Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Laugh or Cry

Have you ever had a day that skewed so far off course and fell apart so quickly that it almost became comical? In the moment of destruction, you’re faced with two choices: laugh or cry. I’ve tried both, but recommend laughing.

We recently moved cross-country from the suburbs of Chicago to the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. We arrived the end of June, with our four kids in tow, and even though I had lived in the Portland area as a kid, we knew about 4 people and wondered how we were going to fill the summer when we had no friends.

God was gracious and led us to a new church home on our first week of church shopping. On our 6th week, we met the Owen family who were in the same position as we were, only they had moved from Austin, Texas, and we beat them to Oregon by 5 days. Anxious to make friends, we exchanged contact information and I waited all of 24 hours to email my new friend to ask if she wanted to get together (so much for playing hard to get). We set a date for the very next day to pack a picnic and hike a well-known waterfall, located about an hour from her house.

The same night we scheduled our date, our neighbors (who we’ve met once), had company arrive from Minnesota that included adorable, 7-year-old twin girls. Our kids talked through the fence and Ruth and Emily quickly informed them that they were “tom boys” and “hated anything pink” which delighted our first-born son who is surrounded by 3 very girly little sisters. Before I could blink, they were playing tackle football and wrestling on the front yard. We had to rip the kids apart at bedtime with promises they could play again in the morning.

Tuesday morning arrived and while I was packing the picnic lunch, the doorbell rang, and in pranced Emily and Ruth. I started thinking about how impressed these Minnesota girls would be with the Columbia River Gorge, the view of Mt. Hood, hiking to the top of a 620 foot waterfall, etc. and decided to invite them to join us on our quest to tackle Multnomah Falls. Their mom surprisingly agreed to let them join us, so we loaded the van with stroller, picnic cooler, water bottles and books to read, filled all 7 seat belts with kids, and set off to pick up our new friends.

I was so excited about our day and it played out perfectly in my mind. My kids would fall in love with the same hike I’d traversed as a little girl, my new friend would feel an irresistible pull to my adorable and well-behaved children and Emily and Ruth would go home to Minnesota with great stories about Oregon’s breath-taking beauty and hospitable citizens.

I left the house about an hour later than I originally intended and arrived at the Owen’s home precisely at lunch time. After exchanging pleasantries and re-introducing the 6 kids I brought to Allison’s two girls, we decided to “picnic” on their back deck instead of attacking a road trip with hungry kids. We both felt pleased about how pro-active we were being to insure a great day, when her daughter came inside crying. Catie’s story, what we could understand through her tears, was that my sweet, gentle and compassionate son had punched her with a fist in her throat and caused her to bite her tongue. Mortified and guaranteeing it HAD to be a misunderstanding, I went outside to get the “real” story. For all his faults, Grant is always honest. He told me, through tears, that “Yes, I punched her, but she was making me mad. As I’ve thought about it, I should have talked to her instead of hitting her.” Do you think?!?! So much for good first impressions.

Allison didn’t change her mind about going on an adventure with us, in spite of “the incident” so we set off to find Multnomah Falls, the 2nd tallest waterfall in North America. We parked our vehicles and lined up all eight kids on the sidewalk. They “turned on” their listening ears, put their “eyes on me” and had the safety talk about staying on the trail, the importance of obeying the first time, and sticking with their buddy. The trail was narrower than I remembered, making it difficult to push my extra-wide double jogging stroller up the steep switch-back inclines, and it was crowded with tourists from all over the world who had to press themselves up against the side of the trail for me to squeeze by. Within the first 10 minutes, my normally obedient son blatantly disobeyed 4 times and then was disrespectful when I reprimanded him. Ruth and Emily were climbing over barricades and trying to walk on rock ledges with steep drop offs. Paige, my 2 year old, was crying for her blanket and her pacifier (which she is too old to have in the first place). Alli, my four year old wanted a snack, even though we had just eaten lunch, and then threw a fit that lasted at least 10 minutes when she didn’t get her way. Katie, my 6 year old, had to go pee SOOOOOOO bad, even though we all went potty before we started our hike. Any of you know what I’m talking about?

By the time we reached the summit of the waterfall and hit the one-mile marker, most of MY kids were in some form of melt-down mode and everyone we passed was staring at me or giving me sympathetic side-ways glances. They didn’t have to say, “Look at that poor woman – I’m so glad it’s not me” because it was written all over their faces.

We let the kids cool off in a little creek and then began the steep descent down the mountain. Grant and Emily were rough-housing and jostling each other for first place and nearly knocked each other off a cliff, which put my new friend in the awkward position of reprimanding kids she just met. Alli, for once an innocent party, assumed that she was in trouble, and starting yelling and crying about the injustice of getting in trouble when it wasn’t her fault. She cried the rest of the way down the mountain. Poor Katie, who still needed to use the restroom, was trying to walk down the trail with her legs crossed. When we stopped for a rest, I saw her face go in panic mode and then a very large trail of fluid dampen the trail. Grant saw that she had an accident and realized he too had to use the bathroom. Always with a flair for the dramatic, he screamed and cried the remaining ½ mile, holding himself and yelling, “Can we go a little faster. I have to go SO bad.” Talk about embarrassing. I wanted to melt into the trail, except I was unavoidable with my ginormous stroller and the clear resemblance to the 7 kids that preceded me.

Poor Allison had to quicken the pace to accommodate my distraught son and when we got closer to the lodge, I got stuck in a pedestrian traffic jam and got separated from all of our crew. A man behind me saw me trying to turn the stroller onto one wheel to squeeze through the crowd and started bellowing in his very loud and deep voice, “Woman with a very large buggy coming through. Make way for the lady with the big stroller.” I now know how Moses felt when the Red Sea parted.

I arrived at the lodge, sweaty, irritated, on the verge of tears and more embarrassed than I have been in years. Found Allison at the bathroom with the other 7 kids I brought along and said, “If you NEVER want to do anything with me again, I will totally understand, because at this point, I never want to do anything with me again either.” We both looked at each other, and in that instant started laughing. She whispered, “I’ll treat everyone to ice cream if it’s okay with you.” I thought momentarily about how I swore to Alli that she would get ice cream “over my dead body” because of her behavior, than looked at Allison, and said, “That sounds great.”

Solomon knew what he was talking about when he penned Proverbs 15:23, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word,” and in Proverbs 17:23, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Allison’s timely response and our ability to laugh at the catastrophe of the afternoon changed the whole tone of our remaining time together. We both giggled as we watched all 8 kids, crammed on a bench, eating their ice cream as fast as they could, trying to beat the 90 degree heat that melted it as fast as they could consume it. I soaked in all the open-stares and sideways smiles from travelers as they observed our tranquil and good looking group of ice cream eaters and thought to myself, “If they only knew…”


  1. Jodi, there is so much to comment on in this post. First of all, are you CRAZY for inviting two other kids to join you for hours and hours?! I can barely handle my own 3 and I can't imagine inviting two more to come under my care! I'm so sorry that all of your kids had their moments and that your stroller was causing you so much trouble! That's hilarious about the guy yelling to help you out. Allison sounds lovely, I'm sure you guys will have lots of fun together in the weeks to come. BTW, did you get Skype yet? Let me know if you need help. --Faith

  2. HEY! I LOVE the picture of you and all of the kids with the funny faces (and Katie trying to figure out the funny faces) and Grant holding that girls hand. HA HA! CUTE!

  3. hey! Well I first just looked at the pictures and NOW I read the blog. It was HILARIOUS. I read it outloud to Maika. I kinda know what you were going through from all of my adventures with my ten kids, although they aren't as young as yours so its a bit easier. Its true, we can choose to laugh or cry- I'm glad your new friend made you laugh. HA! I think I should choose the laughing option more often. Thanks for sharing! And your writing, as always, was facinating and entertaining. !