Family Homes

For the next few days, Jenny and Elena are spending time with Grandma Nancy, Jenny’s mom. Jewel just reminded me that I’m not all alone here; I have her, my parents (of course–it’s their house), and my brother all right here. We enjoyed being close to family in Texas, and we’re glad that we still have that dimension in our lives here. On this particular trip, Jenny is helping her mom out with some things. At first, her mom was worried that asking Jenny to come down would be taking advantage of us, but Jenny replied that one of the main features of being close to family is doing just that, and she insisted on going. Also, she was ready for a change of pace.

This is the second time since we arrived that Jenny and Elena have been down to see Grandma Nancy. The first time we all went together, over Labor day weekend, because we succeeded in finding house and car so quickly. Under light traffic conditions the drive took us just over four hours of driving time, but our plan for Elena to sleep the whole time only worked halfway. As a result, the last part seemed much longer than the first, because Elena continued to voice her disapproval of long car rides.

Upon arrival, Grandma Nancy had a bucket of toys all ready for Elena in the living room. We spent the first half hour watching to see what she would like and what she would ignore. Jenny and I appreciated the rest, and I think that the grandparents really enjoyed watching Elena play. Over the course of the weekend, Elena played with almost everything that was in the bucket at one time or another; grandmothers seem to have an excellent sense for toys.

Jenny and I enjoyed the opportunity to relax, but still managed to do some things. Kevin made some excellent barbecued chicken one night, and put on a mandolin recital the next day. Jenny toured the veterinary office where her brother works. Jenny and her mother got pedicures. On Labor day morning I went for a run through their very hilly neighborhood.

Confined to a pack-n-play, Elena slept better than she did the previous week. We did some light shopping at the local mall; for Elena, the highlight of that trip was a ride in a coin-operated kiddie ride. Elena and I spent a fair amount of time collecting acorns that had fallen on the trampoline. At church, Elena amazed everyone by integrating into the nursery with no trouble–Jenny and I weren’t surprised, because that’s just what she does.

On the return trip, we tried the strategy of departing at bedtime, hoping again that she would sleep the whole way. Although the strategy is time-tested, our implementation was lacking: Elena usually wakes up when the car stops, and we didn’t have enough gas in the tank to make it the whole way. After we stopped, Elena refused to get back in the car, and when she finally did, she wouldn’t fall back asleep.

We had an unopened bag of Cheetos for the ride home, but knew that if we started in on it she would want some and fuss even more. After singing all the songs in our repertoire until we started to go hoarse, we caved and opened the snacks. They kept me awake and Elena appeased for the last ninety minutes of the drive.

Elena helps me appreciate the moment of arrival at the end of a long car trip. The first breath of fresh air and footstep on terra firma signal a return to freedom. Most importantly, my distance from Elena is no longer fixed. I’m free to come closer to her at first, but eventually move further away.

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