We’ve been a little sneaky lately. We like to delay our posts by at least a week for a few reasons: 1) it helps us avoid potential stalkers and 2) we need a little time to process our experiences before writing about them. Given this usual delay, you might not know that Tom’s parents joined us just about a week ago in Izmir, Turkey. Aaaaaahhhhhh, grandparents. What could be better than adding two fun, vibrant people who love our kids to our traveling posse? Perhaps adding four or even six…but unfortunately my parents weren’t available this week.
To understand what their presence means to us, I should introduce you to my in-laws. Lou, Tom’s dad, is a giant among men, both literally and figuratively. A 6’6″ former pro football player, he cuts an intimidating figure on the outside but couldn’t be kinder or gentler on the inside. He would walk to the ends of earth and back for his family and in his retirement years has proven an invaluable member of our extended parenting team. Twice he has flown to Atlanta to take care of the kids: once while I took a research trip for a book I was writing and another while Tom and I took a work-related cruise. I don’t know too many 60+ year old men who could singlehandedly change diapers, cook meals, clean house, and manage homework for four kids for seven days without a) being institutionalized or b) burning down the house, but Lou came through with flying colors. He even tackled a long list of handyman projects I had accumulated that neither Tom nor I could ever seem to complete.
Tom’s mom, Lorelie, is a force of nature unlike any other. At a petite 5’2″ (the perfect height we share), she is the perfect complement to her towering husband. A soon to be retired high school multimedia/commercial art/video production teacher, she packs enough energy, creativity, and enthusiasm into her small frame to fuel the entire family. People often ask why I take the kids to Utah for six weeks every summer. My answer: Camp Grandma. In Lorelie’s company, every day is a new adventure, a new experience, a new endeavor in family bonding. Tom and I had to check out of our normal lives and take the kids thousands of miles around the globe to replicate what Lorelie is able to accomplish daily at home. Whether it’s shooting a family movie, hiking a nearby mountain, painting miniature metal warriors, planting a flowerbed, or assembling an obstacle course in the backyard, she is selfless with her time and tireless in her efforts to make things both fun and meaningful for those around her. In fact, as I write this from a cozy corner of my Istanbul hotel room, she is 10 feet away playing a fierce game of “Don’t Eat Pete” with Kieran and Asher.
Getting the grandparents here wasn’t easy. We loaded them up with requests for luxury items from home–things like No More Tangles spray, Eastern Europe guidebooks, Skippy peanut butter, boxer shorts, and skull caps for the South American winter–which kept them busy for weeks. When they finally took a pause in their shopping duties, they realized that one of them might not even be coming. Though both had applied for their passports well in advance of their departure date and even paid the expedite fee to speed the process, the State Department had somehow managed to bungle Lou’s application. After a dozen calls and as many different versions of what had happened to it, he correctly concluded the Passport Agency had lost it. So on the day before his flight to Turkey, he flew from Salt Lake City to Denver to submit a new application and receive his passport in person. He got back to Utah by midnight which afforded him just enough time to go home, finish packing his bag, and return to the airport at 6:00 am.
Despite the chaos and 29 hours of flights and layovers, Lou and Lorelie arrived in Izmir with smiles on their faces, supplies in their suitcases, and energy to spare for their long lost grandkids. From the moment we herded them into our rented van, our already fulfilling trip has become even richer, even funnier, even happier. None of us can keep up with Lorelie, who consistently functions on four hours of sleep, but as long as we’re all awake, we’re laughing, learning, and building memories. A favorite game has become, “Let’s get Grandpa to talk like an old guy.” The strategy is to subtly provoke Grandpa to slip into generational idiom speak. Unpleasantly surprising him can lead to a “What in the Sam Hill?” while bugging him can bring on a particularly emphatic, “Good night nurse.” Beating him at a hand of Briscola is certain to elicit a rousing “Son of a Gun.”
Grandma is always good for a game of Uno, Go Fish, or charades, and will stay up until 3:00 am reminiscing or telling stories about our family history. McKane has been amazed to learn that his great great great grandmother dated Jesse James, his great grandpa was an avid coin and stamp collector, and he (McKane) liked to flirt with women on the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade when he was a toddler.
Asher and Kieran have perhaps benefited the most as both grandparents are an easy mark for buying popsicles and tchotchkes and prove willing to carry tired little people through ancient ruins and city streets alike.Tom and I made it clear from the beginning that everyone would have to toughen up and self propel for the duration of the trip, but one look at Asher’s face after scoring a ride from a grandparent reveals that no one filled the older generation in on this rule.
The past week has been one of the best of our lives and certainly one we will never forget. Enlarging our family circle (and pyramid) for a short time has reinforced our primary purpose in leaving it all behind for a year: strengthening our family. And while we would love to become “Eight in the World” rather than “Six,” Spring Break is coming to an end and Lorelie’s students are eagerly awaiting her return.