Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Onward and Eastward--Or the Day My Perspective Changed


I woke up Tuesday morning, June 26th, ready to walk around Arkansas, but it was so humid and so hot, even at 6 am, that I quickly abandoned that idea.

I wanted our trip across the country to have meaning to the kids, so each day I would plan one stop that would be fun or interesting.  After crossing Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, our scheduled stop was Birmingham, Alabama.

We pulled into downtown Birmingham around 4 pm, just in time to be sick of the car and need some time to run around.  My kids have grown up in a place where they are rarely exposed to the hate of racism, and I wanted them to understand what life used to be like and how far our country has come.

Birmingham was a center for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, including the racially motivated bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls. I explained to my children how much hate was behind this senseless act, and how it had taken place right here in this building.

We walked through the peace garden directly across the street, reading the plaques on the statues and talking about what life was like in the South during the 60s. 

We had the most interesting discussion in front of this statute.  Hyrum couldn't understand why the policeman would let his dog attack a young man.  When I told him it was because the young man was black, he stopped and thought about that statement for a minute, then he looked up at me and said, "Well, that's stupid."  Two ladies had been talking quietly behind us, but they stopped to listen to his reaction, then both quietly chuckled.  One woman told me that they were teachers from inner-city Baltimore, and they had taken a few weeks to interview kids at the peace park and record their reactions.  She said that most of the kids had reactions like Hyrum's. 

I was so glad we took the time to visit and talk about Birmingham and the Civil Rights' Movement.  I was so glad to hear that my kids are growing up knowing that all men are created equal in the sight of God.  And should be in the eyes of man.

Atlanta is only about two hours east of Birmingham, and as we approached, my excitement started bubbling over.  Ever since I was a young girl and read Gone With the Wind, I have wanted to visit Atlanta--the land of Scarlett O'Hara, Mammy, and Rhett Butler.  Before we left Arizona, I had plotted out all the things I wanted to do in our twelve hours in Atlanta--Aunt Pittypat's Porch (a restaurant), the Margaret Mitchell museum, the laser show at Stone Mountain, the Coca-Cola museum, and the Atlanta LDS temple.  I was pretty confident we could squeeze all of my dreams into that short amount of time.

We pulled into Atlanta right around 6:15 pm, and after circling the block where Aunt Pittypat's Porch was three times without seeing it, we found a parking spot about a quarter mile away.  Downtown Atlanta is congested with pedestrians, one-way traffic and many cyclists, and this was my first experience out in an unfamiliar place with all four of my stubborn, not-city-savvy kids.  I was so stressed out during the short walk to the restaurant, worrying that Hyrum or Evie would dart into traffic.  That stuff usually doesn't bug me, but it did in Atlanta. 

We made it to the restaurant without incident, but when we walked in and were told it was a thirty-minute wait, I was torn--do we stay and wait, or do we find fast food and move on?  Within five minutes, luckily we had been seated.  That's when I realized that I'd forgotten to feed the street meter.  Sigh.  Now what?  I knew I couldn't leave Lily in charge of all of the kids for even the short time I would be gone, because there's no way on this earth they would all listen to her.  I developed a plan:

We ordered our dinner, which included a buffet salad bar.  I helped Lily, Micah, and Evie get some food, then I buttered up Hyrum and told him I needed him to run with me to the car because he is my fastest runner.  I grabbed his hand, and we dashed across three intersections and around lazy pedestrians, only to find a ticket already on the windshield.  I paid the meter, dashed back around the pedestrians and through the intersections and back to our table in the restaurant, arriving before the food and before all the chaos hit.  Whew.  Still mad about the ticket, but it could have been a lot worse.

And this, my friends, was my dinner . . .

Salmon topped with onion rings and fried green tomatoes, all atop a bed of beans and rice.  It may have been the best food I've ever eaten in my entire life.  Not kidding. 

As we sat at dinner, I realized two things:  #1) I would never squeeze in all the things I wanted to do in Atlanta.  #2)  Why had I taken this vacation?  I had entertained high hopes of seeing all the antique stores and shops I desired, strolling through a few museums, finding a few treasures along the way.  This was the moment when I realized that this vacation needed to be about my kids, not about me.  That was the moment that I abandoned many of my dream destinations. 

They would never be obedient in the Margaret Mitchell museum because they would be bored to death.  They didn't want to go to Stone Mountain, even though it would be really cool.  I thought that I would be so disappointed abandoning my dreams for this trip.  On the contrary, it put my perspective in the right place.

What did they want to do?

They wanted to go back to the hotel and go swimming.
So that's what we did.
Even though we have a swimming pool in our back yard.
And it was the right thing to do.
Every night we were in a hotel, I pulled out the kids' journals, colorful tape, markers, and scissors, and they would write down the exciting things we had done or seen that day.  I hope these journals of our trip become valuable treasures to them when they are grown and only have lingering memories of our trip across the country.

Wednesday morning I awoke early and dressed for my walk.  I will never forget how I felt that morning, watching the sun rise over the red Georgia soil. 
 The sun began kissing the trees and the grass, and I was happy--happier than I'd been in weeks.  It was a joyful, peaceful moment.
 When I got back to the hotel, I walked around the back of the swimming pool, thinking I had seen a cemetery back there while the kids had been swimming the night before.

I wasn't disappointed.
 Many people find cemeteries creepy or weird.  I find them beautiful and sacred.  I spent another beautiful moment circling the yard, reading each stone and wondering about the lives these people had led--a few Confederate veterans, mostly husbands and wives, dearly loved by each other, sprinkled between with a few tiny stones marking the short walk in mortality of cherished and forever missed children.
 I knew it was time to face the trials of the hotel room, so I entered the room to find all my kids sleeping peacefully, ready to start our adventures for the day.

No Stone Mountain (I did drive right by the exit).  No Margaret Mitchell museum (I did see it out the car window).  No mom stuff today.  Today was a kid day.

We headed back to downtown Atlanta, passing the beautiful homes built in rebellion to Sherman's fires and Yankee Reconstruction.  How I wished I could stop and read every plaque and enter every door, bathing in the history.  But no.

Instead, we headed to the Coca-Cola Factory.

 We were not disappointed here, either.
 We saw the vault where they keep the secret formula--the boys thought that was cool.

 We were the first people through the door that morning, so I could let the kids run a little.  Evie thought that was cool.
 The best part of the factory is the upstairs, where they have an entire room of soda fountains--with flavors Coke distributes all over the world.
 They hand you a cup and let you drink as much soda as you want, taste as many flavors as you dare.
 Lily tricked us into trying a disgusting flavor from Djibouti (flavored with menthol, no less!).  And we weren't smart enough to learn, because Micah tricked us into a gross one from Italy.
 So many choices.  So many yummy flavors.
 That face says it all.
 Eve tried every pink flavor she could find.
 And as we left, they handed each child their own classic bottle of Coke.  What a great stop.  Since we were so early, there were no crowds and my kids had a blast.  I'm so glad we stopped there.

The Atlanta temple was on the way out of town, so we stopped for a quick potty break.
 And some wrestling.
 And a few photos. Can you believe how perfect they line up?
 Hyrum was lagging behind us all, when all of a sudden he runs up to me screaming, holding his thumb.  I asked him what happened, and he said, "I tried to pick up a yellow and black bug, but it bit me!"  Hi, Buddy.  Welcome to wasps.  I had to stifle my laughter in the face of his misery, but it was so funny!  A little Benadryl, and he was fine.
We also saw our first hydrangeas.  No, we can't grow these beauties in Arizona.  The kids loved them.
Then off we went, not even stopping in Tucker, Georgia.  We did try to snap a photo, but driving and photog-ing shouldn't mix.
As we left Georgia, a little wiser about yellow and black bugs, I sighed.  I didn't even miss the things I had wanted to do, because my kids were happy, and ready for two more days of driving.

And so was I.


  1. Love this. Good reminder for me...to let them enjoy, even when I have a different plan or dream in my head. Love that you took your morning walks. Love that you aren't creeped out by cemeteries. I used to love them as a little girl. As an adult they creep me out. Maybe I need to conquer that fear. :) We're heading to Disney via car over Spring Break. The Coke tour is a great idea!

  2. I love Hyrum's comment about the dog.
    And I love cemeteries, too.


    PS. Too bad H. had to learn the hard way about wasps...

  3. I enjoyed reading this and seeing the pictures very much. What a great trip, and you have the pictures to prove it. Well, you, Sue, and I should do a cemetery tour - since we're all fans!

  4. even though i wasn't along for the ride, i still feel like i just went on a mini vacay in reading your adventures! menthol soda sounds DISGUSTING!!!! and i'm so glad you got a few moments to your self along the way. the cemetery experience sounds sacred. thanks for sharing. i needed the little break from life. :) can't wait to hear more. ::hugs::

  5. So much fun... I loved learning in the South about Civil Rights. Very interesting.

  6. Looks like such a fun trip. Sorry you weren't able to do the antiquing you wanted or browsing but this will certainly be an unforgettable trip for your kids.

  7. I love the picture overload! I am fascinated by cemeteries too - I alway wander around reading the stones and wondering about the lives of the people buried there! Ken loves his little Coke bottle!

  8. Isn't it weird how sometimes when you give up on your dreams you feel a whole lot better. You are a wonderful mother Jenny.

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