Being Jon's Sibling

Many of you have asked what we have been up to since being back from Europe.  Well, a lot.  One thing I decided to do was take some writing classes at the local community college here in Charleston.  This post is an adaptation of my first assignment.  Being that it's February, which celebrates the birth month of my wonderful husband, it felt fitting to post this true short-story, which is ultimately about how I am the luckiest girl that ever lived.   Just wait, you'll see... 

 

I am the sister now that I wish I'd been when we were younger.  It took many, irrecoverable years for me to realize that I came up wildly short as his sister back then.  Why didn't I take him to prom or bring him with me to Friday night football games?  I had countless opportunities to give him moments where he could feel like any other teenager, but I rarely, if ever, took them.  There isn't much that I wouldn't give to go back and be the sibling then that I am to him now.

Well... if I’m being fully honest, I wish I was the sibling then that my husband is to him now.

Jon Michael was born two years before me, a joyful baby, as I'm told by my entire family. He was a stop-you-in-your-tracks-gorgeous, doe eyed little boy; Blessed with thick, dark ringlets that kinked just enough to stay out of his maple eyes, and lashes that curled right up to his eye brows.  He was a wide-open, generous heart from the beginning, and he has loved his baby sister with the intention of any able-minded person since the moment I was born. 

It wasn't until he was five years old that my parents learned that he is developmentally disabled.  What an unfair and heart rending notion for a parent to have to accept after all those years. Until then, he had seemed like any other kid his age.  But that is where he would stay. Physically, he would always appear “normal”, but his mind would remain a child’s.

^Jon's first Special Olympics Games, 1987

^Jon's first Special Olympics Games, 1987

Jon Michael comes to visit my husband and me for a week several times a year.  We are active guardians from the moment he wakes up to the moment his night time medications carry him to sleep.  The first week he visited us in Charleston, my work demands were heavy and my husband lovingly took on the role of head care giver.

"Can we go fishing today, Bro?"  Since we got married, Jon exclusively refers to Lincoln as Bro or Bro-Bro.  

"Yeah buddy."  Linc Replies as he finishes his Raisin Bran.  "We are going to go to a great spot I found for us under the -" 

"Can we go bowling too?"  Jon is less than two minutes into a game of Tiger Woods on XBox.

"Bud." I chime in to rescue Lincoln.  "Let's just get through breakfast and see how things go today.  The weather may-"

"I know, Linds, I know."  He cuts me off, agitated.    "Hey Bro!  I know what we can do today!  We can play some ball with your friends." 

"Jon, guess what!"  I distract him.  "We have 4 more full days after today - isn't that great?  Plenty of time to do everything we want to do!"

"We do?" 

us with jon at reds.jpg

He knows that we do, but he loves to play the numbers game out loud as a way to take, and somehow hold onto, inventory of our time together.

"Today's Friday.  Then we have Saturday.  Then Sunday...."   He continues to Wednesday, counting each day of the week on his tremoring fingers, a side effect of one of his many medications. 

After three hours of conference calls, I finally push the rest of my work off so I can join the boys, and take some of the load off of Lincoln.   I head to Waterfront Park with packed lunches and purple Gatorade, Jon’s favorite.

Their shirts are off and Jon is splotchy with sunscreen.  Lincoln is a gem for applying it extra thick to ward off the relentless June heat in Charleston.  Jon is wearing one of Lincoln’s hats, but it’s just barely resting on top of his head.  His hair is short now, and thick like carpet, still dark with no signs of gray yet.   The same round eyes and Disney-princess-lashes he had when we were kids.   

"Jon caught a fish!"  Lincoln is brimming with a fatherly pride.

"I suck!  I can't get the worms on the hooks!" Jon says.  I go in for a hug, but he barely leans forward towards me.  His hands are up, shoulders shrugged, and his head shaking side to side.

"What's wrong?  Bro said you're doing great!  He said you caught a fish!  That's awesome, buddy!"

"My hands shake too much!  I can't do the bait."  

Lincoln leans into me and says quietly "I think it's just hot out here, love.  He's getting tired."

I find a spot in the shade and unpack our lunches.  Within seconds, Jon has forgotten about us as a father and his young son start to settle in for some fishing nearby.  He begins to pepper them with questions.  "Are there good eatin' fish in this ocean?  Do you like Duke or Carolina? Where did you go to high school?"  

"Hey Bro!"  Lincoln calls over to him.  "I'd be so happy if you came and sat next to me and put some good fuel in your body.  It's hot out here and your sister brought us Gatorade!"

"I'm not hungry.”

Lincoln watched him and I could tell he was becoming frustrated.  “I just wish I could make him happy” was all he said.  

This back-and-forth, this up-and-down, this roller coaster... it is the majority of the day, and every day, that week.  

When we were leaving the pier, I walked behind the boys, Lincoln carrying both of their poles in his right hand and his left arm around my brother's shoulders.  My heart grew so big that I felt it's swelling push hot tears from the bottom of my chest into the corners of my eyes.  

That night, when Lincoln and I were finally unrolling our wound up minds into bed, lights off, eyes and heads so heavy that our pillows felt like Jell-O instead of goose down, I turned to face him and put my hand on his back.

"Thank you for all you do for him.  You have no idea what it means to me.  What it means to him."

Lincoln could have said any number of things at that moment.  He could have said that it was the right thing to do, or that Jon was family, or that anything that's important to me is important to him.  He could have said nothing, and I would have been no-less filled with awe.

Instead he just sighed, in such a way that even in the dark I knew he was smiling, and said "man, I just love that guy so much.”

Top Ten

A list of the Top Ten things we miss most from Home

By now, some of you may be tired of seeing pictures from our trip.  Guess what - we've only posted pics up to the half way point!  We haven't given you Paris or any of the two weeks we spent in Spain!  And not to mention we are half way through our 5-stops in Italy right now.   This trip is, without question, one of the coolest things I think we'll ever do.  And I know you may hate us a little for it.  

That's okay.   And, if it's any consolation, we are getting homesick.  We miss our friends and families, we miss our new home we just moved into, we miss our cats, our bed, our shower.  We are cherishing every second of this opportunity, but we are also becoming more appreciative of some things we now realize we were taking for granted in The States.  So, to commemorate our lovely home, and combined with the fact that we are ten days away from being back in The States, I've put together a Top-10 List.  What blog site is complete without one?

Disclaimer:

I must preface this post with a sadly necessary disclaimer:  What you read below  is based on what I have seen *by and large* in our time here in Europe, after visiting 9 countries and 15 cities. I'm sure you could tell me of dozen times you came to Europe and had an opposite experience, and well, that's just great.  I hope you'll write a blog about it. These are not meant to be taken as absolutes or universal truths, but in some cases they have been close enough for me to put it in a top ten blog post.  If you get your knickers in a wad over any of these, write me a letter to a post office in Venice, Italy,  - where we just left.  

Now that that is out of the way   .... 

The Top 10 Things we miss the most from The States

1.  No Smoking

smoking.jpg

Europeans like to smoke.  And I'd be lying if I said most of them didn't look James-Dean-cool-as-shit doing it, too.   In many cities people can smoke inside of bars and restaurants, some of which have smoking sections, others where it's just a lung-cancer free-for-all.   I can't judge them for it; This is their country, their culture, and I sure as hell don't expect someone in Paris to give a toot about how I feel about their public smoking.  Which is good, because they genuinely don't give a toot.  Now that we (the Carolinas, specifically) are roughly 10 years removed from banning smoking from most public areas, I've gotten a little spoiled.  But, after a visit from the ghost-of-public-smoking-past, I'm definitely looking forward to enjoying my wine and overpriced tuna tartar without a side of cigarette.   

 

2.  Getting Pretty

Top Knots.... a traveling girl's best friend.

Top Knots.... a traveling girl's best friend.

Plain and Simple:  I miss my flat iron. When you travel for 2 months with just a backpack, you leave behind 98% of your cosmetics and any & all hair tools.   On two occasions, I have treated myself to a blow out just to feel a bit more normal, and it's been worth every single euro.   I brought no nice clothes, no high heels, little to no make up, and I've been cycling through the same clothes for 7 weeks straight.    I am dying to get gussied up and feel like a boss.  

 

3.  Free Water

Europe does not want you to be hydrated.  At least not for free. 

water 2.jpg

In the States, when you go to a restaurant you are provided water at no cost.  Not exactly our experience in Europe.  In almost every place we eat or drink, water is not free.  And a "large" bottle that provides about 22 ounces total can be anywhere from up to 6 euro.  

We pack water with us when we leave in the mornings, and it's gone before we know it.  We've only seen one city that had anything resembling public water fountains for us to refill our bottles.  

So, what I'm telling you is: When you plan a 2 month trip to Europe, be sure to include the asinine costs of water in your budget.  

 

4.  Dryers

Since we only brought one back-pack each for clothes, we are heavily reliant on our airbnbs for washing machines every few stops, which have been pretty easy to come by.   But, up until this week (week 7), we've only used a dryer one time the entire trip.

It is certainly not the end of the world to have a washing machine and no dryer, but it is something I won't be taking for granted when we get back home.   A dryer is also a bit more necessary when you are constantly on the move.  Here's a great example as to why:  We did try to use a laundromat in Germany the night before we were leaving for Vienna, and we were up until after 1:00am, and spent $20, trying multiple different dryers that never worked.  We gave up and just resigned to packing wet clothes for the train ride.  Not fun.  

 

5.  Catching SNL ... Live

^Image from Boston.com/sports via NBC

^Image from Boston.com/sports via NBC

When we get home, we are going to be binging hard on TV and movies we've missed.  We are big SNL fans and haven't seen a single full episode from this season.   We were able to stream the presidential debates, which has made it even more maddening that we can't watch the SNL coverage!  With the comedy gold that this election year has brought to the likes of Kate Mckinnon and company, we are dying to get home and see what all we've missed.  Linc says it's like missing the SuperBowl when Brady and Peyton are going against each other.  And yes, we know that wouldn't happen since they are in the same conference, but that's not the point!  

 

6.  Salads

Not until Italy (the last country on our trip) did we really find salads in restaurants.  When we were in Spain, I was so desperate to eat something green, I asked the waitress to throw some lettuce on top of a tomato plate.  

We did order salads in Germany on day 1, and they came with 90% cheese and 10% lettuce.  

When you're giving yourself permission to eat like a local over here, your body craves a balance, and it's one that I have been terrible at providing.  It is a good thing I'm going to have easy access to salads back home because it is all I will be able to eat after 2 full weeks in Italy. 

 

7.  Playing with your Dog

Bear with me here.  Back home, if you see a dog on the street with his owner, he's on a leash. And if you want to play with said dog (like I do) then it doesn't take much for him to recognize this and reciprocate by wagging his tail and maybe lunging playfully in your direction.  Then you ask the human if you can pet their dog, to which the human is usually pleased about.  Next thing you know, everyone is engaged in a love-fest over this animal you'll never see again. 

In the same vein, dogs in The States, even when on leash, can still be a bit ... "zaney" shall we say?  They want to sniff this and eat that, or run at that other dog over there, they pull their owner,  or try to chase a squirrel in a tree that's two intersections away.  Okay, I know, not your dog - but - for the majority,  can we agree that [other people's] dogs could use an obedience class or two?

A List Within a List [ListCeption]

Top 5 Dog Breeds we've seen in Europe (In Order):

1.  Dachshunds

2.  Yorkies & French Bulldogs (tied for 2nd, too close to call that one!)

3.  Pugs

4.  Shepherds (Both German and Dutch)  

5.  Dalmatians

Not here.  Dogs are robots in Europe.  75% of dogs that we've seen are not even on a leash and they are obedient AF.   There is some crazy, unbreakable tether between dog and owner, and these dogs do not break that for anything or anyone, sadly, even yours truly.  

They don't give two shits about me.  I have tried to lure a dog with a friendly "oh my goodness, he's so handsome", praying that they will make eye contact with me, and immediately leap into my arms and drench me in doggy kisses.  But they don't.  They don't even see me.  They only know where their owner is and that is all that matters to them.   

It's actually remarkable to witness it so consistently.  I don't know what it is, but they are doing something right ...  aside from the fact that I am going through a MAJOR dog-attention withdrawal.    When I get home, I'm going to hire someone to bring over an entire litter so that I can lay in a pool of puppies to my heart's content.    

 

8.  Regular Fitness and Diet

Let's just call a spade a fat-ass spade.  We are eating.  A lot.  And why shouldn't we?  What, are we going to be in Spain and not enjoy the croquettes?  Or in Paris and not have a macaroon or a chocolate croissant?   Dare we be in Italy and not order the pasta?  I literally had Tiramisu for dinner one night. Fret not, we are making you all proud and we are indulging in the local cuisine.  In tandem, we are also lacking a daily exercise regiment.   Even with an occasional run on top of averaging 6 to 8 miles of walking per day, my metabolism just isn't what it was at 25.

We may be (we definitely will be) a little huskier when we get back.  While it will have been worth every pound, we are looking forward to shedding the physiological evidence of this trip.

 

9.  Big Cups of Coffee

^photo from www.kickinghorsecoffee.com      

^photo from www.kickinghorsecoffee.com      

The Coffee here is amazing.  It is rich and velvety and you feel like a born and bred European after a single sip.  There's just one tiny problem - they are TINY!   A coffee is a single shot of espresso, and sure, if you order it as a latte or an Americano it's a tad larger, but we are talking about less than half the size of a tall-sized drink at Starbucks.  Americans are accustomed to giant cups of coffee that we can sip on for the better part of a morning if we feel like it.  

We've gone to places and asked for a large cup of drip- coffee and we just get blank stares.  It's just not how it works over here.  I hate to admit that we've found ourselves in a few Starbucks just to get a cup that will last us more than 90 seconds.   But, those instances are few and far between and we are indulging in the stellar euro-java while we still can.

 

10.  Being Still

Traveling is a blast.  It's addicting.   It becomes an itch you can't scratch enough.  I'm so thrilled to be able to do this and I still pinch myself when I really take it in that this is our reality right now.  It is a dream come true.  

We saw 7 countries in our first 30 days.    That's a lot.   The longest we stay anywhere is four full days, and we don't take rest days.   We get pockets of down time, but in regards to a full day of not being on-the-go, we just can't afford to take one when when we have an opportunity like this.  It just wouldn't be right. 

We are looking forward to being in one place for a full week.  Our beautiful, new home is calling our name, and our couch is calling even louder.  This trip has given us ten-fold what we've put into it and we couldn't be more grateful.  That said, we are pretty pumped up about getting home and putting our feet on some Charleston soil.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

And Of Course.....

We miss our fur babies!  Fabbie and Mia - we'll be home soon!!

Leave of Absence

Why I am taking a sabbatical 

When I woke up from the twilight anesthesia, I saw Lincoln.  And then the nurse.  And then the Doctor.  In a euphoric and groggy state, I asked "Did I have an ulcer, Doctor?"  He replied "more like 14".   Without even processing that ridiculous number, I looked at Lincoln and said "we have got to change everything."   Everyone laughed.  But there was nothing funny about it.

After further tests to rule out causes like infection, the Doctor confirmed what I already knew:  the most likely culprit of my dozen-plus ulcers was stress.  Stress.   The internal dialogue begins:   "I'm fine! I really am fine! I don't even feel that stressed!  I'm fine!"  But, when your body gives you clear signs that you were already choosing to ignore, you listen.   You are not fine.

That was October 2014.  We were two days away from leaving for a trip to Jamaica that I'd won for hitting my annual sales number at work the year before.   We were excited, and so ready for a vacation.   Only, now I couldn't partake in the usual libations or the jerk-spiced food I was looking forward to because I had bleeding sores in my stomach lining.  

Shit.  How did this happen? How could I not see this coming?

When does [literally] running yourself ragged become the expectation, the baseline, the minimum requirement? And where does this torture even stem from?  Is it internal?  Is it external?   Is it the constant pressures from society, social media, your family, your friends, your profession, your church?  The answer to that question would differ depending on whom you ask, but in its most naked form, the answer is clear:  it always starts from within.  Why it starts there is what is actually different for everyone.  

For me, it's just always been that way - it's just how I'm wired.  Or is it?  I started to ask myself some difficult questions:  Is this really how I was created or is it just that I have come to believe that this is who I am, and I've somehow become saddicted (sadistically addicted) to a bar that is constantly moving?   

When your body gives you signs, you listen.  I listened.  

The traveling part is just the beautiful and fortunate sidecar to the hiatus ahead of me right now.  I needed time. Real time.  Time for me.   *gasp!  How selfish of (especially) a woman to focus primarily on herself!*    Fuck.  That.   Fuck all of that.  This is not only something I want to do, or something I need to do.   I intently decided that this is something I should do.  


me linc shot.jpg
This picture was taken in July, the moment we bought our one-way-tickets to Europe.   We look pretty stoked, right?  It was a paramount moment within an already surreal experience.  We were visiting two of our dearest friends (inspiring travelers, themselves) who were property-sitting in the middle of a Dominican jungle.   Having just confirmed my last day of work with my husband, we bought our plane tickets that very night.  We picked a couple of limes off of a lime tree for our celebratory shot and we toasted to new adventures as the river rumbled below the tree house.   Tequila has never tasted better.

"How are you guys able to do this?"    We made a decision and committed to what we would need to do to make it happen.  Truth be told, I knew I wanted to travel abroad before I even met Lincoln, so I'd been saving since I was in my early 20's for some version of this.  Soon after the ulcers came and went, the time-frame and scope became much more clear so we discussed our respective work timelines, set a target date, and started putting even more away.    Thanks to our pragmatism, we could be taking more than six months off of work, and hell, I may never go back.   

At least not to what I used to call work.   This journey is literal in part, but it's also an introspective one.  The first thing that people usually ask when they find out we are doing this is not "Why are you doing this?" but "What are you going to do when you get back?"  Nothing, not even buying that plane ticket, has felt as good as the uncontainable smile that comes with the words "I don't know.  That's what this is all about."  

We all deserve to be happy.  To be healthy.  To be present.  And the most freeing thing about that is the fact that we have so much more control over those things than we realize.

Be empowered to own that.  

Be excited to realize that.  

Be okay with the fact that you may have to grow and change and sacrifice to claim your happy, your healthy, and your presence.   How cool to be able to own that?  How cool, indeed... 

Here we go.