Of fog, family and familiar things

December 3, 2013 in North America, Travelogue, United States


I-94 around Chicago is shrouded in fog.

Not the pea soup kind that makes for white knuckle driving. This is the misty, ghostly kind through which leafless black trees reach their bony fingers. The soft, quiet, gentle sort of fog that feels womblike. The kind of fog that lets you see just far enough to have the confidence to carry on around the next bend in the road.

It makes for good driving and good thinking. 

Today marks the midpoint of our six week friends and family tour. We’re spending within the quiet sanctuary of our truck, resting. The only sound is gentle tapping as various children write stories, or do school work. No one is talking. The Christmas music The Man kindly downloaded for me is playing softly and two little strings of ten LED coloured lights are glowing cheerfully. This morning I drove so Tony could work. When we stopped at Mars Cheese Castle we swapped. Finding time to work is the hardest part of the friends and family tour.

With the nurturing of a parade of people we love we’ve just about recovered from our reentry traumas. We’re feeling quite at home now and we’re enjoying all of the things we forget that we miss about America. Of course we haven’t been big box store shopping yet, I’m saving that special trauma to share with my mother-in-law! 🙂

The thing that is wearing us out is the same thing that always wears us out: media. The television, specifically. It’s ALWAYS on. Always. Everywhere. It’s inescapable. It tears at my nerves like a grater on hard cheese. The constant barrage of sound. The never ending horror story that is any news channel. Oh my word. I had no idea the world was such an awful place. This is why we quit watching TV a dozen years ago. It damages my calm. The advertising. It’s shocking. (If you don’t find it shocking, take a 12 year break and then have another look). No one else seems to notice. Perhaps it’s just me.

One of the best things about spending a period of time outside of one’s own culture is the ability to return to what should be “home” and see it through a foreigner’s eyes.

There is so much to love about America. It’s big, beautiful, loud and lovely. Sure, there are gaps big enough to see through around the doors in public toilets, every single thing seems to have high fructose corn syrup in the top three ingredients, and super size has become regular size (I got a “large coke” the other day… 44 oz, I kid you not!) but the gasoline is cheap (about $3 a gallon only!) Goldfish crackers can be had (unlike in NZ) and it’s home to half of the people we love!

It’s a country of dichotomies: gun violence is out of hand… but so is big hearted generosity. Healthcare is a train wreck, but there are more options for healthy choices than anywhere we’ve ever been. Public education is, in general, of marginal quality, but there are more educational options readily available than in just about any other country. Religion and politics are packaged in a uniquely American and capitalistic manner that makes me wince a bit. It’s painful to watch and more painful to be subjected to. Consumerism keeps the cogs turning, but to a lesser degree than one might expect. Anyone who has spent any time in Asia will understand the difference. America gets a bad rap on that front, but their version is so much tamer than… well, than lots of places we’ve been.

I forgot how much Americans, in general, smile and laugh and treat total strangers like old friends. I love that. 

We were sad to hug Great Grandma Parker goodbye this morning. She sent us on our way with lots of love and a bag full of ham sandwiches (which is the same thing as love in her book!) She’s ninety four and as bright as a new penny. We played cards and ate enormous meals in endless rounds while she told us stories we’d never heard before about her youth and how she met Great Grandpa just after the war. Every visit with her feels like winning the lottery; how can we be so blessed as to have a Great Grandma who’s still “young,” active and energetic enough to take on her four great grandchildren? I’m so thankful for the relationships they have with her, even though we’re never with her enough.

Hannah is trying hard to curb her enthusiasm this afternoon. She’s fairly itching to squeeze Benjamin; her twin cousin, in a few hours. They’re the same age and spent several years of their early childhood under the same roof. They’ve always had a very special bond and it’s fun to see them pick up right where they left off and roll into a great big ball of brotherly love. Personally, I’m dreading hugging him. I just know he will have completely ignored my admonition to STOP growing and will be even bigger than he was last time, which seems impossible. It’s humiliating to be picked up and given a light swing by a child you once tied shoes for.

By tonight we’ll be tucked in under my in-laws roof; just as if we’d never left. It all comes full circle and no matter how far we roam we’re always drawn back to the places that are home for us.

This is the kaleidoscope inside my own head that I’m peering through in the fog as we drive today. The joys of rediscovering home. The things that look different than they used to. The loved ones who are making this road trip one long parade of happy.