Rock n' Roll Lullaby

Kev and I just finished dinner and are heading back to where my parents are watching Connor. Our car crosses the rumbly threshold between land and bridge, and we ascend the Belleair Causeway, a bridge arching over the strip of water that carves space between the Gulf beaches and the rest of the peninsula that borders Tampa Bay. We're staying a little ways south in a town called Indian Shores, my parents' residence for almost twenty years. As we approach the beaches and dusk, the car radio is blasting "Carry On My Wayward Son." Crossing the apex of the bridge, I see the little remaining sun glitter on the water, and the buildings seem small enough to fit in my arms. Our brief height coupled with the tang of the guitar chords evokes that expansive, warm-fuzzy feeling characteristic of epic moments, like the end of The Breakfast Club or whenever I hear Boston's "More than a Feeling." 

But rather than these, my mind is taken back to the last time I heard this particular anthem. I was in my in-laws' guest bedroom a month prior; the sun had set long before and the blinds were up. Kev was wrangling our 19 month old on the changing table post bath. Still in his diaper, Connor stood up and leaned toward the window. "Dark," he said, pointing and nodding his head. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he started jumping from foot to foot. "Music!" he squeaked. Sure enough, a full orchestration of "Carry On My Wayward Son" was drifting from the nearby high school football field where the local marching band had started their first practice of the season. Instead of feeling the melodic swell pull me into rock n' roll ecstasy, I was engulfed in the smallness of it—the silhouette of boy against the darkened window, the man who held him, the stillness present despite the song. 

From the small-town Michigan marching band to the Southern edge of the States, the connection seems palpable. Tracing the lip of the Gulf of Mexico in our car with what feels like a personalized soundtrack is the same breed of energizing that motivates people to run in the mornings—when everything and everywhere feels possible. Everywhere is possible right now. The place where we'll land had not been determined. In the meantime, we'll try Michigan, Florida, Illinois, France, England, Ireland. It's all there. And I do feel this drive to move, to explore, to embrace fully, but my caveat is the boy in the bedroom, the rotating rooms we're calling home during this time of travel. 

I may be in different States, on different continents, or speaking a different language, but the boy is still in the bedroom in each one of them. He need to put on his pajamas, to hear a story, a song, and be put to bed. This, this is what home feels like. It doesn't matter where it happens as much as that it does happen. Tonight, he'll wait to fall asleep until these rituals are followed and he's safe in my arms. "Carry on my wayward son, there'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don't you cry no more."

The last rays of the sun have given way to coral skies and shadowed streaks of cloud. We reach dry land and head for home.



Self-Preservation in Southwest Michigan


If the sand that hugs the southeast tail of Lake Michigan is coarse, brown sugar, then the broadside of western Florida is dusted with Turkish coffee. The imperceptibly fine white powder settles in the creases of your clothes and clings to the bottoms of your feet even after you believe you've rinsed them off. Being back here at my parents' condo building has slowed time. A week here feels like a month of rolling waves and measuring the weather by the wind across the water. We rented a unit on the ground floor that opens up to the beach. Looking up from the pool deck—both my early morning work space and my balcony—I see four huge ospreys carving wide interlocking circles in the sky. After a few moments, they spin away from each other and fly in the four directions of the compass to parts unknown. 

After we finished our move at the end of July, we spent a few weeks in Michigan with my in-laws. At the end of August, Kev's family did as they have done for years and spent a week together as a family in a cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan. We were in Michiana this time, in a four-bedroom house big enough to accommodate four couples, one toddler, and two large dogs. Our room was near the front door, and we'd step outside and see the green edge of the high bluff fall away to the hidden shore below. 

When you merge the habits and culture of four families under one roof, the regular cadence of the day dissolves into some new melody, some new recipe. Last year the family worked together to maintain an almost entirely gluten-free kitchen for me. This year was the same, with a few traditional poppy seed bagels, apple crisp, tarts, and loaves of bread. Over the course of the week, the standards slackened with expectations. The dinners were carefully prepared to be safe for me, but hands that held whole wheat sandwiches during lunch rummaged through once gluten-free chips and pretzels, across cheeses and lunchmeat, depositing crumbs unknowingly across the house in corners and jam jars.

It's a lot to ask for six people unaccustomed to being aware of cross contamination to change (I excluded Kev; he's already on this and even said that we see the house through some gluten-blacklight eyes—aware of the microscopic crumbs we try so hard to avoid.) My anxiety that week was probably worse than any reaction. I hadn't lived in such a gluten-heavy zone for a long time. My mother-in-law had been very diligent in their house about quarantining the gluten so that I felt very safe. This was new for me. The moment I remember most was standing in the dining room—the corner of which had become home to contraband pastries—and watching as four family members took turns at a huge tray of cheese danish, each gliding away with a hunk of the delicacy in their hands. They each spiraled to a different part of the house, moving past me to reach the living room, across me to the kitchen, on my left to the other bedrooms. I was being circled by sharks, and I stood rooted until they ventured elsewhere. 

I resorted to buying new groceries and keeping the nonperishables in my room and the fridge food in labeled, sealed off tupperware. And my mother-in-law made me a gluten-free peach cobbler of my own. This felt like my first travel challenge with celiac disease. When it comes to confrontation about my condition, I struggle to find the words—and the approach—that convey what I need them to convey: compassion, understanding, education about cross contamination, without that streak of insecurity that comes across as attacking or patronizing. This is difficult, because this whole gluten thing is emotionally charged for me. I hate "making a fuss" or "rocking the boat," but I have to if I'm going to eat safely during this travel adventure. And this is family—no one wants to get me sick. The intentions are good. And they are good with most people, even strangers. 

 View from the back of my in-laws' new house.

View from the back of my in-laws' new house.

At the end of Lake Week, we returned to my in-laws' house in Ann Arbor for the final throes of their move to a nearby town in Michigan. So once again, we packed up a home (though I mostly wrangled my son to keep him out of the way) and moved. The new house was burgeoning with boxes by the afternoon and we began another couple weeks' span of settling in. By mid September, we were saying good-byes and boarding a plane to Tampa. It was hard to leave my in-laws; they had helped us, helped me, feel at home. We'll see them again in a few months, but for now, it's Autumn, changing leaves on sandy beaches and planning where we'll stay in the next few months. And it's great, so great, to see my parents. And here, given my father's celiac disease, all of the food is safe—mostly.