Tag Archives: solo parenting

Tripping with the Girl Child

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There is a moment in every woman’s life when she knows that she will never camp again. For me, that moment came last Saturday morning, somewhere between dragging my protesting bones off a thin foam mattress and across wet grass to a porta-potty, and realizing that I’d forgotten to bring a cup and therefore had to rinse my contact lenses and brush my teeth in Argos’ water bowl.

Not that I’m complaining. Self-knowledge is a good thing. Also, my road trip with the Girl Child has been … what word works best? Delightful. Healing. Rejuvenating. Joyous.

A gift from God.

This is true even of the itchy bits: A couple days without showering. My snoring, Argos’ licking of parts best ignored, her acute sensitivity to annoying noises. Conversations about subjects previously skirted – God (I am a grateful believer in One who gives with a lavish hand; she calls herself an atheist and speaks of “putting things out to the Universe”), love, sex and dating (Himself is irredeemably male; she is in love with a young woman she met on Tinder, and while telling me about Tinder she mentioned the “fake lesbians” who hunt there for thrills – but, she told me, you can tell them by their talons. I did the blank stare, and she waved her beautifully polished but short fingernails at me. More blank. She rolled her eyes. “Mom. Please don’t make me explain why lesbians don’t grow long fingernails.” Comprehension smacked me upside the head and I squeaked “Oh my word, TMI!” and blushed like a virgin). Conversations about the past – sad and happy memories, regrets and forgiveness, perceptions and assumptions and explanations – and about politics, books, ethics, the meaning of life, and, naturally, family gossip.

Inevitably, our road trip got off to a chaotic start. Between a big deadline and the need to transform a black hole of doom into a comfortable spare bedroom, I’d had no time to worry about trivia like grocery shopping in advance for a trip that wouldn’t happen until days after her arrival. Suddenly it was time to meet her at the airport, followed by much running around and visiting with people, in between firing increasingly irate messages at Emirates Air demanding to know what they’d done with her luggage. (It arrived on a late flight the night before we left town.)

We picked up our hire car from Budget at about the time I’d planned to get on the road. (That’s when we learned that a second driver added around 70% to the cost of the hire. For the same amount of car. No, it makes no sense to me either.) Then we rushed home to pack, but first I insisted on spring-cleaning the house in an effort to assuage my guilt over abandoning Himself to the care of seven dogs and a horde of other critters, while the Girl Child flung things into the car more or less at random. (Actually, that’s not true – she packs as though she’s solving a tetris puzzle. So what in fact happened was, I flung random suggestions at her and she gathered things together and stowed them neatly away, and it was therefore entirely my fault that we left without eating or cooking utensils or, come to think of it, food.)

The plan was to get to our cottage in central Oregon, about four hours drive away, at lunch time. As noon approached, the Girl Child became restive and I said “Stuff it, this is clean enough” and hurled my mop at the bucket. We loaded ourselves and Argos into the car, and headed for the hills.

Argos was pleased to find that we'd remembered to pack his toys.

Argos was pleased to find that we’d remembered to pack his toys. (Pic by the Girl Child.)

Of course, we have taken hundreds of pictures. I will refrain from sharing all of them - but look at this. Did you ever see a more open road for beginning a life-changing journey?

Of course, we have taken hundreds of pictures. I will refrain from sharing all of them – but look at this one of the Oregon Scenic Byway. Did you ever see a more deliciously open road for beginning a life-changing journey? (Pic by the Girl Child.)

There are many beautiful places to see in Central Oregon. I’d whittled the list down to four … but in fact all we managed were the Painted Hills. We had to go twice, to see what they looked like in the evening and again by the fresh light of morning.

They sprawl like a pride of lazy, loose-limbed beasts drowsing through the eons.

The Painted Hills – they sprawl like a pride of lazy, loose-limbed beasts drowsing through the eons.

One place we didn't manage to see was the Blue Basin. This gave us a taste of what we were missing - and whetted my appetite for a return visit.

One place we didn’t manage to see was the Blue Basin. This gave us a taste of what we were missing – and whetted my appetite for a return visit.

Argos taking a break on the side of the road.

Every potty break for Argos was a photo opportunity.

We spent the night at a cottage in Mitchell. It was clean, spacious and comfortable. The only downside to our stay was the inevitable toilet mishap – and it was almost a relief to get that done and out of the way early. (My relationship with toilets is a whole other blog post, which I will write one day … enough to say that although I love to travel, my bowels do not.)

Now that I think of it, the other downside was the absence of anywhere to eat in Mitchell. Everything closes at 7.00PM. Dinner was a couple of blueberry muffins and a glass of milk that we’d picked up en route for breakfast.

There may not be a whole lot to Mitchell, but what there is is decorated in memorable style! Every wall downtown was covered with fascinatingly random works of art.

There may not be a whole lot to Mitchell, but what there is is decorated in memorable style! The outside walls of every store downtown featured fascinatingly random works of art. (Pic by the Girl Child.)

Our next destination was Crater Lake. It was late afternoon by the time we got there. We drove through forest tunnels that were veiled with heavy smoke from the fire at Medford, but the lake was dazzling in the low light. Of course, we had to go back again the next morning so she could see the incredible blue of the water and to putter around taking pictures of flowers and trees and weird rock formations. (See how self-controlled I’m being? I’m making you look at hardly any of them!)

Crater Lake with the afternoon sun on it. (For a pic taken a few years back, showing the incredible blue of the water, see xxx.) (Pic by the Girl Child.)

Crater Lake with the afternoon sun on it. (For a pic taken a few years back, showing the incredible blue of the water, see here.) (Pic by the Girl Child.)

Day three had us heading for the Oregon Coast, a stay at one of my favorite places and Argos’ first encounter with the sea. Moolack Shores Motel is a couple miles north of Newport, and the couple who own it have so much fun doing it up all arty and interesting and fun. When we walked into our suite (“the hunting lodge”, complete with rifles and rods, a deer head mounted over the bedroom door, and wood carvings by local artists) the view of the Pacific blazed through the big picture windows at us. I expected Argos to be at least a little fazed by the hugeness of the ocean, but no – he knew right away that sand was for running and waves for dancing and friends for making.

The view from our balcony. You probably can't see them, but there are whales spouting and generally lolloping about next to the rock to the right of the lighthouse.

The view from our balcony. You can’t see them, but there are whales spouting and generally lolloping about next to the rock to the right of the lighthouse. (Pic by the Girl Child.)

By then, we were tired of the road, and packing up to leave the next morning was hard. Lesson learned: road trips are better if you drive only every second day.

It took us more than 12 hours to get from Newport to Neah Bay, because of course we took a detour to look at some or other scenic something, and around midday we stopped at Safeway to stock up on food and got sucked into a time warp. (While in the time warp I temporarily lost control of my faculties and bought a leg of lamb and mushrooms and baby potatoes, and a couple of aluminum roasting thingummies and insisted that I was going to fix something delicious on the barbecue for dinner. More about this later.)

On the other hand, we found a town called Humptulips. Yes, really – google it if you don’t believe me. The only public loo is a porta-potty on the side of the road (Girl Child’s review: “It’s clean enough – just don’t look down.” There is a general store with an alarm that shrieks long and hard every time the door opens, and a young woman behind the counter who looks as though she’s waiting for someone to rescue her. I hope they don’t keep her waiting too long!

We actually saw quite a few towns that, for one reason or another, felt like the set of a reality show. Like this place - just look - likker, beer, wine, cigarettes AND worms, plus a bear and flags lining the main road. To quote the Girl Child:

We actually saw quite a few towns that, for one reason or another, felt like the set of a reality show. Like this place – just look – guns, ammo, booze AND worms, plus a bear and flags lining the main road. To quote the Girl Child: “Murrica! Hell, yeah!”

And then there was this.

And then there was this. “Welcome to our town. Behave, or we’ll bomb you.”

Neah Bay is on the Olympic Peninsula, which just happens to be one of the wettest places on earth. Seriously, parts of it get 10 feet of precipitation every year. So, of course, we had to camp there. We spent the whole long day’s drive wondering whether we’d packed the rain cover for the tent, and also whether we’d be able to inflate the air mattress, which we bought en route in the trusting but false assumption that it came with some sort of blower upper. It was dark when we arrived and we were all three of us grumpy and fed up with this whole road trip nonsense, and although the tent went up more-or-less waterproof and a fellow camper provided a bed inflator, I didn’t sleep well because the Girl Child kept waking me up to accuse me of snoring.

We camped on an undeveloped site that belongs to a friend who is a member of the Makah tribe. To my eternal gratitude, they provided a chemical toilet.

We camped on an undeveloped site with friends, one of them a member of the Makah tribe whose family owns the land.  (Pic by the Girl Child.)

The next morning I kicked the Girl Child out into the cold rain with instructions to explore Cape Flattery and the museum … and I spent the entire day in bed, snoozing and reading. Everyone else left on various errands, and even Argos seemed relieved to spend a day Doing Nothing. It was bliss! Until I noticed that the rain had soaked through the tent wall and my sleeping bag was sodden … but that didn’t happen until much later, and it led to the epiphany I mentioned right at the beginning of this post. No More Camping For Me!

One of the Girl Child's pictures. The sea has chewed crevasses and caves into the base of Cape Flattery, giving it prehensile toes that dig into the ground to hold the Olympics in place.

One of the Girl Child’s pictures. The sea has chewed crevasses and caves into the base of Cape Flattery, giving it prehensile toes that dig into the ground to hold the Olympics in place.

We took Argos for a run on the beach toward the end of the day.

We took Argos for a run on the beach toward the end of the day.

Having slept, and then ambled pleasantly along the beach, I was happy to not worry about the lamb, which we didn’t cook because the friends we were camping with had planned a fish bake. I will eat someone else’s baked fish over any cooking of mine any day! And I figured the lamb would do fine for our next stop, as long as we kept topping up the ice it was packed in.

On Day six we were back on the road again, with a full bag of soaking laundry and craving a hot shower. First there was a long drive to Port Townsend, then a ferry across to another island, then the beautiful bridge at Deception Pass, seafood dinner in Anacortes, a late ferry to Orcas Island, and a slow drive down narrow and twisting roads between hedgerows and fields. I wonder if all islands try to look like England? At last we reached our destination: a resort where I had paid a bloody fortune to hire a tent. Not a wet and flappy tent that we had to erect ourselves, mind you – a permanent tent, with a solid carpeted floor and an actual bed and – or so I presumed – Conveniences.

We expected a place to cook. A small fridge. A shower!!! (Did I mention that after two days of camping, bracketed by two days of travel, we were more than a tad stinky? And itchy! Yuchh!)

Well. First there was the Stench. It assaulted our nostrils as we entered the resort, and was so bad I couldn’t even blame it on Argos. We mentioned it to the ditzy young dingleberry in reception, and she giggled and changed the subject. Then there was the tent … and it was a very nice tent, dry and clean with a fair view – only the bed was on the small side, but we had to share because there was no bedding for the futon. There was also no fridge, and nowhere to cook. (There was a place to barbecue, but it was an uncomfortable distance from our tent – and there were signs everywhere warning of a burn ban due to the hot, dry weather.)

We resigned ourselves to dining on cheese sticks and chips, and went in search of the showers, There were two showers, three toilets and four basins to serve about eight tent cabins and a full campsite. One of the showers was available, so the Girl Child went in (it was her turn to go first) and peeled off her disgusting, damp, smelly clothes. There was a pause, then I heard, “Mom? Do you have any quarters?”

Yep, it took around four quarters to have a halfway decent shower. Because everyone walks around with spare quarters in their pockets. So, kind reader, what do you think? Do you think I left her, naked, reeking and shivering, while I hurried to find my purse, which didn’t contain any quarters, so I drove to the store at reception, only to find they had closed? Or did I stick my hand into the pocket of my jeans and find a bunch of quarters that were left over after I washed the rug for her bedroom at the laundromat? I’ll give you a hint: there are several practical reasons why I believe in a God of miracles.

The resort didn’t win any stars, but Orcas Island is a delight. We took the short hike at Obstruction Pass – the Girl Child and Argos ran the mile to the beach, then ran some more while waiting for me, and eventually ran back to the car. I found the steep ups and downs quite a challenge and was relieved to learn of an easier, more level route back – but it was so worth it, to sit and look out at the islands and throw sticks for the boy.

He loves the water, And he really, really wants the stick. But swim? Nah … he’s not convinced that’s possible.

Then we went up to Mt Constitution, but I was pooped and chilled and wet through from towing a tired and recalcitrant Malinois into a freshwater lake on the way there to rinse the salt water off him.

And now here we are, approaching the end. I’m writing this in a coffee shop while the Girl Child shops her way up Eastsound and back. We have to be at the ferry by 2.00PM, and we’ll be home before midnight.

Maybe I can talk Himself into cooking the lamb…

We have to make one final stop before we leave...

We have to make one final stop before we leave…

I’ve told you here about our travels. What I haven’t quite managed to put into words, however, is the beauty of the journey we’ve started together. In just a few days, we’ve traveled all the way from rebellious 17 and anxious mommy, to two women who delight in each other’s company. So … yeah, the road trip is all but over. But the journey? That’s just beginning.

(The story of her visit continues here.)

Shadow selfie

Here

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She’s here.

They left her luggage in Dubai – two suitcases stuffed with gifts and a scattering of clothes. And there were flight delays, and the traffic on the I-5 was so bad it took me 45 minutes to drive the last 20 miles to Sea-Tac – after hovering close to 80mph most of the way because I could not be late, only when I announced that I was leaving Himself announced that before I left (it’s a four hour drive) he absolutely had to check the tires … the radiator … the oil … the-who-knows-what-because-I-had-to-run-inside-and-do-housework-to-prevent-myself-from-screaming … and then I was at the airport, and inside, and there were people everywhere but none of them was HER. (Although at least she had her phone and could text.)

And then there she was, and all I could do was hold on, and hold on, and when I let go she still held on.

It’s been so, so long. Half a lifetime, nearly. She was 18 when Himself and I found each other at some long lost intersection of the World-Wide Web, and I launched myself – not heeding the cost, never suspecting how high it would be – across the Atlantic and to the far side of a continent that was itself a world away, and into his arms, his bed, his life (our 17th anniversary was just the other day). And left her behind.

And now she’s here.

This whole feverish, dusty summer has been building up to this. Hours online planning a road trip, dollars committed – far more than I intended but it’s been so long – more hours tunneling through the chaotic mess of the guest bedroom and cleaning and transforming it into a welcoming space. The antique brass bed is the one I bought her when she was eight years old and we moved into the first (only) house I bought as an adult single person and I determined to give her a space that would feel like forever, like hers, like home. The karakul rug we found at the Rand Easter Show that same year – it’s still beautiful and soft on her feet, after I pulled it – covered with dust and bird shit and mouse droppings – out of the barn and sat with it in a steaming laundromat for hours a few days ago, one of the hottest days of this hot summer. The chest of drawers and wardrobe are empty, just waiting for her bags to arrive from Dubai.

We can wait. There’s no great rush. We have a whole three weeks of summer.

And she’s here.

The Girl Child - HERE!

The Girl Child – HERE!

With Vos

With Vos

“It’s positive,” he said…

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… and my life changed direction.

Dr Gough was a kind man with a rumpled face and baggy clothes, and everyone in that small university town knew he would give you an abortion if you needed one. I already knew I was pregnant – I felt the winning spermatozoon drive into my ovum like a comet plunging into the sun, and soon after that the morning sickness began. I’d roamed Grahamstown’s quiet streets by night, breathing fog into the chilly air, cuddling my tender breasts beneath my baggy sweater and thinking through my options. So although his announcement was a shock, it was no surprise. I had made my decision.

“When am I due?” I asked, and watched as the pools of sad expectation evaporated from his eyes and a smile spread across his face. I loved him for being happy for me, for not thinking I should kill my baby.

* * *

I’d had no idea the heart would beat so fast. It was like holding a tiny bird in my belly. Every time I visited Dr Gough, he turned on a speaker so that I could listen to it with him. Later, after I moved away to the unmarried mother’s home in Cape Town and started going to a big state teaching maternity hospital for checkups, the doctors were discouraged from doing anything that would help us bond with our babies. The pressure to give them up for adoption was huge, and relentless.

Nowadays expectant parents always share their ultrasound pictures, and every time I see one I’m a little sad that no one ever showed me ours. But then I remember the eager hummingbird beat of her new-formed heart, I remember the quivering excitement of the moment I felt her begin to dance, and I know my memories are complete.

I have pictures to illustrate this post ... in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it's buried.

I have pictures to illustrate this post … in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it’s buried under all the other stuff waiting to be sorted.

* * *

I’d had a bit of a meltdown the year before I got pregnant. Someone I loved, in a complicated sort of way, died unexpectedly, and I had a car accident, and various other things happened and, to cut a long story short, I’d always been a bit of a basket case but all this shit pretty much filled up the basket that I lived in, suspended above reality by my beautiful balloon, and I fell out and plummeted to earth. So I was seeing a shrink, who liked me to tell him my dreams. I had been reading Freud, so my dreams were pretty interesting, until I found out he was a Jungian. I didn’t know anything about Jung so after that I didn’t know what to dream any more and our sessions became rather dull.

Anyway. When I told him I was pregnant, he said I had done it to get back at my father. I was pretty sure my father hadn’t crossed my mind at the time the getting pregnant was happening, but I didn’t argue. (I was a student, he was head of the Department of Psychology. Arguing about what was happening inside my head wasn’t an option.) Then he offered to put together the paperwork to get me a legal abortion. (Back then in South Africa, if a sufficient number of specialists concurred that you were sufficiently a nutcase, you didn’t have to give birth.)

So I stopped seeing him. Which was a bummer for him, because it turns out that pregnancy hormones give you the most extraordinary dreams.

* * *

When various well-meaning people finally quit trying to get me to give up the baby, they started in on my dog. “If you must have this baby, then for goodness sake get rid of the dog!” they said.

I told them not to be ridiculous. “She’s my first kid. I just hope I can love this new one as much as I love her,” I told them.

I really, really did love my dog. But it turned out I had vastly underestimated my capacity for loving.

I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can't find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower - a room that we inserted under the roof while building this house. We haven't yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I'm scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get, for now.

I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can’t find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower – a room that we inserted under the roof as an afterthought while building this house. We haven’t yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I’m scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get to it, for now.

* * *

I had a teeny little crush on Dr Alperstein. He was in his final year of med school, or maybe it was his first year after qualifying, but he was a little older than the other students in his year. He was stocky and pale with a beaming round face, and the head of obstetrics was tall and sallow with a long, serious face. The girls from the unmarried mothers home were all state patients, so they used us as teaching aids for the med students.

I lay on one of the examination couches behind flimsy curtains until the professor and his gaggle of students pushed them aside and clustered around me. “Open wide,” the professor always said, and as I let my knees flop apart I’d look for Dr Alperstein. He always focused on my eyes, with a nod and a smile and a “Good girl.” I felt as though he thought I was good because, of all the girls who were due when I was, I was the only one planning to keep my baby.

* * *

I glared at the med student. “I don’t know why you have to induce me. I’m not overdue,” I groused.

“There’s a big golf tournament starting tomorrow. Nobody wants to miss their game because you come into labor,” he said.

“Well can’t you wait a couple hours before starting? I really wanted a leap year baby.”

He snickered. “Don’t worry. You’ll have your leap year baby.” It was 6.00PM on February 28th.

He waited while the nurse strapped my feet into the stirrups, then leaned forward between my legs with a look of cold disinterest. Something bright flashed in his hand, there was a moment of invasion and not-quite-pain and a gush of fluid, then he stepped back and watched the nurse adjust the flow of medication through my drip. He glanced at me. “So how come a nice girl like you is so fat?” he asked.

I had no idea how to answer him, but it didn’t matter because at that moment the pain roared through me like a locomotive and carried me away. He chuckled, nodded to the nurse to undo the stirrups, and slapped my butt. “I’ll check on you in time for leap year,” he said, and strolled out through the swing doors. He was in a good mood. There were four of us there from the home, and he needed to catch just four more babies to be done with his obstetrics rotation.

I had gone from wondering what the fuss was about to hard labor in the space of a few minutes. I couldn’t remember how to breathe. It was too bright, the fabric of my gown was too coarse, and everything stank of antiseptic. The nurse turned out the lights, but would not open the window or let me remove my clothes. And then, after an endless time that took no time at all, a great hand took hold of me and squeezed. I opened my eyes and I was alone. “Nurse!” I called. “Nurse!” It was dark, and I had no idea where the call switch was.

“NURSE!” as the swing doors parted and she wandered through with a cup of tea. “The baby’s coming!” I yelled.

Her teacup smashed to the floor. “No! No! You mustn’t! It’s too soon!” she shouted, and scurried off to get help. (I think she must have been a student too.)

She came back with a midwife, and 20 minutes later we were done. It was 10.20PM on February 28th, not yet leap year day, and I didn’t mind at all. By the time the med student came back from his supper break he was too late even to catch the afterbirth. I smiled sweetly at him. “I guess you might just have to miss your golf game,” I said.

* * *

Lynn was a writer known for her acerbic wit. She was not the maternal type, so it was quite a surprise when she appeared abruptly at the foot of my hospital bed. In retrospect, she had probably taken me under her wing – one of several people to do so. In their different ways they fussed over me and fed me and wondered what on earth I was thinking, to insist on raising a child on my own, with no savings and no job.

The girl child was two days old, and I was surrounded by three or four women, all cooing and oohing and aahing, and passing her around between them. Lynn looked at them with a worried expression, sighed, and fetched herself a chair. She leaned forward to peer into the baby’s face.

“Would you like to hold her?” one of the ladies offered.

“Good God, no!” Lynn exclaimed, rearing back. They stared at her disapprovingly, and she looked embarrassed. “So. Um. What have you called it?” she asked me.

I told her, and one of the ladies gushed, “Isn’t it pretty? She’s named after the Greek goddess of joy!”

Lynn, however, roared with laughter. “Larissa?” she guffawed. “That’s the name of a dirty little railway junction in the middle of Greece. I’ve been there.” She never did get a foothold in the conversation after that. Moving as one, the ladies turned their backs and froze her out, and she left after a few more minutes. I was sorry to see her go … I was feeling a little scared, and she always made me laugh.

We have YouTube now so I checked it out online. Looks like they’ve cleaned it up since Lynn was there.

Your turn! Have you ever stood by a decision, and been glad that you resisted well-intentioned efforts to change your mind? Do you thing being pregnant is a reason to give up your dog? Have you ever been to Greece?