Ninety-Three Years and Counting

My father is ninety-three years old and counting. This is an amazing feat, considering he has had diabetes for over 60 years and survived both the Merchant Marines in WWII and Korea. My boyfriend Roy, my son Benson and my daughter Natalie had a reunion of sorts with my parents, my brother Rick and his girlfriend Sarina in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February. It was a great opportunity to reminisce, reconnect and compare various iterations of sopapillas.

51147722_10156940510078688_6010553933271924736_o
My mother, daughter and father.

This was Roy’s first time meeting my parents and it’s always enlightening to see other’s perceptions of folks that I have know all my life. It’s also fun to reflect on what comes up in the form of stories and songs when generations come together.

Here are my observations:

The Adventure

What an appropriate name for the sailboat my parents met on some sixty plus years ago. It had been many years since I had heard the telling of it, as only my mother can do it best. My father was crew on a tall ship called The Adventure. My mother had just graduated from college and was taking a cruise on the boat as a post-graduation vacation. She saw my father talking to a woman with a wedding ring on and, incorrectly, assumed that he was married. A man on shore had asked her on a date and she was on deck drying her hair in preparation for the date. My father pushed her overboard. When my mother climbed out of the water, she asked the captain why that man had pushed her and he said, “I guess he’s interested.” The rest is history.

52401096_1009987369206153_7570340670536155136_n
My mother and father on The Adventure.

Let the adventure begin. My father always looks quite unrepentant during the telling of the story. Sort of like, “Well, I pushed her and now look at all that I have,” as he admires his beloved wife, children and grandchildren. Thank goodness he pushed her.

The Lecturer

My father spent most of his career as a middle school history teacher. I have always admired him for teaching the least glamorous topic to the most incorrigible group of students (namely 8th graders). My father has always been a lecturer. You can imagine that if you taught 7 classes a day on the same topic, that everything from Gettysburg to the Kensington Stone is on auto-play. My dad has many life adventures on auto-play. His trip to Korea and visiting a village off-the-grid. His guiding 10 teenagers on a canoe trip in aluminum boats in northern Quebec during a lightening storm. Him surviving a hurricane on the schooner The Adventure, where the captain told him to lash himself to the mast. My siblings, my mom and my kids have all heard these stories many times. This past trip made me pay attention to the facts. I want to get it right. While I was a teenager, I would roll my eyes at what I dubbed “Lecture 223.” Now, I want every word. Every fact. Who knows when or if I will hear this lecture again?

The Stoic

Part of what prompted the cross-country trip were some recent set backs to my dad’s health. As I write this, my dad is back in the hospital trying to get his medications dialed in. I’m thankful that my brother Rick is a retired nurse and my mother, a retired medical technologist. I don’t understand most of what is going on but I do know that my dad has always been a stoic. Whether is was a triple bypass or pace maker, he’s always taken everything as it comes. I’ve never seen him panic or worry. Even as he sat in his recliner surrounded by loved ones, with a new scooter and oxygen tank, he said, “I don’t feel any pain.” Did I mention he’s had kidney stones for over 5 years? He was still looking forward to his next move with my mom to Washington State. I have always admired my father’s patience but I think what I really admire is his ability to not get caught up in a cycle of worry and rumination. My stomach dropped when my brother texted this morning that Dad was back in the hospital but I know that he is probably sharing a lecture on Napoleon or his trip to Russia with some unsuspecting nurse. If he’s not worried, why should I be?

The Ballast

Every family has a certain homeostasis. There is a balance that keeps the whole thing moving forward, regardless of the current and wind. I feel like my dad has been the ballast of the whole Noice family boat. He rarely gets angry. Nothing seems to exasperate him. I can still remember my seventy-year-old father carrying my two-year-old son and a tricycle during one of his tantrums with nary a frown. I see him now surrounded by new contraptions like an oxygen meter and he is unfazed. He’s just glad to be here. He is constantly comparing himself to other residents who have it far worse than he and he is thankful. His mantra is “I am so fortunate.” He’s writing his fifth volume (FIFTH) of his science fiction novel. He hopes someone reads it someday. This is not a man who is down for the count. He’s planning his next adventure for his novel’s main character Lors, for heaven’s sake. Eventually, my father will be gone, but in the meantime, he is the ballast.

There was a magical moment in our trip to Albuquerque when my parents broke into song. It was an old sea shanty. As my parents sang in unison and with strong voice, I was able to record it for prosperity. I was struck by their voice’s strength and clarity, as they both sang and helped each other with the words. It’s been decades since I heard them sing. A little piece of history from their Adventure. I was happy to experience it again and that I’ve been part of the Adventure.

My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

32105357_10156289247988688_8586567131481505792_o

Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?