Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Dream House

I had a dream again about the old house. It was the first house we bought after we were married. It was the house we brought the boys home from the hospital after their births. An old dutch colonial that was previously a barn back in the 1850's. It was cut horizontally and moved across the street in the 1920's and made into a home. We bought it in 1996 and lived there for eight years, replacing windows, a boiler, a water heater, the roof, plumbing and God knows what else. We had an invasion of digger bees one summer and worried about flooding after the grassy lot across the street was filled in with expensive town homes.

In my dreams of the house I am sneaking in the side dutch door, swinging open the top window and unlocking the door from the inside. I move about the house, the hickory floors scuffed but shiny, past the knotty pine walls and the built in maple shelves. I creep up the old staircase and down the hall to the baby room, the walls still a tender celery green, the wicker rocker chair facing out but there is no crib. The boys have grown and moved on. I am sad for a moment but then out the window I see the current owners coming in the front door. My heart races and I am in a panic and when I move down the hallway the floorboards creek and I shrug into a closet. "I shouldn't have come back," I think to myself and then I wake up.

It's not surprising I had the dream again. I had been back home and our first house was a mere ten minutes from where I grew up. I drove past the house. The new owners pulled out the evergreens and shrubs in the front and put in an above-ground pool in the small backyard. They kept the wooden blinds, the front door green and added only tiny improvements to the screened in porch. I felt strange driving past it, sneaking looks like I was casing the place. It was an old house sold "As Is" and I didn't want to meet the new owners and be regaled with the improvements they needed to make. I also wanted to keep the memory of it frozen like I had remembered it. A simple, loving home where my two boys spent their earliest years.

I drove past it twice and then went past the train tracks, the commuters waiting for the 7:25 a.m. to Chicago, newspapers folded under arms, briefcases slung over shoulders and coffee balanced in hands. I had done that commute for years. I couldn't help thinking where did all the time go?

I often think how little we knew back then. We had the world at the tips of our fingers. We had two healthy boys within a 19 month span. I had quit my job and my husband had started his own business. I had so much to be grateful for. I had no idea that there was anything wrong with Sean. He was strong and handsome. He walked early, moving nimbly around the old house. His huge eyes always met me before the rest of his taut little body caught up. My boys posed for Christmas card pictures in the front room sofa, my oldest hugging his little brother, their smiles wide and beautiful. They tumbled in the silver maple leaves in the fall, piled snow from the driveway into forts during the winter and followed me to the train station to see their dad come home from work during warm summer nights.

The house holds all that for me. The early days before life got complicated, before needing to learn so much about autism, before knowing how our lives would forever change. By the time we had put our house on the market, I had known, deep in the belly of my soul, that my son had changed. He was no longer the happy, engaged, laughing baby. He had become a more serious, less flexible and easily agitated toddler.

The year prior to our move he qualified for early intervention under the developmental delay category -- his speech was behind and his social skills were impaired. He had done a year of special education and a summer camp for children with delays. I had known what was to come. I wanted to come to terms with it all privately, to absorb the impact without neighbors, friends and family with me. I wanted to leave Illinois and to start over with what I knew was to come. I had to say good-bye to the home that held such hope and dreams and promise for us. I had to walk away to a wider, open space where I could start from scratch.

I have always known that I was to live here in Portland. Maybe not forever, but at least for part of my life. The first time I came to the Northwest it was like walking into the arms of a lovely, good friend who I had missed for too long. Strangely, I felt I had come home.

The hardest part was leaving my family and friends behind, saying good-bye and moving forward. And saying good-bye to the innocence of that life, to the bliss that moved like purposeful and easy breezes, in and out of our daily lives.

So I dream about the old house on Center Street. The silver maples and birch trees dotting the street, the lawns shaved into green postage stamps and the baskets of petunias swaying on the light posts. And the winters where the snow caked like creamy frosting on the roofs, the paper lanterns burned peacefully on the front porches during Christmas night and the mournful whistle of the last train out of the city echoing through the bare arms of cold trees. I keep my baby boys there, remembering their sweet red cheeks and pale eyes peering out at me through the crib bars, the old floors creaking as I walked toward their outreached little arms, pulling them into me, safe and warm.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Road Trip (From Hell)

I suppose we might be gluttons for punishment. Or perhaps really disillusioned people. But somehow, after weighing our options, we decided that it made most sense fiscally and pragmatically to DRIVE to Chicago from Portland, Oregon for our summer trip to my hometown.

As the day drew near, we began to rethink our launch strategy. Should we just toss the kids in the car after dinner and begin our trek? Would they sleep in the car and allow us to cover more ground? We had planned to make the trip with two full sixteen or so hours a day of driving. It may be the equivalent of swimming in a tank of sharks or particpating on the show Fear Factor and having snakes dumped over us while we lay in coffins protected by goggles and a lycra body suit (Lycra! god help me - maybe worse than the snakes?)

We decided that was our best option. The boys were excited. School was out and the highly anticipated trip to see all of their cousins and grandparents had finally arrived. My husband drove the first 6 hours stopping in Ontario, Oregon near the Idaho border for gas and coffee. All three of our heads popped up like jack in the boxes -- my oldest spying the Arby's at the gas station and Sean asking, "We are in Chicago?" It was maybe 4 a.m. but the idea of the boys falling back asleep was quickly fading.

The ride continued through Idaho, the landscape greener than most summers due to a rainy spring and wet summer. And then we crawled into Utah, followed by Wyoming, every few minutes a chirpy voice asking, "Are we there yet?" or "Can I hop?"

We made it to Rawlings, Wyoming around 3 p.m. and exploded out of the car like a trick can of cloth snakes. My husband took Sean to the pool and my oldest and I brought some luggage up to the room and melted into the hotel funiture.

The next day we ate a quick breakfast and headed back onto Highway 80, heading east, with half of Wyoming and all of Nebraska and Iowa and most of Illinois in front of us. Day two seems to always be the hardest. When I was younger I did a bike fundraiser with a gal pal. We had biked sixty miles the first day. We felt proud and strong, but after we ate dinner we were sore and started trolling the little town we had stopped in for industrial size Ben Gay. We almost cried on Day Two when we mounted our tired and sore bodies on our bikes and headed out for another sixty miles. I can't even remember Day Three but I know we smelled very minty and our bodies were fairly numb from the pain and the loads of Ben Gay.

This is exactly how Day Two on our Road Trip from Hell felt. Our bodies were like parenthesis, slouching in the car (we took the small hybrid to save on gas -- left the roomy, gas guzzling loser cruiser van @ home in the garage), never free of the sun's steamy glare.

We drove forward, the land like wet slick quilts, softly billowing into gentle ripples, jeweled with fences, crops, ponds and livestock. We had come from the mountains, from the muscle of the intermountain west, sliding down into the placid and predictable heartland, where we could see for miles with no surpises.

By evening thunderstorms had moved down from the north and the radio warned of tornadoes and flash floods. My husband white-knuckled the drive, navigating through sheets of rain, over swelling rivers, thankful for the lightening that would light up the inky darkness, and the boys shuddered from the shaking thunder.

By 1 a.m. we made it to my parent's home. Sean hopped into the house, hopped onto my parents and laughed, so excited to see them. After hugs and talk we fell into beds, so happy to arrive safely. To think of the journey back home sent chills up and down my spine so I tried to remain in the present, to enjoy the sight of my mom and dad, to relish in their laughter and smiles and to let go of the stressful ride and the "what can go wrong on the ride home" thoughts. I just wanted to be in this moment, to frame it with hope and happiness, to keep that feeling frozen into a tight cube, to save for another day when I needed to find joy.