When I was a tiny kid one of my favorite books was called ‘We Were Tired of Living in a House’ by Liesel Moak Skorpen. Its the story of 4 kids who decide to pack up and move away from home, first to a tree, then a pond, a cave, and finally the seaside. They gather plenty of treasures along the way. I remember the line ‘So we packed our bags with sweaters and socks and we moved to a tree. We liked our tree.’ And at each new destination they add to the collection. By the time they move to the sea it includes ‘sweaters and socks, and scarlets leaves of gold, and a frog who is a particular friend…’. (I wish I still had that book with the original illustrations) And that’s kind of like Jeff and I over the past few years.
When we packed up and made a run for the Portuguese border I had one ‘must have’. The plants on the terrace. Its the 7th level of hell right now, as far as heat and humidity, in Valencia. And it will remain thusly thru September. I had a duty not to leave a man behind. They’d have all died before we return to the apartment.
So as we stuffed the car with what we needed, swiftly resembling the Beverly Hillbillies, people openly stared, and twice a gas station attendant was so intrigued by our motley collection of contraptions strapped to the car, and the leaves sticking out my side, they had to be reminded by Jeff to charge us for fuel. Even the Spanish police that passed us on the motorway slowed down to gape. I found spaces for Oliver and Olive – my olive trees (duh). And my pomegranates. And the gardenia tree. And my pepper plant and my herbs. Was it buggie and bushy inside? Yes, it was. We had to do some delousing at a gas station in La Mancha. During that process, Jeff reminded me that this wasn’t my first time at ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach.’ moment with loading a car.
When I first met Jeff’s son, Ryan, he was a tiny little person. Smaller than all the other kids in his class. He was also what I would describe as painfully shy. And me being me, the extrovert, I did everything I could to bring him out of his shell. Or just to make him smile. It wasn’t easy, he was a tough customer. Ryan wanted a step-mom as much as he wanted a hole in his head. But things changed that first Halloween.
I LOVE Halloween. After locating a pumpkin patch out in Carnation, WA, we drove all the way out there to get our harvest holiday things. This would become our family pumpkin patch. I’m a big believer in picking out and cutting your own pumpkins and gourds in the field, from the vine. We are Halloween purists in our family. And I’m also a ‘go big or go home’ pumpkin picker.
That rainy fall day, we got there and Ryan selected a small Pumpkin. He was done. I put on my rubber boots and marched out into the field and found the largest pumpkin I could, cut the vine with the provided snips and brought it back. I could see the edges of Ryan’s mouth twitch. But he wouldn’t give me a smile.
‘Are you sure you just want the little one?’ I asked him. ‘You can pick out another one. Find something HUUGE.’ And I spread my arms out wide.
Ryan, like Jeff, isn’t one for hyperbole but he seemed to consider my offer carefully before agreeing to select another pumpkin. We got a wheel barrow and followed him out into the field. Ryan is nothing if not thorough. He took his time and found a pumpkin larger than mine. Jeff deposited it into the wheelbarrow and Ryan looked up at me with a big smile.
‘Nice.’ I told him. ‘But we’re gonna need more than just these to decorate the front porch and the house. Pick out some more.’ And he did. $100 in pumpkins and gourds later and our trunk and car were packed. And we’d bought corn stalks to decorate the posts out front. I was driving, so I had everyone – including my son, Nick, in his car seat, get into the car. They each had pumpkins and gourds balanced on their laps. I packed the corn stalks around them and opened the windows so they wouldn’t get bent. I’m pretty sure Jeff was reconsidering his decision to date me at this point. We looked like a Halloween bush driving down the road. But I remember Ryan laughed. He actually laughed. I knew I had him then.
It was 20 years ago. And when Jeff reminded me of that day as we were driving towards Portugal, it made me smile. Especially since that little shy introverted kid is all grown up now. And today he defends his dissertation and will be Dr. Ryan xxx, Phd.
Ryan always loved math and science and went from getting his undergrad directly to getting his Phd in rocket fuel combustion (there is a technical term for it but, well, you get it) So now we can’t ever say ‘He’s no rocket scientist’ when describing Ryan, because he actually is one. And he’s been offered his dream job this week, too. We are incredibly proud of him. Ryan also loves animals more than any person I know. So if he’d phoned us in the past few years and said he was stopping his studies to open an animal sanctuary I wouldn’t have been surprised for a moment. Like his father, still waters run deep.
Now, I know Ryan is so much smarter at many more things than I will ever be, but I’d like to think that I’ve done my part in making him laugh and smile over the years. Maybe even at things he might not have normally. Everyone can use a little ridiculous in their lives. I’m Ryan’s ridiculous. (Jeff’s, too) So, while he wasn’t looking for another mother, perhaps I wasn’t such a bad step-mom after all. We did have some fun.
It feels a bit weird. This week Ryan is finishing university and Emilie is starting her college career. The ebb and flow of our family goes on like the tides outside our window these days.
At the end of that book I loved, the kids were tired after their adventures and were ready to return ‘home’. So its a little different than our story. Because after some nomading the last few years, our forever home is in another country by the sea. With sweaters and socks, Olive and Oliver, and, hopefully post-Covid, visits from our wonderful smart, talented kids, who are our particular friends.