Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hindsight is 20/20....if you open your eyes, that is

Remember playing “Truth or Dare”? (I’m not talking about Madonna, by the way.) The real game, where you had to choose whether to tell the God-honest truth about something, or take whatever dare given to you? You know that feeling of apprehension that you’d have before choosing? You’d be doing a risk analysis in your mind, running through the entire list of everything you might have to answer, the secrets you had stashed away, versus having to do something that might prove to be humiliating, or just impossible to do? You knew that either way, you were running the risk of being totally and completely vulnerable to the judgment of others, and what’s worse, you might have to explore some truths about yourself and your limits.

That’s the feeling I had every time I ventured into writing about our departure from the US. That’s the feeling I still have when I write about it. But I’ve alluded to it so much in other posts that I have to get on with it. I suppose it will also provide perspective for you as you read my posts that are so mopey and/or critical of how I managed our move.

If I made a list of mistakes (if????) I’d start the list with this: talking about all the potentially good stuff at your destination does not constitute adequate preparation emotionally. You HAVE TO include some element of closure. Walking away from an empty house, seeing all your possessions neatly and safely stored away. Having an idea when you might return. Leaving as little as possible to ambiguity.

How do I know this? I’ve recently realized that the component missing from our move was the closure of the old life. When I speculate what the kids felt, I am knocked over with complete and utter sickness as I consider that they may have felt even the teensiest bit like me…even just a micro-millimeter of what I felt…and that was nothing they deserved to feel. I was a complete and utter failure at giving them the opportunity to walk away from their old life and look with excitement at their new life.

It didn’t occur to me that there was more to it than just talking about the new house, new town, new this and that. There was a lot of this stuff being said before we went: “In England, you’ll get to blah blah blah. In England we will blah blah blah. When we are in England there’s gonna be blah blah blah.” It was like, “Life will be so perfect when we are in England!” I avoided talking about leaving and focused too much on arriving. So no wonder nothing seemed good when we actually got here…we all had a vision of gold-covered streets and money growing on trees and buildings made of candy and non-stop sunshine.

I should have recognized the signs that something wasn’t right with the situation. (The situation of packing and preparing, not the situation of moving.) I recall doing a lot of chanting to myself “Keep it together. Just keep going.” You know that part in Finding Nemo where Dory and Marlin are going along and Dory is singing to herself, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”? I had that tune in my head, except I was saying, “Just keep going, just keep going” so I’d keep moving forward in getting done what needed to be done. Every time the emotion would swell up inside my upper torso, pressing hard on that space where your neck joins to your chest, I’d gulp it back and think about something else… ANYTHING else. As I’d be packing, I’d come across something that, if memories were liquid, would be heavy laden, dripping with tons of meaningful recollections. If I permitted myself to allow that feeling to come to fruition, I’d be a sobbing mess in the middle of the hallway floor. Or, even worse, the boys would see me like that.

I’ve been told that I’m being too hard on myself, that there’s no ‘how-to’ manual for this sort of thing. That may be true, but that doesn’t change the affect it had on the boys. Ten years from now you won’t hear them say “I was traumatized by my move, but my poor Mom didn’t know how to go about it, so it’s okay that it happened to me. She did the best she could with what she had.” Nope. They may not ever say, but they will just know, just feel that they were traumatized by their move.

In various posts I’ve touched on the days leading up to the move, and although it is chronologically out of order, I’m first going talk about the trip getting here. I am still wrapping my head around the days and weeks that preceded the actual move, so that post (or posts) will come later. If you cannot wait to hear about it, and you happen to know Geoff and Katrina, just ask them how pathetic the last 24 hours were.

We flew out early on a Wednesday morning. That Monday night we slept over at the Seydel’s house, (well I never made it over there to sleep...more on that another time) and then all day Tuesday, Son 1 and Son 2 were at the Seydel’s as we frantically packed. Husband and Katrina took trip after trip to the storage unit while I sorted and packed...and thanked Katrina every chance I got for being such a saint…a true lifesaver. But there will never be enough thanks for that. The boys would call me every couple of hours and ask me when I was coming back to the Seydel’s house. I kept telling them I was still packing and going as fast as I could go, and that they wouldn’t want to be at our house right now, with all the commotion. That I'd be done really soon. I recall thinking that I was almost done. I really and truly did think I’d get it all done.

That Tuesday evening we had been at the Seydel’s house, eating dinner, picking up the boys and saying goodbye. It took WAY longer than I expected, as it was WAY more difficult than I imagined. None of us wanted to leave.

Logic says that you’d be completely packed and ready to go before you did anything else, but I kept thinking there was this excess of time somewhere. Wrong. Any and all of my so-called “logic” at that time was completely flawed.

The drive home from the Seydels was difficult…and I don’t just mean driving while crying. There was a sense of finality I wasn’t ready for, the boys were very upset, and I was feeling a sense of panic that I was in over my head. Could the boys sense that? I don’t know. But once back at the house, they didn’t get to sleep until long after midnight, and then we were waking them up at 4:00am to get in Geoff’s car and go to the airport. We had lines to deal with at the airport, even at 4:30 in the morning. We had giant bags to check, giant bags to carry. We had an hour to kill at the gate, in that strange time of day that isn’t nighttime anymore but isn’t morning either. Where you hear a buzzing in your ears and see everything in a strange yellow tint. Your senses are heightened, but not in a way you appreciate. Things smell way more than normal….great for a cinnamon roll, bad for jet fuel or an airport restroom. You can’t get warm, or you can’t cool off. Your food tastes and feels extreme as you chew it. The chair you are sitting on is too hard, too squishy, too wide or too narrow.

As we boarded the plane, I know I avoided making eye contact with Husband. I was afraid I’d lose it if I did, because Husband can read me at a glance. If I revealed how I felt, he’d naturally try to relieve me of it. That’s what he does. But there was too much to relieve, there was too much I hadn’t acknowledged myself yet. No thinking, no feeling…I just had to focus on appearing to be excited and upbeat to the boys.

I think I said something like, “Here we go!” in some cheery-like way, as if to remind everyone that we were starting a great adventure. I looked to see if the boys were as excited as I was coaching them to be. They looked apprehensive, and as I type this, I feel the same huge, burning cut right through my chest that I felt then. I distinctly recall feeling that it was not really happening. I remember thinking to NOT think too much about it, because I didn’t want to feel too much about it. We had a long flight ahead of us, and then another one after that. Keep it together. Just keep going, just keep going.

We flew to New York, and the boys snoozed enough that they had some energy to burn once we landed there. We had a five-hour layover, and aside from having to eat crappy airport food, the layover wasn’t too bad. Our tired bodies were confused….it was dinnertime for us as we boarded the plane, but it was 11:00pm in New York. Shortly after we took off we were given a snack and then it was lights off. The boys were absolute angels, but clearly were not ready to fall asleep for the night. The flight was jam-packed, too, so it was not conducive to comfort. The movies weren’t kid-friendly. It was a long, long, long flight. I sang a lot of my Dory tune to myself.

We landed in Manchester early in the morning on December 5th. The region was experiencing an unprecedented cold spell, so it was numbingly cold. It was raining/sleeting, windy, and miserable. We had to go to the car rental building which meant that we had to walk across the top level of a parking garage, totally exposed to the arctic rain, dragging bags on wheels through giant puddles, no coats, wind whipping our faces. This airport is the most POORLY planned and managed place on the planet. In addition to the walk, the entrance had about six steps going up to a door that opened outward, so you had to step backwards down the top two steps to open the door, then somehow manage to get your bags in behind you.

But that’s not the worst part of it. No, the worst part of it is that there was a puddle that was wider than anyone could hope to jump over, and went the entire length of the staircase. I am not exaggerating in the slightest bit. You truly could not enter the rental car building without stepping IN it. NO way over it, no way around it. And this puddle, by my best estimate, was at LEAST three inches deep. Seriously, at its shallowest, it was three inches. Go get a ruler, right now, and put one end of it on the floor next to your foot. Count up three inches and see where that comes to on your foot. It’s OVER your foot, isn’t it?

So imagine this moat-like puddle with ice along the edges, pelting rain, whipping wind, eight giant bags strapped to two cart things with four carry-ons dangling from the cart. The building you need to get into is not accessible. The building you came from is not accessible. There is no awning, no cover, NOTHING.

Husband and I assessed the situation, and decided that the kids shouldn’t get their feet soaked by going through the puddle, and that we’d stand a better chance of getting out of there relatively dry if we just got the car as quickly as possible, even if it meant a few minutes outside in the rain. So Husband, always the trooper and without hesitation, went through the mini lake and into the building, confident that, like dozens of times before, he’d get the rental car and we’d be on our way in just a few minutes. We could handle the heinous cold and wet in exchange for a warm and dry car. Besides, what choice did we have?

Things went from shitty to shittier FAST. The rental place had messed up our reservation, there were no cars available, and to prove our reservation, Husband had to come out to get his briefcase with his laptop, take it inside, power it up, and open the file with the reservation info in it. He had a printed one, but apparently, they needed something else that wasn’t on the thing he printed. I sent the boys in with him so they could get cover. By this point, their feet had become wet and there was no reason for them to stay outside and get hypothermia. But there was no possible way to get all the stuff through the puddle, up the steps, and into the building, so I had to stay outside with it. I told myself it was just for a few more minutes.

Now, my original intention was to put down more detail about this situation. I’m going to have to stop now, though, because it is just too much negative energy, and I don’t want to draw more of it in. And really, it’s just too difficult to re-live. If I sound pathetic or fragile saying that, then so be it.

I’ll just summarize the rest of the rental car acquisition: the wait was about 40 minutes. I was truly concerned that I had frostbite on my hands and toes, but I was glad the boys were indoors and warm. I was so cold and miserable that I cried…just stood there crying. Husband was finally able to get the yahoos in the rental agency to find a vehicle for us, and true to the hero he usually is, he sprinted out to me, found us the car, started it to get us warm and dry, loaded everything in quickly, and got us on our way. But it was NOT a good way to start the day – much less a new chapter of our lives.

It was the antithesis to the picture I painted for Son 1 and Son 2, nothing like what I’d promised would be worth all the sadness of leaving home. I was failing them at every turn at this point, and we hadn’t even left the airport.

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