Boston, Summer 2016

We made this trip last year with a minimum of fuss, and once again, it went off without a hitch. I think we might be getting the hang of this traveling-with-kids thing, or maybe we’re just lucky. iPads and a portable DVD player for the win! We took our time on the drive down, leaving early in the morning. Someone (cough ELLIE cough) was awake at 5 a.m., so we had a head start.

After crossing into Massachusetts, we stopped for dinner with long-time friends Sarah and Tim and their kids, which gave Ellie and Gwen a chance to run around and play with Toys That Are Not Theirs And Are Therefore Fascinating.

I’ll admit, I came home feeling pretty bummed that we don’t hang out with most of our friends on a regular basis. Like I said in my previous post, we only see each other once or twice a year, and I miss them! I love Maine, and I even love living in the country, but my friends and family in the south make a strong case for migration.

My brother and his fiancée let us take over their apartment for the weekend. We didn’t get as much time with them as I would have liked because they were away that weekend, too, but we’ll get plenty of face time at their wedding in October (!)

Sunday meant Comic Con! It was my first con. The kids were excited at the numerous costumes (“Pikachu! Mulder! Scully! Wonder Woman! Batman!”), and they met one of the artists who works on the My Little Pony comics. We let them pick out a couple prints of favorite cartoon characters for their room.

But I had other priorities; I was there to meet Gillian Anderson, which meant standing in long-ass lines while Tim went exploring with the kids. Next time we do a con, I’ll plan to stay at least two days to soak it all in.

I am such a dork. I love it. And my kid has been blessed by Mother Gillian.

I paid for an autograph and a photo op, because why not? I have no regrets, but I think I’ll skip the celebrity extras next time (unless David Duchovny is also there, in which case, gimme). Meeting her at Streetcar was more intimate, less rushed, and she seemed more relaxed. It was still a cool experience, though, and Ellie was thrilled to join me for a photo with “Scully”. Ellie told her the X-Files was one of her favorite shows, which was cute, and GA asked, “Doesn’t it scare you???” Ellie shook her head, of course, and then we posed for the picture.

Gillian’s Q & A panel was amusing. She was feeling pretty snarky, apparently, and gave the moderator hell. She swore, apologized for swearing, and then kept swearing anyway. She talked a bit about being a mom, having “mom guilt”, balancing work life and parenthood — all things I can identify with. She recounted some fun moments from filming The X-Files last summer. It was neat to finally be in the live audience instead of watching from a shaky iPhone video on Tumblr.

After the fangirling, I went looking for my friend and former high-school roommate Sheryl, of Noadi’s Art fame. She is a ridiculously talented sculptor and painter, and you can see how much effort she’s put into building her business. I’m commissioning a Scully painting from her “kickass women” series whenever she’s available.

We headed home because the kids were getting grumpy and it was hot and my signed print got a spot, which soured my mood for the afternoon. Dinner at West on Centre cheered me up a bit, though, as did laying like a beached whale in an air-conditioned bedroom for several hours.

The next day, we went to Assembly Square and Legoland. We were able to get our tickets for cheap online, and the facility wasn’t crowded, so they let us in early. The kids played, tried the rides, and took the “Master Builder” class. It was blissfully cool and relatively quiet, which was a nice change from the swarm of people at the con.

We also visited with our friend Amanda and her new baby boy. Tim and I are out of the baby-making game, but there’s nothing like holding someone else’s adorable four-month-old to get my ovaries all whiny and mopey. Sorry, ovaries, you’re out of luck.

Amanda and her S.O. co-run a new restaurant, so we had tasty pizza for dinner. If you’re in the Malden area and need a bite to eat, try Sillari’s Pizza. We over-ordered and took home a leftover cheese pizza, which was promptly devoured by the adults for breakfast the next morning.

After one more night in Boston, we headed northward, promising the kids a stop at Target to get the LEGO sets we couldn’t find at Legoland. When we finally got home and staggered from our tiny car like road-weary zombies, we were coerced by small children into building said LEGO sets until our fingers were sore and our eyes were red. Not a terrible way to end a long weekend, right?

Summertime, and the living is busy.

We’ve had a jam-packed few weeks! I’ve been on vacation since the beginning of August, and have spent much of that time outside with the kids, playing Pokémon Go and supervising at the lake or the park. In the past I planned activities and set goals (because vacations are all about goal-setting, duh), but this year I’m winging it. I haven’t done much creating, although I’ve taken many photos while out and about.

We just returned from a few days in Boston, where we managed to fit in all sorts of fun, visiting with friends, hanging out at Comic Con, and setting the kids loose on Legoland. The whole trip left me feeling a bit nostalgic and melancholy, even though we had fun; there are so many people I only see for a few hours each year, and I miss them!

I’ll write more about everything once things settle down; in the meantime, here’s a sneak-peek of our adventures:

Goodbye, Nala

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Yesterday, we put our kitty Nala to sleep.

Tim and I adopted her 14 years ago at the Old Town Animal Orphanage. We liked to say that she adopted us; Tim was standing back-to the wall of animal crates when she reached out her paw and patted him on the shoulder. “Look at me! I’m the best one!” And she was.

She was our first baby, and we were anxious new-cat parents. Was she eating and drinking enough? Was that a cough or a hairball? We lived in a tiny loft apartment, and we were paranoid she’d fall from the loft railing.

She used to drink water by dipping her paws into her dish and licking them off, which would have been fine if we hadn’t used super-tough clumping cat litter. During her first week at home, we spent a lot of time fretting and prying caked litter from between her toes.

Before we had the kids, she’d sleep in our bed, curled around my head. She’d wake me by licking my eyebrows and purring into my hair. We adopted another cat, Stitch, a few months later, and she and Nala became fast friends. They were “our girls” long before we had human girls.

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Having had pets all my life, I’m no stranger to this cycle, but it was harder than I expected to see her go. Blood work revealed she’d been sick for a long time, unbeknownst to us; I hate to think we prolonged her suffering.

But it is what it is, and at least she’s not suffering anymore. Sleep well, Nala-boo.

Driving with Dad

A couple weeks before my dad passed away, I drove him upstate to have an MRI. One of his eyes had started to bulge, and his optometrist referred him for a scan to look for the cause.

The previous weeks had been a frenzy of one appointment after the other, hurry-up-and-wait for results, more bad news following bad news. Mom had been the one to take him to each appointment, to advocate for him and parse what the doctors were saying, and to handle the calls when they came in. This was something small I could do to offer her some relief, but it also meant spending one-on-one time with Dad. Given what would follow in the next few weeks, I’m really glad I did.

It was about an hour away, and as we navigated the roads, covered in frost heaves and potholes, with me trying to weave around them, I had to laugh at the irony of me driving Dad anywhere under these circumstances.

First, my family teases me because, when I was younger, there wasn’t a pothole or a frost heave I didn’t hit at least once. I have the dubious distinction of having bent all four rims on my Mom’s old Nissan beyond repair. The mechanic who worked on the car said he’d never seen anything like it.

Fifteen years later, here I was, trying my best to avoid every bump, because Dad had developed a sudden tendency toward carsickness along with his mysterious vision problems and the spot on his lung that we were all in denial about.

Second, there’s a running joke in our family that originated about the time I was learning to drive. Dad would take me out to practice with my learner’s permit, and he’d spend most of those drives glued to the door, one hand on the “oh shit” handle (as he referred to it) and the other gripping the armrest, sucking in his breath when I took a corner too fast or came too close to the curb (which was often).

He was a little nervous with his 17-year-old daughter at the wheel, to put it mildly, and it didn’t help that I was a nervous driver. We were so alike, we were a terrible combination. More than once, he’d slam his foot into the floor as if there were an extra brake, and I’d grudgingly remind him that kicking a hole in the car wasn’t going to help anything.

One day, we came back from one such drive and a mutual agreement was made: No more Dad in the car with Caroline, for the sake of preserving our relationship.

But now I was driving him, because he was too sick to drive himself. Thankfully he was in good spirits, so we were able to spend most of the time talking.

He told me how he used to drive this particular route for his job as a rehabilitation counselor. He spent a lot of time in the northern parts of Aroostook County visiting clients — people who had been injured to the point of being unable to work, often at a job that was the only thing they were trained to do.

The work itself was depressing; there often wasn’t much he could do for these people, many of whom were depressed and in chronic pain, and I think that took a toll on him. His colleagues, when he met with them, were heavy drinkers, the types who spent most after-work hours at bars. He didn’t have much passion for rehabilitation besides the fact that it paid the bills (most of the time) and allowed him to work from home.

It also meant a lot of time on the road. I remember his car — a gray VW Jetta — and how it smelled of cigarette smoke, the ashtray was usually full, and how the back was littered with work files and papers and fast food containers.

That life was hard on his body and his mind, he told me. 40-something with two pre-teen kids, a mortgage, a job he didn’t like, and student loans on a master’s degree he wasn’t using.

Of course, I’d known about his work before, but I’d witnessed those years through the eyes of a teenager. Those were tumultuous times for all of us, for different reasons, but this was the first time I’d thought about it from an adult perspective, as a grown woman with a family to support and a job of my own.

He told me how happy he was that Tim and I had steady work in fields we enjoyed, that more than paid the bills, and allowed us to take the time we needed for our family. Grateful that we’d fared better than him.

At the appointment, he couldn’t see the tiny print on the forms, so I helped by reading the questions aloud. We joked about it to ease the tension — ”How have those menstrual cramps been lately, Dad?” — then he went in for the scan, and afterward we went to lunch.

We talked more over hamburgers and fries, about the small stuff, the kids, his vision problems. I don’t remember the details, but I suppose that’s not important. It was the last time we were able to be a father and a daughter, enjoying each other’s company.

On the way back, he started to feel sick, so I let him rest. We got home to find the MRI office had already called, saying the cause of his vision problems were multiple brain lesions, likely metastasized from the cancer growing in his lungs. That was about the time my denial was forced to confront reality.

We’re coming up on the anniversary of his diagnosis, so these thoughts are predominant. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year; the other night I dreamed about him. There was a point where that would have been difficult, but it was nice to see him again.

It’s true that things don’t get better; they get different. It’s easy to reflect on the hard times, but I’ll always remember that afternoon as one of the bright spots in an otherwise somber time.

Game nights (and days)

This winter, we’re all about the games.

After Santa brought Exploding Kittens for Ellie for Christmas, we’ve made a point of playing a game almost every night after dinner. Gwen is a bit young to partake, but likes to sit alongside us and “help”, or play with LEGOs. It’s nice to have regular family time that doesn’t involve a screen.

Our favorite is Munchkin, because it’s humorous and easy to play, but still feels like an RPG. We bought two of the expansion packs (there are tons to choose from), and we’ll probably invest in more when our current cards start to feel too familiar.

We play Exploding Kittens or Zombie Dice when we’re running short on time. The X-Files is reserved for weekends, since play is more advanced and can take a while. We’re getting the expansion pack for that in a few weeks, which will make it even more interesting.

Other games in the rotation include Clue (my birthday present from the kids), Go Fish (Ellie’s favorite), and One Hit Kill. I love that the renewed interest in tabletop games gives us options that balance ease of play for the kids with enjoyability for the adults.