27 July 2012

Out West, Part Four: Lessons Learned

Things I learned out west:

I can live disconnected from my electronic devices. Amazingly, so can my children. We didn't have wi-fi or television for extended periods of the trip, and everyone survived! But I don't think I could remain Internet-free forever, especially if my dream came true and I actually lived in the middle of nowhere. I think the need to connect with others is powerful, especially if one chooses a career of solitary typing in a windowless room.

Gosh, those hiking clothes are cute! I really want to be more physically active, especially since I have chosen a career of solitary typing in a windowless room. Or it could just be that I want to wear neat nylon pants, fitted jackets, and Merrell Mary-Janes. I certainly do not want to join a gym, but I'm going to have to craft some sort of plan that doesn't involve moving to the middle of nowhere to become a farmer, because that would certainly cost more than a gym membership. Or even my own personal home gym. Huh. Maybe I could sell the home gym idea to the Captain through comparative pricing. Moving to Montana v. turning the garage into a gym...wow! What a bargain!

I can be a restless soul. Well, I already knew that about myself, but I'm sort of fascinated and frustrated by this facet of my personality. I don't think of myself as an acquisitive person, but I wrestle with wanting things that are really almost unattainable. Left to my own devices, I would pack up and move every three years or so, farther and farther away. But I'm surrounded by family, many of whom I brought into this world, so it's not like I'm traveling light.

This might be a lesson the Universe is trying to teach me, again and again. I want to go, and it wants me to stay. It's an addict thing, to want no connections, no ties to bind or judge you. It's easier to kill yourself if you're not beholden to babies and book deals. Apparently, the Universe determined that an unfettered Megan is an unhinged Megan, so it gave me weights, like the sandbags that hold down hot-air balloons.

The surprise is that the weights actually let me fly. My life with the Captain and the pack is what keeps me alive, gives me purpose, and helps me achieve my goals. Without them, I'm adrift. If I ignore the twitchy chatter in my brain I know this to be true, because even in my dreams of Montana I'm never alone. And that is the most important lesson I learned. When I am out west, I feel like I'm home again. But when I'm with my family, I truly am.

18 July 2012

Out West, Part Three: Suite Togetherness

One should not travel with five children.

I think we can agree that, in general, it's just a little loony to have five kids. Then again maybe you, dear reader, have seven or eight and five doesn't seem at all strange. Good for you! You are in the minority.

The world is not equipped to easily accommodate a family of seven. We fill every seat in our minivan, which is ostensibly crafted to handle our brood.  However, judging from the strangulating seat belt reserved for the rear middle occupant, KIA doesn't think anyone is really crazy enough to procreate with such abandon. And if they do, that last kid must be a mistake, right? So the parents probably don't care whether the three-point restraint allows for normal respiration. To be fair, on occasion they're right.

Hotels share this philosophy. Not that my children should suffer, just that I have too many of them. One cannot legally book seven people in one room, even if it's a "suite" which, for the majority of hotels, was defined as many beds in one room, not separate living and sleeping areas. Despite this design failure, hotels charge more for "suites." So, to save money I only booked us one "suite" per hotel. Yes, folks, we all slept in one room. Actually, six of us slept together, because most nights M.I.L and F.I.L kindly housed One.

From the get-go we established that Four and Five would sleep on the pull-out couch. If there was one king-sized bed and one queen, we gave Two and Three the king so they had a better chance of avoiding contact with one another. The Captain and I bunked together, which is why One got shipped out. He was perfectly happy with this arrangement, even though he missed all the nocturnal fun.

Sharing a room with six men is akin to sleeping in a barn. There is snoring, farting, kicking, cursing, and tooth-grinding. For added humor, the Captain brought along his newly acquired bi-pap machine. He recently found out he has central apnea, which means his brain stops him from breathing in the middle of the night. Essentially his brain is trying to kill him. He's now locked in mortal combat with this cranial traitor, and the first line of defense is the bi-pap machine. It makes a pleasant white-noise hum while forcing jet-powered air into his lungs, unless the mask slips off his face and breaks the seal. Then it emits a high-pitched squeaking sound, like a runaway helium balloon, or a dying duck.

A typical night in the suite, as observed by moi, who hasn't slept in nineteen years anyway:

Four and Five fall asleep on the couch. Twenty minutes later, Five sits up and flops over onto Four, where he will spend most of the night attached to his back, earning him the nickname "Tick."

The Captain straps on the bi-pap machine, and we shut off the lights. The room remains illuminated by the electronic glow of the iPhone and iPad as Two and Three read facebook and the details of the (failed) attempt to acquire Dwight Howard for the Nets.

An hour later, the Captain's mask slips and squeaks. Giggles from the next bed. Cursing and
torn Velcro from ours.

Hours later, "Three, move over!" Grunting as Two rolls his brother to the other side of the bed.

Hours later, the clicking sound of Three grinding his teeth, and snoring from the Captain, who has ripped off his mask in frustration.

"Oh my god, Three, move over!"

Snoring, clicking, shoving, flopping.

Dawn arrives, and a cacophonous crescendo of farting signals the growing consciousness of the roommates.


"Safety!" *

I always said I wanted a farm, so I have only myself to blame.

* Explained here for those of you not fortunate enough to live with gaseous young men.

16 July 2012

Out West, Part Two: Home Again

When I am out west I feel like I am home again. It is both a joyous and sad experience, because the deep love I have for the land is tempered by the understanding that I'll have to leave it.

Standing beneath the big sky with nothing but space around me, I am filled with such yearning it makes my soul ache.

It is so breathtakingly beautiful I spent half the trip blinking back tears, which finally spilled over  during the Cody Stampede opening prayer.  We were there during "Tough Enough To Wear Pink" night, when all the proceeds go to a family fighting cancer. The sun was setting, the rodeo was about to start, and the announcer, Randy Schmutz, asked us all to bow our heads. He led us in prayer for the safety of the cowboys, for the men and women in our armed services, asked for strength for those battling cancer, and we thanked the Lord for our great land. It was lovely to be part of the community at that moment.

I know that visiting a place is not the same as living there. I'm sure the good folks out west have the same concerns that I do in New Jersey. I imagine they worry about their children and their friends, wonder where our country is headed, try and figure out how to keep their jobs and pay their bills.
So I know my life wouldn't be all that different if I was living in Montana.

Except for the land.
The land that unfurled before me, uncluttered and free, rolling and rising to meet the jagged, jutting peaks, ignorant of my insignificant presence, its call a constant thrum, like the rumble of distant water.

11 July 2012

Out West, Part One: TSA Adventures

We promised One a trip to Yellowstone for his high school graduation, so at the end of June nine of us boarded a plane to Salt Lake City for a western adventure!

As you can imagine, travelling with nine people presents certain challenges. When you factor in that two of the nine are autistic and three were afraid to board the aircraft, it's amazing we made it off the ground. However, first we had to navigate airport security.

The Captain created a buddy system, wherein one able-bodied or calm-minded individual would accompany a family member who needed assistance. This proved very effective during the herding and disrobing section of security, as we who have flown helped those who have not remove their shoes, belts, laptops and liquids, and place them in the appropriate bins.

Four asked, "Mom, why do you have to take off your shoes?"

"Well," I answered, "a long time ago a man boarded a plane with a bomb in his shoe. So now we all have to have our shoes x-rayed." The man in line next to me looked shocked that I was audacious enough to utter the "B" word while waiting to have my body virtually strip-searched. Then Three upped the ante.

"Yeah, but didn't somebody put a bomb in their underwear? Do we have to take off our underwear?"

"Not yet."

The man hustled to get ahead of us.

Our chatter was karmically rewarded moments later when my mother-in-law went through the scanner and was pulled from the line for further inspection. Without searching a thesaurus, I cannot find the words to describe how horrifying this was for us all. This trip was only the second time M.I.L has boarded a plane in decades. We had been murmuring soothing phrases for months. We assigned Two as her security buddy because his teenage self-absorption can often be mistaken for Zen-like calm. Because of these measures she was managing her anxiety rather well until the characteristically cheerful Newark TSA agent took her aside. M.I.L grabbed me to explain what was happening, so I followed her.

I am a native New Jerseyan and the daughter of a State Trooper, which means I don't trust authority am vigilant about my civil rights. For emotional and legal reasons, I was determined to observe M.I.L's pat-down. I told the agent M.I.L was very nervous about flying, so I would accompany her. This isn't allowed. M.I.L grabbed my arm, and the agent told her not to touch me. After that, a sequence of events ensued that could only be recreated by the Keystone Kops. We went to search for M.I.L's carry-on so it wouldn't get left on the belt, passing my F.I.L who was waiting for his own bag. F.I.L maintained this singular focus for most of the trip, apparently believing he was on a solo vacation. Each time M.I.L. grabbed my arm the TSA agent growled, "Don't touch her!" which we repeated to each family member that asked what was happening, until everyone at security probably thought she was freaking radioactive.

When the carry-on was safely removed and stowed, M.I.L and I headed over to the pat-down area which is, of course, right out there in the open, so that she could be felt-up next to the guy on the bench re-tying his shoes. Just for fun, she grabbed me one last time so that the agent could threaten to search me as well. The agent explained what she was going to do, and that part was over in a minute or two. Then she went to a separate machine to analyze her gloves for foreign particulates, and after finding nothing but a ridiculously high concentration of Purell my M.I.L was cleared for take-off.

Everyone was terrific on the flight, especially Four who proudly declared he had conquered his fear of heights. He and Five enjoyed many Delta cookies, which prompted Five to accuse me of lying, as usual. "You said airplane food was disgusting. These are great! And they're free!" Three, my other Nervous Nellie, fell asleep face-down on the food tray for most of the flight, and One blissfully stared out the window.

It was so easy, we were very relaxed about our return flight. The Salt Lake security line was short, we all knew what we were doing, and everyone made it through the x-ray machine without ado. Then they pulled Two's backpack off the belt. And One's carry-on. As I watched helplessly from the other side of the belt, they pulled travel size Jif peanut-butter from the backpack, and a cheap pocket knife from One's bag. I let the Captain handle the knife issue-I told him to throw it away, but the children liked it because it was a souvenir-which he opted to mail back home. Two was observing the kinder, gentler TSA agent in his totally chill way, so of course I ran over there to be vigilant. After she weighed one of the possibly-explosive-laden snack packs in the special detection machine, I picked the other two packs up off the counter.

"Don't touch anything!" the nice TSA agent said.

One of these days I'll learn.