growth

One of my favorite memories from when my kids were small is them falling asleep on my chest. Warm little heads nestled up under my chin, bodies gently rising and falling with my breath, and little feet not even reaching my belt.

Sharaun has a picture I adore of Cohen napping on me this way, me prone on the airport terminal carpet, during a long layover. He’s sucking his two fingers like he used to do and he has that whispy baby-white blonde hair.

Last night Keaton cuddled up with me while we watched a movie. As tall as her mom now, dad’s chest has long ceased being an option for comfy naps. Holding her hand, I took a moment to consider its size… pushing that of a full-grown adult. I felt the prickle of stubble on her legs, the clasp on her bra pressing into my arm around her back.

When did this happen? How did this happen? It’s going to keep happening, isn’t it? Is it always going to be this fast?

dichotomy

I’m up, showered, dressed. Fresh cup of coffee, sitting outside on the porch in the temperate humidity of the Florida morning. Can see the river from where I sit, hear the windchimes in the breeze. Last night we all had chili at the youngest sibling’s place. The older brothers-in-law helped fix a ceiling fan, because we’re family and why not. I’m safe and happy and not wanting for anything at the moment.

Somewhere not far from here, a career alcoholic is rolling over in bed, groaning as he realizes, perhaps a bit bemused, that, for at least one more time, last night wasn’t the last night. Even if, maybe, he’d thought it really might have been… even willed it a little by going out for a third bottle after the first couple. Not for lack of trying, then, he supposes.

Yesterday morning he grabbed all his cash, got on his electric bicycle (COPD and a permanently suspended license), got two fifths and a cheap motel room in a sketchy part of town. Forgot his oxygen, but who needs it this is going to be a bender, boys! Maybe his sister will bring it to him later, just to up the odds a teeny bit in his favor, not give Death all the cards.

That’d be nice. She shouldn’t come alone, though. I’ll bet her son-in-law will ride shotgun just to be there with her, probably stay in the car, though, while she goes in to plead with him to not drink himself to death. He’ll sit there, mostly thumbing through his smartphone but occasionally stealing a peek through the crack in the curtains, trying to be sure everything’s OK in there, that this impromptu intervention is still peaceful.

Budget Inn room 114 is around the back, there are kids running around and riding scooters even though it’s dark out. A guy eating take-out on the trunk of his car with a plastic fork from a styrofoam container. His driver’s and passenger doors are wide open and his music is unjustly loud. “Bitch suck on my dick and put your pussy on my face. Pussy on my face. Pussy on my face.” The kids sing along gaily.

Today, though, I’m clean and fed and surrounded by friends and family. Wish everyone had the same.

do i even remember?

The rain first caught us in Northern Florida, along the Panhandle coasts, and followed us as we drove the hours south and East. We arrived in Gainesville, home to our alma mater, Friday afternoon. Still raining when we got there, the roof thrummed with precipitation as we slept through the night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. Peaceful rain noises, not angry sounds, made for a restful night.

After thirty or so hours, the sun and blue sky graced us just in time to support our planned walking tour of campus. We took the kids from one end to the other, stopping in buildings and bookstores and lecture halls remembered, telling stories of the three years we spent there matriculating.

“One night before finals we studied so late we just decided to sleep on the floor in the lecture room. We propped the door open with soda bottles so we’d not be locked out when we went to meet the bicycle delivery-man with our 3am pizza. We didn’t leave the room until we’d taken the final the next day.”

It was incredibly nostalgic and enjoyable, and really got me thinking… the memories seemed too distant… too faded. I mean what do I really even remember?

Odd things… unimportant but stuck anyway: Listening to The Music Never Stopped while I circled the parking garage hoping to snipe a spot before being late for Physics; playing Turok and eating Stove Top stuffing out of the pot, taking breaks to smoke Newports on the porch; slamming my palm into a mailbox in a fit of possessive jealously; a church trip to Panama City; reading Walden outside the engineering building between classes.

Surely these were some of the golden years, right? So why is it all so fuzzy? Did I not take time to stop and appreciate things? Was I going too fast, or tunnel-visioned on school at the expense of everything else?

Dang; have I ever really appreciated anything? Do I just not stop and think often enough? Am I just bounding from one milemarker to the next and missing everything out the window along the way? Further, then, and maybe boiling it down, precisely when and how am I truly present? Crack that nut, and perhaps I can get there, and stay there, more often.

Hugs friends.

silicone?

Got talking to a guy named Tony at the last place we camped. Met him our first night there as Sharaun and I walked the loop, as is our habit.

He’s from South Alabama. Sharaun introduces herself as being from Florida and he nods simply. When I say I’m from California he smiles and quips, “Well the jury’s still out on you, then.” I offered a good-hearted chuckle in response, and he still looks at me just a little wary, like maybe my coastal elitism might be contagious.

We had a longer conversation the next day. I’m outside practicing guitar, he’s got his tow vehicle pulled into the empty site alongside ours so he can lubricate the sunroof.

Being that lubricating mechanical things is a universal male matter of interest, I walk over, brimming with testosterone, and ask, “Silicone?” “Yeah,” he says, “Trying to limber-up the rubber seal a little. Sun’s got it winkled and the seal’s bad and the air coming in is noisy when we’re driving.” I lean in for a look at the gasket, run it between my fingers to certify that, yes, the sun has indeed puckered it a bit. He nods approval at my inspection.

We are two such different people. I’m wearing shorts with full-length stretchy pants underneath, a Grateful Dead t-shirt with a long-sleeved undershirt, flip-flops and wool socks – none of it color coordinated in the least. He’s in bluejeans, workboots, and a white collared polo. The shirt’s tucked in and his cellphone is holstered on a belt clip. South Alabama, meet California.

We chat, using a shared appreciation for routine preventative maintenance as a springboard into more the personal. He’s not worked for six years now, been unable to ever since he had a benign tumor, along with a small part of his brain, removed from his head. His memory isn’t what it used to be, but, by all outward appearances, he’s fit and well abled.

When we get around to the bit where I share that I’m on the road for a year with my family he asks me if I work from the road or I’m independently wealthy. I answer neither and explain a little about deciding to take a year off. We talk about homeschool and kids and careers and traveling, even a little on religion.

And then Tony hits me with it: “So what do you hope to accomplish this year on the road? What are your goals?” Ho-lee crap South Alabama! We gon’ get all existential up in here just like that?!

I start to reply, then stutter and stop, realizing I don’t have this answer canned. Stalling, I say, “Oh man that’s a great question.” I stammer some more and Tony, maybe sensing that I’m really thinking, doesn’t stare me down in anticipation of a response and just goes about checking to see if that silicone hasn’t loosened-up that rubber yet.

“We actually sat down and wrote formal bulleted lists,” I say. Still not an answer. But, for the life of me, in that moment, I can’t bring them to mind.

It’s these times, when I know the answer to something and should have a response but just can’t get to it in my head, that I’ll often just turn to raw honesty. Turn off all the pre-processing and perfecting and situational-adjusting of words and ideas I do by habit and just speak what’s coming from my brain, heart, gut. Just say it, whatever it is, because it’s the truest even if it’s not what my practiced response might be.

“I wanted to spend more time with my family,” I say. “I was traveling too much, missed my wife and kids.” And then I heard myself say, “And our daughter is growing up so fast, maybe I thought I could slow that down a little.” And was shocked that I’d said it aloud, having, for some time heretofore only acknowledged it privately in my own thoughts.

So here we are, all that preamble to get to the point of this writing and now I’m nearly too spent to fully consider it. But saying the bit about Keaton out loud was powerful. I’ll have to write more about it later, it’s surely worthy of more, but I’ll finish now by telling the last of that conversation.

Maybe it was easier for me to speak so unfiltered because there was a subconscious anonymity saying it to South Alabama Tony. I mean, maybe it’d get lost when he tried to file it into that part of his brain that was missing. But, more likely it registered to me that we were just two ships passing in the night and there was no reason for pretense. (Heck, maybe there’s never reason for pretense.)

Regardless, Tony now looked me dead in the eyes and it was his turn to pause before speaking.

And right before he did, it all evened-out.

My hobo-boho ensemble and liberal leanings. His CCW, climate denial, and worn workboots. All our differences washed into a soft pink sameness of two humans living together on planet Earth.

“What you said just then,” he said, seriously, “I can truly understand that.”

And, then, there wasn’t much more to be said. Further, the realness of the conversation had maybe dawned on us, strangers both unto each other yet sharing quite the intimate sentiments, and the urge to flee took over. There’s gotta be some more mechanical stuff that needs lubricating, after all.

“Well, I’m going to go on in and eat lunch,” I say. “Guess it is about that time,” he says, “Was good talking to you. I’ll see you around.”

Thanks Tony. Safe travels, brother.

parenting

This morning, after breaking camp but before hitting the road, we stopped by the National Park Service visitor center so Cohen could turn in his completed Junior Ranger activity book and earn another badge. Before we went inside, he had to finish one last activity by finding and picking up at least ten pieces of trash.

It rained last night and this morning the skies are still grey with clouds. The wind is up and the waves are big and angry and frothy for the gulf. Sharaun and Cohen and I are walking a circuit around the parking lot looking for trash. Cohen’s got a plastic grocery store bag for collecting what he finds. Everything’s fine, we’re having fun even if it’s a little chilly in the wind without the sun.

When he’s about halfway to ten pieces a gust of wind roars through and flips his bag inside out, spilling the trash he’s just collected, where it is promptly scattered and gone in the breeze.

And he lost it, man. Flipped his lid. End of the world type stuff. Screaming and crying and carrying on, wouldn’t listen to either of us, angry at us both and the wind and the whole world.

In frustration I smacked him; “popped” him, whatever you want to call it.

God, I hate when I do that. Swung my hand and delivered a slap across the top of his head, not hard at all but more than just a push. I hate being physical in anger; I feel an awful emotional response – a mix of adrenaline and shame and failure and loss of control and also this sickening sense of, I don’t know, “parental righteousness.”

I know: I’m too sensitive; parents have been physically punishing their kids forever; it’s in the dang Bible. Don’t care. Don’t like it. Don’t like me when I’ve done it.

Walked away, upset with myself. Apologized to Cohen just after he apologized to me.

Back on the road.

welcome to florida

We finally made it into Florida and, I tell you, crossing that border felt like an accomplishment. For all the stupid fretting I’ve done about the ways I’ve mentally divided up this trip, all the times I wondered if we’d ever even get out of California, that arrival was a meaningful one.

Clear across the country; from one coast to another. I think back to those weeks spent on the Pacific beaches of Southern and Central Oregon and, although only a few months have passed, they seem ages ago now. A different trip, even, another time altogether. What even was this, then?

Google said, “Welcome to Florida,” over the Bluetooth and it instantly set me thinking. We’ve already come so far, seen so much, and it’s still just the beginning. I got a shot of energy then, thinking about all the unknown things to come. For a moment I felt like we had forever – that if these three months already feel this substantial then how much more will the next three, six?

It’s been two nights here near Pensacola. It’s cold, doesn’t much feel like Florida yet even if the white sands and flatness give it away. And each night when I’ve climbed into bed I think how much I’m enjoying this, how I don’t want it to ever end. I miss my mom and our friends and a select set of my coworkers, but all I really need is right here in this little box on wheels.

And there’s so much more to come.

knowing is half the battle?

Occasionally I get these flashes, short bursts of dire thought: “I’m not doing this right! I’m squandering this time!”

Continuing now into what, if you’ve followed along here at all, will be familiar ground – I’m still having these moments where I worry that the very way I’m thinking about and doing this trip is robbing me of some of its beauty.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I have (an almost instinctual) mindset of envisioning this journey less as one gorgeous, long thing and more as a series segments, linear, each with beginnings and end, but having to “finish” one to start the next. It’s almost as if years clambering up the rungs of the corporate ladder, and the hallowed halls of education before that, have conditioned me to this sequential grind.

And I know this is awful. I can feel it; breaking what should be a grand and languid unfolding into just another checklist of achievements. I’ve got to figure out how to transcend this (Western? American?) mentality and simply live in this space (surely I’ve said this many times before).

Three months! It’s been three months! And, yet, here I am still in my head thinking, “We’re almost to the Florida part. Then it’ll be the after-Florida part, then…”

Shameful, I feel… but maybe also just me? I mean, it’s not like I haven’t enjoyed these three months, I have – absolutely. But where and how do they sit in the bigger story of my changing through the entirety of the experience? Or maybe I just need something to worry about at all times, because I’ve been programmed that way through upbringing.

To end the rambling then, I’ll redouble efforts to stop and slow down. To walk more, no phone in-pocket; to pray and meditate and read more, not following what’s happened in politics that morning, afternoon, most recently-elapsed half-hour.

Maybe my acute awareness that this time is a gift and can, worst case, be squandered is a good thing. Maybe it’s a pox of hyper-awareness. Maybe this writing was done three paragraphs ago.

Peace.