Wednesday, November 06, 2019

the ninth grade photo

Several years ago, I was visiting my sister Eileen's house when her children were all still young.  I remember that she had the most adorable frame in the shape of a school bus.  All of the windows on the school bus were a space for a photograph, starting with kindergarten - all the way around - through 12th grade.   At the time, her youngest daughter, Diana, was only in third grade or so, and there were plenty of windows on the bus still open.

When I visited Eileen this past summer, and I stayed in my niece's old bedroom, my eyes teared up a bit to see that all the windows on the school bus were filled with precious pictures - definitively punctuating the magnificently bittersweet transition from little girl to young woman.  Diana, my sister's youngest, has now moved out of the house, is in her senior year of college (studying Geology, nonetheless!) and is doing great.  So, too, is my sister, which makes me realize that one day in the not too distant future - an empty nest is a very real possibility.

I say very real "possibility" because I'm not entirely sure how things are going to shake out.

OK, I jest.  I'm actually fairly confident our children are all going to do just fine.  Even if right now when I close my eyes, not all of my little birdies are going to spread their wings and fly straight out of the nest when the time comes.  There's definitely one that teeters on the edge before nose diving straight to the ground while I'm screaming, "PULL UP! OMG, PULL UP!"    

I'm laughing as I'm writing this, because I love this child more than the world itself and she has the absolute funniest, easy going, wonderful personality you ever did meet.  Very few things rattle my Carolyn Grace; and every day, she continues to teach me how to have grace.  A lot of it. 

While the predominant number of teenage girls fret over their hair - make-up - clothing - social media status - school ranking - none of these things faze my Gracie.   She is comfortable in her own skin, and while a lot of girls who reach a height of 72 inches (6 feet) might feel embarrassed by towering over most boys their age - Carolyn recently picked out a pair of platform heels that put her at nearly 6'5 for a wedding we attended over the summer.  She owns and is proud of every inch of herself .... and I adore - and greatly admire - her for it.  

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But I'm wondering if that year of homeschool has dulled some of her senses, because waking up early is NOT her priority.  Every morning, she will sleep in until the last possible minute and then barrel down the stairs like a train that has gone straight off the tracks.   Charlie and I are usually in the kitchen, happily sipping our hot morning beverages, while practicing our deep breathing as she runs around frantically looking for her one lost shoe. And her backpack. And her lunch box. And her French text book.  And, hairbrush?   Do you maybe want to brush your hair before you go out?

"NO MOM. I LOOK FABULOUS!"  Are real words that my 9th grade daughter with unkempt hair will tell me before she goes to high school.  Now, I'm not the most self-conscious person, but I distinctly remember worrying about my appearance when I was a freshman.

One day last week, Carolyn tried to convince me that the pajamas that she was trying to wear to school were not actually pajamas.  Also last week, when Carolyn overslept - I told her that if she missed the school bus, I would NOT be taking her to school.  I'm a stickler for consequences.  Charlie and I will do every thing we can to equip our children for success - including helping them plan and prepare.  But in the end, the buck stops with them and I do not want to enable bad habits.   If they do not want to get things laid out the night before, or get up and get themselves ready in the morning so they can be out the door in time, they will be walking to school.  It's really that simple.  

So last week, I told Carolyn, "I'm not taking you to school if you miss the bus..... I'm not taking you to school if you the bus...."  She finally barked at me, "I KNOW MOM. YOU'RE NOT TAKING ME TO SCHOOL IF I MISS THE BUS. GOT IT.  I HEARD YOU!"

Which is why I cracked up when two minutes later, she ran outside and standing next to the car said, "I'm just going to wait in the car for you..." 

That led to me collapsing in to a fit of laughter and saying, "I'm so sorry!  What part of 'I'm not taking you to school' do you not understand?"  At which point she yelled at me that it was DARK and I responded "So you better get up earlier tomorrow!" and then she gave me an exasperated sign before she took off sprinting like an Olympic athlete to the school bus and miracle of miracles she made it.   William who was already on the bus, texted me that he'd never seen anything like it. "Mom, she might actually be faster than Elizabeth!" 

All this to say, nothing preserves the memories better than photographs.  And for as long as our children have been in school, I've never once purchased school photographs for the bus frame that I also never purchased.

I'm ashamed to admit it, because predating my own children's births, I've always wanted to buy that school bus frame and fill it with images of our precious children as they worked their way through primary school.  But I've never done it because I would always forget to pre-order, and then when the proofs would come in, I would review the photos while thinking YES I'm so totally going to buy these! But then for one reason or another, I wouldn't purchase them right away (I could never decide on the package; I mean - how many photos do you really need?) and then I'd get pulled in to some life or work event - and I'd forget about ordering a proof and then you know what happened??

NINE YEARS WENT BY AND I NEVER ORDERED A SCHOOL PICTURE. 

But this year, with our children in high school, I actually pre-ordered and paid for the photos.  Like, I'm so totally ahead of the game, it's unfathomable and very unlike me.   This past week, we just got our photos back and I'd like to share them with you.  

Here is William.  We told the kids that we would pay them $25 for every A on their report card, and William came home a couple weeks ago, and after handing me his report card, said, "That'll be $175 please." Seven A's, straight across the board.  He's the kid that never studies and just GETS it.  Whether it's German or Biology or Debate or Geometry.  He's wicked pissah smaht.

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Here is Elizabeth.  She is so meticulous in every thing that she does and is absolutely blowing our mind with her commitment to running and school.  Last week she independently traveled with her high school team to participate in the Regional cross-country races in Dallas; and has made it to an elite varsity team that will be running next month in Austin.

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And here is Carolyn, who is spectacularly strong in body and soul and has the most laid back, cheerful disposition of anyone in our family, that I pray will serve her well in life.  When she saw this photograph, and I informed her that it would be going in to the high school year book (and on the blog!), she just groaned.  I'm not sure what is the best part of this picture.  The hair?  The smirk? The shirt that says, "The Mountains are Calling and ...."?  

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When my sister, Beth, saw this picture she gasped.  "Oh no, no, no, no.  You'll need a re-take."  To which I responded, "NOPE. We are so totally going to own this one in all of it's 8x10, 5x7, 4x6 and sheets of wallet-sized glory.  It is the absolute PERFECT representation of Carolyn in her freshman year and I will treasure it for always.  Just like I treasure this photo of William at two."  

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Sadly, these days won't last forever.  One day, sooner than I would like, my baby Carolyn will undoubtedly be a brilliant academic somewhere - and she will be fearlessly taking on the world's most challenging problems - and THRIVING.   And I will be so, so grateful for these wonderful memories that I have preserved on this blog, because I know that if I don't take the time to write them down, I will forget them forever.

Yes.  I'm certain that I'm slowly losing my mind, and I'm more convinced than ever that parenting really does do that to you.  Especially in the teenage years.

Monday, October 14, 2019

.... and then they were fifteen

Today our amazing trips turn 15 years old.  The girls were up and out before sunrise at running and crew practice; William's swim team has an "off day" so woke up to the delight of a new book series from his favorite author.  In the still of this holiday, no school Monday, I'm savoring this increasingly rare moment of quiet.   In just a few hours, we'll be taking the kids - and 15 of their closest friends - to a surprise outing; but in this space I'm taking the time to reflect and give thanks. 

Exactly ten years ago today, I missed an important business meeting with our senior leadership team to take our children to Walt Disneyland for their fifth birthday.  

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When I look back on this crossroads post now, I remember the gut-wrenching angst that I had about missing that particular meeting; because in my heart I knew that it was just the beginning of things to come.   While I knew that I wouldn't be fired, the decision reflected a monumental shift in my mindset that would impact countless other career decisions going forward.  It also reflected a shift in the way that my company viewed me as an employee ... but as a mother first. 

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Before children - my priority was do whatever I needed to do to do my job well, and reflected my steadfast commitment to my career.   After children - it was crystal clear that my priority is to do whatever I need to do to do my job well ...  so long as it does not infringe on my ability to mother my children.  And, NEVER MISS THEIR BIRTHDAY. 

Fifteen years in to parenting, I'm still trying to figure out the right balance.  At this rate, I may never get it perfectly dialed in.  Even now, there are days I feel overwhelmed trying to keep it together - and want nothing more than to sell everything, get completely off the grid, and relish every moment with our children while they're still under one roof.   As if that tactic would in some way work to slow down time?  Perhaps it would.  The kids, however, now that they have a social life - and athletic and academic school commitments - aren't too keen on the notion. 

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Short of running away and living a "Captain Fantastic" life,  I'm so proud of the way Charlie and I have managed to contort our careers around our priorities (aka: the kids).   As challenging as it has been to stand my ground and take my fair share of knocks over the past decade (both at home and at work!), in recent times, my company's Human Resources Department has directly solicited my personal opinion as a "subject matter expert" on strides they can take to improve our corporation's benefits policy and work-life balance offerings.   Me?! They want MY advice!!  

One piece of advice that I've offered is that it's not enough to advertise "support" of a healthy work-life balance, but to actually "show" that personnel from all level of the organization are utilizing the benefit.  Management needs to lead the way, and so it is, videos of Vice Presidents coaching their children's soccer teams, on a random weekday, have made an appearance on our HR page along with a tagline of "Flex Your Time."  Several colleagues have also reached out for my support in helping them navigate the options for working part-time; which I've done at various points over the past decade. Now a days, it's a lot more respected - and celebrated - than it was back then.  In retrospect, I can see that the reason the road to get to this point has been so rough, is because 10 years ago - I made the decision to get off the beaten path and start blazing my own trail.  

Today, I'm "Flexing My Time" so that I can celebrate the FIFTEENTH trip around the sun with these amazing ones who have not only given me the immeasurable privilege of motherhood - but have also - empowered me to be an outspoken advocate of keeping your priorities straight.  I'm also spending a day in gratitude for my husband who is the ying to my yang (cracking up that YING keeps autocorrecting to KING, Charlie would love that!), and for my education - and experiences - that have led to an incredible career doing what I love, so that I'm able to support the people that I love.  

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Wow!  Fifteen years old?!

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#NoRegrets


Thursday, September 05, 2019

sports teams for the win

When I think back to high school, they were some of the most empowering years of my life.  I found my vibe, I met my tribe, and all the stars aligned just as they were meant to do.

But one of the most important things I did in high school, was play a team sport.

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I was on the tennis team from ninth grade through graduation, and though I could barely hold a racquet when I first started, by the time I graduated, I lettered and had received, albeit small, an athletic scholarship to college. It was awesome being on a team: it gave me an opportunity to exercise, an abundance of school spirit, and a real sense of belonging.  So of course I've always imagined that our children would participate in school sports, as well.  However, I've found it is a lot more challenging to make it on a school team these days.

In middle school, Carolyn was on the school golf team for a day.  She was very excited, until the coach realized she had no idea how to play and informed her that the team wasn't a place to learn.  Thinking back to my high school experience - I didn't have any idea what I was doing, either, but that didn't stop the coach from accepting me.

For kids to be on a team in this day and age - particularly at these humongous Texas schools where there are 1500 kids in a single grade and 800 of them are trying out for soccer - you need to have skills.   The kind of mad skills that are developed when you learn to walk and dribble a ball, concurrently.   And so it is, those two seasons of playing soccer at the YMCA did not position our children well for a spot on the high school soccer team; particularly when they're trying out against kids who have been playing for 12-years.  And they're only 14.

Nonetheless, I've never given up hope that our kids would find a sport that they enjoyed and ultimately, find their way on to a team.  For several years, we exposed the kids to all kinds of sporting events, and I'd always put them on the same team because it made life easier for us to drive four kids to one place, instead of four kids to four places.  Truth be told, I'd also been holding hope that they'd all be interested and pursue the same sport.   Alas, they are evolving in to people that all have their own unique passions and pursuits.

Imagine that?

I'm happy to report that despite being interested in four vastly different sports - the kids are finding their way on to various teams, and are doing great.  The rest of this post is to capture for posterity how things are transpiring in the athletic department; from youngest to oldest.

HENRY:  After changing his name from Henry to Ricardo a few years ago, I really thought that soccer might be his thing.  But then his friend, Juan Miguel, moved to a new team and Henry lost interest and along with his brother, picked up baseball for a season.  He really enjoyed playing ball, but I was not keen on the games that would last until 10:30 at night; or be at a field 30 miles from the house.  I'm pretty strict about not traveling beyond a 20-mile radius from our house for games.

Recently, Henry has expressed a strong interest in playing tennis which was quite exciting for both Charlie and I; since our romance blossomed on a university tennis court where we were playing each other for an intramural championship.

To nurture his interest in the sport - Charlie has been committed to finding Henry a good tennis instructor.  One of our neighbors recommended a coach that has been teaching her daughter, so Charlie looked him up on line - and called to schedule an appointment.

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(Photo of William & Henry playing a game of doubles tennis, circa 2011. My babies!)

The good news, the coach sounded fantastic and has plenty of space available in the class.  The bad news, Charlie called the wrong guy and he's actually located in Georgia.  Reminder, we're in Texas. It turns out the Texas tennis academy is full - but we're on the waitlist.

Glad we figured all that out before he registered and sent in a downpayment.

CAROLYN:   For the past year, Carolyn has been on the rowing team.  Rowing is not an easy sport.  Just ask Charlie who went with Carolyn one day last month and spent the better part of two hours, rowing a scull with huge pontoons on the sides to prevent him from capsizing, around in a circle because he couldn't get the form down.    To hear him tell it, "I thought it'd be super easy! I mean, how difficult can it be to ROW A BOAT?"  Apparently, it can be very difficult and that tiny little seat that slides to and fro can do a real number on your backside.

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Carolyn, however, has found her groove and is quite good at rowing.  She practices for approximately 17 hours a week; three hours a day Monday through Thursday, two hours on Friday, and another three hours on Saturday morning.   Her ability to train so extensively is made possible by a school day that starts at 7:15 AM and because she is in "private / offsite PE" is home every day by 1:00.  That gives her a nice cushion of time to do her homework - or more commonly, read "The Fault in our Stars" for the umpteenth time, before she goes to practice in the afternoon.

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She was recently promoted to the "competitive" rowing team, which means we will be traveling to regattas far and wide, throughout the southern and mid-western United States.  Next month, we'll be in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and two weeks later, we'll be in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Yep. So much for my 20-mile radius rule.

ELIZABETH:   Before she took her first breath, Elizabeth has been on the move. She was the baby that notoriously flip flopped in-utero, baffling the ultrasound technicians that kept counting four fetuses.  "See, there's baby D!" And then they'd count again - and sure enough, there were four heads.  Until the day I delivered, I wasn't entirely convinced that there would "only" be triplets.  She was first to crawl, walk, and run. And once she started running, she's never stopped.   

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Liz ran on an elementary school team, middle and junior high school team, and is now on the high school cross country and track team.  Last year, she took up pole vaulting, and separately, won the 4x400 district championships as the anchor for her team.  This summer, within the first week of training, she was running with the varsity team.  But those daily nine mile jaunts strained her and she's been in PT for the past six weeks while recovering from stress reactions in both legs.  Her orthopedist has told her that she'll be back out running in no time. But in the mean time, I'm glad that she is getting the instruction that she needs to improve her form and hopefully, prevent further injury.

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I'm seriously not sure where she gets her stamina, because I'm not encouraging her .... which is very sad, but very true.   When she first told me that she made the cross country team, I think my exact response was, "Congratulations!" Followed by, "UGH! Why would you EVER want to run in Texas heat?"   When I recently found out that she was injured and out for two months with her injury, my reaction was something like, "Wow! Now you can sleep in! Woot! Woot!"  

But uh, no.  She's still up at 5:30 AM every morning to be with her team, even if it means standing on the sidelines while they run past.  Her dedication is amazing.

WILLIAM:  William really has incredible coordination and has tried everything from gymnastics to lacrosse.  At various times, he's been on a swim team - dive team - soccer team - and baseball team.   But he hasn't stuck with anything long enough to really excel; which is largely my fault.   The fact is, I'm not the most "participatory" parent when games are far away, or play long in to the night (or require a wake-up while it's still dark outside).  If it's not obvious, I just don't possess the same level of energy or athletic commitment as some parents do.

As a result, whenever I've talked with William about what sport he'd like to play in high school, he's always said, none.  It's not that he didn't want to play a sport - I think it's that he was lacking the confidence to try; and a push from his mother.   So a few weeks ago, once I heard that practices were immediately after school and wouldn't interfere with our sleep schedule, I reached out to the swim coach at the high school and asked if William could try out for the swim team.

He said "YES." But then he told me that William would need to swim 5 x 200 meter lengths on a 3:00 minute interval.  Or rather, 1000 meters in 15 minutes or less.  This sounded like a daunting task.   So I wrote back to tell the coach first and foremost - thank you for the opportunity.  But then I was reminded of Carolyn and her golf experience, and I launched in to a diatribe that EVERY CHILD should have the opportunity to play a school sport and I'd never played tennis until high school, and yet - learned to play with the school team and ultimately, earned a tennis scholarship to college.

So what if he couldn't swim 1000 meters in 15 minutes?  What if he did it in 15:05? Or 15:30 ... or 20:00? ARE ALL HOPES DASHED?

I wrote some other things about the important influence that school sports teams have on helping nurture and grow a child's confidence, and the coach kindly responded with a brief response of, "Let's have him try out and we'll see things where stand." Which I think is code for, "Chill out, Mama."  

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(Photo of William & Elizabeth on first day of swim team. Sigh. Where did those days go?)

Long story short, William made the team by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.  He now swims with the team five days a week, for two hours a day, and is suddenly eating an unfathomable amount of food and literally changing before my very eyes.  It's the darnedest thing to see a kid one day, and look at them the next and realize that they have GROWN overnight.  But the biggest change I've observed has been in his disposition.

For as long as I live, I will forever remember the day that he made the high school swim team. He was so infused with courage that our extremely shy and reserved son came home and promptly asked a girl to homecoming.  She said no, but he didn't miss a beat and told me, "Eh, I'm not discouraged.  You should see all the really cute girls on the dive team ... there's hope yet!"   

Indeed, there is.

This is just the beginning!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

slipping through my fingers all the time

Today was the first day of school for our children.

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Henry started sixth grade, and the triplets - including Carolyn who returned to public school after her one year stint of homeschool - started ninth grade and are now FRESHMAN.  We've been in Texas for four years and those years have flown past.   In another four years, the triplets will be GRADUATING FROM HIGH SCHOOL AND GOING TO COLLEGE.

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I'm ... I'm .... I'm not sure how that's even possible?  All I know is that this old Abba song keeps coming to mind and I want to cry:

Slipping through my fingers all the time, I try to capture every minute - the feeling in it...
Sleeping through my fingers all the time, do I really see what's in their mind?
Each time I think I'm close to knowing, they keep on growing... 
Slipping through my fingers all the time. 

The high school bus picks up the children at 6:30 in the morning.  And as much as I'd like to *think* that I'm a morning person, history has not proven that to be true. Perhaps if I could get to sleep before midnight, I'd stand a better chance of getting up early, but most days it takes every ounce of energy to get out of bed by 7:30 AM.  

So for the past four years, in the early morning hours, we would hear the high school bus behind our house, picking up students before the sunrise. Whenever we'd hear it, Charlie and I would nudge each other and mumble, "That is going to bite sooo bad when we have to wake up that early and get the kids off to school......" and then we'd chuckle and roll over and go back to sleep for another hour, while hitting an imaginary snooze button that wouldn't go off until our kids started high school.

Ah, but today.   The Snooze Button Went Off.    

We were up and out of bed by 5:45 and walking to the bus by 6:20.  It was so early that I neglected to get a picture of all the kids gathered at the bus stop.  Neglect, and also, I succumbed to the pressure of my children and what I knew would be an indescribable metamorphosis at the sight of their mother with a camera in front of their peers.

MOM, do you see any other mothers here taking pictures of their children?

No, children, I do not.  But I also do not see any other mothers here who carried a triplet pregnancy that nearly killed her and then nursed three preemie infants until she bled.  

NOW, SMILE AND SAY CHEESE! 

Because I'm not a total nightmare mother (most days) ... I relented a little, and instead of standing directly in front of them - I stood across the street with another neighbor mom and we gazed lovingly at our teenagers, who were doing their best to stay ahead of Charlie and Ollie, who wanted to make sure they got across the busy intersection, safely.  

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Charlie and I returned home, and helped get Henry off to school - more than an hour after the triplets left.  Sixth grade is wonderful because you can still hold hands when you walk to the bus.

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But the displays of public affection are nearing an end with our littlest one, too, as evidenced by the lack of my son in this photograph.  You see, I forgot to take a picture of him at the bus stop, so when I remembered, moments after he climbed on the bus,  I scurried up the stairs and snapped off a picture. The reason you don't actually see Henry, is because he is laying completely flat in the back seat, in sheer horror that his mother would have the audacity to follow him ON the school bus.  

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But if you look really closely you can see his backpack.  

Ah, these are the days.  xox

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

the business trip

A few years ago, I happened to be traveling on business to Boston - the week prior to my Aunt Ann turning 90.   As luck would have it, the weekend following my meeting, my cousins had planned an epic surprise party for their mom.  Since I knew that several of my family members would be in attendance at the party - including Aunt Ann's sisters (my mother and Aunt Grace who would be flying north from South Carolina),  I thought it would be fun to bring Carolyn with me on the business trip.  While I was in meetings during the week; Carolyn could hang out with her Noni and Auntie, and the following weekend - we could all attend the party and surprise Aunt Ann.

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It worked: Aunt Ann WAS surprised ...  and a tradition was born.

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Later that year, when I was supporting projects in the Caribbean, I invited my mother and Aunt Grace to join me for a week in Puerto Rico.  This time, I brought Elizabeth with me on the trip. And while I was in meetings during the week; the three of them toured the island ... shopped, took surfing lessons, and drank out of coconuts.

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Last year, I took William with me to New York City, and once again - my mother and Aunt Grace joined us.  Mom had on her bucket list to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; and we did just that.  They also attended a show on Broadway, went to the top of the Empire State Building, ate lunch at Tavern on the Green, were serenaded while riding the subway, took a boat to the Statue of Liberty, rode a horse drawn carriage through Central Park, ate a genuine NYC pie, and picked out their favorite diner with the best coffee in the city, by the end of the week.

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This year, it was finally Henry's turn.

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(Saying a prayer before we board: it's a ritual...)

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Last week, I had a business meeting in South Carolina.  Henry and I flew in the weekend prior, and were able to spend a few days with mom and Auntie, before the three of us drove down to Charleston for the week.   Unfortunately, Auntie wasn't able to join us on this trip - as she was preparing for a separate trip to Greece.

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While we really missed Auntie, we had a wonderful time with my mom - and as is par for the course - while I was in meetings - Henry and Noni toured the local sites including the aquarium, Fort(s) Sumter and Moultrie, the USS Yorktown, pirate dungeons, and the historic downtown.  They would have also visited the first submarine, H.L. Hunley, but the exhibit was closed during the week, to which Henry said, "WHAT?! Well, Mom ... sounds like we have to come back when it's open!"

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(Union artillery shells embedded in the walls of Fort Sumter...)

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The crescent moon over a Palmetto, at Fort Moultrie (where, coincidentally, the theme of the crescent moon over the Palmetto on the state flag was first conceived).

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After three days in Charleston, we drove north to Columbia, and while I was in more meetings - they toured the Riverbanks Zoo (where this video about gorillas avoiding the rain was filmed around the same time they were visiting!), and met bona fide southerners on the front lawn of the capital building, who were celebrating Confederate Memorial Day and remembering their ancestors.  All of us received quite the history lesson, and were appreciative that the CSA impersonators didn't once balk at Henry's Boston t-shirt.

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Henry missed a week of school to join me on this venture - but it was time very well spent.  He arguably learned more about American History in a the span of five days, than he's learned in the past five months of school.  Most importantly, he was able to spend one-on-one time with his grandmother and create memories that will last a lifetime.

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(He also had a great time playing with his cousins on the beautiful yards at Aunt Grace's ...)

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Chances are, I'll be taking an international business trip to Europe or Australia at some point over the next year.  Carolyn is tickled to think it's her turn again - but Charlie has unequivocally told the children, it's now HIS turn - and he's already in the process of pulling together his wardrobe.

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Yes.  I think he'll be a fine traveling companion, indeed.