A Family Gathering
When families travel to a distant city for a major event, stories worth telling will develop. Whether it’s a wedding, funeral, reunion, graduation, birth of a new baby, or other large party, family members are bound to interact, clash, fight, cry, lie, scream, laugh, gossip and many combinations of those. There is nearly a feeling of dread when we see an invitation to a large, distant event arrive in the mail. I considered skipping my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah in Atlanta in order to avoid expensive, stressful travel and the imminent family drama. I expected my sons to resist going, but it turned out they were enthusiastic.
They are 18 and 20 years old and I thought traveling with their disabled mom to Atlanta to attend family parties would be the last thing they would want. They surprised me.
The trip planning was only a tiny bit stressful. It was fairly easy to make the plans myself since my sons had no interest in planning, they just wanted to party. Of course, they didn’t want to spend any of their money on the trip, so I spent a small fortune on airline tickets, and a hotel room for them. A cousin from Las Vegas wanted to split a room with me so we saved a little bit there. I wasn’t sure about wanting to share a room wth her because I find she is a little more into drama than I care to be around.
Texting with her to make the reservation brought out her [gossip] about the host cousin’s point of view with regard to his deceased sister’s widower’s plans to attend with his new girlfriend. She had “heard” that he never wanted to meet any girlfriends going forward, despite his sister being gone for over three years. She thought it might be “interesting”. I ignored these comments and just made sure we had a room at the hotel. It was a 2 night stay as there was a shabbat dinner Friday night, the Bar Mitvah Saturday morning followed by a luncheon, and a breakfast Sunday morning. She had mentioned that she was planning to rent a car and would be able to cart us around to the various events over the weekend.
I planned on only attending through Saturday, and made a reservation for an 11:00 AM flight home on Sunday. I figured I would be worn out from traveling and being away from home as these things are a bit more challenging for me with my disability.
I told my cousin that we would not attend the breakfast, and he wanted to know if I could switch to a later flight. [Clash]This was not an unreasonable question, but I felt put upon since I was already spending a fortune on a weekend trip and taking on the difficult travel so I told him my sons would be anxious to get home on Sunday. (white lie)
While I was initially unenthusiastic about going on this trip, it was surprisingly more fun and rewarding than I expected.
The fun started before we even left with my asking my sons to prepare to pack throughout the week before. I reminded them what they would need to wear for the various events. I mistakenly assumed they would know they would need some kind of suitcase. My reminders were met with typical 20 year old boy responses: “Leave me alone, Mom”. So, I decided to keep my mouth shut and let them figure it all out by themselves. I knew they heard everything I said whether they acted on it or not.
We had numerous discussions about how early we would have to get to the airport for an 11:00 AM flight. I dictated an 8:30 departure from home.
Fast forward to the day of departure and as I’m getting out of the shower, 19 year old Adam knocks on the bathroom door and asks me if we have any suitcases. Hmm. I remain calm. I get dressed and finished getting ready to leave. I tell him to look in the basement.
Now I’m ready to go and he comes upstairs and asks me if I have room in my suitcase. I asked him “room for what”? He wanted to pack his clothes in my tiny weekender bag. I told him I had no room. My next logical question was about the suitcases in the basement. His response was that he found one but it had a bong in it so when he moved it the bong water spilled into the bag, and he didn’t think it would be a good idea to bring a bong water soaked bag to the airport.
Of course, I reminded him that he told me to leave him alone about preparing for the trip ahead of time. I said, “I’m only going to say this once…”. He acted like he didn’t understand how finding a bong soaked suitcase a few days earlier would have helped. I expended the energy to explain, and gave him my overnight bag to use for this trip. In hindsight, I regret not handing him a plastic trash bag. I was becoming anxious about getting to the airport on time.
Ah, the airport. Always a rush, in every sense of the word. Disabled travel means allowing a lot of extra time. Even so, there is more waiting than you can allow time for. One perk of being handicapped is being able to park in the short term parking lot and pay long term rates. It was an “intense” ride to the airport as my 21 year old son is always in a hurry whether the situation warrants it or not. He is a very good driver, if ever over the speed limit. We arrived within the suggested two hour advance time window.
We were able to park as close to the entrance as possible since the indoor parking garages have been closed since 9/11. My sons hopped out of the car and took off at a brisk pace for the doors with our luggage. I’ve been limping since before Adam was born and Sam was 2. I am still not used to looking at my family members’ backs when we walk places together. It was a bit of a struggle for them to wait for me to catch up, but somehow we arrived at the check in counter together. If there is a mobility challenge, your flight leaves from the most distant gate.
Since the other members of my family are in a big hurry, and I don’t care to struggle more than necessary, I always make use of the airport’s “mobility assistants” who transport me efficiently in a wheelchair to the distant gate. I continue to entertain the erroneous belief that my wheelchair status will save an enormous amount of time due to the priority security line for the disabled. However, there is usually an inordinate amount of time spent waiting for the wheelchair to arrive to transport me so any gains are lost before we even start.
I enjoy making up stories in my head about the other travelers at the airport from the vantage point of my seat in a wheelchair. I like to maintain a sense of adventure even in hurried, stressful situations. If the airport is just one big drag, it’s interesting and exciting to be among so many people struggling to get somewhere for vacation, business or a distant visit with family. The arrival of my mobility assistant delayed our approach to the long security lines. Sam and Adam were annoyed. They ran ahead. There is always a sense of doubt about being reunited in an airport if you are separated. Too many opportunities for members of your party to get lost. I took a proactive approach to getting a mobility assistant by walking over to the sign that said “Assistance” with the universal handicapped symbol.
I think I caught up to Sam and Adam at security. Again, my expectation of speeding through the line was met with the usual delay related to screening the electronic device on my leg that helps me walk. I could pass for a terrorist with what appears to be a bomb on my leg, and maybe a gun in my cane. So, I am screened extra carefully eating away at any time saved by going through a priority screening line.
I thought of my intrepid 90 year old aunt who could not miss her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah making this same trip with her own mobility challenges. She was fortunate to have her grandaughters accompany her for travel. Her attendance of the weekend added a great deal of excitement because even at her advanced age, she can be the life of the party.
I impressed myself with my mastery of technology upon landing in Atlanta by being able to summon an Uber ride to the hotel without any help from my technology wiz kids.
My sister and her husband had driven to Atlanta with my niece. I opted to not rent a car because it appeared we would be able to take advantage of my sister or my cousins to drive us around town.
When my cousin from Las Vegas caught up to us at the hotel, she explained that she was unable to rent a car due to a credit card snafu at the last minute. She was also not able to get an Uber and had to spend an exhorbitant amount of money on a cab from the airport. The hotel had a shuttle bus to take us anywhere within 5 miles of the hotel. None of the events took place beyond this radius.
The first event was a Shabbat dinner at the clubhouse in the community where my cousin lives. It was a casual affair with a buffet dinner and open bar. It was at the start of the weekend when I sat back and observed how handsome and engaging my adult sons had become. They were very well dressed, and engaged in intelligent conversations about their lives with many new adult acquaintances. They weren’t kids anymore. I was proud of them and relaxed about leaving them to their own devices as far as getting around town all weekend. I knew I didn’t have to do any hand holding, and they could certainly figure out how to get back to the hotel on the bus if they needed to. I had no need to comment that they were barely old enough to be served alcohol as I watched them both drink beer. No one was driving, and it was a big party.
My young niece commented that her younger brother who has autism would not be able to figure out how to get around for himself. I spend a good deal of brain time in a state of perpetual gratitude so I discussed my appreciation for my sons’ independence with her. They also made me proud when they used their lifelong experience with having a disabled mom to help my 90 year old aunt get out of the car on a steep incline and helped her walk down the hill to the venue.
Hanging around the hotel was made much more interesting by virtue of the fact that there was a weekend long beauty pageant for toddlers ages 0–6. Yes, you read that right. Even infants in car seats were wearing make up and wigs in their formal attire. The ambulatory toddlers were particularly creepy looking waltzing around in high heels and ball gowns with full make up and wigs.
We couldn’t help but wonder why the parents of these children were spending so much of their disposable income objectifying and sexualizing their children. What was the perceived benefit and for whom? Was it for the children, or were the parents living vicariously through their babies? Throughout the weekend, we had a sense of walking through the hallways in the film “The Shining” that were haunted by creepy young girls around every turn. It did make for some interesting conversations with the pageant entrants and their parents.
The Bar Mitzvah itself was on Saturday morning in temple. Once more, I was agog at how cute my sons looked wearing their yarmulkes. I thought they would be fidgety and bored, but they surprised me again with their genuine interest. Adam is a photographer so he took advantage of the many photo opportunities.
There was quite a stir before the start of the ceremony about my aunt’s ability to walk up the 3 steps to participate with everyone discussing whether she should walk up the wheelchair ramp instead or who would assist her up and down the steps. She is too stubborn to listen to anyone doubting her confidence. She insisted she could do the steps and did just fine.
At the conclusion of the Bar Mitzvah there was a low buzz among the family regarding the appropriateness of my cousin commenting “what she said” after his wife made a touching speech about being the parents of a Bar Mitzvah. Personally, I was appalled that he didn’t string a few sentences of his own together to say as the kid’s father. His wife is a bossy event planner, and the impression was she orchestrated his silence.
The theme for the weekend seemed to be “when do we eat?” as there was one feast after another all weekend long. There was an informal lunch in the temple after the ceremony. The big party was Saturday night.
I have been to a few Bar Mitzvah receptions that were more like wedding receptions with a few hundred people and a ton of money spent on flowers, food and entertainment.
My cousin had a reception that was more tailored to 13 year olds which was refreshing since it was supposed to be in honor of the Bar Mitzvah and his friends. The theme was “Get Ready to Glow” with glow in the dark party favors, black lights, a DJ and young dance leaders. Even with my lameness, I was one of the first to get up and dance with the young dance leaders. I made a point to dance with my aunt.
Sam and Adam made me proud as they worked the room like professional photographers with Sam following Adam with the flash that he pointed at the wonderful shots they made of this rare gathering of family.
It seemed like the table I was seated at was for the adults who were the unattached “leftovers”. My niece was divorced as was my cousin from Las Vegas. I am separated so I was by myself. There was a single man seated with us who said he grew up with the host cousin. I got the impression that he might have been newly single because he seemed to be trying it on for size by acting extra friendly with the three single women at the table. Pure conjecture on my part.
I went home on Sunday with a heart full of fun memories of events that could never be recreated. It also made me pause thinking about my initial hesitation about going to this awesome family gathering. This is the stuff of life. Just buck up, and GO.