For Mom and for Quinlan, a Field Trip

SO. Let’s catch up, shall we? Quinlan, our second kiddo, is in 4th grade, which is The Project Year in her school, aka The Year That Just Might Do In The Parents Yet. One of the fall projects she was assigned involved visiting a place in Pennsylvania as a tourist, and her teacher sent out a list of options that ranged widely in distance and cost. But you know how life goes: by the time I got to the online sign-up sheet (The world of online sign-up sheets is cutthroat, man. Other parents make me nervous), all the cheap/local options were taken, so I started eyeballing two other places that have been on our family’s “wanna see” lists for a while now: Fallingwater and Longwood Gardens. When I broached the ideas to Quinn, who really just wanted to go to Hersheypark and call it a day (ALL READY TAKEN, QUINN), she asked which choice would be one at which her Grammy could join us.

Fact: Fallingwater is stairs upon stairs in a wooded forestland. Problem: my mom is in a wheelchair. Conclusion: Longwood Gardens, here we come.

We chose Columbus Day for our adventure, solely because our weekend days are now consumed by Soccer Saturdays and Church with Grammy Sundays and sometimes Oh No It’s Tournament Weekend for Both Girls Help. But: the weather was beautiful, David and my uncle Tim (he’s the husband of our Aunt Mary) took off work, and I arrived at my mom’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (that is: bleary-eyed and completely panicked about how this day was going to go) at 9:15 to pick her up. She was only halfway through her coffee before I shuttled her out the door (Longwood Gardens has timed entrances, people. We had places to go!), and the poor thing spent the entire day wondering where we could find a Starbucks.

Now, keep in mind this: Mom had a fall just three days prior, and it was a doozy. Her back was all scratched up and bruised, there was a cut on her face from where her eyeglasses got knocked into her cheekbone, and she was sore from head to toe because she has basically no muscle left to absorb a fall. But if you know anything about my mom by now, it’s this: a) she’s a trooper, and b) if there is an event that involves a meal served by someone else outside of her own kitchen, she is IN. So off we went.

It was a good day, friends. I mean, it was a long day, and even simple tasks like getting Mom from a wheelchair into our minivan makes me break out into a flop sweat because she’s so weak we kind of have to act like shoehorns to get her wedged onto the seat. And David and Tim and I were taking pictures left and right because this, I think, was a day to remember. At one point, after seeing one plant too many, Quinlan turned to me with a scowl: “Why are we even at this place? I didn’t want to go here.” I didn’t mean to snap back, but I said to her, “You wanted to go to a place where Grammy could get around. That’s why we’re here.” I didn’t want to lay a guilt trip on her–but this day was good. Yes, we only saw half the grounds, and yes, we had to stick to the paths that were wheelchair accessible. But their cafe–while expensive enough to make me wonder how badly we needed to pay for next week’s groceries–was delicious, and the conservatory was gorgeous. Plus there was a really neat water show at the fountains, and my mom got to talking to a guide who showed the children a cool water-based plant that recoiled at touch. At the end of it, Saoirse was on board: “I want to go back. There’s so much more to see there!” And she’s right. I want to go back, too.

As for Quinn? I don’t think she was in the mood to answer the question.

Mom, a few months ago, was raring to travel. She wanted to go to the beach. Take a cruise. Take a trip to Disney World, which she’s always wanted to do for the kids, who only this year have expressed an interest in it (read: Star Wars). But she wasn’t (isn’t) strong. Every place we researched seemed impossible for somebody in her position. And it broke my heart with guilt pretty much every day of the summer because we weren’t doing something.

But last week, we went to Longwood. And afterward, to a brewery (food not so good, but Mom liked her beer, so what can you say?). And my aunt and uncle graciously took her back home that evening from our house so we could tuck in the kids on a school night, and when the caregiver called me with the regular nightly update she said my mom was so happy because of her adventure with us.

This is all a heart break, I’ll be honest (David recently said to me, “Your posts haven’t been so…funny lately.” I WONDER WHY, DAVID). But there’s such joy in it, too, I swear: each of our kids vying for a spot to push their Grammy’s wheelchair around (“It’s MY turn! You already got to push Grammy!”). My uncle snapping pictures left and right. Me, turning around to see David leaning over to hear something my mom had to say. The kids, all bent over a pond with their aunt, rapt as a guide explained how some plants, like the touch-me-not they saw, defend themselves from harm.

Here’s what I’m learning: to go with it. To trust that I’ll know what to do when the time comes to do it, but for right now accept what is, if that makes any sense at all. To buy stock in Bio-Freeze because that stuff is amazing on the tired old knees of ladies with brain cancer. To tell myself that I’m doing my best with taking care of mom and the kids and the family and the groceries and that it’s okay to not be perfect, and that it’s okay to be sad. To remember that David is here for me. To be grateful that my mother-in-law will let us know when it’s been too long since we’ve seen her (I’m totally serious about this–she’s so patient and not nag-y and dear golly does she have reason to be), which snaps us out of the bubble a little bit. I’m also learning that: a) the kids are totally capable of staying on top of their laundry when Mom and Dad can’t, b) grocery delivery can be bonkers expensive but sometimes worth it, c) family members with cameras are the best members of all, and d) every road trip with three kids, one lady with brain cancer, and four overwrought adults should always end at a brewery.

That touch-me-not plant we saw? Mimosa Pudica is its proper name. We learned that it closes up on itself when a threat comes along, retreating, but after a moment or two opens back up again, same as always. You don’t need me to explain the metaphor.

That is all. We did it.

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