We took a much needed hiatus from regular life last week, escaping to a cabin on the edge of a lake from my childhood that I really love. Travel has always been one of my favorite ways to bond with my kids, and usually summer is our time to do ALL the trips, but not this year. Thanks a lot covid.
That's okay though because it made me savor this trip differently. I have always loved traveling with all of my boys. That moment when you light out of the house on a long ass drive and everyone is strapped into their seat and is going to stay there for the next however many hours, McDonald's coffee is in your future and you get to sit on your ass and drive and call friends and not chase a kid for a few hours. It's basically a spa.
We are in the process of upgrading our whole life to meet the needs of our leggy 10 year old, our skinny grasshopper who gets taller every single day but does not walk. One of our recent upgrades was an adapted van. It's a slightly janky 2010 Dodge caravan with a sick wheelchair ramp that unfolds so easily I could cry, because before we got it I was cramming his wheelchair into the trunk of my Kia Sol. The new van fits all of my family members AND the wheelchair AND all of our shit for a weeklong trip which if you know my crew you know is a miracle.
My oldest is so independent which is a huge stroke of luck because the youngest two are decidedly not. While I spent two days washing bite sized boy outfits and tracking down everyone's swim diapers and calculating how many pullups and diapers and wipes we would need for the week, my lovely oldest did HIS OWN laundry, packed his backpack neatly and made me an instacart list of all the groceries he thought we would need to get from Walmart pickup on the way. Teenagers man. They're just the best. (Also, take it from me, reusable swim diapers are NOT the move. Once they've met a number 2 their life is over. Trust me on this one.)
This was our baby's first big family vacation. He'd been to Hocking Hills with us for a couple of nights and did great, but we weren't sure how this was going to go. I was prepared for the 8-hour drive with the iPad stocked with a pre-downloaded movie (Moana) and the diaper bag packed with snacks and little sensory items I knew our awesomely autistic little man would love to stim with (sparkly pipe cleaners for the win!)
Honestly, the drive day was one of my favorite days on the trip. Not because the rest was bad or anything but because that first Saturday just went so well. Julian was so comfy and chill traveling in his wheelchair. Baby brother was captivated by the iPad the whole first half, thrilled to disbelief that his favorite Disney islander was ON THE IPAD (a miracle!) We found a deserted church playground in the middle of a cornfield, the first playground we've felt safe letting the kids go on in months. Everyone spun on the merry-go-round, Julian sitting in his dad's lap and all three boys screaming at the top of their lungs for pure joy. I diapered JJ on a beach towel and let him sit and let his butt air out in the fresh air while Elijah played with his baby brother.
Moments like that are really special for me as a mom because my oldest has been through so much shit. He tells me often "Mom, I lost my childhood" so I live for the moments where he can laugh and spin on a merry go round and chase his brother and be a kid. He is 17 and more and more this year I realize that the roller coaster ride of raising him, a ride that at times takes everything in me, won't last forever.
The first thing we did when we arrived was bring our youngest down to the water with his new life jacket, our first time seeing him play in the deep water.
When your kids come from really hard places, when they've suffered deprivation and abuse and loss, it never gets old seeing them experience new joys. Until the day I die I will relive that moment in my mind's eye: his face, exploding in a scream-smile, eyes dancing, arms and legs pinwheeling madly in the water, mouth wide open to suck up and spit back out the lake, his little body bobbing around, every movement telegraphing excitement.
I am so grateful, and will never take it for granted, the fact that our three boys are out of their past trauma and with us now, that they are freed.
Things I want to remember forever: The way Julian's shiny dark skin smelled salty sweet after whole day in the sunshine. How cute he looked in my baseball cap. The way Elijah got excited about finding shiny rocks on the shore of lake Charlevoix while our youngest jumped up and down, tilting his head in that cute way of his, excited to watch the waves crashing in. Getting the little boys showered up at the end of a long sandy day and snuggling up in bed with their lotiony fresh bodies. Taking walks through the piney woods with my teenager and hearing about his hopes and dreams for the future, a rare window into his mind. Bonfires with the family. Laying on the dock looking at the stars with my partner. My sister and brother playing with our kids, tossing their little bodies in the air and joking with our oldest.
The cabin is on the top of a hill which meant that to get Julian to and from the water I had to carry him down. Hefting his warm body on my right hip I would feel the dry soles of his feet knock against my calves, his legs so long now, his skinny arms wrapping around my shoulders like a koala bear. 80 pounds of innocent sweetness trusting me completely to get him down 40 steps and across the narrow dock to his beach towel.
It's funny, before I was Julian's mom I worried a lot about my body. I tried to be "body positive" and all that but I still gave a shit about the flatness of my stomach, the appearance of my inner thighs in a bathing suit,
all that stupid stuff. I was endlessly critical of my body even though it was and is a healthy and capable body, a vessel that I'm lucky to get to experience life in.
Now, I'm just so grateful for my big feet that are surefooted on the narrow steps, never slipping as I carry my precious cargo. I'm grateful for my womanly hips, "child bearing hips" as they say, that have never widened to birth a child but that bear and balance the weight of my middle child all the same. I'm grateful for my jiggly thighs that bear his 80 pound weight and propel us both up those steep steps at naptime.
Thanks, body. Sorry about those college years when I was so impossibly hard on you.
Now we are back home and working on creating a more structured routine that involves less screen time for everyone including mom and better cleaning rituals, because the school year is coming sooner than we think. But even with big changes upon us I feel pretty centered, and grateful for togetherness. Along with anxiety and illness and isolation this pandemic has also brought us time at home and the opportunity to homeschool and the chance to bring home and adopt our youngest child.
I cannot cannot CANNOT WAIT to be able to share gorgeous photos of our baby boy and to have him share a last name with his brothers and to celebrate the legalizing of what we already know in our hearts, that he is our son. Even if it ends up happening over zoom, December 9th is going to be such a special day.
Thanks a lot covid <3