Going home is harder than leaving.
When I was about ten, my parents took us on a road trip out west. I spent a lot of time leaning against the blankets my mom bought in Mexico, reading Archie comics. I also had them play the same mixtape over and over. I remember the tape – called “Greatest hits Volume IV,” I believe. But I can only remember small snippets of the actual music. I Heard it through the Grapevine was on that mix, and Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel. I know if I could find that tape I’d remember the words to so many of the songs that I can’t even remember titles to right now!
I’ve always been a fan of music in the car. When I got my license and could finally drive independently, I put in my mixtapes, or the ones my friends made, and turned up the volume. I rolled down the window to the red Hyundai my parents let me take to school almost every day, and picked up my friends.
I still remember a summer drive through a warm New Jersey expressway. I was driving from my family beach vacation to pick up my boyfriend about an hour away so he could join the vacation. I don’t remember what music I played, but I remember the feeling of windows down, music on, and open road. Independence!
When my kids were little, I played music on the way to any destination; errands or road trips! Sometimes I played music to keep everyone awake and singing. Sometimes I played music to help lull children to sleep for a nap or even for actual bedtime. One morning I did the preschool drop off, and went to get a coffee while the baby slept soundly in his carseat. It wasn’t until after I drove away with my coffee that I realized that Laurie Berkner was still playing, and I was singing along. Those Laurie Berkner songs are catchy!
My road trip out west this summer has a different soundtrack. Playlists from my phone, or music my 18 year old chooses, or my boys request. (And sometimes a Dear Hank and John podcast, or a little bit of an audiobook.)
It’s a shame I can’t write while I drive, because as the music plays I start creating a found poem from some of the lines that stand out. I don’t remember my poems once I am done driving. But, I keep making them the next day on the road. I don’t think it’s the same when I’m sitting and thinking about it, but I can give it a try. Maybe you’ll recognize the songs.
She’s been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own
where’s my apology?
So raise your glass if you are wrong
God sometimes you just don’t come through
Do you need a woman to look after you
I keep cruising
you outgrew me
Don’t you remember?
They’re watching my every sound
Have I the courage to change today?
You know I laugh too long
I like too much of you, when i’m gone
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I’m not your friend or anything, damn
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Oh no, don’t try to hustle me
We can’t afford to be innocent,
stand up and face the enemy
It’s a do or die situation, we will be invincible
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right
Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, It needs to be about me
Cause I’m my own soulmate
That’s exactly how I feel
Don’t hide no emotions
Wear ’em on my sleeve
Try it! Press shuffle on your songs, and collect some lines. What is your playlist shuffle poem?
This morning I woke up in a barn in Kansas, to the sound of a very small baby kitten meowing at my door. This is the kitten that greeted us late last night, and followed us to our room. This is the kitten that my children would like to kitten-nap and bring home with us.
Yesterday I woke up in a bungalow in MIssouri, happy to have ignored the roach I saw scurry into the corner before I fell asleep. This was the roach that I thought about briefly every time I woke up in the middle of the night. This was a roach like the one that the one bad Airbnb reviewer had mentioned that I had decided was just one review, and didn’t matter.
On Sunday I woke up in a yurt in Ohio, happy for the daylight so I could walk to the outhouse without worrying about the dark pathway where maybe my daughter saw a skunk scurry away the night before. This “skunk” was probably actually a cat, enjoying the beautiful backyard just like we had.
3 days in to our epic mom and kids road trip and so far, so good.
Knock on wood.
When my kid were babies, toddlers, young elementary students, I could never have imagined a trip where they all carried their stuff and helped clean up when it was time to leave the Airbnb. I couldn’t have imagined that they would just take charge of organizing the van and help to navigate. I definitely couldn’t have imagined one of them taking a turn at the wheel so I can nap during a ten-hour drive.
Don’t get me wrong, friends, the bickering in the car isn’t what I’d call “better than when they were toddlers.” I’d probably call it worse. And since the kids are in charge of the van packing, they definitely put the snacks close-by for easy grabbing. And currently, while I’m writing, some of the children are whining about how I need to get ready so we can go outside and meet all the animals at this farm.
When my kids were babies, toddlers, young elementary students, I couldn’t imagine life with them as these older kids. Now that they are older kids, I can’t really imagine life with them as adults… but I can start to see the fuzzy edges of that. I hope they will continue to want to travel with me – because they are awesome road trip buddies!
On to Colorado today, and the adventures that await us!
There was this one time, years ago, that a few of us tried a free jazzercise class. Maybe you’ve given birth to three children, maybe you haven’t. But I did have to run to the bathroom a lot. There was a lot of jumping in that jazzercise class.
I want you to know, that that jazzercise class is the real reason that I wore a long t-shirt to try Zumba today — Just in case I needed the coverage. It was a 20 year old tie-dye shirt from my first year teaching with our class quote, “You never know what’s going to happen in Room 16!” on the front, and “Second Grade with Ms. Gabriel” on the back.
I stood at the bottom of my driveway waiting for Anne to pick me up, when a friend I haven’t seen in awhile happened to pull up to my neighbor’s house.
She called over, “Waiting for your uber?” just moments before Anne pulled up.
I wish I had told her I was on my way to my first zumba class ever, because she would have had a good laugh. She was my mentor teacher, and through the years she has tried to teach me dance routines many times.
On second thought, it’s probably best that I didn’t have time to tell her where I was going. She might have made me do the cha cha slide or something after she was done laughing.
The class is held outside, in a church parking lot. When we got there Anne asked me if I was a front of class or back of class person.
“Back of class.”
Part way through zumba, I decided that it made sense that I was wearing a t-shirt from my first year of teaching for my first zumba class. #firsts (Also, just like room 16, I never know what is going to happen, or rather what is happening in zumba!)
I also decided I shouldn’t have worried about wearing the long t-shirt. There was some jumping for sure, but usually I was too late to realize the jump was happening.
I don’t know what you are supposed to be thinking about during zumba, but snuck in between the utter concentration that I needed for each step, each arm movement, and each butt wiggle, I had a few thoughts. Thoughts like:
Thank goodness I said “back of class.” I can’t even imagine being in the front!
Will counting help? 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4. . .
My butt doesn’t move like that.
I wonder if I can get these songs for running.
How long between runs makes you not a runner any more?
No wonder I enjoy running, it’s only one kind of step, over and over!
Wow. I’ve changed. I barely care what people think of me while I totally butcher these movements.
Well, I kind of care what the people behind me think.
Wait! I got that step.
Oh, not this step though.
Brene Brown was right about FFTs
Why can’t I montage this part: learning zumba steps. It would be just like how Baby learns to dance in Dirty Dancing.
It’s so unfair how you can’t montage life.
The class is full of nice people, and honestly, even without private lessons from Patrick Swayze it was super fun. I can’t wait for the next one!
There was this time my mom and I took walks in Texas. We were always excited to hear the birds (different birds than in Pennsylvania!) and we even saw a few Road Runners! One rainy evening, I almost stepped on a snake. This was surprising, since we were on the lookout for Texas wildlife, and we were walking slowly.
The snake was red and black and yellow and my mom and I stared at it for a bit before walking away.
“Is it dead?” I asked. “Is it real?”
I sent a picture to my kids.
My mom said, “There’s a rhyme about this… yellow next to red, something dead… ” She couldn’t remember the exact rhyme, of course so we circled back to the snake to get another look and a utility worker noticed our gaze.
“Uh-Oh,” he said as he came over to get a close look.
“There’s a rhyme of some sort…” my mom said to him.
“Red touch black, safe for Jack. Red touches yellow, kills a fellow.” the man said and we all looked down at the snake. Red touches yellow….
My phone buzzed with a text. H had written, “Ha. Ha. Ha.”
The utility worker kicked the snake.
“Or, it’s a toy.” he said, with a smile.
There were woods behind my childhood home-
I got there by going through an overgrown hedge, next to the small cave I made in a wisteria bush. Sometimes on my own, sometimes with a friend.
We’d climb this evergreen with low hanging branches and sweep the forest floor with the lowest branch. I don’t remember many details from childhood, but I remember the swaying of that branch and how it made the pine needle floor smooth below.
We also collected cigarette butts in an old orange soda can. We were obsessed with cigarettes, for some reason. It was the eighties, that might be a good excuse. We’d pretend to smoke the butts, and then collect them in the can: a good deed for the forest, mixed with an odd view of adulthood, and the glamour of smoking.
Probably if you are younger than me, you don’t understand the cigarette glamour. This is a good thing, I think, that there isn’t that same glamour now. But my imagination was a wild thing back then, unbounded. And I loved to imagine what it would be like to be an adult.
Now I try to imagine what it was like to be a child with an imagination,
and wild raspberry bushes up the street
and a pump station that looked like a magical brick cottage to me
and a field across the street with water runoff that were barbie rivers
and turtles found on the side of the road, kept for a week and then returned
and stuffed animals on leashes for walks
and fairies that lived under couches
and 12 foot pools, 18 inches deep that felt like lakes for hours of inner tubing
and of course, the woods behind the hedge next to the wisteria cave –
The woods are condos now.
But I drive by and think of my tree, and how the low branch swept the forest floor clean.
I blew my hair dry this morning
using my mom’s hair dryer
I find blowing my hair so boring
It takes forever
So I thought –
Because thinking –
Is one of my super powers
I thought about how my mom used to blow my hair dry for me
I thought about how when my hair is short it takes so much less time to blow dry
I wondered why my hair looks so good when the hair stylist blows it dry
I wondered how anyone ever has time for this sort of thing every day
I mean, why do I feel a need to blow dry my hair ever?
Yes, it looks better, blonder
Feels softer, smoother
But like, so what?
My first year teaching I used to arrive to school with dripping wet hair
(as if my mornings were so busy before I had kids)
(what the heck was I doing with my time?)
I would walk down the hallway, sometimes drying my soaking hair with school paper towels
You do know school paper towels, right?
Even slower to dry than a hair dryer
My principal would give me a little side eye if she passed me
She was a very proper woman
I was a very young second-grade teacher
I’m sure my dripping wet hair made her shudder
Deep in thought
The hair dryer switched to a quieter sound
It smelled even burnier than usual
My hair was almost all dry
But not quite
My goal had been totally dry hair
Laugh if you want, but this is a big goal for me
But the smell got worse, and the sound got weirder
So I had to turn it off
At least I tried
Have I ever told you how my memories are like blurs of pictures and sounds and feelings? I remember the same things over and over, but not too many things. Thank goodness for childhood friends who fill in the gaps. And even then the memories aren’t crisp enough for actual articulation. But even a slice of a memory makes me feel like I’ve caught it.
Have I ever told you about the boy in preschool who dumped a cup of water on me – on my pretty new white sweater with flowers? We were at the water table, and I was so mad when it happened. I don’t remember why I thought water on a sweater was the worst thing in the world, but it was. It really was.
Have I ever told you about how my friends and I were so obsessed with robbers, that we made robber stew in potholes after it rained. Our imaginations were so powerful that we thought, for sure, a robber would be so hungry on the prowl that they would definitely eat the stew we made with the poisonous berries, twigs, mud and stones. We even wrapped the rope swing around the swingset, making sure we would confuse the robbers if they tried anything with that swingset. Did we think they were going to steal it or maybe play on it? I don’t know. It’s fuzzy.
Have I ever told you about how my friend and I would stare out the window into the dark during a sleepover? We would convince ourselves that there were robbers out there. Robbers! The scariest thing ever when I was 7. My mom would come in and sigh, “You are scaring yourselves!” and threaten to separate us for the rest of the sleepover if we continued. Separating from my best friend – even scarier than robbers. We stepped away from the dark window, and held hands until we fell asleep.
Have I ever told you about how one day I heard my mom and dad whispering. They told me to go back in my room. I couldn’t hear them at all, but I could tell they were making a plan. Some sort of surprise. When they called me back out, I said “Are we going miniature golfing?” and they were so confused – how did I know the plan?
Have I ever told you about the day that we were having a big picnic and my best friend and her family and the German family they had staying with then were there. The four of us, all around 8 or 9, I think, we went in to dress up, including stuffing rolls of socks in our shirts. All was fun and games until we emerged back outside, lumpy fake breasts sticking out. Embarrassing. Oh, I remember the embarrassment. (Somewhere there is a picture of us, and if I had it, I’d share it, because now it is only hilarious.)
Have I ever told you about going across country when I was 10? We stopped at a Mexican restaurant and I ordered chicken enchiladas. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good. I sat there looking at my plate wondering why I was eating chicken. We didn’t eat much meat, but still. I made the real connection at that table. “This chicken was once walking around as a chicken.” I said, or thought, who knows – the memory is blurry. And I decided then and there to be a vegetarian.
Have I ever told you that later when we drove back from Mexico, I leaned on the dozen or more Mexican blankets my mom had bought. I rested in the backseat and read Archie comics maybe the whole way. An early vegetarian, before carsickness got ahold of me, reading instead of looking out the window at the glorious landscape. How odd.
Memories are strange things, how they blur and fuzz and repeat. I’m trying to live in the present though, after all – the present is when all those memories happened, right?
H wanted to wake up early and start the day with a walk
I was proud of myself for going to bed before 11:30
I was up at 4:00
Downstairs making coffee, tired of trying to fall back to sleep by 5:00
Resting on the couch with the cats when H came down at 6:00
Falling asleep with a mug of coffee in my hands by 6:15
Finally out the door for a walk at 6:30
The dog was happy, but also confused
He likes his mornings slow
Crisp spring air
“So good to start the day with movement”
“We should do this more often”
There are neighbors running up the hill by our house
Then down the hill
Then up the hill
“That will be us one day”
I say, as we shuffle towards them
“We start with a morning walk, but one day we’ll be running up the hill”
I’m drinking my coffee still
And hoping nobody notices I’m still in my pajamas
The neighbors stop at the bottom of the hill one by one to do push ups
“Should we sing to them?” I ask my 14 year old
You’re my inspiration . . .
But then the last man gets down in the middle of the street for his push ups
“That’s called testosterone,” I say
“There’s no reason on God’s green earth that you need to do push ups in the middle of the street”
We’re home now
For more coffee
It was a short walk
Pushups not included
But it was a good way
to start the day –
so much depends
the soft purr
of a cat
seated by your
on top of the