February 22, 2015

My Texas Invitation Revisited

I was in second grade.  My Grandma, who also lived in Chicago, planned to travel to Texas to babysit for my two cousins while their parents went away to a medical conference.  My cousins Jimmy and Susie were about 4 and 6 years old respectively.  It was decided that I would accompany Grandma to Texas for the two week visit.  My parents shared with me that I would be expected to keep the kids entertained, encourage sibling peace, and model good listening and excellent behavior.  It was no secret that my cousins were indulged up to their eyeballs, but I accepted the challenge willingly.

My excitement was barely manageable over the few weeks leading up to our departure.  I would miss the last few days of second grade, and I would fly on a plane.  My siblings would be staying home.  I couldn't wrap my brain around my good fortune.  To this day, I have no idea what conversations took place prior to my invitation.  Was my name and those of my four siblings tossed into a hat and my name pulled?  Was my slightly-older-than-my cousins'-age a factor in the decision?  Did Grandma request me?  Did my aunt and uncle request me?  Was it easier for a second grader like me to miss school than my older sisters?  I never asked, and I can't say I cared.  I suspect that Grandma's opinion was heavily weighted based on the crayon story.

My Mom told me years ago how Grandma felt sorry for me.  She almost fainted when my parents shared the news that they were expecting again despite the fact that I was still a baby.  My brother arrived a few days shy of my first birthday.  While we lived out of state, my Grandparents visited for Easter one year.  I was a preschooler at the time.  Grandma brought everyone a small box of crayons and a coloring book.  She then presented me with a large box of 64 crayons complete with a sharpener in the back.  During the Easter egg hunt she attempted to shimmy up a very small sapling in order to retrieve an egg to add to my basket.  I'm not convinced that Grandma was a middle child sympathizer or if she was just disturbed by the fact that my brother dethroned me from babyhood too soon.  I won't deny basking in the uncommon extra attention.

The Texas visit proved to be every bit as awesome as I had anticipated.  My cousins and I created forts in their unfurnished living room.  We weren't even told to pack up our gathered building supplies each day.  We convinced Grandma to whip up new giant bowls of jello daily.  Batches of her peanut butter cookies did not disappoint.  The ice cream truck considered their sprawling ranch house a sure thing, and we raced to the street with dollars flapping in our hands nightly.  This was like an out of body experience for me.  Coming from a family who never flagged down an ice cream truck because the expense was too great, I felt like I was flying overhead watching this unfamiliar ritual.  I wondered how I would adjust back to my old life once I returned to Chicago.  There were trips to the swimming pool and hours spent on the swing set.  On one insufferably hot afternoon, Grandma tried to cool herself by wading into the public baby pool with her pants rolled up.  I'm guessing a bathing suit was no longer part of her wardrobe.  Her stumble and partial submersion into the pool became a highlight of the trip.  Keeping up with my end of the deal, I led by example at clean up time.  I diffused the sibling spats as they cropped up, and overall felt years older for the responsibilities I was granted.  I do recall worrying that word would get back to my folks that Susie and I had stayed up a bit late chatting after being put to bed.  When my Aunt and Uncle returned, my Aunt and Grandma took me to the mall and bought me a beautiful dress as a thank you for all of my help.  I now owned a dress that had not been broken in by either of my sisters.  Pinch me.

For years after my reintroduction into reality, there was a repeated phrase that became so overused it eventually developed into a family joke.  "Remember Ernie, you got to go to Texas."  When a neighbor had an extra ticket to a ball game, this infamous phrase was directed my way.  My name was automatically removed from the running for a cool experience that might only be available to a select few family members.  My Texas time felt like a life sentence, where my future of outstanding opportunities was constantly clouded by my ineligible status.  

I hadn't thought of this trip for years until last week.  Fozzy, my best friend from high school, texted me Thursday night.  'Want to go to Ireland for 10-12 days in July?'  Would I?  Were my Texas cousins spoiled?  Is the Pope Catholic?  My mind began to whirl.  How?  How?  How? 

Logistics.  Who would deal with the six kids if I went away?  Coach wouldn't be able to take another week off of work, since we went to Disney in January and intend to go to D.C. over spring break.  My parents live nearby, but their help would be limited by their age and willingness to be strapped with my brood.  It would be impossible to ship kids off to bond with a few Chicago area cousins, because swim season would be wrapping up.  The gang would need to be near home in order to prepare for and compete in the mid July swim finals.  On the other hand, the kids are old enough and well behaved enough to be farmed out or left with a sitter or Laddie for stretches of the day.  I wasn't sure if I should dare to allow myself to consider the potential memories and fun this vacation might provide.

The expense.  I tried to consider it, but my mind kept wandering back to the 'never do it' category that this trip falls into, and I feel like the cost argument should be obsolete.  Fozzy has been selected to participate in a course, so 3 or 4 nights in a hotel along with the rental car cost for those days would be provided.  After studying in Ireland as a college junior, I still have friends that perhaps we could visit.  If we stayed with my good friend's, empty-nester parents, Chris and Janice, near Dublin for a night, that would equate to additional savings.  The fact that we would be splitting the remaining lodging and rental car costs would help.  
Practical.  I almost instantly started to find a reason to go to Ireland.  Perhaps I could bring Laddie along to look at the college I studied at for a year, in case he would want to apply there.  I could drop him off with Chris and Janice, who could show him the college while I toured around the country with Fozzy.  They could then drop him at the airport and he could fly home to Chicago.  Several of the kids play Irish music and my sister in law is from Northern Ireland.  I could offer to accompany a few of her kids and a few of mine to her family farm where they could spend time with cousins and participate in some Irish music sessions to strengthen their music skills.  This would alleviate my need to make arrangements for a few extra bodies at home in my absence.  Of course the imaginary travel bill was growing with every possible 'practical' scenario. 

Input.  Since Fozzy's invitation, I've gathered input from other friends, strangers, acquaintances, Coach, and my parents.  There isn't another adult who thinks I should pass up this opportunity . . . unless of course you count the adults who are related to me.  Everyone outside my family that I polled suggested that I jump at the chance.  Enlist the aid of friends, family, and capable driving-age sitters to handle the kids.  I heard comments like, 'Life is short.'  'You have to do this for yourself.'  'You deserve it.' 'You never know when another opportunity like this is going to come along.'  At least one friend has offered to take a couple of my kids for as long as needed.  (Hoping we would still be friends after she is stuck with my offspring for days!)  Coach said nothing.  I brought it up repeatedly on Thursday night.  Finally I asked him what he thought.  "Sounds like a trip you take when your kids are grown."  I called my mom about another matter and casually worked the potential Ireland trip into the conversation.  Rather than bite at the implied assistance, she laughed.  The next day, I brought the topic up to my dad on the phone.  He didn't say much, but my mom picked up the phone and asked, "You aren't seriously considering this, are you?"

It's a tough call.  I could go.  Demand it.  Make the necessary arrangements.  Plan everything.  I have been to Ireland multiple times before.  Should I hold out for a location I haven't visited before?  What if another travel option comes along in a few years?  I can hardly bog friends and family down with my crew again.  What if this turns into Texas all over again?  'Remember Ernie, you got to go to Ireland.'

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