On Disagreements and Marriage.

It’s been fourteen years, celebrated by a trip to Savannah last weekend. Fourteen years happened to mark the time period where our perceived age and length of marriage crossed over a precipice together: after asking how long we’d been married, everyone looked at us like we were lying and/or possibly the victims of an arranged marriage at the age of twelve.

Which can only be good for my personal perception of my aged appearance, I suppose.

But it brought back lovely memories of our honeymoon, where everyone asked us how old I was and we said 19 and they recoiled and then looked very much like they wanted to ask if my parents had approved of this ludicrous union.

(Which they did, by the way.)

But fourteen years.

It’s been a good fourteen years. We don’t permanently disagree about much – only room lighting, Doctor Who, convertibles and the resulting hair carnage, iced coffee, Siri, arriving at 7pm football games before dawn, real or fake Christmas trees, whether or not one should be allowed to burp audible words – but the rest of the things we used to disagree about typically end up in an agreement after enough years.

For instance, when we married, Chris only had vague reference points as to what a vegetable was. On this trip, of his own accord, he ordered an egg white omelet filled with fresh tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese. And – that’s right – no meat.

(Not to say he didn’t have plenty of meat on the side. Obviously.)

And I – I had zero interest in running with Chris five years ago, and regularly shouted such strong opinion here and to him. Yet on this trip, I ran 18.5 miles with him. And walked another 10. And loved almost every minute of it.

Almost.

The almost is so very important here. Because our trip was filled with all sorts of delightful agreement – except for that almost.

We ran in Macon, Georgia on Wednesday, and Chris said “Don’t run too hard – I don’t want to wear you out before you can experience the beauty that is running on the Atlantic beach.”

We ran in Historic Savannah on Thursday, and Chris said, “Don’t push yourself! Tomorrow is our beach run day. It’s going to be FANTASTIC. You will be amazed at how wonderful it feels!”

On Friday morning, I awoke to him throwing open the hotel room curtains with gusto and excitement for the blissful day to come.

(Aside: according to Chris, I was already rousing and he was just “moving things along.”)

Needless to say, I woke up all wrong. My Dysautonomia medicine also wasn’t doing its job, and my head was all swimmy.

And I was EXHAUSTED. And sore.

And I had no coffee. Or breakfast.

I groggily attempted to pull on my running clothes, but running was the last thing I desired.

But, running helps my Dysautonomia and that’s the reason I do it, so I trudged on.

I whimpered as I wriggled into my shoes. No, no. This was the sort of morning that one stayed curled in the hotel bed and reveled at the silence that is The-Children-at-the-Grandparent’s.

But I finally managed to rouse myself enough to slump to the elevator. Rather sullenly.

Chris was hopping like an excited puppy, giddy to introduce me to his Beloved.

But, noting my state of mind, offered to get me coffee and breakfast on the way.

Smart move.

We arrived at Tybee Island, and I felt slightly better. His giddy was not rubbing off on me, but I was trying to mentally join him. Really, I was.

We walked out on the beach, and he said, “Oh! Let’s go sit on that bench in the shade for a minute and get a selfie. We must have a selfie to remember our first beach run together!

It was an old wooden swing, attached to a pitched roof and lodged into the sand many years prior – perhaps when the sand was at a much lower altitude. It would have been nice if I’d noticed this. I headed toward it, trying not to allow the softer sand to seep into my running shoes and surely ravage my feet. I was alternately staring at the ocean and my feet as I approached the bench.

Which is when the side of my forehead met the corner of that wooden pitched roof. It was not a near miss. It was a direct hit. They became intimate.

I screeched and fell into the sand, my world starry and spinning.

“What? What happened?? Did you just…run into the roof??”

The pain was intense. I laid in the sand crying.

“Yeeees. I didn’t see it.”

After a minute of sand-writhing, I stumbled over to the bench, dramatically ducking to get to the swing with much whimpering and sniffling. I sat and attempted to compose myself as Chris had a silent Griswold moment of despairingly reflecting on his perfect plans gone to crap.

“We don’t have to do this. I didn’t mean to make you come out here. I know you don’t feel good.”

“It’s okay. Really.”

Because this is what happily married people do: they repeatedly lie about their true feelings in order to make the other person happy, and then it all falls apart and no one is happy.

I felt the angry goose egg rising on my forehead, glared at that swing and its ridiculously low roof and tromped to the shore where we began to run, me still sniveling and Chris wisely silent.

I ran hard, hoping to run away from my emotions and my morning. But running hard on sand is like running through peanut butter. Its grasp of gravity is at least four times what it is on the rest of the earth.

Then the shore started sloping drastically downward, and running at an angle is my least favorite.

Which was the exact moment Chris tried to cheerfully say, “Your Physical Therapist would so approve of this running surface. Isn’t it wonderful? So flat and giving!”

I took a turn at silence while wondering from whence planet my husband was created, as I fought with the sand to let go of my every step while not tipping over from running like a Mountain Goat.

I avoided jellyfish, jumped over flying nasty ocean foam, crunched across sharp shells, ran out of my way to angrily kick a small red ball (I just thought it was a random ball until I saw the two indignant guys whose Bocce game I’d just ruined) (and also Bocce balls are heavy and so then my toe was also mad), and made it exactly 1.85 miles before my possibly-concussed state overcame my Angry Running.

And I sat down on the beach, leaned my head into my knees, and, as my husband described later, “Roly-Polyed onto the beach to cry.”

I managed to get myself together and tell him, “Let’s go to the 2 mile point and turn around. Then I want to go to the hotel and lay down.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here while I run back to the car and come get you?”

“No. I will finish.”

“Okay”, he said quietly – which were the last words he spoke to me on that run. Wise – so wise.

The third mile was the worst, because I was on the slanted portion of the beach going the opposite direction, except now it was my twice-surgeried foot taking the brunt – and it simultaneously became completely numb and throbbed with pain.

But I made it back to that blasted bench with its stupid-low roof and sat, while Chris stretched on the lifeguard chair nearby.

IMG_3921

Then I told him the truth about life.

“Beaches are for laying out on and playing in the water. They are NOT for running.”

“Okay.”

“I mean seriously. Even if I wasn’t injured and sick. That was the most awful run ever.”

“Got it. I can do beach running by myself.”

“Do your feet not sink painfully into the sand with every step?”

“I promise never to ask you to do it again. But let’s get that selfie. To commemorate the one and only time you ever ran on the beach with me.”

IMG_3935If you look closely you can see my extremely lumpy forehead. And the despair in my eyes.

And that’s how our list of disagreements became one item longer.

Moms Need Retreats.

A couple of months ago, my husband gave me an assignment. He demanded that I plan a trip for the moms in our small group. He also made the suggestion that changed everything.

“Pick a date. You’re going no matter what. And whoever can join you, great.”

…Because we’ve tried this before, and it’s never worked. At least once a year, all of us mothers start talking about how very much we need to get away, and dream about a beach trip. Or a mountain trip. Or whatever, as long as no one is asking us to wipe their butt or pour their juice or fix their Lego creation for the fifth time in five minutes.

(Because we love our children. Very much. And to be able to love one’s children very much, one must escape from said children. Regularly.)

But anyway. Every other time we start planning, we start by suggesting weekends until we run out of weekends, and never is there ever a weekend that we’re all available. So Chris’ suggestion of “If this is just you, great. If it’s everyone, great. Just plan it and see who can come” was brilliant.

And it totally worked. Because six out of nine of the moms were able to make it work.

IMG_3350l-r: Kristin, me, Nikki, Kelly, Anne, and Ashley.

See these happy shiny faces? These Mommies are all loving their kids better this week – because they left for the weekend.

(We were super sad that the other three moms couldn’t go, but as soon as I got back, Chris told me he’d “obligated” me that morning at church to plan a make-up trip for the others, and for any other moms who wanted/needed a repeat.)

I headed north early on Friday so that I could get us set up in our rental house and get a run in before our weekend of laziness kicked in. But it rained on me all the way, so I felt magnetically drawn to stop at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden on the way up – to see what it looked like at overflow levels.

IMG_3212

For comparison, this was the same waterfall last August:

IMG_3836

It was totally worth getting my feet sloshy-wet to see.

It was still raining when I arrived at our destination, Gorham’s Bluff, and the moisture made the view of Lake Guntersville eerily steamy.

IMG_3284

I ran while I waited on the other moms to arrive, and managed to scare a herd of deer and a rabbit with my apparently intimidating presence (either that or they don’t approve of leggings as pants, either.)

I highly enjoyed the beautiful views,

IMG_3285

which was good, because as soon as it quit raining, everything became completely enshrouded in fog. The valley was white nothingness, and the lodge immediately looked like the setting for a murder mystery, just like the first time Chris and I visited.

IMG_3293

When the other moms arrived, they didn’t even believe me that there was a valley beneath the clouds. We spent the evening chatting and doing nothing, just as all moms dream of doing every evening.

The next morning, the fog was still there, and they still doubted my stories of views and valleys. We biked and walked around the property, disappearing and reappearing in the fog, all feeling very much like we had just entered into a Hollywood thriller, and we were going to start being picked off one by one any minute.

Foggy Bicycle Riding

It was deliciously exciting.

Bicycling into the fog

IMG_3310

Then, right as we were about to leave for a small road trip (literally – I was driving away), the fog lifted. Everyone jumped out of my car and eagerly ran to the edge of the ridge to see what was below.

IMG_3320

And they believed me at last. Redemption felt fantastic.

IMG_3336

Then we continued on. They had all read my stories of Unclaimed Baggage, and wanted to experience it for themselves. And let me tell you – six moms loose in that store with no kids nagging to leave is a mighty force.

Besides almost all of us finding things we actually bought and loved, we also discovered some very special garments.

IMG_3338

The review happening here was, “Eight dollars for the best night of my life? Yes ma’am!”

IMG_3343

We texted pictures to our husbands, knowing full well we were making their weirdest dreams come true.

IMG_3408

And then we found the shoes.

Oh, the shoes that people pack to fly on a plane. WHERE are these people going? HOW do they have such good balance? And WHAT do they do to make it through security without their footwear being declared a weapon?

IMG_3390

It took Ashley a full five minutes to get into these shoes, and she could not let go of the rack, but the effect was totally worth it.

IMG_3385

Nikki’s were an iridescent purple/green magical color-changing shoe – totally meant to be worn in a production of Wicked.

IMG_3404

And when Kristin, the tallest member of our group, put on her selected pair,

IMG_3396

We knew it was time for a photo op with Ashley, the shortest member of the group.

IMG_3392

Because it was the Mommy version of Shaq and Kevin Hart.

IMG_3468

We went back to Gorham’s Bluff and soaked in the majesty of our surroundings.

IMG_3444

We found their waterfall,

IMG_3454

The Old Lady Arm Tree,

IMG_3455

And the best place to hang off the mountain and watch the storms in the distance.

IMG_3426

…which is when Kelly and Kristin spotted it.

IMG_3429

A blue van in the bottom of the ravine.

IMG_3428

We all clamored to the edge to get a better view, all while postulating wildly about how it arrived at its destination.

IMG_3438

Was it a high school kid’s prank?

Someone who got lost in the fog?

A victim of the North Alabama Mafia?

WHAT. HAPPENED.

I of all people cannot let a mystery lie, so I asked the innkeeper later, after one of our beautiful meals.

She said, “A blue van? We don’t know about a blue van. There’s a really old car somewhere else down there…but it’s not a blue van. I guess I’ll be needing to call the Sheriff’s department…”

My eyes widened. I schemed as to how I could stay indefinitely at the fog-covered inn to write my first True Crime novel. Or if I could rappel off the mountain and discover the secrets for myself.

The other moms peacefully wiled away the afternoon reading, gazing, and talking, while my brain paced back and forth in my head, trying to solve The Mystery of The Blue Van.

IMG_3474

Which I didn’t do. Yet. But you better believe I returned to the scene of the crime at sunset – just to make sure nothing had changed.

IMG_3504

On Sunday before I left, I took a final bike ride, and I made a last round of photography before I left,

IMG_3564

and then I drove back home, back to real life – and, back to a tornado.

And that’s why Moms need retreats. Because our lives are often a tornado – sometimes literally, but most of the time figuratively.

On Experiencing a Personal-Sized Tornado.

Last weekend I went on a girl’s trip with a few Moms in my small group.

But I’ll get back to that another day.

I got home from that trip around 3:15 Sunday afternoon, and when I drove up and parked, Fred (The Cat) came running up to me, with a very uncharacteristic nervous series of meows. Although it was currently a hot, sunny day, a small line of storms were headed our way, and I told Chris that Fred seemed nervous about them.

“Nah, he’s just hungry. I’ll get him some food.”

I got all of my (much overpacked) luggage inside and sat on the living room floor to play with the kids, while Chris went to the basement to get a quick run in on the treadmill. We were going to get out and go to a playground or something with the kids, but we knew that tiny rain band was headed our way, so decided to wait until after it passed.

I’d just started doing an activity book with Noah when the power went out.

Then it came back on, then off again. Then on, then off again.

After about the sixth rotation, I was starting to find it odd, and then it then stayed off for good.

I looked out the window to see the sky darken and the rain begin to fall.

Then instantly, the wind started blowing in circles, insanely powerful and loud. There were leaves and branches swirling in our yard and hitting the house, and Ali and I screamed and yelled “BASEMENT!!” at the same time.

I’ve seen a lot of powerful thunderstorms and not one has ever really scared me, but this one sent me into an immediate panic. I’d never seen things flying around like that before. All the way through the kitchen I was yelling at the kids to duck and not get near any windows as the sounds grew louder.

Chris met us at the door of the basement as he was about to run up and get us. He said “I can’t imagine how loud that was up there – it was crazy down here!”

And then the storm stopped.

It had lasted maybe two minutes – probably less.

We stayed downstairs for about five minutes until Ali quit crying (she has a significant frame of reference for what tornadoes can do, so she had immediate fear, while Noah seemed fairly oblivious), and then we all cautiously walked back upstairs to see what had happened.

We stepped out onto the porch and there was a lazy drizzle of rain and a significant chill in the air. As we opened our door and crossed our arms to stay warm, our neighbors across the street were doing the same. We looked up and down the street, and in a very eerie A Wrinkle in Time kind of way, all of our neighbors were stepping onto their porches at the same time, crossing their arms at the cold.

The outside of our houses were polka dotted with leaf particles that had been blasted onto the siding. There was a tree across the road next door to us, a tree split in half on the other side of us, and all of our yards were blanketed in leaves, gumballs, branches, other people’s garbage cans, and anything else left outside.

Tornado Damage

We stood there, all yelling back and forth and trying to figure out what happened, and then the rain stopped, the sun came back out, and it was like it had never happened – aside from everything being quite out of place.

IMG_3584

Our street congregated around the tree in the road, and one of the neighbors said that she and her husband had been driving home and had just turned onto our street when the storm started. They saw the tree begin to fall and backed up just in time – it was a very frightening near miss for them, and she was still shaking.

We all set off in different directions trying to see how far-reaching the storm had been, and to make sure everyone was okay.

The damage was bizarrely concentrated on only two blocks – our road, the road behind us, and the road that intersects with it. Beyond those roads, there weren’t even leaves on the ground. A few blocks away, it hadn’t rained.

In that small area of the storm, there were at least two houses with trees on them,

IMG_3581

Well over a dozen trees uprooted or broken off at various points,

IMG_3579

all having fallen in different directions,

IMG_3587

IMG_3585

And we even received an early Christmas tree delivery when our neighbor’s tree broke off and flew over the fence.

IMG_3573

Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Within minutes, a neighbor had driven up with a chain saw and gasoline in his truck, ready to remove the tree on our road. People congregated to haul, saw, and clear the road. I felt kind of stupid for having asked a few minutes earlier who we were supposed to call to get it removed. Who knew my neighbors were so handy – and prepared?

IMG_3574

One of Fred’s many owners was pacing the street, asking when we’d last seen him. I felt terrible that I hadn’t heeded his feline warnings, but knew he was a sturdy cat and had braved a few storms before.

The sound of chainsaws buzzing and generators humming filled the neighborhood, a sound that is still ongoing.

IMG_3575

Power crews came and started working on the countless lines down – both big and small.

IMG_3586

Our power was returned at midnight, although some neighbors are still out of power. Fred showed back up when Chris went to turn off the generator, happily purring over his exciting adventures. Although I’ve tweeted with the National Weather Service in Birmingham and they promised to investigate the specifics of the storm, it has not yet been declared a tornado, but all witnessing neighbors agreed – it sounded, looked, and acted like a tornado.

As for the kids, Ali had been immediately traumatized – every time the wind blew for the rest of the afternoon she whimpered and winced. We had some good conversations about God’s protection and God’s control over all things – even when storms do come. It took many conversations, but she is now at peace. And although Noah proudly told everyone how brave he had been during the storm, he was the one up crying several times in the night, telling me his nightmares about being on the sidewalk while branches and trees were falling and flying around him.

As for me, the most frightening part was the fact that we weren’t under any watches or warnings. There had been plenty of advance notice that there could be severe weather on Sunday, but no warnings related to the specific tiny band of storms that hit our neighborhood. We could have easily been outside on a beautiful day, or in the car, if we hadn’t been paying attention to the radar.

But ultimately, I’m thankful that I got home exactly when I did – I could have easily been driving in it. And I’m thankful that Noah hadn’t been able to nap – even though nothing had happened, the whole event would have been much more terrifying if he had been a floor above me when I needed to get everyone to the basement in an instant. And I’m thankful that my husband is a radar watcher – otherwise, I have no idea what would have happened.

And also, we won’t live in the bubble of “it won’t happen to us” anymore. Living on the side of a mountain and nowhere near the usual “tornado paths” made us feel a little shielded from severe storms, but now we know – they can do what they want to do.


Updated: NWS Birmingham just tweeted me back and declared it to be straight line winds, not a tornado. Which officially makes Sunday’s storm the most swirly and terrifying straight line winds that I’ve ever seen.