I've always found the stories of how people got to where they are very intriguing. Yesterday evening, we took our daughter to the USA BMX track in Riverview, FL to meet up with a young fellow rider she enjoys talking with and riding beside. In the course of talking to his mom, a military wife, I discovered that we had a common thread. She had been working in Nashville, TN and met a gentleman from the Fort Campbell, KY Army base there. They hit it off, got married and have two great sons and they currently live in Florida. Ironically, it mirrors the story of my parents' relationship. My mom is from Kentucky and my dad was from New York City. He enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Campbell, KY. He met my mom, who was working in Nashville, TN, at a dance and they, too, hit it off and got married.
As we stood and talked, she apologized for being a bit emotional. That morning, her husband returned to Afghanistan after a wonderful leave at home. As we talked about kids, she told me how their military life had taken them them to India when their first son was quite young and that their second son was born there. I wondered to myself if she ever thought, as a young girl, that her life would take the path it has; that she would find herself living in India and raising two young boys in a culture so different from her Tennessee childhood.
We stood and talked for over an hour, swapping stories of our kids and enjoying the cool night air as we got to know each other better. Before long, track practice was over and they were shutting down the lights ... and we hadn't even discussed the details of our pre-arranged meeting. My daughter (the Beast) and her son had met some time ago at the Tampa track and became friends; the Beast couldn't believe he had read her favorite book series, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and that he is smart, funny, polite AND ... races BMX! Although they've only seen each other a few times, they've been texting, emailing and trying to meet up again. I suggested that we invite him for a day at Busch Gardens Amusement Park and the kids set the wheels in motion to have the moms meet at the track, and go over details. With the track lights off, we hurriedly exchanged phone numbers, emails, etc by the headlights of the track manager's vehicle, assured that each of us would be as good a mom to the other's kid as we are to our own.
As we drove home, I thought about all the surprising turns my life has taken by the simple words of a friend, doing something out of the ordinary, losing a job. When I was young, I dreamt of what kind of career I'd have, the house I'd live in, my wedding, and even the kind of dog I'd have. I even tried to follow that path early on and found that the universe just kept standing in the way. I had the nice church wedding, lived in a fine house, put my career aspirations on hold and had two great kids and a big, furry dog ... and very little happiness. After a tumultuous 5 years, my first marriage ended and I found myself disillusioned and fighting to figure out what I wanted in life.
After crying almost every day for 2 weeks after leaving my husband, my mom said I'd better get a job so I could support my 2 and 4 year old children. I told her I didn't think anyone would hire me in my emotional state. Without any pretense, she said, "then you better hire yourself." Within days, I started my own business, which I ran for 15 years. Within 2 years, I'd saved enough money to buy my first house, a duplex in the town of Elmer, NJ. Although I knew nothing about fixing it up or becoming a landlord, I found it exciting each time I made my own repair or negotiated with a contracter. I learned the ropes the hard way. My first tenant taught me the value of getting a good security deposit and my second tenant taught me the value of a good solid, rental contract.
Elmer was a "one traffic light" town and no crime happenned after 11pm, because that's when the police department closed. It had one diner, 2 pizzerias, a tire store and the public school had one class per grade. It was a good place to raise kids but offered very little social options for a 31 year old divorcee. One day, the woman at the plumbing store who befriended me, mentioned that there would be a surprise birthday party for one of the locals at the diner that evening. Being a lifelong fan of birthday cake and needing some social interaction, I arranged for a babysitter and crashed the party. I met a quiet man 8 years younger than me that was witty and I was drawn to, promising myself it was just going to be fun, nothing serious. Less than a year later, we got married in Franklin Mills Mall. We bought a tiny pre-Civil War cottage that needed work in every room, not to mention the roof and old wooden siding. Once the Beast was born, we were officially living the opposite of what I had once dreamed. We were raising 3 kids in a 900 sq. foot construction zone, balancing the repairs on rental properties with our own house. I soon lured Frankenbutt into the event business because I needed a trusted partner and someone who would teach himself and our staff anything our clients requested (including balloon animals, face painting, juggling, magic, yo yo'ing and stilt walking). Besides the standard table saw in our living room, there were school books, craft supplies, baby bibs and file folders. During those years, we could never keep track of the remote control. Life was hectic and messy and fun! And, I was happy!
So often we get a vision in our minds of what life's supposed to look like that we lose sight of what it's supposed to feel like. When I lived in a beautiful home during my first marriage, I never felt "at home". Now I know that home is not a place so much as it is a "belonging"; Frankenbutt is my home. Billy Joel says it best in "You're my Home": "Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Indiana's early morning dew; High up in the hills of California, Home is just another word for you; ... Long as I have you by my side, there's a roof above and good walls all around."
There are so few of us who became what we said we'd be when we grow up and there are plenty of us who aren't doing what we studied in college either. In fact, many of us are doing what we happenned upon by chance or got sidetracked to by life's surprises. We cross paths with intriguing people that we might never had known had we followed that pre-adult vision of life.
I can't help but see the similarities of the things that brought me happiness when I was a youngster and the things that bring me happiness now. From the time I was 5 until I went to Junior High, my best friend, James, and I were practically inseparable. We built forts together, explored the woods, made up games and rode our bikes everywhere. We played until we were sweaty, dirty and too exhausted to move ... unless we heard the ice cream truck.
I don't remember exactly when I lost touch with being a kid, probably about the same time when James realized I was a girl and I became distracted by make up, going to the mall and older boys. Without deep thoughts, dreams or much of a plan, I found that familiar happiness I experienced as a child in the past 15 years. The forts we build are a little bigger, the bikes have more gears and the places we explore go way beyond our back yard ... but the ice cream still tastes as good as it ever did. And every now and again, we still make up games, like "Ramp Ball", (a spontaneous game my friends, Ellie and Mike played with us during an impromptu visit a few years back) and play until we are sweaty and dirty and too exhausted to move.
I'm looking forward to home on the road with Frankenbutt and the Beast. I hope I can help my 12 year old daughter stay in touch with the simple pleasures of childhood; to keep the kid inside happy even as she heads toward the demands of adulthood. Speaking of which, there's laundry to be done and more trim to be painted. Then, it's time for a bike ride.
More later; until then feel free to weigh in with your thoughts about our ride; good advice is always welcome, too!
Miles ridden so far: 0 (training miles don't count)