It doesn’t take a lot of convincing for me to fly South in the Winter. The reasons leading up to a trip to Arizona were many from the start and the decision was easy to make.GG (great grandma) sunbirds in Apache Junction, AZ so she hadn’t seen Hank in 3 months. My Great Aunt Patty, Great Uncle Clay and cousin Sage all live nearby as well. I learned that a recruiting trip to the U of A needed to be covered for my work. I’ve wanted to take Henry on an airplane while young and take advantage of the free seat. And really, sunshine, margaritas and relaxation never hurt anyone. So I booked our trip and eagerly awaited time with family underneath the never ending blue Arizona sky. And then, my great Aunt Patty, who was like a second grandmother to me growing up, took a sudden turn and passed away on Sunday, March 22nd.
We were scheduled to arrive Saturday, March 28th for Henry and Aunt Patty’s introduction, so I was devastated with a case of the what-ifs and the if-onlys. I miss her. I wish I knew her better. I feel like as an adult I am just beginning to understand her spirit and her strength, though I always got her humor. Aunt Patty was a spitfire, quick with a joke that was often at her own expense, or my Uncle Clay’s. Another favorite subject was teasing my Grandma, her sister and best friend. Venise and I learned a lot about sisterhood from their modeling.
Aunt Patty loved to tell the truth. She loved airing the family’s dirty laundry. She loved to laugh. She loved tacky things like beer can hats, kick knacks and tchotchkies. She was a talented artist. She loved happy hour and she valued her independence, especially towards the end of her life as her health faltered. Her body may have been failing her but her husband never did. Uncle Clay was always nearby, ready to steady her one of his wide, strong, aluminum can crushing hands. Let me tell you more about their love story. They were married for 57 faithful, good natured bickering years. As small and delicate as she was, with ailments that followed her from childhood to adult life, Uncle Clay was her ballast, the anchor. He is big, homestead and mountain raised in Lester, WA, and a picture of strength. He kept her safe and cared for her. Her strength was her love for her family, the safe space she created for those she cared about.
I wish she could have met Deyton and Henry. She knew them through facebook, email and the telephone, printing every picture we posted and adding them to a scrapbook she was keeping for Venise and I, a book that included pictures from our wedding and print outs of blog posts. She loved our babies. Deyton was the last person to make her smile, in a Skype chat on Saturday.
Our trip ended up falling at the same time as her memorial so it has been a bittersweet vacation. I am glad that I was able to spend time with my family during the hard stuff, because I think that going through these things together is a big part of what makes you family and keeps you close. I am glad that Henry has been here to bring light and joy in an otherwise very sad time. I am happy that he can smile with and slobber on his GG as she mourns her sister. He’s definitely been a cheerful force, delighting his audience wherever we go, from the dog park to a fancy birthday brunch at Annabelle’s, to daily happy hour.
The break has been great for us too. Unstructured time with my son feels like a vacation in and of itself. I also got to spend two days at a career fair, stretching my working mom muscles and limbering up for the recruiting season ahead next fall. My Aunt Debbie and cousin Sage were lovely enough to come with us to Tucson for this adventure and hang out with him while I worked. I pumped on the go for the first time using a manual pump and a rigged refrigeration system to keep the milk fresh. The career center at the University of Arizona was super helpful with this. One representative, Susan, let me use her office and empathized with my mission. She said her experience years before had been a very frustrating trial and she was happy to improve that experience for me. How nice is that?!
While I’m on the subject of awesome mom and dad helpers, huge props must be given to the Alaska Airlines crew and everyone on our flights. Henry did not sleep on our flights as I was assured he would, but many people helped me entertain him, from the U of A men’s rugby team to the lovely flight attendants. People even helped me get my ridiculous stroller full of luggage through the airport. (I looked like a peddler, since I was travelling by myself I put my Britax B-Agile stroller and carseat travel system to some serious use, pushing it through the airport with Henry in it and big stroller clips holding my bags onto its handle, while I rolled my suitcase behind me with my free hand.) I love the sisterhood of moms, it’s a seriously awesome and unexpected gift that came along with the birth of my little man.
In less fun news, Henry got a chest cold somewhere along the way and that hindered the remainder of our trip a bit (airport germs strike again?) Thankfully the CVS pharmacy had a Nose Frida so we finally got to try out the tool that everyone on the parents’ email alias at work raves about. It wasn’t as gross as I had anticipated, and it works! I’ve been “loving” through his sickness, a typo term introduced to me by my girlfriend whose baby is also sick. She meant “living through.” But “loving through” is really a perfect description of what we do for our kids. Hank screams every time a saline drop comes near his face but I tell myself its ok and I get the job done, because it will make him feel better. No one ever said being a mother is easy. For his first sickness, about a month ago, I had to leave the room while Henry cried as his daddy cleaned his nose. This time, I am loving through it.
And I have to say, there are a lot worse places to be mourning or sick. The dry heat and sunshine are healing in more than one way. In addition, the JW Marriott leaves little to be desired among its desert vista, multiple pools, restaurants, lazy river, daily tequila ritual, sage burning Native American morning ritual, and flavor infused water dispensers every 200 feet. Henry learned to love citrus infused water and our morning Starbucks trip after the fireside sage burning ritual. I learned how to juggle work travel and a baby. And Aunt Sage learned that if you don’t put a diaper under a naked baby, he just may poop on the floor of your beautiful hotel room.
From underneath the Arizona sky,