a proposal at a gas station

I was in a rush a few days ago.  A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened.  I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class.  The other two were in the car.

Mommy, what are we doing?

Mommy, why are you getting out?

Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….

Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.

As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind.  “Ma’am, excuse me?”

I steeled myself. Immediately.  I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.

And do you know why I became defensive?  I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars.  To ask for money.  Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway.  Who knows if it’s true or not.  As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas.  But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight.   I was in a rush.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible.  A verbal non-response.

“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal.  Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”.  He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.

“Jasmine, you are the light of my life.  I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face.  By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle.  My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.

“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!”  He walked back off to his van.  I watched him walk away from me.  He was a driver for a food company.  He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way.  I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.

The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me.  With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.

I looked around.  Did anybody else see what I just saw? No.  No one else was around me.

I got back in the car and sat there for a bit.  My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”

“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing.  He was proposing to his girlfriend.  Right here at the gas station.  And he wanted me to witness it.”

“What was her name?”

“Jasmine”

“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”

“Yes, like the princess.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds.  About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station.  About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal.  About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.

texas

In January of the new year our family is moving to Houston, Texas.  So, in the interest of fair and balanced blogging, I’m going to start this blog on a uber-positive note by identifying three positive things about Houston.

  1. No snow
  2. Good food (I do like Tex-Mex)
  3. Nice people (they have to be better than DC politicians)

Now I’m going to get real.  Since the idea of moving to Texas has completely shaken me to my core.  I’ve spent countless weeks on an emotional roller coaster, with random useless (and obviously ridiculous) thoughts going through my head.  How will I make a life for us?  I vehemently dislike Ted Cruz.  I’m for Gun Control.  I’m Pro-choice.  Where will I find my people?

Texas

When J. transitioned from active duty military three years ago, the job he took was located in Houston, Texas.    We chose Arlington, VA for our family.  My family lives here; I grew up here; and simply put – this area of the country is pretty darn awesome.  Yes, there is a high cost of living, but schools are great, neighborhoods are walkable, climate is mild, and you have all the cultural/sports/newsy etc. benefits of Washington DC.   We wanted to raise our kids here.

So this meant for the last three years, J. has been commuting to Texas.  And that has sucked.  For all of us.  The kids have taken notice; I’m tired of being an only parent during the week; and J. is tired of Hilton hotels.   We originally figured that the commuting job was better than a deployment, but in terms of quality of life, that wasn’t exactly a high bar.

For better or worse, we have decided three years is all we can manage.  So we made the collective decision that it’s in the best interest of the family to move to Houston.

In some ways, we have moved so often, another move to another city seems almost routine.  Generic, even.  It’s an adventure (we like adventure, right?) And in other ways, with the intentionality that we set to establish our home in Arlington, VA, this move is the hardest of all.  It is hard for the three kids, the dog, and a home in our name.  And it’s super hard for me.

Moving itself is hard.   Moving always forces me out of my comfortable habitat.  My friends, my home, my community, and my touchstones.  Although I love adventure, I’m also a creature of habitat and I like the safe and familiar. I like my daughters’ school. I like my local Starbucks.  I like knowing where the best grocery store is, and where my favorite park with the perfect swing is.

I also like to be in control.  Of everything.  Transitions, and moving, are about learning to accept being out of control.  Moves are chaotic, and my ability to surrender to that chaos is supremely tested.  And remembering that chaos is normal, and (with enough checklists to keep me occupied), I will be fine.  I will be fine.  I will be fine.

It’s a hard lesson to accept.   For me.  For all of us going through life transitions.

So Texas, we are coming for you, and I will learn to like you.  I know it. I will be fine.

simple loving

We recently returned from a simple beach vacation with family.  Long, lazy days by the beach, pool, or ice cream stand and nights by a fire-pit.  For me, it was a snapshot into the idealized American summer.

One dark night after the kids had gone to bed, J. and I snuck out to listen to some music.  We walked along the beach and found ourselves by the local fire-pit.  We held hands while singing along to various renditions of Eagles and Bob Marley songs.  In front of us sat families with older kids, making s’mores in the fire, and cuddling with the parents.

And I gotta admit – it was really REALLY nice.  It was nice to imagine what our family may look like in a few years time; and it was nice to see different families enjoying the simplicity of a few songs, a moonlit night, and roasted marshmallows together.  No technology, no lights, no board walks, no roller-coasters.  Just the simple fire, a dessert, a singer and a guitar.

IMG_4552

So imagine my surprise when I was lulled out of my fire-induced coma when the singer (a Bob-Marly wanna-be) looked straight at J. and myself and declared:

Bob Marley wanna-be: “You two, man. I’ve been looking at you all night. You are SO in LOVE! Look at HER, man. SING to her!”

J: laughing.

Me: I’m sorry, are you talking to us?

Bob Marley wanna-be: “LOOK AT HER, MAN!” “SING TO HER” “I”LL ALWAYS LOVVVVEEE YOUUU” (proceeds to sing)

J: still laughing, but now looking at me.

Me: he really can’t be talking to us, right? I mean. Really? And is there any way I can sneak away from this fire-pit? Looking around into darkness, trying to plan an exit strategy.

Bob Marley wanna-be (still singing) “One day, man, I’m going to be as in love as you two are!!”

This goes on for a while.  We are awkwardly laughing, waiting for it to end.   And it finally does.  They move onto singing something a bit more upbeat.  And a few songs later we quietly sneak away.

This whole embarrassing escapade got me thinking about love and the simple life.

Why was I so astonished that he thought J. and I looked in love?  I mean, yes, we were sitting by the fire.  Yes, we were holding hands. But most days I feel like we are a million miles away from the romantic “in love” of 10 years ago.

Love changes when we become parents.  It grows bigger, better, and more fuller to accommodate all the difficulties life throws at us.  It’s not easy or constant.  We work at it all the time.  It’s damn hard.  It’s not a simple love-song by the fire-pit.  And frankly, that’s ok with me.  I think we moved from “in love” to “love” a long time ago.

And our marriage (like most marriages of people we know) is egalitarian, committed, and focused on children.  We are jointly dedicated to raising our children AND creating satisfying lives for ourselves.  That’s a lot on our plate.  So romantic love?  Where does that fit in? When do we find time to sing to each-other, Bob-Marley-Style without texting on our iphones?

I’m not sure I have an answer.  However, after my immediate awkwardness with the situation, I decided that I was glad that it was clear that I love my husband.  That’s a good thing, no matter where we are in our relationship.  And I’m glad I can imagine sitting with our older princesses 5-10 years from now near that same fire-pit.  Them enjoying the same music we did.

And if every once in a while, between diaper changes and school runs, work trips and ballet recitals we get to hold hands – well that’s pretty good too.