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  • Life Is A Highway

    At the recent rate of travel, I can’t help but think I’ll be one of those people who wakes up in his own bed and doesn’t know where he is. It is nice, though, to be back in my bed after a whirlwind 2+ weeks.

    For the past couple of months, Jill and I have pointed to this 17-day period as the one we had to “just survive.” To recap:

    June 19: Kate graduates from high school with my mom in from Texas and the McFarlands and Nicholas here from North Carolina.

    June 20: The McFarlands leave for a 25th anniversary weeklong trip to Maine.

    June 21: “Newsies” ends its two-week run in D.C. on Father’s Day. Nicholas returns to his new job and new apartment. My mom leaves, too.

    June 22: Ben leaves for Boston; Emma and Jeremiah start tech week for MSA’s “Toy Stories.”

    June 23: I leave to shoot the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s annual conference in Denver.

    June 25: Jill leaves for the ASCA conference in Phoenix.

    June 26: I get home from the GMAC conference.

    June 27: Ben catches a 6 a.m. flight from Boston to come home to see “Toy Stories.” I pick up the McFarlands in D.C. and take them to the matinee, the first of four shows scheduled this weekend. Emma packs for her three-week dance intensive in New York City.

    June 28: “Toy Stories” ends. Jeremiah returns to New York with his mom. After the tearful farewells to MSA’s seniors, Emma, Ben and I leave at 11:30 p.m. for Lower Manhattan, arriving just after 4 a.m. so she can start the dance intensive.

    June 29: Bleary eyed, I walk around the Lower East Side with my camera as Emma starts her camp. Afterward, Ben, Ginno and I meet her for a grocery/drug store run, then we leave for Boston.

    June 30: I have a business meeting in Boston, then Ginno and I watch Ben perform as Crutchie for the first time in “Newsies.” Harvey Fierstein (book), Jack Feldman (lyrics), and Jeff Calhoun (director) are in attendance. Ben nails it.

    July 1: Ginno and I head south in the early morning. I drop him off in Midtown and then head for Virginia.

    July 2: After a brief sleepover stop at home to check on Kate, who is child sitting for a family this summer, I did a quick photo shoot before leaving for North Carolina to see Nicholas and take him furniture for his new apartment. The trip takes almost seven hours, three of that to Fredericksburg 30 miles from our home.

    • July 3: Nicholas and I embark on a memorable IKEA run to Charlotte, then drive back to Northern Virginia to see Jill, who returned that morning from her Phoenix conference. At the end of the evening, I drive into D.C. to pick up Emma, who is coming home for the weekend.

    July 4: Nationals game with Emma, her boyfriend James, Jill and Nicholas, followed by fireworks in D.C. with Kate. Great nap outside the National Theatre between the two events.

    July 5: Nicholas and Emma return to New York and North Carolina, respectively. I have another photo shoot with a client. Life returns to “normal,” if you can call it that.

    Over those 17 days, I went to or through nine states and the District of Columbia, eight of them (plus DC) in a new car that has 2,600 miles on it after only 21 days of ownership.

    To use a phrase Nicholas likes, “That, folks, is how we roll…”

    #weareTHATfamily.

  • Packing It In

    Anyone I have met over the last 16 years has probably seen the black backpack I carry everywhere. Unfortunately I discovered recently that the bag, which I purchased just after Ben and Emma were born, had a tear on the side (most likely a seam frayed by age) and could not be fixed.

    This was a big deal. That backpack carried five laptops, three iPads, numerous cell phones, and more books, cords, and junk than I care to admit. It has been to 20 states and to a foreign country (Costa Rica) and never failed. Not once. 

    Even though this may sound somewhat extreme, for me it is like losing the family pet, albeit one that should have its own frequent flier account. But the tear became progressively worse in recent weeks, and I knew something had to be done.

    I decided to start with Brenthaven, the Seattle-based company that sold me the first backpack in December 1997. Brenthaven offers a lifetime guarantee for its products, a fact I touted to Jill then in an attempted justification for buying the backpack and my first laptop. (Needless to say, she was none-too-pleased about the purchase, given that we had twin newborns and a child who was not yet a toddler, but that’s another story.)

    A week ago, I called Brenthaven and explained the situation, figuring that 16+ years went well beyond the “lifetime guarantee” for a simple backpack, even one that had cost $100 at the time. My thinking was that they would offer a percentage off a new purchase, which was fine because I like — and obviously have gotten great use from — their product.

    Instead, the operator informed me that I could receive another backpack, equivalent to the one I had purchased. She also gave me three options for replacements. The only thing I was required to do was pay shipping.

    Today the new backpack arrived and my stuff was transferred seamlessly. The only thing different is the new model is a little lighter and gray. I think that metaphor is fitting, because in your 40s you see a lot more gray than black (or white) in a lot of areas of life.

    I also was glad to see a business live up to its word — something we don’t hear about too often, given how disposable so many things are today. And yet, I was a little sad to retire my old traveling companion for good.

    But it has done its time … and then some.

  • Transitions

    The school-to-summer transition always is a strange time.

    May and June, like the holiday period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, always is a crazy period in our lives. Inevitably, we’re dragging the kids to the finish line for school, tired and weary ourselves from getting up early and going to bed late. Meanwhile, all the end-of-year activities jam the calendar, leaving us to rush from one place to the next at a more chaotic pace than usual.

    As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Alexandria. My daughters are up the hill, dancing in the first of two performances of “Grease.” Ben is in New York, performing in the matinee and evening “Billy Elliot.” Jill is in Seattle at her conference. And Nicholas is in North Carolina with his other family and his girlfriend.

    For the first time, it looks like our family won’t be able to take an extended summer vacation. As the kids get older, and activities become even more diverse, it’s becoming more and more difficult to string a week of days together that everyone can be together.

    This is a transitional period in our lives as a family, a cycle that every nuclear unit goes through to a certain extent. It has been extremely difficult for Jill, much more so than for me, because I find transitions and changes generally come easily. For Jill, this time of year is doubly hard because of the work/family conflict caused by her conference and the recital always falling on the same weekend.

    Despite our best efforts, cloning is not something we’ve managed to master.

    ••••••

    At times like this, it’s hard to imagine that we’ve lived in Northern Virginia for 10 years, that my kids really were 3, 3, 4, and 8 when we moved here.

    This year, more than any other, I’ve been aware of that transition, which is one reason I’ve been hanging around the auditorium where the “Grease” dress rehearsals took place. Normally, I can’t wait to get out, to the point where my kids have perfected the tuck and roll as the van hits the parking lot.

    But this year is different. It likely will be Kate’s last year to dance; she’s planning to play field hockey starting this fall when she enters high school. Over the last few months, her enthusiasm for dance has waned. You can see she wants something different.

    Emma, on the other hand, has really stepped it up. If anything, it’s another part of her emergence from the wide shadow cast by Ben and Kate, another example of how she is growing into her own.

    Watching the girls and their peers, you can see transitions occurring for other families, too. Some are getting ready to go to college, like Nicholas. Others, the ones you remember from grade school, are driving themselves to the theatre.

    Little kids — fortunately I’m seeing a lot more boys this year — are dressed up in their costumes and don’t want to leave. Their parents, having not been through the drill before, can’t wait to go home.

    They’ll learn.