Conference Travails

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Every time I attend a large conference, I am struck once again by how immense this country is, the regional differences, and the incredible similarities of the people.  Last night, I sat at a table with people from California, Nebraska, Illinois, Delaware, and New York. While there were slight differences in our accents, there was no communication barrier even as thousands of miles separate our homes. Basically, our cultures are the same. We all do similar work, and our daily issues are quite similar. There is a huge comfort in the neighborliness of conferences and the willingness to meet new people to discuss new ideas.

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Harassment

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I’ve been out of the office and away from home for the past couple of days.  This has been a productive, busy, and exhausting trip.  I have been at our state capital lobbying for local concerns with a small group of people from our community.  Yesterday we had a series of short meetings with as many senators and representative as we could possibly meet in one day.  This busy day was followed by dinner at the executive mansion.  All in all, it was a productive day. Continue Reading »

Blank Slate

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On Thursday, T and I are leaving on a trip.  We’ll be gone for five nights.  FIVE NIGHTS…without kids.  I was thinking about that tonight, and I realized that this will be the first time since 1988 that T and I have been alone for this long.  FIVE NIGHTS.  Oh, we have taken trips here and there.  We went to Vegas for our 25th wedding anniversary, but that was not a good time in our marriage.  We flew in, spent three awkward days trying to stay busy and not argue, and we flew back home.  We’ve taken trips to move kids or visit kids, but we haven’t taken a trip simply by ourselves since 1988. Continue Reading »

Scary

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Just a couple of short weeks ago, my son and I took our first trip together.  At that time, I was full of uncertainty as we traveled for the first time as mother and son alone together.  I wondered how his interview would go at the school he was so excited to attend.  I wondered what it would be like for the two of us to travel, just the two of us, together.

It was a success.  He and I had a blast spending time together in the city.  There wasn’t one moment of awkwardness between us.  I’m not sure what I was even worried about.  Of course, we enjoyed each other’s company.  Why wouldn’t we?  As for the school, we were both impressed beyond our expectations.  The introductory interview went well, and he was asked to come back with essays in hand a week later.  He traveled alone to the city for the second round of interviews and a week later was accepted into his “dream” school.  Now the reality is here.  Now the changes begin.  He will be starting classes in less than a month, and he needs to find a place to live in Chicago.

Tomorrow Andrew and I are returning to the city for a whirlwind two-day trip.  We are hoping to accomplish a great deal on this trip.  We are meeting with a realtor to begin the search, and hopefully select, an apartment.  We are also going to try to master, in the way only a country bumpkin hillbilly can, the Chicago mass transit system.  Keep this in mind, the only bus that either he or I have ridden on is a yellow school bus driven by a friendly local retired man as he took our respective classes on school field trips.  If any of you are in Chicago tomorrow, we will be the two people with wide eyes and gaping mouths trying not to look like we’re scared shitless.

While Andrew is thrilled for this opportunity, I know him well enough to also know that he is very apprehensive about the move, and especially about this giant change in his surroundings.  Gosh, being a parent is not easy sometimes.  Yes, he is an adult, but tomorrow he needs a strong parent.  No matter how fearful and unsure I may be, I can’t let him sense my discomfort.  I will need to act as if it is all manageable so that I don’t add to his fears.  I hope I don’t let him down.

Keep us in your thoughts tomorrow.  We’ll get by just fine, but it never hurts to have a few good people wishing you luck!  Andrew and I have crossed many hurdles together in the past.  We have faced things much larger than the city of Chicago.  We beat death together.  The L will be a piece of cake!

Trying to Live

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The trip to Chicago was good, bad, all mixed up together at the same time.  Being with my son was fantastic.  We were great travel companions.  There wasn’t one moment  between us that felt anything but easy and natural.  It was his first train ride, and it was good to see my grown up 22-year-old son have the excitement of a child in his eyes when the train began to roll down the tracks.

The pace of our trip of relaxing.  We had plenty of time to get settled once we arrived in the city.  The Palmer House was fantastic as always.  We dropped off our luggage and headed down for a lunch complete with Bloody Marys.   We sat watching the world go by and marveling that this one hotel could hold twice the population of our little town.

After lunch, we wandered over to the school he is considering.  We were early for our appointment, but that was OK.  They were able to accommodate us, and we were able to move up our appointment time and take in the visit at leisurely pace.  The studios and technological equipment were impressive.  It seems like a perfect fit, and I could see the excitement in my son’s eyes.  I saw something in him that I haven’t seen in years.  He was enthusiastic.  This was HIS choice, and his alone.  He was the guiding force behind what brought us there that day, and I was so proud of that.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city.  We sat from time to time and simply watched the world passing by.  Oh, yeah, the memories of past trips were weighing heavily on me.  Time after time, I had to redirect my thoughts.  The past is just that.  The past is that part of my life that is now behind me.  The pain of the past has been keeping me from creating newer happy memories.  Like a bookmark in my life, my past has kept turning me back to that same page over and over.

We had dinner at one of my local favorites, and I was thrilled that my son enjoyed it as much as I had hoped he would.  We wandered around some more and ended up back at the Palmer House lounge for a drink before bed.  The two of us sat at the bar and talked, watched the people around us, and chatted with the bartender (one of our favorite things to do!)  As we sat there, a woman (about my age) and a young man (around my son’s age) approached the bar.  They stood behind us, and waited for the bartender.  I smiled at them, and they smiled back.  I’m not sure why, but we all began to talk to each other as they stood waiting.  It was another mother and son traveling together!  They were from Australia.  We all hit it off immediately, and found a place to sit together.  We had the nicest time getting to know this other Mother/Son.  It had been a fantastic day, and we were smiling as we headed back up to our room.  We were both worn out, and fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up the next morning feeling better than I have in months.  I had slept through the night!  WOOOOHOOO!  I hadn’t been able to sleep well for such a long time.  I woke up feeling fresh and rested.  I looked over at Andrew’s bed, and he was still sleeping.  I needed to get out and walk.  I wanted to enjoy these moment of feeling fresh, clean, happy, and free.  I felt energized.  I put my hair up into a ponytail and threw on a dress and flip flops.   Yeah…it was my $12 beach dress, which didn’t feel quite the same in Chicago as it did in New Orleans.

I set out by myself, just wandering.  I walked for a while, then I sat for a time watching the people and activity around me.  I ended up in a tiny park by the art museum.  I shouldn’t have wandered in that direction.  It was as if the damn memories drew me to them.  The park had three rows of benches.  I sat on the middle row facing Michigan Avenue.  I  sat alone and remembered.  I listened to the voice, and I cried.  I wandered past the steps and the Lions, and I cried even more.  I shook my fist at a fate that had betrayed me and my once-full heart.  I hated the hope that has dogged me and pursued me until it almost killed me.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope is often seen as the thing that can keep a person going under the most adverse conditions.  I’m sure that is true in some cases.   Well, I am here to tell you that hope, if misguided, is something that can kill you.  It almost got me.  I have not doubt that it has taken the lives of others.

I forced myself away from the memories and back to the truth.  My misguided hope did not kill me.  I am tattered, broken, damaged, and changed.  I am not the same woman who wandered this path three years ago.  I liked her.  I miss her.  She didn’t know back then what she would ultimately be facing.  She was trusting.  She loved.  This woman I have become does not trust.  She does not easily love.  Deep breaths helped me settle my head and my heart.  It is what it is.  Let it go.  Let it go, and live your life.  I pep-talked myself on my way back to my son.

Andrew had gone on a walk of his own.  He was excited to tell me where he had gone and what he had seen.  Once again, he helped me step back into my life.  Yes, there is love.  There are good things.  My life is not over.  In many ways, it is just beginning again.  Slowly, very slowly, small moments at a time, I feel alive once again.

 

 

Chicago, The City That Haunts

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Cloud Gate ~ The Bean ~ Chicago

I am taking a rather unexpected trip to Chicago tomorrow.  My oldest son is checking out a school, and we have an admissions appointment.   I’m really excited for him to have finally found something, some course of action for his future, that excites him.  I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm in him in a very long time.

This will be our first mother/son trip.  I realized that today.  Isn’t that strange?  The girls and I have often taken trips, both long and short, near and far.  Our “Chick Trips” have become commonplace.  We often discuss where and when our next trip will be.  Likewise, T has taken the boys places, mostly camping and hiking.  Tomorrow will be a first for Andrew and I.  We are taking an official trip together – mother and son.

I have a love/hate relationship with Chicago.  As a “downstater,” we often feel short-changed by the amount of tax dollars that are shifted to the city.  On the other hand, I do appreciate the economic benefits we all reap from Chicago.  Then there is the perception that if you tell anyone that you’re from Illinois, they assume you mean Chicago.  That’s a far cry from my rural community of 1800 people.  I’m proud to live in the country.  I’m proud of my heritage and where I come from – farm country.  I don’t want anybody to mistake me for a city slicker!

I have my own personal history with the city of Chicago.  I had a fear of the “big city” not so very long ago.  My travels brought me to the city often enough, and I made memories that were at among the very best in my life.  That changed, though.  Life has a way of peeling away the layers.  Truths are revealed, and often (sadly) you come to realize that all the glitter and glitz, fun times, and excitement have an edge of ugliness.  All is not as it once seemed.  Those good memories became tainted.

The past is the past, though.  Chicago has not been a place that I have been able to avoid.  Several times each year, I must travel to the city for work.  (I will be there again next month for four days.)  Other times, I have traveled there with the girls.  My innocence is gone.   I once opened my heart to Chicago and loved her, but she proved to be a fickle friend.  My trust of the city is no longer intact.  Chicago has become something else to me now.  I think of her as a beautiful, yet cold place.  Part of her is callous, indifferent, and artificial, but there is another part of Chicago, too.  There is history, beauty, art, and music.  There are sights, smells, and tastes.  There is dancing and romance.  All of this is Chicago.  It is all swirled together.  Maybe some people can pick it out.  They are able to take the good parts and discard the rest.  I can’t.  It all swirls around and around me when I am in the city.  Layers of memory as fine as mist cling to me in Chicago.   I can’t breathe deeply until I am on the train and heading back out into the open land.  I trust the fields and the sky.  Chicago,  I can’t trust.  Chicago is quicksand, and I must step quickly and carefully to avoid being sucked under.

Tomorrow, I will explore the places where old memories were once a reality.  I will see sights that were once seen through different, more innocent and trusting eyes.  This time, my grown up, yet young and tender son, will be by my side.  Chicago, please be kind to my son.  Treat him with respect.  Keep on your good face.  Educate him, enlighten him, but please don’t let him see what hides behind your shadows.