Friday, August 30, 2013

On the road with heart -- part 2

Read about the first part of our trip here!

STOP 5 – Wapakoneta, Ohio
STATES DRIVEN THROUGH: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio (5 total)
PEOPLE VISITED: Nevaeh (HEART KID #5), Tina, Gabie, Jon

We made it to our next stop in just a few hours. I planned on a quick stop in Wapakoneta because we had to make it to eastern Ohio by evening. We met heart friend Vaeh along with her mom Tina, sister Gabie and dad Jon for lunch at McDonald’s. Once again, Vaeh was exceptionally friendly and lovable. At this point I was beginning to wonder if it was a coincidence that every heart kid seemed to be exceptionally awesome. I will spoil things by telling you that the answer to that is NO.

Lunch with this sweet family was fun and super easy. They were laid back and fun to chat with. The girls had seen Despicable Me 2, so they were telling my boys all about it since they had not yet seen it. Tina and I talked about surgeries and how and when we had each found out about our babies’ heart defects. Her story was touching and heart-wrenching. Another amazing family.

After lunch, we had just enough time for an ice cream cone and a quick trip to the  park. The kids got ice cream cones that had eyes on them and got a kick out of that.


The kids thought these cement statues were fun

The park was fun, although I had just discovered a major potty accident at this point (the first of the trip), so my mood was a bit affected by that.

The kids enjoyed the slides and the teeter-totter and the old school merry-go-round.

Before we knew it, we were back in the car and on our way to the eastern part of the state. We encountered the worst rush hour traffic that we would see on our entire trip in Columbus, Ohio, which set us back by quite a bit.

STOP 6 – Fleming, Ohio
STATES DRIVEN THROUGH: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio (5 total)
PEOPLE VISITED: Wilson (HEART KID #6), Amy, Mitch

I was really excited about this next leg of our trip, and in retrospect I wish I had planned more time with this family. I had connected with Amy and Mitch through our blog during Elijah’s first open heart surgery, so we have known each other for a few years. They have family that lives very close to our home, so we have met them on a few separate occasions. Wilson and Elijah are just a few months apart in age, so it has always been fun seeing them together. Amy and Mitch have always been very kind to us, sending us goodies with each new surgery.

Driving from Columbus to Mitch and Amy’s home in Fleming, Ohio, was the first time I really started enjoying the scenery. Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana-YAWN! Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee-GORGEOUS! Mitch and Amy’s house was literally out in the middle of nowhere, compared to say, where we live, but goodness it was unique and gorgeous. The two-lane roads in the area were hilly and twisty and lined with beautiful trees and foliage.

We were all happy to pull into their driveway after a long day of being in the car. This was the first stretch that Elijah began asking, "How many more miles?" Repeat every two minutes. 

We were greeted with smiles and such a sense of warmth, as well as a very lovely home. Their house is situated on eighteen acres of wooded land. We walked into their lofted A-frame house made entirely of wood and with a big, pretty fireplace and a loft overlooking the tall living area. Even the boys oo-ed.

Again, and I promise I am not making this up, Wilson is a uniquely friendly and special guy. I think he loved having the boys there to play with and immediately invited them up to the loft where his toys resided. They were all in playland heaven for quite some time, while Mitch and Amy fed me a much-loved glass of wine and delicious piece of lasagna.

Eventually we talked the boys into putting the toys aside for the night and getting into bed. Perhaps that went smoothly because we let them all sleep together in the loft. This was a huge treat for my boys.

Amy, Mitch and I stayed up for a bit and chatted. It was nice. They are extremely kind and relatable people. If I entered them in a Best Parents Ever contest, they would win. As we chatted, I mentioned that I had noticed a minor issue with my car on the way to their house. Whenever I ran the air conditioner, moisture started to drip onto my feet. The harder the A/C worked, the wetter my feet became. My floor mat was saturated, and the one in front of Elijah’s seat was, too.

Mitch, being the engineer-minded problem solver that he is, started thinking through to a solution. He had an idea about what to look for, but in the meantime brought my car into their garage and set up fans so the floors could dry overnight.

Nobody could ever convince me that God was not with us every step of this journey. This leg of the trip was proof of that. I feel like Mitch and Amy were the perfect people to be visiting at that time since they were able to help in ways that we really needed at that point. The help they provided with my car was definitely a part of that.

The next morning, after Mickey Mouse pancakes (luck boys!) and a very enjoyable hike through the trails on their property, Mitch was able to fix my air conditioning issue. Please forgive my lack of technical knowledge on this issue, but he unclogged a very clogged pipe that should not have been clogged. I was humbled by his kindness and his willingness to think through this problem for me so we could travel in comfort.

The boys got some play time on Wilson's bikes after our hike.

When we arrived the evening before, I had told Amy about the sugar-induced potty accidents we had dealt with on the way to their house. Because of this, we had held off on eating the gorgeous heart-shaped cake Amy had made and decorated for us that read, “Welcome Elijah and Sammy!” I had no idea what a talented baker and decorator Amy was, so I oo-ed and ahh-ed over her gorgeous cake.

Before we left for our next destination, we decided we had given Elijah’s tummy some recovery time and that we could let the boys have a small piece of cake. Best. Frosting. Ever. Amy doesn’t know this yet, but I’m going to hire her to write a Best Frosting Ever post on my food blog. :) We also squeezed in a quick lunch, and we were off to Kentucky!

Mitch and Amy kindly laundered some very soiled clothes, packed us a snack bag, gave the boys a handful of Wilson’s books so they would have new reading material for the car and also gave me a new pair of very nice winter boots that were too big for Amy. We could not have left there feeling any more cared for than we did. We were sad, once again, to leave friends. So sad, in fact, that I left my pillow there so that I would get to see Amy again twenty minutes later!

Our drive that day was the longest one yet at that point, but it was the prettiest. We drove through West Virginia on the first part of that journey and I couldn’t stop talking about how pretty the hills and windy roads and trees all were. We were able to stay on the interstate the entire time, so we made it to Louisville in great time.

STOP 7 – Shepherdsville, Kentucky
STATES DRIVEN THROUGH: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky (7 total)
PEOPLE VISITED: Evan (HEART KID #7), Sarah, Eric

I had been very much looking forward to our stay in Louisville. Sarah and I had connected through our blogs years before and had made a special connection with one another. We had chatted a lot beforehand about our trip, and Sarah was extremely thoughtful, thinking ahead and anticipating what might make us the most comfortable while we were there. She had asked about our favorite foods and ideal sleeping arrangements and just about everything else that would make our stay as comfortable as possible. All along the way, I thought of Sarah’s house as a safe haven. Back in our hotel room in Milwaukee, as I laid in bed and wondered how I would possibly survive the trip ahead, I told myself that I just needed to make it to Sarah’s house. Of course I knew that everywhere we stopped in between would be great, but I set that up as the “marker” in my mind as a good first goal. If I could make it there, we’d survive the rest of the journey.

Evan, Sarah and Eric greeted us with warmth upon our arrival. I felt like we had known them all in real life for years, even though this was our first time meeting. Sarah knew we would probably want a low-key evening, so they ordered pizza and set up a movie for the boys to watch. Evan was most definitely no exception to my seriously-amazing-heart-kid observation I was finding with each new family we met. He is one of the smartest, friendliest, most amazing little people I have ever met. He and Elijah have been through some very similar surgeries and medical trials, and they both deal with anxiety (although each with very different triggers and ways of coping). Sarah and I have discussed our boys at great length over the years, so meeting this amazing and inspiring heart kid in person was one of the highlights of the entire trip. He was incredibly kind to my boys, willingly giving them his bedroom to live in for two days and generously sharing his toys with them. Evan has dreams of becoming a pediatric cardiologist one day and I know he will achieve that goal!

One of the very first things I noticed about this family was the bond they had with one another. They are tightly knit in such a special way. They are fun-loving and the mood was always light and happy with them. Even the heavy subjects never felt weighted down with gloom. They have endured more than any family should ever have to endure, but they have managed to stay positive and they all are such an inspiration to me beyond anything I can explain in words. I am not the only person inspired by them. They have touched the hearts of many families, which is evident in the heart group they helped form in their city.

That night after the boys were in bed, I felt a tiredness that I had not yet felt on our journey. I laid down in bed and my whole body tingled with exhaustion. I slept great. So great that I was in a bit of a hazy sleep coma for a few hours upon waking the next morning.

We went to church with Sarah, Eric and Evan. Elijah gladly went to children’s church with Evan and had a great time. I didn’t even try to put Sammy in with them. I knew it wouldn’t go well, and it was not worth the battle. I brought Sammy into the main worship area with us. We listened to a heart-warming testimony given by a woman who had been abused by her father as a child and who later found it in her heart to forgive him. The church was pretty quiet after that, and so when Sammy decided to break the silence by saying “BABY BUTT,” we were all a little bit startled. The people sitting behind us, who happened to be friends of Sarah and Eric’s, thought it was hilarious. After the service was finished, they leaned over and said, “Excuse me, but did he say BABY BUTT?!” That’s my Sammy!

That afternoon we (minus Eric) headed to the Louisville zoo. Sarah had told me beforehand about the splash park at the zoo, so I had plenty of time to do prep work with Elijah. “If we go to the splash park, you will need to leave with a good attitude.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. “When I tell you it is time to go, you need to obey Mama.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. Being able to do this prepping before a swim situation helps immensely. It also helps to have an end treat in mind, like getting a stuffed animal at the gift shop. I am not opposed to bribing my children.

Elijah asked for my sunglasses so he could be just like Evan :)

We loved the animals we saw at the zoo and Elijah absolutely adored the splash park. It took him a while to get used to maneuvering through the parts with water that sprayed, as he does not like getting splashed in his face. Sarah was able to see some of the anxieties in Elijah that I had shared with her over the years. There were things well out of his comfort zone in the splash park, but after about fifteen minutes of anxious behavior, he did great. Before we knew it, he was following Evan right up the stairs to the water slides and going down them by himself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier face!

Sammy, as always, took a while to like the idea of getting in the water. We were finally able to talk him into running through the fountains a bit, but of course it was on his terms (clothes stayed on). Elijah left with a great attitude, which I was very relieved about.

Post splash park snack

All three boys got stuffed animals at the gift shop for having such good behavior at the zoo. Evan picked out a lion (Mr. Roar), Sammy picked out a polar bear (Serby) and Elijah picked out a snow leopard (Kelly).

One of the parts of our time in Louisville that made us all laugh constantly and that I will never forget is Sammy randomly determining whether or not each of the rest of us was a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” Evan particularly thought this was a riot. “Sammy! What am I now? Am I a good guy yet?” Sammy would ponder and say, “Hmmm.  Right now you are a…..[dramatic pause]….BAD GUY!” We would crack up laughing and then Evan would run through everyone else. Usually only one of us would be a good guy and the rest bad. Or we would all be bad. It was rare that we were all good. 

That night Eric grilled us burgers and hot dogs that hit the spot. Sammy devoured the fresh blackberries that Eric had picked from a bush near their home. I put Sammy to bed early since he had skipped many days in a row of napping, and the rest of us retreated to the basement for a Nerf gun war! I love this family! We decided on boys against girls. The boys loaded up their ammo and did their best, but I’m pretty sure the heart mamas kicked some serious butt. Sarah and I chatted for a while with a glass of blackberry wine once the boys were all sleeping.

We got another great night of sleep (aside from Elijah falling out of bed once), and woke up rested but sad. I couldn’t believe our time with this amazing family was already done. Sarah took great care of us, feeding our bellies, doing our laundry, providing us with lasting memories and sharing her wonderful boys and home with us. We decided we didn’t want our time to end, so we headed into downtown Louisville to grab lunch on the river. It was a nice way to end our time in Louisville.

I was sadder than ever saying good-bye to our Kentucky friends. As we headed toward Nashville, there were a few times that I seriously considered turning around. When we ran into literally totally stopped traffic on the interstate about an hour south of Louisville, I convinced myself that it was a sign. We needed to go back. I felt like our time together wasn’t finished. After almost forty minutes we started moving again, so we began putting more miles between us yet again. At that point I vowed to myself that I would make seeing them again a priority.

One of the things I did not expect about this adventure was connecting so deeply with these families. I knew real friendships would form, but I was not prepared for the depth of the bonds. This left me with such conflicting emotions as we left each place. I left feeling a severe sadness about leaving, but feeling happiness about the relationships that were formed. Sadness about not knowing whether we would see one another again, but happiness about the idea of next time. Sadness about the life-changing stories I heard, but happiness about gaining further understanding about our own life-changing story.

During the traffic delay on our way to Nashville, my car had stalled. I experienced a moment of panic at the idea of being stranded in stifling heat in non-moving traffic, but it started right back up. That was the first sign that something might be wrong with my trusty old car. Once traffic picked back up, I kept a close eye on my heat gauge. I noticed when we were climbing hills, even small inclines, the needle would creep up toward hot. Going down the inclines would cause it to creep back down to cold. At times I had to switch off the air conditioner when it got too close to the red zone.

We made it to Nashville without incident. This was the first stop that did not involve visiting a heart family. My mother’s sister lives near Nashville, and I hadn’t seen her since I was very young. Or maybe not even then. Neither of us could remember us ever having met. There were zero memories, so this may or may not have been our first time meeting. Whatever the case, it was a long overdue visit.

STOP 8 – Franklin, Tennessee
STATES DRIVEN THROUGH: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee (8 total)

Sammy ran from the picture (a trend for him), hence his absence

My Aunt Laura and Uncle Steve live in a very cute suburb of Nashville. We were greeted with smiles, and the boys immediately began playing in their back yard. Elijah loved the toy bowling pins (he has always been drawn to bowling pins) and Sammy loved the chalk and bubbles. Laura, Steve and I sat on their deck, nibbled on appetizers and sipped wine while we caught up on one another’s lives. It was so nice to learn about their children and grandchildren since I literally knew nothing about any of them. I felt happy to get to know them, but at the same time I felt a tinge of sadness having missed out on so many years of knowing each other. I knew I wanted to make the most of our time with them, and I was glad we had one full day together.

Steve and Laura made us a delicious dinner that first evening, even though the boys embarrassingly ate almost none of it. This was something I was prepared for when embarking on this adventure. When you combine Sammy’s three-year-old pickiness with his performance anxiety when placed at a table with unfamiliar people, he doesn’t eat. Elijah still has difficulties handling certain textures, which very much limits the foods he will try. All of this can make eating with others fairly challenging, which I was fully prepared for. A lot of the heart kids we visited have either dealt with or are still dealing with feeding issues. Some of the kids deal with it on a much greater degree than Elijah ever has. Some have had or still have feeding tubes that have been surgically placed in their bellies. These families understood Elijah’s issues with food, and didn’t push or inquire. One of the prayers I prayed before departing on this big journey was that the non-heart families wouldn’t judge. I’m thankful that that prayer was answered.

If I had to give an award for most comfortable bed on the trip, Laura and Steve would win hands down. The guest bed I slept in while at their place was honestly one of the most comfortable beds I have ever laid upon in my life. The minute I laid my tired body down that first night, I thanked God repeatedly. It was just what I needed at that moment. I had two amazingly comfortable and restful nights of sleep while tucked into a cute Nashville suburb.

I planned it so that we could spend one full day with Laura and Steve since we may or may not have ever met before, and I am glad I planned it that way. The following day was blazing hot outside, so we decided to take it easy and not plan any crazy outdoor adventures. I’m glad we went this route because the day turned out being just what we needed.

Steve and Laura took us to an awesome park in the morning. The boys played and played. Elijah loved being pushed by Uncle Steve on the swings and Sammy enjoyed pretending to drive the wooden fire truck. We scooted into shaded areas any time we could in order to avoid melting into puddles. We ate a low-key lunch at their house and took proper naps for the first time so far on the trip. All three of us napped. It was wonderful. Glorious. Much-needed. Heavenly. Best nap ever.

Laura had talked to me the day before about the possibility of going swimming in their pool, so I began the prepping process immediately with Elijah. We talked a lot about having a good attitude about leaving and all of the typical stuff that goes with it. I got in the pool with him, and Uncle Steve swam with him for a bit, too. After a while the lifeguard took a break, which meant the kids needed to get out of the pool. This happened to be a good time for us to leave so we could get ready for dinner. Elijah was not prepared for this and it happened fairly abruptly, so he had a bit of a rough time adjusting to the idea of leaving. I talked him through it very patiently (sometimes the patience pays off and sometimes it does not) and he was able to turn it around. I love it when he is able to recognize unhealthy behavior and turn it around. After the fact, it makes him happy, too. “Mom! I turned it around!”

The boys enjoyed relaxing in Steve and Laura's chairs while watching Henry Hugglemonster

Steve and Laura had a favorite seafood restaurant they wanted to bring us to that night, which sounded perfect and delicious. When we got there, there was an unusually long wait compared to what they were used to. It really was not a problem for us since the boys were behaving well. Our food was delicious! We all loved the Hush Puppies and learned where that southern term was derived from. My fish tacos and sweet potato fries were something I will never forget. Yum. The boys ate little bits of their food, but mostly colored quietly. After dinner we sat on Laura and Steve's porch for a bit, watching lightning bugs and listening to tree frogs.

Ha, Sammy! We tricked you into being in a picture! :)

After another lovely night of rest, we ate breakfast and took a trip to a different park.

After our good-byes, we were back on the road! We only had a few hours to drive, so for once I did not feel like we were rushed. Once again, on the inclines, I noticed that my car was getting a little bit hot. I chalked it up to the car being old and it being a million degrees outside. I vaguely remembered that it had done the same thing the previous summer on really hot days. I continued to turn the air off periodically to give the poor car a break.

The boys were tired. Even if we were able to get a proper nap or a solid night of sleep, they were still tired. Each new destination piled on a new level of exhaustion for all of us, no matter how comfortable our sleeping arrangements were. Traveling that much and having so much activity is just plain tiring. Top that with Elijah’s complete inability to sleep past 5:00 or 6:00 a.m., and by this point we were a deeply exhausted bunch.

We stopped at a rest stop on our way to Birmingham that had a real life space shuttle. We had heard from a few different people that it was a cool thing to see. It was huge, and it was hard to comprehend that it had flown in space at one time. The heat outside was stifling, so we didn’t stay long. It was right around nap time when we pulled out, so I rolled each boy’s window down about one inch as I normally did when I wanted them to sleep. Usually it is easy to get Elijah to fall asleep in the car around lunch-time, but Sammy typically fights it for a while before succumbing. On this particular day, both boys fought sleep. About an hour outside of Birmingham they still were not sleeping and desperately needed a little nap. I pulled into a rest stop, leaned my seat back, closed my eyes and told them they needed to be sleeping before I would start driving again. I listened to tired screaming and flailing for about ten minutes before they drifted off, their cheeks stained with tired tears. 


1 comment:

Sarah said...

Love you all bunches!!! "Baby Butt" is still spoken sometime during the service by our neighbors who just loved Sammy. I cannot wait to plan a trip with you guys - we need to talk about getting that scheduled! Still miss you - like you all - after you left our house there was a few hours Evan and I just sat and every once and a while he would say - "Mom this is sad... I miss them." I love getting a message here and there saying what we are today - good guys or bad guys - what is it today Sammy? We have to say it in Sammy's growly little voice that melts my heart. <3