Like Deckchairs on the Titanic … a Time for Comfort

stepping-stonesI’ve never visited anyone in a place like this before, let alone a loved one. It wasn’t until dad grabbed my hand that I realized my fists were clenched. His touch also prompted me to take a deep breath — turns out I wasn’t breathing, either. Odd.

Inside, a small scattering of residents were camped out in the common room, some sleeping, some watching T.V. Mom was sleeping on a sofa, and when I touched her shoulder, she opened her eyes, focused … and smiled. Quickly she sat up and hugged me, and I waited for her to say something.

For two hours, I waited. We communicated with an improvised game of charades. I stink at charades. It was painful, seeing her life reduced to a single room with a colorless bedcovering and bare walls. And in that moment, I knew what my task this week was going to be: a bit of beauty.

Now, I don’t kid myself that this is going to materially change the outcome of her situation. My other sisters have labored tirelessly to support my parents, helping them to make the medical and other decisions necessary to keep them afloat. This is the first time this year I’ve been able to make it down, for a variety of reasons. And though I’ll admit it may be a bit like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, at least it’s in my power to make sure those chairs go down spit-shined.

Her mother’s quilt. A lunch of homemade soup and bread. A good book (I chose one of mine, and another favorite, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.) And after lunch, we go back to the common room and sit at the piano, and she turns the pages in the old hymnal while I play song after song.

“She’s having a good day,” Dad said. “That’s two in a row.”

Please, God. Make it a week.

This is not your typical “Fun Friday” post, but somehow it seems appropriate to be publishing this in the typical timeslot. Because when it comes to family, “fun” isn’t always measured in roller coaster rides … and when it is, those coasters aren’t always the kind you find at Hershey Park.

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Fun for Families In Chicago

This week’s “Fun kendra thorntonFriday” is from Kendra Thornton, a mother of three who lives in the Windy City. Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

As a traveling enthusiast, I am frequently asked about what places to visit around the United States and the world. Some of my friends want to know of a great place to go for themselves and their children. To me, there is no better place to take children than my own town of Chicago. Here are some places in the city that are friendly to people of all ages.

1. A favorite place that my husband and I take our children is the Field Museum. This excellent place of learning and discovery is not only for our children, but also for my husband and I. Every time we visit the Field Museum, we make it a point to stop by the dinosaur exhibit. The dinosaur fossils are truly extraordinary, and there are many impressive exhibits. I personally like the traveling exhibits that showcase various themes and wonders that are in the world.

2. An adventure that my children love to take in the summer is on the Tall Ship Windy. This amazing experience brings our family together on a boat that looks like it is from the 1700’s. Members of the crew are dressed for a pirate adventure. Both of my children love being out on the water while on the ship, and there are various activities that they can do and learn about.

3. Finding a restaurant that everyone in the family will enjoy can be tough. At times, my children can be quite difficult when looking for something to eat. A great restaurant that everyone enjoys is South Water Kitchen. It is a perfect place for children, and the menu is quite a delight with a wide variety of food. I know that when visiting a different town, people like to have local dishes and meals. Fortunately, South Water Kitchen, which was founded by a Chicagoan, has many local dishes that many people will enjoy. The hospitality is good as well.

Chicago is friendly to families who visit the city. These tips are just the beginning of great places that people, young and old, will enjoy. The food, activities, and adventures make it the prime place to visit and have a vacation.

Kendra Thornton is 37 and a mother of 3. Before being promoted to the full time position of mom, I was the former Orbitz Director of Communications where I was able to travel a great deal. I now live in Chicago with my family, where they are my number one priority in everyday life.

A Beachy Christmas: Fun Friday

Fun FridaysAs you are reading this, Craig and I are skipping through the Magic Kingdom with the kids and our uberhappy nanny, whose life dream has been a trip to Disney World. Today, it’s much more low-key . . . still, it’s a beachy Christmas. No snow in sight — and that’s just fine.

beach walkersIt’s the happiest day of the year . . . for everyone but the lizards. We count 24 skinks between Mom’s trailer and the beach (a five minute walk). The kids respond very differently, Sarah shrieking and Christopher excitedly trying to scoop them into a coffee can, to take them home. (No luck. Rats!)

Tomorrow we’re going to watch the sun rise on the beach — I have visions of cupping a mug of hot tea and murmuring Christmas carols. Most likely the kids’ version will win out, pitching seashells at each other and shrieking until we relent and head back to the house to open gifts.

Christmas traditions, like all family traditions, look a bit different from the outside than the inside. The “keeper of the memories” (usually the mom) envisions beauty, sweetness, and solemn joy — which is a lot easier to pull off if no actual children are involved. But then, the whole point of making these memories is not the Kodak moments they create in the family album, but the sense of love and security they create in young hearts.

So . . . this year I’ll be setting aside my wonderful images of Norman Rockwell tableaus full of Christmas carolers in perfectly matched scarves. We’re going to go chase lizards. We’re pretty sure Baby Jesus likes those better, anyway.

FUN FRIDAY: Briny Breezes, Florida. We’re not going to be going many places this week — just hanging out at the beach. My mother-in-law says if you want a good place for fish, check out the “Prime Catch” — they make great sea bass!

Fun Fridays: Road Trip, Anyone?

Fun Fridays

As we load up the van to spend Christmas with Craig’s mom, it reminded me of a long-distance road trip I took with Sarah Reinhard and our kids a few years ago, to attend the Catholic New Media Conference in Atlanta. Do you need a “Road Trip Survival Kit” to get you through the next few weeks?

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with a van full of kids,  you know that there are certain items that you never, ever leave behind. Not if you expect to make it to your destination without one or more children strapped to the roof. Our “Road Trip Survival Kit” has a cooler containing . . .

  • Frozen juice pouches (to keep the kids from slurping them all in the first five miles),
  • Diet Coke (to keep YOU alert and headache-free),
  • PB&J (to toss in the back seat every time a kid spots a McDonalds and whines for sustenance),
  • Frozen container full of chili or other dinner you can zap in the hotel microwave (don’t forget the corn chips for scooping), and
  • Two bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (for after the kids go to bed).

In addition to the cooler, bag of swim gear (one adult takes the kids to the pool while the other unpacks the room and gets dinner started), and Mystery Bag (full of treats from the Dollar Store, to toss in the back seat at regular intervals to keep the chaos down to a dull roar), there are two more items in my “Travelin’ Mom Roadtrip Kit”: a rosary . . . and a GPS. They stay on my dashboard, always in arm’s reach. After all, a girl never knows when she might need a little prompting to head in the right direction.

It’s been ten years since my husband and I foster-adopted our kids, both of whom have special needs. And in the past eight months, we’ve had to face some extraordinary challenges that have resulted in a kind of mental U-Turn. More and more, I find myself thinking about all those things that I wish someone had thought to tell me ten years ago. Perhaps you have been in the trenches a while, and feel the same way.

If that’s the case, I invite you to join me on this road trip.  Rosary and GPS in hand, let’s explore that “road less traveled” . . . together.

What’s the most indispensable component of YOUR “Road Trip Kit”?