With our Toyota Venza tightly packed with luggage, boxes of organic produce from a recent co-op order, a power saw, and a myriad of tools, we prepared for an early morning departure. Our kids, recently back    from living abroad, had returned to their home. Six years of renters had taken its toll and their house needed some TLC. Happy to answer their call for assistance in preparing their place to feel like home again, we began our three-day trek from South Texas to Northern Virginia.

It was nice of them to choose my favorite season to move back to the States! The leaves, just beginning their remarkable transformation, already flaunted dazzling shades of golds, oranges, and crimson. Our lackluster South Texas autumns couldn’t compete with this show of brilliant colors, still two weeks from its peak performance. Stuck in the car for hours and hours each day, uninterrupted by the distractions of daily living, I had hoped to get a lot of writing done. But the beauty of the drive hijacked my attention for much of the drive.

As we pulled up to their house, four kids, squealing with delight, madly dashed out the front door. They practically knocked us down as we got out of the car. What a nice feeling to be greeted with such gusto! I found myself wondering if that nice feeling may wane just a little after ten days together with five kids, four adults, and a dog under one roof.

Nope, don’t think about it! Just decide now to lower idealistic expectations of that perfect week where all continually find delight in the presence of the other.

Living in China and Colombia had been an adventure for our daughter’s family. It’s remarkable how quickly deep bonds develop in relationships among temporarily displaced expats. Employed in their own countries’ foreign services, families, homesick and eager for connections, instantly gravitate toward each other. We had experienced this same phenomenon during our years in Vienna, Austria. Our grandkids, sorely missing their friends, spent time every day video chatting. The ability to just click a key on the computer and communicate face to face anywhere in the world still blows my mind.

As our kids prepared for this exciting adventure in foreign lands, there was no way of knowing how the next six years would forever impact their family.

In China they were asked by an American social worker from their church to temporarily foster a Chinese baby, abandoned on the street. They said yes. We all fell in love with that scrawny little baby boy with the big smile. The Chinese government, realizing the extent of his disabilities, decided he wasn’t a keeper. So, the “throw-away” baby came to be known as Hudson Taylor. God has richly blessed our family with an extra measure of joy in this special little guy, lovingly referred to by his brothers and sisters as Huddy Buddy.

Their dog Isa, a Colombian addition, arrived in Virginia soon after we did. After two days of being cooped up in a crate on an airplane, she was overjoyed at her new-found freedom in the great outdoors. They lived in high-rise apartments in both China and Colombia so  neither she nor the kids were able to leave their apartment without an adult escort.

We had put much thought into goals for the week, so we each knew well our individual roles, but with limited resources, I was skeptical how much we could actually expect to accomplish. Due to delay of their shipment of household goods from Colombia, resourcefulness would definitely need to be employed. After the first day, I was impressed by a sense of organization, even in the midst of bedlam. This “organized chaos” had brief frantic moments that caused fleeting flashes of:

 Whatever were you thinking when you said yes?!

After the calming effects of a cup of tea, I reminded myself:

What in the world do you expect with five kids and a dog, running in and out of the house, dodging packing boxes and piles of items longing for a permanent home.

I, Nana, took on the role of chief cook & bottle washer. Since there would be few kitchen accessories, I had ordered from Amazon a round carbon steel paella pan, large enough for one meal dinners (chicken pot pie, lasagna, etc.) to feed all nine of us, plus an occasional visitor or two. At times, it seemed like a never-ending job. I had just finished cleaning up from one meal, and it was time to begin preparations for the next one! But, thankfully, I loved the challenge and the fun of it.

Pop commenced to a’ sawing & a’ hammering. His saw horses provided legs for a large piece of plywood on which he sat his compound miter saw. The screened back porch housed all the tools. The boys, showing interest in the building projects, were given scraps of wood, an electric drill, and screws to create their own masterpiece designs. Thankfully, this kept them busy for hours at a time.

An acre of land to accommodate a garden and wide-open outdoor play spaces took priority over a more spacious house. Simple beds and desks needed to be designed and constructed to maximize space in the small rooms. Our daughter, anxious to be part of the building projects, finished unpacking all the boxes from storage in just a few days. After minimal coaching from her dad and DIY instructions from Pinterest, she launched out on her own to build queen and double bed frames. I’m pretty sure she inherited her dad’s woodworking gene.

Our son-in-law  tackled the basement, painting the floor in preparation for the onslaught of storage boxes. On the nice days his attention was directed to the severely overgrown yard, now covered with a heavy layer of colorful leaves.

Each of the four older kids (ages 8-14) took turns tending their five-year-old special-needs brother: “Huddy duty”, as they affectionately dubbed it. I loved to watch as they smothered their little brother with attention, never complaining or looking at it as a chore. They absolutely adore him and he is always happy to be with them.

I treasured little snippets of daily time spent with each grandkid:

  • A long walk with Delaney, breathing in the crisp Fall air and admiring the beauty of God’s handiwork, while discussing important matters from the perspective of a twelve-year-old young lady.
  • Reading over and over Hudson’s favorite book to him, followed by a tickle session. This boy doesn’t talk, but his language of laughter had all within earshot in hysterics.
  • Special tea time with Aidyn, a budding young woman, about to turn fourteen. As we sipped the nectar of the gods (as she refers to it), she was eager to glean everything she could from my organic gardening experience. In the Spring she plans to build a deer-proof cage for her own garden. She researches the amount of produce it will take to feed a family of seven.
  • Watching Anderson and Sheppard, on the sofa, deeply engrossed in a book or movie, while Hudson lazily lounged on their laps. Often he became so relaxed he would fall asleep.

One excursion with all five kids, searching for a pumpkin patch we never found, stretched into an hour car ride. Somewhat embarrassed by my direction-impaired brain, I quietly prayed that the winding, scenic country road with the same name as one near their house would take us back to where we needed to be. Thank goodness, it did. I imagined their conversation with their parents after we left:

“We think Nana may be coming down with old-timers disease-she took a million wrong turns and couldn’t even find the pumpkin patch!”

More than happy to pose for a snapshot by the giant box of pumpkins in front of Walmart (not exactly the pumpkin picture I had in mind), they knew perfectly well that the reward for self-indulging their picture-happy Nana would be a special treat from inside the store.

Our grandiose goals, coupled with the chaos that goes hand in hand with a big move, could have easily created the perfect storm, but God’s blessings of patience, understanding, and ability to overlook things turned that impending storm into a joyful event. Visits with friends and relatives, sandwiched in between our busy days working on house projects and late evening rest and recovery periods, resulted in ten days that flew by.

We had fallen in love with the Northern Virginia area when we lived there for three years in the late nineties. Close bonds, formed in the church we attended, have continued over the years. In our short time living there, God beautifully arranged the union of two of our daughters with the special young men whom we now proudly call our sons-in-law.

We sadly said our goodbyes, not knowing when we would see each other again, and headed down I-66. My spirit, lifted by sweet family time and all that we had accomplished by working together, plus our excitement in anticipation of visits with other family and friends along the way, provided incentive to look forward, with less dread, to our long drive home. 

The beautiful drive to Virginia, combined with daily walks on quiet streets lined by lofty trees, radiantly clothed in their multicolored dress, impressed an unforgettable picture in my mind.

My soul, feeling peace, granted permission to focus on other matters, like writing, on the journey home. I must record my thoughts before they escape this “old-timer” brain!