Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The End

Yeah, so, it took almost a month to get on here. Wonder why. Part of it was chaos. Part of it was transition. But I bet a lot of it was procrastination because I'm just not ready to let you all go, yet. I mean, sure, I know many (most? all?) of you will follow me over to the new blog, but you know, I don't expect the new one to be that exciting. While I have already been tempted to write about a few of the characters I've met since I've been here, I don't have the same freedom here as I do over there. People here understand English and are pretty familiar with the verb "to google"... What happens if they find my new blog and read all the little things I'm writing about them? I care. In France, I didn't really. I knew I was there for two years and that I would be going home and that it was okay to be brutally honest. But here? I plan on being here for close to forever. I don't want to make enemies or burn bridges--something that wasn't as much of a concern while I was in France.

That said, I do hope you'll follow me. Though there'll be less of my own PERSONAL drama on the new blog, you'll get to see our (cuz I feel like you're in this with me if you've been reading this long) little dream come to fruition. You'll get to see the joys and complications involved with starting up your own self-sustaining homestead. Of course, there'll also be less of the cultural analysis--there'll be some, but it'll be more vague and much more anonymous for the above-mentioned reasons.

Okay, wanna know the run down?

The flight out of Lyon went just fine. We were a little late getting onto the plane because for some reason, between the time we checked in and the time we boarded, Lufthansa had CANCELED Sam's ticket. Mmmhmmm you read that right. They assured us it wouldn't affect our next flight or any of the bags and helped us out to the plane. The flight to Munich was without any further incident. It was actually kind of funny because Sam and I both sat with one of the girls and Ryan sat in the row behind me next to a guy who spoke English. SO, Ryan talked to him the whole flight. The stuff that comes out of that kid's mouth.

That, and as we flew over the Alps and the Jura mountains, we got some great aerial shots. We got in to Munich about 20 minutes before our international flight was supposed to take off. We rush as fast as we can through the airport but calm down when we see that there are another 300 people going through the same little security gate we're going through. We got through security and then got directly on the plane. When we got ON the plane, of course, though they said that the mix-up in Lyon wouldn't affect the Munich flight, it DID. They had given Sam's seat away, so there was a person sitting right smack dab in our row of five seats. So, we had to coax her to move. I was ready to flash my best smile and invite her to help my husband take care of our three kids while I went up and sat in Business Class where our other seat was supposed to be. She did hem and haw and sigh and moan a leeeetle bit, but I think she saw the situation pretty clearly when both Lolo and Lily started to scream and fight and cry and Ryan started in with the "But I want"s. She got up and got the hell out of there.

Then, as only they can do when you're completely stressed out, a flight attendant came by and started giving us shit about our car seat. *eye roll* We have made this trip HOW MANY times? I'm so sick of dealing with people who have a teensy bit of power using it to fuck with other people:

"Well, ma'am, I'm fine with it but the pursor has said that the baby will not be able to ride in it in take off and landing."

"Oh," I plaster on my sarcastically polite smile. "A new law? Because to be frank, we make this trip twice a year and have done so for six years, so if there's a new law..."

"How old is the child?"

The child? *eye roll* Don't get me started. "She's two and a half, but I can tell you right now, though she fits in the space without the car seat, she will not stay there and it will not be a pleasant flight for anyone if she's not buckled down. That's includes the crew."

I had my sleeves rolled up ready to duke it out with her but Sam, for once, stepped in with some sang froid and said, "Well, do you have one of those seat belt exenders for kids? Would it be okay if she sits on my lap for take off and landing and THEN we fasten her into the car seat?"

"Yes, that's fine, if you are okay with that." She looks at me.

"Sounds like a great plan!" I say, with some surprise that it was Sam's idea (he's not usually the one coming up with solutions, as you know).

The rest of the flight was fine. I with Lily and Ryan. They both watched TV, ate and slept and drew and didn't pitch any kind of major fits and didn't spend too much time with their feet kicking the seat in front of them. The dude sitting next to Ryan was a German dude and Germans have this cool love of children in general (I'm not trying to generalize, but Germans really do seem to have this culture of child-love... that whole "it takes a village" mentality), so he helped Ryan in and out of his seatbelt, helped him with his dinner and let Ryan kick and push on him the whole time he napped. And the dude did it very matter-of-factly... very fatherly as if it was just normal for him to do it. I thought maybe he WAS someone's father (maybe he is) but he seemed to be a butch-ish homosexual traveling with three other closely-placed similarly homosexual men. *shrug* (that doesn't mean they weren't all dads... just seemed interesting how natural it seemed for him to help out)...

ANYHOO... all went well until time for us to land. Things got bumpy and Ryan puked up his nasty little spicy breakfast sandwich they had given him (first time for me to ever actually NEED one of those airline puke bags... handy little suckers...). Luckily, looked at me and said, "Mom, I'm going to throw up." And then, he sorta waited until I got the bag ready before he made good on the announcement. He was white like a sheet. *shudder*

We got there and zoomed through the border because there were so very few Americans on the flight that we were in the short line--thank the UNIVERSE for dual citizenship! BUT, in spite of the rest of the smoothness, as soon as we got to the baggage carousel, I got a bad feeling. And my gut was right. They had left ALL but ONE of our NINE bags back in Munich. We had ONE bag. Guess what was in that one? The TOP half of our car seats, some diapers and our air mattress. LOL! So, we had a bed to sleep on, dipes for the Lolo, but were screwed if we wanted to change clothes or actually have the kids sit in the rental car.

This British lady who I've actually seen before was working near the carousel and told me that she could get one of the airlines to lend me car seats after I reported our luggage. After I described in detail every piece of the left luggage, she told me that there wouldn't be any more flights in from Munich until Monday afternoon. That meant no clothes for two days. No sweat. I know where Goodwill is.

Sam went down to the Enterprise desk to get the car, while I went and waited in line to borrow the car seats (I won't go into it but the asses at the U.S. Airways were douchebags about the whole things, finally making a copy of my driver's license so I wouldn't try to run off with their ratty, scabes-infested car seats, *eye roll* I expect nothing less from U.S. Air... Par for the course, crappy airline!). All I wanted at that point (having slept only half an hour in the plane) was to get my family to the hotel. As we got on the bus to head to the Enterprise, I looked at Sam and scowled, "Well, you got what you wanted!" And this was referring to something Sam said right after we had gotten on the international flight when a flight attendant came and asked to see our baggage claim receipts: "Well, with any luck, they'll lose our bags and deliver them to the hotel for us. Or maybe all the way to Virginia!"

Sam answered with a tired smile. He was relieved. True. Because it would have been impossible to get all of our bags to the hotel in one trip. So, I was grateful to fate as well, but I would have been MORE grateful if we could have had the bag with the bottom halves of the car seats. Or maybe the one with the kids' clothes in it. Still, no problem. Goodwill.

We got a Chevy Impala and after about 5 miles, I was screaming at Sam to let me drive. I HATE the way he drives (like a French dude) and I don't drive in France. Once I'm in the States and CAN drive, it's all over for Sam driving unless I am physically debilitated. So, he pulled over and for the first time in months, I felt some healing seep into my tired mind. Driving is SO soothing to me!

At the hotel, we got in, got our shoes off and sent Sam down to try out the Drury Inn's new complimentary dinner buffet. Oh sure, it's junk food. And the microwaved from frozen fast food, but it was free and we weren't in the mood to move. We hosed the kids down, threw them in the bed and conked out.

I woke up at 4. Starving. We held out until about 5:30 before I finally said that one of us (Sam) should go down and check to see if there was ANYTHING of the breakfast put out yet. Sure enough, Sam came back to say that there was fruit, donuts, cereal and bagels. It was all I needed to hear. We rushed down there and ate (where the kids rediscovered their love for bananas) while Sam pouted about not getting to have hot breakfast that wasn't set to be served until 7:30.

After eating, we went back to the room where the kids re-discovered Nogging (Nick, Jr.) which is one of their favorite channels. More fun than Disney and NO COMMERCIALS! In the mean time, I wrote Rachel to see if she was up. My plan was to buy some milk and donuts and take 'em over to her house and loiter until they got ready to go to mass, at which point, my family could go to Goodwill to find an outfit each (so we could all take a real shower). And that's what we did.

Rachel looked awesome. Bulbous and obviously psychologically/emotionally/physically ready to pop out her new baby girl. Her other three kids--angels straight from heaven, full of love and spunk--tackled us with love and hugs and screams of joy. They shared their toys with my toy-starved children and ate donuts with us.

Sam said, as we left, "Maybe you'll have it before I go back to France." Rachel gave him a look like, "Don't tease me." I remember being that ready to get a baby out. What I like to call the "get-it-OUT" weeks.

We went to Target. Sam and the girls napped as Ryan and I found some toiletries and sandwich makings. Then we went to Goodwill, where Sam and the girls napped while Ryan and I found outfits for all of the kids and a sweatshirt hoodie for Sam (but nothing for me because just when I was getting ready to look for myself, Sam started calling and hounding me).

Back at the hotel, more TV and finally a nap for me. Sandwiches for lunch. Still no shower for me because I HATE to put dirty clothes on a clean body (or vice versa, *shudder*)... Kids can recycle clothes, but grown-ups are gross. We went back out towards the mall so the kids could play, but the play area was closed. So, we had a quick pretzel at Auntie Anne's before dipping into Borders for a book I meant to buy back in October (sequel to Octavian Nothing). Get this, as I'm standing there paying, this pretty chick walks up to me and says, "You know what? I'm the one who wrote you about having read your blog." And then she told me her name, L. She had recognized Sam from my pictures on the blog. Isn't that some cool shit!?! She herself is a mom who goes back and forth between two countries (here and India) and can relate to a lot of the crap I've been through. Plus, if I remember correctly, she speaks French (sorry, L, if I got that wrong... I've had an organ removed since then and am not quite over the trauma, LOL).

I wished I could stay there and hang out with her and talk to her and get to know her, but Sam was shooting I'm-sick-of-these-kids-let's-go darts at my head with his eyes. So, we left. And after a quick dinner of hotel junk food, we all conked out.

The next day, I was SO excited. After breakfast, we were going to go to Target, get a TV, go to Goodwill and get me some clothes so I could take a shower, run back to the hotel so I could get ready and THEN, I was going to my sling party I had organized weeks before! (Back when I was still pregnant... truth be told, I sorta organized it for someone else... and then, I ended up making it more about Flavia who was actually really interested in looking at different slings, so even though I wasn't pregnant any longer, I was very excited about finding something cheap and used for Flavia so she wouldn't have to spend a freakin' fortune on something--I still haven't found any decent thrift stores in France, *shrug*). And THEN, AFTER the sling party, in which I'd be able to spend some time with other moms WITHOUT my children and butthole husband there, I was going to get to come back to the hotel to my LUGGAGE!!! TV, shower, party and luggage all in one day. And then the next day would be about moving to my homestead.

Well, all of these plans came to an abrupt halt as we stood in Target looking at TVs. As the girl told us the TV we wanted was sold out, I was struck by the strange feeling I was hungry. We had just eaten, so I knew what that meant. I was about to have a gall stone attack. That meant that I was going to have to go to the ER. That I was going to miss the sling party that was ALL MY IDEA. That I was going to miss meeting some kick ass people I've been talking to online for a couple of years. I was mad and in major pain.

Sam dropped me off at the ER where within roughly half an hour, I was in a room getting hooked up to an IV and getting morphine (which didn't work). They took me in to do another ultrasound to confirm my stones and then put me back into another room where they gave me a stronger form of morphine that worked IMMEDIATELY. The lingering pain went away. People cared about my story and shared their stories with me. The nurse teared up when I explained what had happened with Aaron. TEARS, yo. A lady in the waiting room actually bowed her head and started praying for me aloud. Whereas I might have been a little uncomfortable with that at another period of my life, that day, it just brought tears to my eyes that a complete stranger could love me. It made me remember. I had become a turtle during my time in Frogland... hardening myself and shutting myself away in order to protect myself from the constant scrutiny and rejection and here was this little old stranger woman chipping away at my shell.

It sucked to miss my party. It sucked to be zonked out on meds the rest of the day. It sucked to miss getting to see Rach again. But it was AWESOME to be home in so many other ways.

BUT, then, it sucked that the airport delivery dude said he'd be at our hotel before 3:30 only to have him show up at 7:30 (DOUCHE) and have him threaten me that we wouldn't have our bags until we gave him back the ratty ass car seats *eye roll* whatever... felt like France or something. Then again, I doubt the airline has car seats they lend out to parents in France.

We ate crap hotel buffet food and sandwiches and went to bed early.

The next morning, we got up super early, called our ex-neighbors who live next door to our house in Charlotte and woke them up. We went to the grocery store, grabbed some bagels and cream cheese and headed to their house. We dropped off breakfast and our kids there and headed off to ge our Uhaul. We got it and then hauled ass to our storage space. With the two of us working, we were able to load the truck within an hour. Afterwards, I raced back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and checked out, all before late checkout deadline and then zoomed back to the neighbors' house. We ate a quick bagel, squeezed our neighbors, picked up our lawn equipment from them (plus a dehumidifier they gave us for our basement that I suspect we won't need to use based on my dry flaky skin), picked up our kids and headed out to VA.

Okay, so, we drive the 3.5 hours to get up here before it gets too dark (it starts getting dusky around 4:30pm right now, not DARK, but dusky if you know what I mean). All month long, George (my contractor and friend) has been warning me that I might want to rent a 4x4 because I'm not going to be able to get up my driveway, but when he sends me pix, I can't see the "ruts" he's talking about and I sorta chalk it up to his being from Jersey. And the whole drive up, there's no snow anyway.......... UNTIL we get across the Virginia state line... It starts in patches. Then becomes fields. Then drifts. Then, shimmering white spanses of ice. I'm starting to bite my lip with worry.

Before we left Charlotte, I called my neighbor Mr. F and asked him if he'd mind taking a look at the driveway, doing what he could to it and letting me give him a little cash. He said he'd smooth over the driveway, but wouldn't take any cash since I'm already letting him use our outbuilding for free. I thought that was cool of him. He told me to call when I was about an hour out. So, I did. He said I should call back if I get stuck. I figured I'd see him later in the week.

I start up the driveway in the Impala and I'm holding my breath the whole time. And I do slide a bit, but I get up the driveway. Well, up until the last hill. I start to spin out. So, I see a little back out spot. So, I back up into it and face the car back down the hill so I can make a speedy getaway before it gets dark and will have gravity on my side. I leave the kids in the car about 12 feet from our new house and I go up there. I let myself in and pee and do one of those Cinderella ballroom spins in my new living room. I'm torn between bliss and fear.

I walk back out toward the car and Sam calls from the Uhaul. "I'm stuck." My heart creeps up until it's a huge constipated lump in my throat. I hear a voice in my head, This is your fault. You're weak. You're a quitter. You shouldn't be moving here. Should have stayed put. Sam's going to be angry. The Uhaul will be damaged. The road will need to be fixed. You'll have to stay in a hotel and it'll all be so so so expensive. All your fault.

I call Mr. F. He says he's coming over with his tractor, so I get back in the car with the kids and start giving them a snack and some water. After a good half hour, it's dark in the woods and it's only 4:45. I put the car into gear and head back down the hill. We won't be able to stay in the house that night and I'm crushed with guilt and disillusionment. And doubt. And ANGER. Why can't I just catch a break?

When I get down to Sam, I see him talking to Mr. F whose tractor is parked behind the Uhaul. I keep wringing my hands because I'm scared we'll damage the truck. Sam comes up to the car and says he got the truck unstuck. Mr. F comes up and shakes hands.

"The truck won't make it up there," I say, nearly crying.

"I bet *I* can get it up there," Mr. F insists. And I sorta believe him but I don't want to imagine at what price. The truck needs to be returned in the morning and I'm afraid if we get it up to the house, it won't come back down.

I shake my head no.

We start to discuss options:
* We can park the truck at the bottom of the hill and take the car to the house.
- I veto that because I don't want the truck to be stuck and frozen. Plus, I don't know what all is in the truck; I don't want to rish anything freezing. It has spent nearly two years in a climate-controlled storage space.

* We can park the truck at the Food Lion and take the car to the house.
- No WAY am I leaving my grandmother's china, my family Bibles, my hand-crocheted heirloom stuff from my great-great-grandmother, a parking lot to tempt someone. Just not work the risk

A few more options get thrown around, but I've already got it stuck in my head that the only solution right now is to get a night in a hotel and SOON before it's too late. I don't mind the Uhaul being in a parking lot under a flood light with security cameras and parked in plain sight of our hotel room.

So, we go to the local library. I'm trying not to cry as I go to Expedia and find us a night in the Extended Stay. We get there and while they are nice downstairs, the room is a joke. I felt like my feet were going to go crashing through the floor if I stepped too heavily. Even though we've paid over $100 there is no breakfast. Not even continental (we stayed in a Marriott Extended Stay in Charlotte before moving to France and they had all kinds of breakfast goodies you could carry back to your room). And there was no free internet. Had to pay $5 for it. I felt like I was on a U.S. Airways flight.

But it was a bed and a place to think and strategize.

As soon as we got there, I sent Sam to Little Caesar's down the street for some pie. I came up with a plan:

In order to be able to turn our Uhaul back in, we would go to a nearby storage place and rent one for a month. We'd unload our truck and just give ourselves a month to find a way to get it to our house. George has a big 4x4 and is very helpful so I figured maybe he'd help us out. There really wasn't much, anyway.

That solved that and it would save us from having to pay another night of Uhaul AND keep us from having to lug that stuff around.

But we'd still need a way up that drive way if we didn't want to stay another night in a hotel. And we DIDN'T wanna stay another night in a hotel. The whole point was to sleep out at our house and SAVE ourselves the $100+ per night and use that toward "setting up house" expenses, etc. But how the hell were we going to get back up there?

While we ate pizza, Sam tooled around on the internet.

"Hey, Mama, come look at these cars for sale," Sam called through a mouth full of pizza.

"Not right now," I grumbled and went into the bathroom to take a hot bath. I needed to deal with some of the guilt knots that had taken up residence in my shoulders and back.

Afterwards, I felt better. The kids slept. Sam, too, was half asleep. I went over to the computer to look at the cars Sam was surfing. Camry. Camry. Camry-esque car. I shook my head. There'd be no Camry. Not until we got the road fixed. I scrolled down and a red Jeep jumped out at me. 2007. 31k miles on it. Seats 5. Not GREAT gas mileage but not a Hummer, either. I saw the message "4x4" written next to it and then saw that it was the same price as a Camry.

"Sam, come look at this!"

He sprouted out of bed, panting, awakened from a bad dream. "Dude!"

"Come look at this SUV."

"Yeah, right," he said, about to lie back down.

"Seriously. Go look at it. It's the perfect compromise," I said, yawning and walking back to the bed, brushing my hair. "We need that Jeep."

Sam snorted.

"Buy me that Jeep."

I fell asleep staring at his face lit by the blue light of my computer.

Around 5am I awoke and left in search of breakfast. As I drove around, I noted a business here and a business there, memorizing. This is what I do when I move to a new place. Reconnaissance. I drive around and observe and note landmarks. Places that may be of use to me later. I considered going to a bakery, it's windows all foggy and steamy, but kept driving because what I really needed was more sandwich stuff for the rest of the day, not just breakfast. I found a Kroger, shopped, got a Shopper's card and came back to the hotel.

I rolled up my sleeves and got onto the net while the bagels toasted. I found a storage place just down the road from our hotel. I found the DMV just down the road from the storage place. I wrote down all sorts of information, soaking up as much internet access as I could since I knew I wouldn't have any until we went back to Rustburg.

After I hounded the shit out of him and ended up calling the storag place myself (because Sam didn't believe they'd be open before 9, THEY WERE), I talked him into going to the storage place to unload the Uhaul and gave him strict instructions to go straight to the dealership afterwards and buy my Jeep.

So, he did.

I nearly killed my kids those four hours we waited because they were being REALLY bad. I can't blame them. Stuck all day and night in either a hotel room or a car? What a frickin' drag! And no toys either!

Sam called to say that he was driving the Jeep out to the house to see if it'd make it up the hill. He called again to say that it did. And that he was coming back to see if all three car seats would fit in it. I figured that was a good opportunity for him to help me load the kids up because it was time to check out.

By then, the kids were good and tired, so they slept in the car as we waited in the dealership parking lot for Sam to take care of loan, insurance, etc. When he came back out, I followed him in the Impala out to the Uhaul pickup site and then we drove back into town to get the Jeep. We also stopped at Target to get our new TV.

We drove out to drop the Uhaul off at the Rustburg Uhaul drop-off site which actually ended up being a trailer in a FIELD in the middle of nowhere. I was VERY skeptical about leaving there because I could have sworn I heard someone playing the "Deliverance" theme (Dueling Banjos, btw) on a banjo nearby, but I called the Uhaul 800 number and they said that the place was a safe one, so with a shrug, I gave in as Sam left the keys somewhere in the truck and left one of the doors unlocked.

We drove back to Rustburg, loaded as much of our stuff as we could out of the Impala and into the Jeep and then made a trip up to the house. And sure as shit, that Jeep climbed straight on up the hill. I thought the kids were going to go CRAZY.

We let them into the house and they DID. Go crazy that is. Screaming and running around everywhere. It was all Sam and I could do not to yell at them. We had to keep reminding ourselves that there was NO DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR and that we were HOME and that they were KIDS and were finally fucking ALLOWED to be themselves. It was a strange, stressful, wonderful and liberating experience. I stayed at the house and tried to sweep up some of the dead bugs to keep the kids way from them while Sam took the Jeep back down to the Food Lion to unload the rest of the stuff from the Impala. When he got back to the house, I realized we still didn't have everything we needed. Most of the blankets, all of the dishes, etc. etc. were in the storage place. It'd be smart to take another night in a hotel, just to sleep, so we could regroup and prepare ourselves for a day of cleaning and organizing and, well, moving. So, that's what we did. We stayed in a Super 8 RIGHT down the street from the Extended Stay. It was $40 cheaper and they had breakfast. We went to dinner at Applebee's which the kids loved but which made me never wanna walk back in there again. Our waitress was cool and very interested in all of us, but dude, the grease. The crappy food. Even the beer I had remembered with nostalgia was sub-par. How can anyone mess up a Yuengling?

Ahem, sorry, but life stuff took me away from here for a good 36-hour detour, but I'm back to finish up (I hope). Where was I?

Oh yeah, the kids loved Applebee's. The waitress loved US. She told us so and then said that we'd HAVE to come back soon and often. I smiled and nodded but I can tell you it WON'T happen. Remember back in France when we went to the Buffalo Grill with the kids and how disappointed I was? Yeah, well, let's just say that I had some wicked deja vu at Applebee's with all the grease, etc. When we left, there must have been 60 plastic disposable kid's cups on our table. I get that waitresses don't carry pitchers around as often as they used to because of health codes and stuff but ALL THAT PLASTIC, yo. Straight into the trash. Choking the planet. *shudder*

ANYWHO, so, the next day, we load up on continental breakfast, go to the storage space and load up the Impala with a butt load of our stuff and take a trip to the house. Sam spends the day running the Jeep back and forth to Food Lion, the storage space and back up to the house until most of the stuff is there in the garage.

We made another run or two into town to get little odds and ends (and to "walk" the children, because even though we were then finally living out in the woods, the woods were covered in ice and snow too deep for them to play in and it was driving them stir crazy... Like a starving kid staring at a bakery's pastry case you know?).

That night, we slept on the air mattresses. I am naturally warm-blooded. I LIKE the cold. I like cold rooms. I like cold weather. I used to take ice cold baths and showers and I still prefer a lukewarm one when it's not winter. But that night, that first night on the air mattress, I turned into an icicle! I was really worried about having to do that again. On the one hand, it was AWESOME waking up to the sunrise peeking through the woods; on the other, I was petrified at the thought of sleeping on the mattress again. Our air shipment was scheduled to arrive that day, but there was NO WAY they were going to be able to get it up the driveway.

We went to the library to email them and tell them not to deliver to the house, but rather directly to our storage space. BUT, when we got there, there was an email telling US that because of bad storms, delivery of our shipment had been delayed. It was the best bad news we had received in days!!! We just crossed our fingers and prayed that the road would dry out enough for them to be able to deliver to the house.

The GOOD thing was that the phone had already been connected for us before we got there. So, that worked (though the line was VERY noisy). The bad thing was that the internet HADN'T because of some strange modem mix-up with our new provider. The problem with THAT was that the modem was scheduled to be delivered to us directly. By UPS. How the HECK was a UPS truck going to get to our place? It wouldn't.

Then, the satellite guy came out and said that there was too much snow and ice on our roof to affix the dishes to the eaves (the ONLY place they determined we would get any signal). So, we wouldn't have good phone, internet or TV for several days, maybe longer.

I decided to let it go. The kids would just have to deal. They'd have to play in the empty house and we'd just have to let them scream bloody murder as much as they wanted.

That night, I slept better. I put flannel sheets on our bed and slept in it fully dressed, snuggling up to my Lolo to keep warm and it worked. Then, lo and behold, as we woke up to get the day started, the air shipment guys arrived to unload stuff. Sam drove me down, kids in tow, to the Food Lion where we had been stashing our rental car, and dropped me off so I could go to a doctor's appointment to talk about getting my gall bladder removed.

That was crazy easy. I got there, waited ten minutes, filled out some paperwork, got shown to a room, sat and read my book for an admittedly short half hour, talked to a cute young doctor about all that was going on and got a referral for a surgeon. I explained to the doc that I needed to have gall bladder surgery before Sam left because otherwise I'd be left alone with Ryan during recovery. He said he didn't think it would be possible but that he would do his best. I left there with an appointment to see a surgeon. After I left, I went straight to the surgeon's office just to drop off my ultrasound printout from France and to go ahead and fill in my paperwork.

I stopped by Ryan's school to see what we'd need to get him in. A doctor's appointment and a form or two faxed from France. The doc's appt. went off without a hitch. The doctor (different one from mine but on the same team) said Ryan was great, hearing was fine, sight might need some amendment some day in the near future, but for now was fine. He wouldn't need any shots (Ryan liked that part). And voila! But Sam said that getting Ryan's school to fax us ANYTHING would be a pain in the ass. I told him to try anyway. He called Ryan's school in France. CLOSED for vacation and their phone Inbox was full and blocked. *eye roll* Ryan was so mad that he wouldn't be starting school right away, but part of me wondered if it wasn't a good thing to let him spend just one more week soaking up his sisters.

After we had made another trip or two to the storage space in the Impala, using the Jeep to get up and down the hill with it, I got the idea to check on-line how much it would be to simply drop off our Impala early because I figured, otherwise, it was going to spend two useless weeks in a parking lot doing nothing while we paid for it. Sam found out that we could drop it off and that we'd have to pay the $150 drive-back fee, but that even with that fee, we'd save nearly $200.

Okay, so to summarize all that, the first week was ROUGH, but somewhat productive. We were in the house. We had our luggage which meant we had clothes and reading material and toiletries. We had our Jeep, which I named Brutus the Wonder Jeep because it was short, stocky and stubbornly powerful, and so we didn't have to worry about transportation or whether or not we could get in and out of the BOG that was our driveway. We had our air shipment, which meant that we had TOYS, beds to sleep on, dishes, a couple of rugs and various other sundries. We went to Kroger and spent $400 on set-up groceries (including freezer stuff, flour, sugar, other baking essentials, spices, etc.) during which time I did my best to go organic and local and seasonal, but because I have other priorities right now (mainly saving money so we can fund our ROAD REPAIR), I had to make compromises.

The second week went smoother. The sun came out and started melting the snow. That made our driveway muddier for a day, but then it made it drier. I went to the library and got a library card and stocked up on books for the kids. Sam bought me an electric tea pot and a pancake griddle. So, I was already making homemade stuff--pancakes, biscuits, beans and rice, etc. because I had all my old appliances and a coupla new ones.

I went to see the surgeon. He was awesome. He looked at my ultrasound and said that the five stones in there combined with the four attacks (Oh yeah, didn't I tell you that I had an attack over the weekend? I did. Thank GOD the ER in Charlotte had given me some Percocet because I took two of those and the pain mostly subsided after about an hour), was evidence we needed to get 'em yanked out. He said the earliest he could do the surgery was the next Monday. I explained the Ryan factor. He left the room to talk to the hospital. He came back just a few minutes later and said that there was a time slot open on Thursday morning. That would be cutting it close as Sam would be leaving Saturday morning, but it would have to do. I couldn't say no. So, I agreed to the surgery and then the surgeon and I stood there shooting the shit about Europe and our respective impressions/experiences.

He sent me to pre-op, which was fine and easy except for the fact that the lady taking my blood asked me how my baby was doing. I guess she had seen on the form that I had recently had a baby, but didn't see the other side of the form where it said the baby had been stillborn. So, I had to explain. And she was kind and sweet and gentle and she told me how strong I was being. Same goes for the pre-op counselor who sat me down in her office and explained how everything was going to happen with the surgery. She wanted to hear the WHOLE story and for some reason, I really didn't mind telling her. It actually felt GOOD. It felt like therapy. And she actually came to tears and told me that I was an exceptionally strong and inspiring woman to have survived these experiences and THANKED me for sharing my story. She hugged me before I left.

The next day, I was driving the Brute somewhere to get something and I saw the UPS guy pull into our driveway as I pulled out and drove away. I immediately turned around and went back. He had left our modem on the neighbor's porch. "That's what we always did with the fellar who lived up there before you," he said.

"Well, I don't know this lady yet and I'd hate to impose on her."

"She's really nice. I don't know her really well, but I know her son. He lives back on over on..."

I realized that though he was wearing his brown uniform, he was a local. Just like the phone guy. And the satellite guy. And even the air shipment movers. They were all local and all had worked with the peole who sold us the house. It was awesome and strange and wonderful all at the same time to have this realization. That I was becoming a part of the community. That people would know me. It woke me up to a new sense of responsibility. For one, I'd have to watch myself better. I'd have to make sure and not cuss as much in public (because um, they understand English here), to not yell at my kids as much in public and to be my old Joelie self (not the turtle I had become in France). So, I told him that I'd go ahead and introduce myself soon so that any further packages could be delivered to her porch.

I drove the modem back up to the house and gave it to Sam. He called me soon thereafter and told me we had internet! YAY!

Things became normal-ish. We didn't have TV, but by Wednesday night, we were comfortable in our new home and were sitting down to eat taco salad! LOL! It felt great! Except that I started to get sad that Sam and the girls would soon be gone. Don't get me wrong, another VERY big part of me was RELIEVED because I hadn't had any peace and quiet and alone time in weeks. AND the kids were getting so bored of the few toys we had that they were fighting ALL the time. AND Ryan was getting sick of the girls trying to mess up everything he did whether it be drawing, building a tower, playing with his cars, whatever, the girls would come into the room and mess it up. So, I was having some major mixed emotions. Part of me was so glad we were all there together as a family. Another part of me wanted to go ahead and get the separation stuff overwith for so many reasons.

The next morning, we woke up early and Sam dropped me off at the hospital at 7:45. Up to that point, Sam had been pretty non-challant about the whole thing. But as I turned to go into the hospital, he gripped my arm and kissed me hard and long. "I love you," he said.

"I know. I love you, too," I replied and walked away.

"Hey," he called.

I turned, "Yeah?"

I really love you.

Standing there, shoulders drooping, face unsure, eyes all glazy, the sun shining behind him and making a halo around his head, I felt his love and my heart melted and dripped right into my gall bladder. A second's glimpse into my past. A quick flitter of an image of my boyfriend of 11 years prior. My lover. My love.

"I love you, too." It was barely a whisper, but I know he heard it.

My in-take was at 8 and my surgery would be at 10. In-take was easy. They did all their administrative stuff and then showed me to a room. A nurse came in with some little medicine-moist towelettes (with which I was familiar because I had had to use some the night before) and went through the prep again. Wipe down, air dry, put on a gown and lie in the bed and wait. The one things I HADN'T expected was when she said, "You know you're staying, right?"

The surgery was supposed to be outpatient.

"Yeah, your surgeon is a stickler for keeping people overnight for observation."

This didn't bother me because I thought he might be onto something. An overnight break from the kids for my post-op sounded just fine. Actually, just that morning, I had asked Sam if it might not be a good idea for me to get a hotel room by myself for the night so I wouldn't have the girls jumping on my belly. The only thing that worried me was that Sam might be FREAKED OUT to hear it, thinking that the hospital had kept me because something had gone wrong. I asked her to call him and let him know for me.

Another nurse came in about 15 minutes later. At first, I thought she was going to be all snippy, but after a few minutes, she softened. In the end, she bugged me until I told her my story. She said that she had lots of experience couseling women who had had early pre-term losses. I could tell that was true because everything she said or did after that was right and comforting and just what I needed.

At 9:30-ish, an interesting (and almost surely gay) man came in with scrubs from head to toe (like he was wearing this head thingy made out of scrubs material that looked a lot like the cloth "helmet" of Ryan's knight costume, LOL). He was taking me down to surgery. He talked to me about piercings and tattoos. I liked him instantly. He got me downstairs and into a "dock" (the little curtained enclosures where they prep you) but there was a problem. A 400+ pound woman was in the dock I was supposed to be in and she was apparently in respiratory failure. Everyone was rushing around, trying to calmly do whatever it took to take care of her--even calling her pre-op physicians and stuff.

When my pre-op prep nurse finally came in to work on me, she apologized. I said, "I'm okay. Is SHE gonna be okay."

The nurse made a sad face. "We don't know. We hope so."

After that, everything's sorta fuzzy. I remember talking to the nurses and anestesiologist about the stent surgery where I woke up during the procedure and they said they'd put a brain activity monitor on my head to avoid me slipping out of the drugs. The nurse gave me a small local shot to deaden my wrist so she could put in my IV. THAT impressed me because I HATE the moment of GETTING an IV. Then, she started an antibiotic drip that she said might make me a little dizzy and sleepy. She was right. And before you knew it, I was in an operating room with an oxygen mask and conked out soon thereafter.

I woke up in recovery and in pain. But they gave me some good strong drugs (something they said was 10 times as strong as morphine). Then, someone wheeled me to a room somewhere but I was still pretty out of it so I don't remember much. Then, there was this sweet, blonde nurse, Bethany, who took REALLY good care of me, listened to all my stories, shared some of her own and was just a pleasure to be around. They did a pretty great job of controlling my pain. I had Vicodin every four hours and then in between, I was allowed to have a morphine shot. That worked really well until my IV failed. I asked them if they could just take it out and let me try to manage my pain on the Vicodin alone (a question I would later regret).

Another thing that impressed me a lot was the fact that they had me up walking soon after my surgery. They said that movement post-op was really good for you because it aids in digestion, respiration and all over recovery. And it's true. As soon as my pain pill kicked in, I'd get up and do a lap around my end of the ward. I did one loop and was exhausted. Then, I rested, took another pill/shot, got up and did two loops. By the evening, I wasn't even counting loops any more.

The only problem was that I was still in a pretty big amount of pain. Mostly in my right lower back. It was a pain I had already had prior to surgery so I figured it was related to possible kidney stones in my RIGHT side (well, I mean, THINK about it... wouldn't that just be my luck?). But sometimes, the pain would crawl around to the front. And I asked myself if maybe it was my appendix (again, my luck).

Some time during the night, I realized that the next day, Friday, would be the last day I'd have to spend with my girls for FOUR MONTHS. The reality of that realization hit me like a dam bursting.

I needed to get home.

This only spurred further loops around the hallways at 4am because I wanted to get strong enough to get the heck out of the hospital and see my girls.

Bright and early the next morning, I hoped to see the doc. Sam called and asked if I had any news. Then 8am went by. 9am. 10am. The hospital resto called and asked if I needed to order lunch. I told them no because I didn't plan on being there that long. They told me to order, just in case. I had visions of all the great hospital food I had post-partum in Houston (not being snarky... the food was AWESOME) and decided to go ahead and order a cheeseburger (EXACTLY what I needed after invasive surgery, right? *eye roll*). 11 came and went. 12 rolls around, I eat my cheeseburger (but I also ate a fruit plate with cottage cheese, so, gimme a break). Immediately after I eat, I feel like crap. Not having really eaten in 24 hours has really shrunk my stomach and that food was too much for it to handle. I got up and started walking.

After three laps, I thought I would collapse I was in so much pain. Mainly the pain in my right side. I went back to my room to lie down and that only seemed to make it worse. And now, I couldn't breath very deeply because it felt like I had a charly horse in my side. I tried to ride it out, but I panicked. Not just about the pain, but about the passing time. I felt like a freakin' prisoner. I felt like I was back in that Hell clinic in France, the one where Sam wasn't allowed to come in and see me. I felt like, because I was stuck at the hospital, I wasn't going to be allowed to see my girls!!!! It was like losing Aaron all over again. And over. And over. And over. I really started to panic and I hit the red button.

I couldn't breathe.

And OF COURSE, my surgeon chose THAT moment to show up.

"I can't let you go home like this. How are you going to be able to recover? I need to keep you here."

I was almost hyperventilating as I said, "I can assure you, I will NOT recover if you make me stay here." I tried to explain calmly that I needed, NEEEEEEDED to see my girls before they left.

He made me promise that if anything happened, I would come STRAIGHT into the hospital and said that Ryan could sleep on the pull-out bed in my room if absolutely necessary. I promised. I could tell he was very uncomfortable with it but he let me go home. I wanted to run screaming after him down the hallway apologizing to him for my outburst. I had won but I was so embarrassed and beat down. They gave me instructions on care afterwards, gave me some pain pill prescriptions and told me I was free to go. I changed my clothes, called Sam and then walked a few more painful laps around the ward. When I got home, I planned on writing the doc with a full, detaile explanation of my behavior, but I didn't. I'm supposed to go see him in a week, so I'll do it then.

Home was hard. The girls were happy to see me but then they started fighting again. Sam, instead of rushing me home and getting me comfortable, he wanted to stop here and there, check the mail, etc. I was SO MAD that he seemed so calm about it. I had HOLES in my belly, yo! HOLES. All I wanted was to lie down.

When he started up our road, the ride was so bumpy, I made him let me out, SOBBING from pain, and told him I'd just walk up the hill. Which I did. And I was a LOT better than I would have been had I ridden with him in the Brute. He went out and got my prescription (thank GOD and the Universe we have a little pharmacy here in Rustburg!!!) and then went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick up my new body pillow (I had meant to buy one before the surgery but didn't have time). We ate leftovers for dinner and then I stuffed myself with pain killers and went to sleep.

Ironically, the satellite guy had been out to the house just that morning to hook up our TV. We had TV now. Hours before the kids left. I figured it was just as well. Gave the kids a chance to play--mandatory playing since they couldn't veg in front of the TV--and it meant that Ryan and I were all set.

Of course, Lolo and Lily came into our bed in the middle of the night. I didn't mind. In fact, I had sort of counted on it. I spent the next few hours soaking up my babies. Kissing them, talking to them, snuggling with them. Trying to memorize all their little everything.

The night before, I had done their laundry and packed their suitcase (YES, with HOLES in my belly!!!!!!), so we just loaded up and went to the airport (me driving) so Sam could get his rental car (we had PLANNED on me driving them to Charlotte, but because I was still so sore, he rented a car). We both went to the mall where he ran in and shopped around for a minute to find some Converse canvas sneakers for Emma and Antonia (their one request) while I spent time with the kids in the Jeep. I couldn't really play with them or even REALLY appreciate them, but I let them take their seat belts off and play around inside the Brute. I must have kissed, hugged and told them I loved them a THOUSAND times or more.

And then, when Sam got back and started moving car seats, loading up suitcases and taking my girls, I started crying. SOBBING. And it hurt my belly SO bad. And it BROKE my heart in half. And I felt bad. And it felt WRONG. And I felt instantly guilty and like everything, this whole idea, was a crazy mistake.

"I'm sorry," I said, sobbing in Sam's ear. "This is all my fault."

"No, Mama. We'll be okay," he cooed. "It'll be fine." But then, HE was sobbing as he hugged Ryan.

I waved goodbye over and over to my baby sweeties and then cried all the way home.

As soon as I got home, I popped some pills (because I hadn't had anything for hours, not wanting to drive around on Percocet and get a DUI) and went to sleep. Ryan and I watched TV, went for a walk out in the woods to get me moving around, ate leftovers, played Battleship, read bedtime stories and then went to bed.

Sunday was a tiny bit better. We didn't really do much or go anywhere because, like I said, as long as I was in pain, I'd need pain pills and as long as I was on pain killers, I couldn't drive. But I think we were both okay with that. Ryan really likes being here and wasn't in any hurry to go anywhere. I made chicken salad sandwiches out of a chicken I had cooked in my brand new Crock Pot *happy dance*, we played Uno, watched TV together and took naps. We did walk down to the mailbox and that was awesome. Ryan loves gravel. LOL! He wants to put every little shiny rock in his pocket to take it back to the house. I thinkt that's adorable because I'm the same way.

Monday morning, I called Sam to see if he had gotten a chance to drop by Ryan's school to ask them about faxing a transcript sorta thing to the Elementary school here. Sam said that he had gone to Ryan's school and that 1) they don't HAVE a fax number and 2) they don't have "official" transcripts. They told him that the only thing they have is the evaluation form they sent home with us. All of that threatened to piss me off because I knew that if we asked the French school to do something out of the ordinary, they were going to make a big stinking deal about it. So, instead, I just took Ryan down to the elementary school and told them the situation.

They told me not to worry about it. They said they were going to have to evaluate him themselves anyway, so they'd just let it go. They told me to bring in his birth certificate and ss card later, too. And when they asked when he'd like to start, I turned and asked him (in French) if he wanted to start that day. He shook his head no. So, I said, "I think he's a little shy, maybe he should start tomorrow." But Ryan piped up and said, "NOOOO! Mom, I wanna start today. I wanna start right now!"

"Right now? Right this second?" I said, grinning.

He grinned back and nodded his head.

So, that was that. After a quick tour, an introduction to his teacher, the librarian, the lunchroom director and the principal, (and after one of the office ladies lent him a package of crackers for his snack), we walked him to his classroom, where I felt like I was dropping of my tiny baby! I cried on the way to the car.

Promptly, at 3:10, I pulled into the parking lot to get in line for pick-up. When it came to be Ryan's turn to get in the car, I waved him over to me and almost got him in trouble. But when he got into the car, he started gushing... GUSHING... about his day. "Mom, you know what we did? We..." I started crying again as he talked about how they cut out paper coins and glued them into columns and how much fun he had and how yummy his lunch was (yeah, we'll talk about all that mess later, on the OTHER, new blog, I guess--three words: cheesburger and fries), and how he had made a little girl friend. *sigh*

In that moment, everything was better. Since we got here, I mean, since we lost our luggage, since I had gall stone attacks, since our road was too muddy, since we couldn't get anything hooked up at the house, since my dreams of cleaning up the woods were covered in ice and snow, since my baby girls left, since I had spent two scary nights alone in our new home, I had been wondering if maybe this whole thing was a mistake. If maybe I should have just stayed in France and waited it out. But in that moment, as my sweet Ryan turned back into a normal, happy American six-year-old, I saw that I had made the right choice after all.

And it was like that all week long. Ryan makes up songs about school every morning and about how much he loves it. He goes on and on about his teacher. His teacher writes me home notes about how Ryan may not know how to read many words in English, but he writes the French ones beautifully and she nearly SWOONS as he reads them to her in French. I love that she appreciates the intelligence he HAS and isn't trying to stifle it. I love that she trusts me to help him catch up on his sight words. I love that she tells other people (a lady in the office told me) that Ryan is SOOO SMART!

I'm happy.


Okay, of course there are a kazillion things I could tell you about our new life, but I think that's enough for this blog.

What I would like to do, real quick, is to take a look back about the two-year France experiment as a whole. Remember if you will, going over there, I was skeptical but driven by a purpose that I hoped would be for "the greater good." I went there because my husband had followed me back to the States so I could finish up what I had started here and so that I could succeed (I mean, I DID follow HIM to Houston, TX for the same reason, but then HE moved to Charlotte, NC because *I* wanted to... even changed his job). I went there because my husband's parents only get to see my kids a couple of times a year and when they DID see them, my kids couldn't understand or communicate. So, I went there so my kids could learn French. It was a difficult decision to make because there were risks.... 1) I already KNEW that I HATED living in France (visiting is tolerable), 2) my kids could suffer major culture shock, 3) my career could suffer since I had JUST gotten my MLS the summer before we left for France... Among other risks.

I also went there for the money. Working in France as an expat, my husband would rake in the extra dough. And if we were careful with our money, we could save a lot of that extra money. We could pay off our credit cards. We could buy a farm!

I also went there to practice. Not being able to work as a librarian would give me the excuse to spend my days researching all my farm-dream stuff. I could practice living a life of eating 90-100% organically and locally grown food. I could practice weaning myself off of plastic and pushing more natural materials in my life. I could practice giving up my dryer. I could practice canning and dehydrating and freezing fresh foods. I could make my own pasta, bread, sauces, etc. and avoid all the waste and expense of packaging and KNOW what is in my food. I could learn to really, REALLY cook. For real.

I also went there to write. And to run. And to read.

Guess what? I did all that stuff. And more. AND, if you ask me, I did a damn fine job of it.

I will be the first to suggest and admit that I didn't "be all I could be." I could have integrated more. I could have swallowed my ego and let bygones be bygones and really SWIM in the culture and really try harder to participate with the French. I could have traveled more and learned more about local culture and history and stuff. I could have gotten involved with local sports groups, run more races, swam more laps, visited more local vineyards, volunteered with the local homeless, volunteered on a farm, etc. etc. etc. I could have done all that. And maybe I should have. But, I'm not sweating it because... well, all that stuff isn't why I went there.

When I look back over the whole thing, I got there ready, sleeves rolled up, strong and stubborn. And I was pleasantly surprised that though nothing seemed to have changed on the shell, the guts of France seemed a little different. People were nicer, somehow (turns out it was a natural reaction to my age). There were things that I hadn't noticed about France the first time around that I actually *gulp* liked BETTER than the way we did things or what was available in the States. There were actually a LOT of those things. Things I knew I would miss.

But, by the time I lost Aaron, I didn't have much of that strength and energy left. Had I lost Aaron early on, while I was still nice and strong, I might not have needed to come back to the States to recuperate. But things happened the way they happened. And I DID need to come home. And it was right. Okay, sure, stuff didn't happen the way I had expected and wanted right away. BUT, the smiles were immediate. The kindness. The "stranger love" was OBVIOUS and INSTANT and I felt it. And I soaked it up. And it's working. It's recharging the battery. Back to the energy level I had before leaving here.

I actually have France to thank for a lot. You all know what I'm talking about because you stuck with me through it all, so there's no reason to list it all. I maintain all I've said before with regards to the blame and animosity I've expressed towards France. But, I'll go ahead and admit that I SHARE a lot of the blame. I could have fought harder. I could have stood up for myself. I could have insisted. After that first miscarriage and my one bad experience with the OB, I could have put the idea of having another baby out of my mind completely until we got home to the States. There are a lot of wouldas and couldas and even shouldas. But things went the way they did and I refuse to waste time regretting. I will regret NOTHING at all. The way I figure it, we're even.

I think this is pretty much the end. I'm going to put some pics on here since I haven't in so long. Pix from the end in France and the beginning here. And after that, if you wanna know how the story goes, you'll have to go to the sequel site. The address is going to be at the end of the pix.

Christmas 2009:

Santa ATE it!!!

Happy Dance:

Chillin' with Pepe:

Snowy Lyon:

Hot Chocolate!

Snowy Pepe's House:

King Cake!!!!:

Ryan's rendition of the future... Look closely...

Princess Time!!!

Last visit with Pepe/Meme/TaTa Nanou (Mama's first French best girl friend!)

Views from the plane as we fly to Munich:



Hotel togetherness:

Play area outside our fave bookstore:

Snowy Virginia:

It's a SIGN!!!!

Ryan likes putting up signs outside their room:


Camping out in our new house!


Hurricane and aftermath (this is what happened when I let Ryan watch "When the Levees Broke"):

My Archeologist:

My Knight:

Snow (beautiful and GONE by noon-ish! *grin*)

Sign of spring!:

Ryan's in a Maze Phase:

Okay, as promised, here's the address of the new blog, "Adventures in Homesteading: Friendship Farm":

Hope to see you there soon!


Laurel said...

Glad you're stateside...missed you madly! And I completely agree with you about the Germans...we had a similar experience on a flight to Sweden...

Just a woman chasing two rabbits said...

What a touching the pics, but I know you are missing your girls terribly! It will be a wonderful reunion and you are able to do so much on the homestead until they come "home".