from Miles. Sydney, his life-long cat companion had crawled up onto his chest and taken her last breath. I stayed on the phone with him while we drove to Corvallis to be with him. He was devastated and grieving deeply. It was the first time death had really been a real part of his life, and he’d experienced it up close and in detail.

Diane got the news shortly after we did and made her way home as well. We all converged on a terribly sad boy laying next to his dead kitty.

Sydney had adopted us as a stray when Miles was about four years old. He had bonded up to her almost immediately and of course we kept her. Her first few months with us were spent outside, but she slowly worked her way into our home and into our hearts. She had been my first real pet, and a rare miracle of an animal that I hadn’t been allergic to. She had been fiercely protective of the yard and over the top hostile to any dog that braved coming into her territory. She had been a sweet and talkative and very sensitive to any upset in her boy. When he cried she’d lay on his chest and pat his face with her paw.

She had been with him for 16 years, and worked into every nook and cranny of his heart. She found her way into all our hearts. I think animals are god’s Seal Team 6 of love. When we put up every defense against love finding a way into our lives, our animals find all the holes in our parameters and can scale the highest walls of protection and set up camp in our hearts. I think it’s why it hurts so much when we lose them – we have no defense against that kind of love.

See you across the rainbow bridge Sydney – I fear for the dogs that pass by your sunny place in the grass.

Convenience stores and pagodas

Tom and his girls came to grab us the morning we had to leave and took us on a tour of a convenience store where the girls showed us some of their favorite crap foods. We got a selection of samples of course!

With ice cream, gummy products and tea in our bellies we headed off to visit a temple and pagoda. Amazing!

Tom took us over to an open field filled with daisies and told us that the field was more of a spectacle for the Japanese than the temple behind us. Anywhere you can take off your shoes, picnic and run through the grass is a valued experience.

We ate lunch at an Udon noodle place and he helped us buy all the Shinkansen tickets we needed to get to the airport…for which we were very grateful.

As he and his girls waved goodby to us and then watched as we feed all the tickets into the gate wrong, tripped over our ridiculous collection of suitcases I could see the doubt on his face that we’d ever make it to the airport. 🙂

Thanks for everything Tom!


Where is the mattress?

When I booked the ryokan and noted the futon bed I was pretty jazzed. I love futons – plump and firm and oh so easy to just roll out of bed.

During our first night when the grandmas came to “bed making” and politely insisted that we “go walk”. When we returned we were delighted by an elegant futon bed all made up on the tatami mat floor. Flashbacks of Shogun ran through my media infused brain. The good parts.

Kaety got into bed first and was fumbling around with the layers when I came in from the bathroom. “I think they forgot something?”, she said as she took an inventory of what made up the bed. “Is this another blanket? Where is the mattress?”

I got down on the floor and crawled into the investigation, “I think this ‘other blanket’ is the futon mattress”

She got up and started rifling through the bedding closet, “I’m too bony, I’ll never survive the night’”

She remade the bed with layers of blankets, sheets and seat cushions. When she was done the bed looked less like a scene from Shogun and more like a 5-year olds slumber party.

In the morning after breakfast the grandmas gave us a look.


The Ryokan grandmas

We taken to calling them ‘the ryokan grandmas’ – they’ve brought us our food, fixed up the futon at night and cleaned our room during our stay. They basically run the place and we’ve noticed that when we do something wrong we get a look. If Kaety doesn’t finished all her food there is a look. When we order plum wine with dinner we get a look and a lot of talk that we don’t understand…but we do. We got a look when we didn’t get the hell out of the room when they came to make the bed. One of them was following after me to make sure my slippers fit. When she discovered that they didn’t she wasn’t happy with the state of affairs. When we returned after a day out, they serve tea and a small semi-sweet in our room. When it was evident we had no clue what to do with the food she pointed, “You open, you cut, you eat!”. And that’s was the end of it.

Tonight we were served the most amazing thing ever. The grandmas came to the room with a giant plate of food, a portable burner and a kettle of broth. She whipped up a bowl of raw egg and place it in front of each of us. She fired up the stove and melted a ball of fat and then poured in a mixture of beef broth and soy sauce. She started feeding in pieces of beef and vegetable and cooking it. At some point she gestured to the meat in the pot. I looked at where she pointed and then back at her. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to pulled the food directly out of the pot or what? She sighed, gave me a look, and grabbed my bowl of raw egg and started putting food in it.

I pulled a piece of beef dripping with raw egg out of my bowl and ate it. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. I exclaimed, “oh my god!” and involuntarily moaned. At that the ryokan grandma gave me a look I hadn’t gotten out of her – she smiled, nodded and said “Hai God!”. We ate and ate and she cooked and cooked. At some point there was still cooked food on the big plate, and she looked at both of us, “More?” She asked. “No more” we replied. She looked at Kaety up and down and asked again, “More?”. She had decided that Kaety needed some fattening up, “No more” we replied with a smile. She gave us a look.

Best meal ever!

I love this woman…

I am completely in love with this woman. Not just ‘on vacation’ in love, but all the time in love. Being our best selves for each other is the way we live our love. Which means stopping and taking ‘a fearless inventory’ and being emotional honest with each other all the time.

Accepting my love with Kaety has been the biggest awakening of my life. Everything I asked for, everything I always wanted from love I got….but even bigger than I had imagined.