Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Surprise, Surprise

While I could write a lengthy list of positives associated with living in Texas, I could also put together a list of negatives. Atop that list of negatives - perhaps second only to lizards - is the distance between our family of four and our extended families; my parents live in Wisconsin, my sister and her family live in Illinois, and Tom's family members reside in Nebraska, Tennessee, and Vancouver, Canada.

I attended college 150 miles from my parents' home, and by the end of my first semester I knew that distance to be the perfect separation between a new college student and her parents. I lived close enough that I could easily drive home for a weekend or even a single overnight, and if we both felt up for it, my mom and I could split the three hours driving time and meet halfway for lunch. I lived far enough that I didn't have to worry about my parents showing up on my doorstep unexpectedly and catching me…I don't know…NOT STUDYING.

My parents did actually show up on my doorstep unannounced once during my sophomore year. They knocked on my dorm room door, set an outrageously well-stocked Easter basket on the floor where I couldn't possibly miss it, and then hid down the hallway. Best surprise ever.

I miss my parents - and my sister, her family, and Tom's family - tremendously. We make a valiant effort to get together as often as possible, but plane tickets are expensive and car travel takes days. Not a week goes by that I don't wish we lived close enough for our loved ones to join us for Sunday dinner or to attend Will and Hallie's birthday parties. Close enough to babysit so that Tom and I could go out on a date with the expense of a babysitter, or to just show up on our doorstep unexpectedly.

Last spring my mom planned a trip to visit the kids and me while Tom traveled for work. She'd hoped to arrive in time to walk with Hallie and me to pick Will up from school, but because of traffic she ran a little late (an exact arrival time is tough to pin down when the drive takes two full days) and Hallie and I had to leave without her. The kids and I were halfway home when I saw my mom, a couple of blocks away, rounding the corner toward us. We smiled, waved, and picked up our pace.

Then behind my mom appeared an excited toddler being chased by another adult pushing a stroller. I cried out in shock and elation when I realized that my sister, two-year-old niece Lily, and four-month-old nephew Carter had made the two-day journey with my mom.

It was a wonderful surprise, and I knew that someday I would "return the favor".

Fast forward to last weekend...

Sara planned to hold Carter's first birthday party on the Saturday before President's Day, which incidentally was a day off of school for Will and Hallie and therefore gave us a three-day weekend. I worked with my mom to buy plane tickets, coordinate airport pick-ups/drop-offs, and book hotel rooms (we would have stayed with my sister, but if you recall, her house blew away), all without anyone except our spouses knowing. Well, Tom didn't really know what was going on either.

On Valentine's Day evening (nothing like traveling with a few hundred of your closest friends to really bring out the romance in a relationship), Tom and I loaded the kids in the car, told them we were going on an adventure, and headed to the airport.

Our first flight - College Station to Dallas - was delayed, which meant we had very little time to get from one flight to the next in Dallas. We literally ran through the airport like the family in Home Alone, which Will found so fabulously fun that he sang Run, Run, Rudolph as he led the way through the crowds. Our second flight was scheduled to leave at 8:20pm, and we made it to the gate just as boarding should have begun at 8:00pm. Except that right as we reached the counter, the screen changed from "on time" to "delayed".

THREE HOURS later we finally boarded our second plane, and two hours after that - at 1:15am - we landed in Illinois. My dad picked us up at the airport and we drove through the ice and snow to our hotel, where I finally rolled over and went to sleep at 2:58am. I don't DO 2:58am anymore, people.

Hallie fell asleep in my arms about an hour before we boarded the second flight. After 20 or so minutes of her sweating and drooling and snotting all over me, I passed her off to Tom, who eventually carried her onto the flight, buckled her up, tucked her in, unbuckled her, carried her off the flight, and took her to my dad's waiting car. She didn't wake up until she was buckled into her carseat, and needless to say, she was confused. As we pulled out of the airport parking lot, she suddenly yelled, "stop! We forgot to get on the second plane!" She had absolutely no idea that we'd left Dallas and flown all the way to Illinois.

The trip wiped us out, but we survived. (My sister's surprise trip to see us was kind of like an episode of Survivor as well...have you ever driven across the country with a potty-training toddler who suffers from severe motion sickness and a breast-feeding infant? The combination doesn't exactly lend itself to a top-down, wind-in-your-hair, radio-blasting kind of road trip.) We rose on Saturday morning at our regular weekday wake-up time (damn you, circadian rhythms), showered, ate breakfast, and drove to my sister's house.

My dad went in first, and then a minute or two later we snuck up to the door and Will gave it a good pounding. As I'd hoped, it was a wonderful surprise. They had no idea we were coming, a feat made possible only because I didn't tell Will and Hallie - who periodically talks to Lily on the phone - ahead of time about our trip.

We helped prepare for the party, celebrated with Carter, played games, watched the Olympics, gave Carter his first hair cut, took FULL advantage of our hotel's continental breakfasts, went swimming, went to see Frozen (again), played in the gym at Sara's elementary school, and just enjoyed each other's company. Our Monday morning 5am wake-up call came much too early.

Thankfully, our flights home left and arrived on time. We spent the remainder of the day catching up on sleep and dreaming about a way for us to somehow stay here in Texas but live closer to the moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins we love so much.

Happy birthday, President Carter!


  1. Why does this post make me want to cry? This is beautiful, Erin. I have always loved and admired your entire family. I have to admit, I'm really, really thankful that we have so many family members close by. I don't take this for granted!! Love to you and the whole clan! :-)

  2. i am so thrilled that you pulled off the surprise.
    sara certainly had an emotion-filled weekend!