It’s 8:15am and I’m sitting in the Starbucks in the Crown Plaza by the Los Angeles Airport. Everyone is upstairs asleep – Rhonda and Lily in one bed and Ava in the bed where I was just 15 minutes ago. I’m surprised we slept this late considering at our house it’s 11:15! I think the weekend in Missouri did us some good acting as a buffer for the time zone change. Well whatever…I’m happy to be here right now. I’m going to stay disciplined about journaling on this trip. This is our first all family trip and I’m very emotional about it and I want to make sure I keep track of as many details as possible for me and for the girls. I know from experience that if you don’t tie memories down, they leak out of you quickly. Slow leaks…like the kind you don’t even know are happening until one day something in front of you ignites a vision from the past and there you are wonder…how did I forget that?
This weekend happened a lot faster than I thought it would. I don’t want to admit this but I even thought I might be able to get a meeting in with a work relationship while we were in Columbia. Not a chance. But that’s ok because overall the weekend was a success. There were a lot of ways it could go wrong, I thought. Rhonda’s mom and dad haven’t spent a lot of time together since they’ve been divorced…one of my brother-in-laws is now a transsexual named Becky…there were same sex couples there, etc. Now all of that is fine in my world. And it’s fine in Rhonda’s too, but her family hasn’t had a ton of exposure to that type of thing. Add to that their religious upbringing and what not and you can see that I was expecting a train wreck. But alas…that wasn’t the case. Existing relationships were nurtured by a stress-free summer event where everyone attended. New relationships were built between people who had never met.
There was something else that happened too, something very significant. When Rhonda and I met in 1996, we became friends that only saw each other once a year and talked on the phone maybe every three or four months. Those talks were fueled by me chattering on about whatever I thought would make her not hang up because I wanted to know her. I knew there were things swimming around in her head and I wanted see them, experience them. Years later I understand her much better than I did then. Talking freely just simply wasn’t in her nature. Even today, she’s the introvert and I’m, well, the mouthy one.
But it’s important to understand – when Rhonda was growing up her family was “perfect”. They were a doctor’s family in a small religious community. They had a big house, made a lot of money, gave back to the church and afforded all four children to go through college and then some. Things were good. Or maybe things just looked good. Either way, all that was different when she and I met. By 1996 the perfect design had undergone some serious tarnishing. The professed family of God was having a hard time making their image, their faith and their reality all fit neatly within the same picture and they weren’t willing to acknowledge that things were quickly unraveling. Her parent’s marriage was on the decline. There was a widening chasm between Rhonda and her mom and the sisters simply weren’t as close as grown-ups as they were when they were children. It was a stressful time and it was taking a toll on Rhonda, probably on her sisters too, but I didn’t know them.
Five years later we started dating and that was exactly the point when things were finally falling to pieces; everyone knew things were changing forever and the pain of losing the family they remembered and the fear of not knowing how, if at all, the independent parts would ever reconstitute was tearing nasty riffs through the relationships; there was a highly contentious divorce that dragged on and on; trust had eroded between the sisters and they were suspect of each other’s role in figuring out the long term family finances; the daughters felt strongly about favoring one parent’s position in the chaos and feeling hurt and conflicted because they had the love and hurt they experienced from both of them ran deep.
How does this all fit into Missouri? Quite perfectly actually.
I believe this weekend was a redefining moment in the Medina family. A healthy list of new family birthmarks decorated the event in a way that was overwhelming and disarming – creating a new design of what it means to be a ‘perfect family’. This new perfect design has second marriages, pending divorces, new half-siblings, same-sex couples, lesbian parents, pregnant bellies, a transgender dad, new scars that weren’t there at the last family function, recent tragedies, new beginnings and, most of all, an ever-present understanding that it was all ok, that we were all their for the people and relationships and they all had much to offer and they are all good. The perfect family of the past and all of its folklore wasn’t shattered, but seamlessly replaced, the false expectations of what it was previously and what that should mean today were finally traded out with the healthy functions and priorities that it had been without for so long. In other words, it was finally imperfectly perfect. There was no avoiding it, no denying it and spending any prolonged period of time being upset about things in the past. For the first time since I have been around, I saw a family that I can relate with.
So that was that. Good weekend. Good bye.
Because as much as it was a vacation in itself, I viewed Missouri as a jumping off point for our real trip – California! We have been talking about Seaworld and Disney for weeks now and that’s the vision our girls have used to put themselves to sleep at night and stay motivated and happy during the day. Finally it was here! On Sunday we were off to the mini-airport in Columbia (not dissimilar to flying out of someone’s backyard) and we were headed to Los Angeles by way of Memphis…which sells bbq pork nachos in the airport. These were no easy trips either. The commuter jets we took from Memphis to Columbia were about as big as an SUV and driven, in part, by propellers. The small space was fine. But those little planes have a hard time protecting themselves when God sneezes; a gust of wind would send us near sideways without much advance notice.
I have to say…I’ve been impressed with the traveling skills of my two little girls! Ava has been all over the place. She’s not intimidated by going through security anymore and although she may get bored on a long plane ride, she doesn’t get hysterical trying to make it end quicker. She’s a very responsible three year old who, as usual, appears to act a step in front of other kids her age. On the plane I had an aisle seat and the girls and Rhonda had the entire row across the aisle from me. Ava immediately made some key observations:
“Mommy! I can’t see palm trees! Where are they?”
“They’re on the ground.”
“Wait. Are we still on planet earth?”
(when we landed)
“Oh there’s a palm tree. But where are the coconuts?”
Absolutely right – California palm trees have no coconuts. She was excited. My big Bird has traveled many times now. Watching her from the back…seeing her silhouette with those two long pony tails, kneeling on her seat watching out the plane window reminded me of Kimmy. Not Kim, mind you. Kim is my grown sister. Kimmy was my little sister with long pony tails and a shrilly laugh that could go hysterical without much warning.) Made me sad. I miss her. After thinking about Kim and our family trips to San Diego I made a commitment to take the girls to Pacific Beach this week and then show them a picture of me on the same beach…35 years ago when I was as old as they are now. Or maybe that would freak them out. It’s freaking me out right now.
They there was Lily. More than a year Ava’s junior, she watches her big sister and picks up on everything.
“Look Aya! A biiiiiiig plane!”
With all the hustle and bustle and changing planes and sporadic eating and sleeping I have been amazed at how well adjusted she’s been. She even went 22 hours without sleeping more than 15 minutes at a time. She was hysterical on the flight. At one point she got super tired and just started saying “I want to go home! Daddy I want you to hold me…peez?” Then she had to pee. While I was carrying her to the bathroom, and she was crying, I whispered in her ear “Hey let’s go use the bathroom in mommy’s room instead.” The absurdity of my comment stopped her dead in her tracks and she stared at me until a comical smile spread across her face. “Yeah!” Then she had one of her own: “Let’s go to the green bathroom!” she said.
“No, let’s go to the one downstairs!”
“Yeah!” (now laughing hysterically).
She and I are bonding lately. There’s no question about it, she and Rhonda are a very tight unit. But she and are entering a new stage in our relationship. I really want to do a solo trip with her this year, like I did with Ava last year. It meant so much for my relationship with the Bird and I want that same experience with little Lulu.
So we’re here now. Los Angeles. We walked of the plane and into the mouth of the busiest city we’ve been to in awhile. And I love it. I’m sure there will be tons of revelations about how different it is now than when I lived here…but for now, I love it. I have to say, too, I don’t feel a part of it anymore. There was a little bit of Midwestern fear last night when I stopped to get milk or left to pick up the rental car. Funny. I was never scared when I lived here. Actually, I was. Right when I moved here from Denver. Last night we ordered room service…a fruit and yogurt plate, club sandwich and a salad. Then we watched Scooby Doo…then we all went out like a light. I turned the AC low so it would produce a constant hum…something that always forces me into a deep sleep.
I feel rested this morning. Time to go back up to the room. Time to start our real vacation. I’m done with my coffee. I feel good about writing. I feel good about everything. Think I’ll grab a couple donuts for the babies and a coffee for my wife – vanilla latte – and I will go kiss them good morning. Then the beach.
I love my life.