Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vacation Part II

By the second part of the vacation the honeymoon effect of being together with the kids all the time began to wain a little as we prepared to say goodbye to lots of family. I looked around the one bedroom condo that had been our home for a full week and realized it was going to take way longer than initially planned to actually repack our bags and load everything up. We had a six hour car drive to Denver ahead of us and then two days later we would drive back across country. Unlike normal last days of vacay, where you can just shove it all in a messy pile knowing that the second you get home you will throw it in the wash, we had to try to figure out exactly what we would need and repack it into a single bag. As I folded and packed the kids would pull items out and lay in the suitcase. Overall I think it took us almost four hours to pack up a tiny condo and load it into our car. By the time we put the kids in the car they were covered in mud from head to toe. We said our goodbyes and headed up north, hoping that the kids would nap so that we wouldn't have to pretend to see a bear run towards us the entire 6 hours for the sake of an adrenaline rush. We stopped in Pueblo and visited Jason's dad and then headed up to Denver. It was a weird mix of feeling relieved and yet somber at the same time. The purpose of this part of the trip was to be a part of the Remembering the Brave ceremony. This ceremony honors fallen heroes and gives their grieving family a chance to come together in a beautiful event that is truly life changing. Unlike our condo, we were in a much smaller room and with less amenities. We decided Saturday morning that we had to get the kids out of the hotel and let them stretch their legs so that they would be good for childcare that evening. We took them to the Denver Zoo and they had such a good time. Jason and I loved seeing so many of the animals that our quaint little zoo doesn't hold, like polar bears, apes, chimpanzees, etc. Cruz rode the train and the carousel and it was wonderful.

 I will say that the afternoon was insane between kids crying, whining, screaming, throwing an entire box of cereal into the bed, and us trying to get ready for a black tie event. We checked the kids into childcare and began to mingle. It is such a truly humbling event to attend. There is a hall of heroes which displays the uniform and bodice of each fallen hero with two framed pictures, their citation, and all of their medals. It was truly heartbreaking to see pictures of some of the men with their children, knowing the outcome of their fate. We ate dinner and sat next to Ed and Pam Rogan, who are a truly amazing selfless giving couple that devote much of their time to volunteering and awareness. We also had the pleasure of sitting with two families who's sons were 3/5 Marines that had been killed last October in Afghanistan. For them, it hadn't even been a full year. The ceremony featured 3 gold star families that spoke briefly of their journey's and how they had tried to cope with the grief. They presented colors and sang the nationals anthem. Listening to the powerful words of the song, I couldn't help but cry knowing sacrifice and bloodshed behind the protection of that flag. We had a wonderful steak dinner, and then the  ceremony commenced. There wasn't a dry eye in the building as family after family was addressed by Marines in dress blues presenting them a bouquet of yellow roses, one for each year of the  life that they were honoring. They were also presented a plaque of mounted medals that the hero had rated. There were young widows, moms, dads, brothers and sisters, so many there to mourn the loss of their loved one. It was beautiful. Colonel Grosso spoke afterwards in a touching detailed speech that left everyone choking back tears and swallowing the lumps in their throat. Grosso shed insight in the perspective of an officer and how they process through the grief when one of their men is killed. Johnny Bulford concluded the event singing the song 'Remember the Brave'. In those moments of complete humility there is sometimes nothing that you can really say to any of these families that is appropriate. I'm sorry for you loss begins to sound very cold and formal. Everything that Jason and I experienced was as a couple. Now, being a mom, my perspective has changed. Trying to possibly understand the hurt these women were feeling... I just couldn't imagine. I was speaking to Deb Tainsh, who has written two wonderful and honest books (Heart of a Hawk, and Surviving the Folded Flag) She told me that when you lose a spouse, you lose a partner... when you lose a child, you lose part of your future. The Tainsh family name ended with the loss of their son Patrick.
The next day we attended the 10K run and the kids loved watching everyone run and march! Before we headed back on the long journey home, we took the kids to the Denver Acquarium. It was the perfect way to end the trip for the kids. They got to run freely and explore and see all of theses amazing beautiful creatures. There were otters, turtles, sharks, stingrays, there were even mermaids that swam in the tank while we ate lunch. Winding up, we grimaced knowing the long trip that lay ahead. We dreaded the never ending corn fields, and constant whining from the back seat. We were exhausted and didn't feel like listening to Nemo one more time in the car. "Let's just drive a little farther," we said at each passing town. We actually made it all the way to Topeka despite the screaming that lasted the entire last two hours. We were all exhausted. But the next morning we headed into KC and saw our family and let the kids play with their cousins at the park. The last 2 1/2 hour trip home seemed like a breeze after the whirlwind we had been on. It was hard to believe all the things we had done over the last two weeks. Like a dream, it seemed distant and vague.
Ending the trip with the Remembering the Brave ceremony was, as always, a sobering reminder of the fact that while we face our daily obstacles and hardships, we are together. We are alive. We have freedom, because someone else is standing in the gap protecting our freedoms. We are able to go through our daily life because someone else was willing to lay their life down. Another mom is grieving right now because she lost her son today, so that mine would have a future. As I am trying to lay out Cruz's clothes for school tomorrow, another mom is making funeral arrangements so that we can live in freedom. It is up to us to never forget what was done for us. Yet in addition to our worldly freedom, we are able to have true joy and peace in the circumstances that life brings us. Jesus Christ stood in the gap for us and laid down his life. He paved a way for us to know true freedom and everlasting joy and peace. He has provided for us that which we don't deserve. It's so humbling I can't fully fathom. 
These moms that lost their sons would give everything they could to hear their child's voice again. Even if Cruz's voice tends to be whining or screaming, even if it is accompanied by hitting and kicking, how can I complain? He is making sound, which is a miracle. He is alive... This is the perspective I must continually strive for, even on our roughest days. I just may occasionally need some headphones or some time outs for myself, after all I am only human. But I do have peace and joy and freedom, thanks to our American Heroes, and Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vacation Part 1

The fourteen hour car ride proved to go smoother than expected, thanks to the stops made to allow every one to get out and stretch their legs. There is a reason that the super amazing play ground at the park in Amarillo, Texas was empty at 12:30 in the afternoon on September first. Once we got the kids out, after hyping it up for an hour and begging them to hold the crying just a little longer, we realized it was like 110 degrees. The slides were on fire and you couldn't touch the railings, but we tried to let them play as long as it was humanely tolerable to break up the trip and allow all of us to stretch our legs out. The last two hours of the trip through the mountain pass was crazy with both kids alternating from whining to screaming repetitively in a sort of symphonic competition to see who could be the loudest. But, we made it. After pretending to spot about 100 bears, 100 trains, and 100 'I promise we are almost there' sayings. We did actually make it  and with time to get checked in to our condo and go eat. Even though we did have to twist their arms to get back into the car seat to drive to the restaurant. That first night we met up with Jason's brother Justin and his girlfriend Erica. The kids did ok that night because they were so exhausted. And we allowed Cruz to just sleep in between us, he was in heaven. Let me be clear that I was not. Especially after getting rolled over, kicked, and chicken chested every thirty minutes all night long. The next morning we got up and ate at Michael's Kitchen! Jason's mom Rachel joined us for breakfast and had a chance to see the kids for the first time in almost a whole year. Once we finished up, we went to the park and hung out all day with family. That night was a different story. We aren't really sure what happened but Cruz fell asleep around 8:30 after a day of no naps. Then he woke up screaming at 9:30, 11:30, and 1:30 each time screaming at the top of his lungs for like 20 minutes. There was nothing we could do. I honestly thought the first time that he was having a seizure as his body was flailing and he wouldn't look at us. There was nothing that would stop the crying. Each time it would wake wren, needless to say, we were exhausted by morning. Sunday morning Jason spoke at church and I tried to corral the kids and keep them quiet. Which was near impossible in the one room church building so we sat in the car and watched a video until daddy was done. The rest of the day was a family filled day and the kids had a blast. I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from Jason's aunt Martha, who has her master's in Special Ed. Two of Martha's three children are deaf, so she has learned first hand and professionally the best ways to improve language skills. She definitely gave us some new concepts and ideas to work on and think about. Her excitement to engage Cruz and play with him was refreshing and allowed  me the opportunity to not feel the need to step in constantly before something is broken, before he falls, etc. Normally in a new environment I'm constantly having to make sure that the kids are not destroying things, not eating rocks, etc. Yesterday was like a lesson for mama to just chill out and not constantly watch them. I didnt grow up in a large family and I am used to having to police them myself. Yesterday I would turn around and see a cousin, an aunt or an uncle holding the kids or playing with them. It was so awesome to know that with so much family around that there were always eyes on them, besides mine. I had truly planned to make multiple posts through the trip but that didn't happen. Over the next couple of days we visited lots of family. We played with cousins. We got ice cream. We went up to the ski valley and although the lift was closed we did find some horses to feed. We took a family music class at Twirl. Which was a darling enchanted kids play place. We went swimming at our condo. We ate tons of good Mexican food. We even managed to squeeze sushi in one night. I'm pretty sure it was the only meal  all week that didn't include green chili. Jason, and Aaron and I even managed to do our fantasy football draft from our condo (which I feel really confident about my team). I was able to squeeze in a few workouts, but for the most part it was a relaxing time with family... until we packed up and drove 6 hours to Denver...
Our drive into the back side of Taos

Walking the same path dad used to walk when he was a kid to go to the bus stop

Beautiful patios and courtyards are hiding everywhere in Taos

Taos plaza

Cruz trying to keep up with a couple of the girl cousins

Cruz stretching out his arm

storm rolling in

Blast from the past... the boy cousins picking up a game of football. I'm pretty sure they are all laughing because someone got popped in the face by a ball

team huddle

teaching Cruz how to play center

Cruz honestly thinks he is just as big and running just as fast

Cruz is getting ready to chop block his uncle Justin

girls will be girls.

After the storm. There was a double rainbow but it faded before we got the shot

view from Jason's backyard

ready to swim!

The kids had a blast on our back patio playing with all the pebbles and stones

so happy to be swimming
Nick teaching Layandria how to dive in off of the side

driving up to the ski valley

Jason's grandpa was a lift operator for over 30 years

The kids loved feeding the horses

Jason rode this a time or two when he was younger
Cruz is about the same age that Jason was when he started skiing

the kids with cousin Xailey, who is two weeks older than Cruz

The drive back down from the Ski valley

The Chocolate Factory

Ring around the rosey.... trying to burn some of that sugar down

early morning fog on the mountains
The kids at Twirl

After our music class

Dinner at Ranchos Plaza Grill with Grammie

Cruz was screaming at breakfast and was totally distracted by the shiny motorcycle outside. They were so nice to let Cruz sit on it. He was in heaven.
Xailey and Wren at the Park

We hung out a lot with Xailey and her family... it was awesome.