The youngest, Charity, recently went abroad for a year on a Fulbright Fellowship. Before she left, my older sister and her husband were throwing her a going-away party. Unfortunately, it was being held at a time this Indiana contingent couldn't attend - we'd already made our summer trip back home, classes were getting ready to start, and there just wasn't any way I could justify driving my daughter all that way on my own for an evening party. I was trying to console myself in the fact that Charity had spent a week at my place this summer, and it's not like I'd never get to see her pretty face via Skype once she was gone. But there was a little bit of me that was disappointed. After all, we're all four of us close friends, and I was envious of the others all being able to get together when I was over seven hours away. Nevertheless, I put it from my mind. It's not like Charity would think I loved her any less because of my absence. In fact, she wouldn't expect me to be there because of the above points. So that's the way things stood.
Until the Saturday a week before her party.
That evening, I got a string of text messages from my brother-in-law. He wondered if, perchance, I would allow him to purchase an airline ticket for me to come home for the weekend as a surprise. He understood that we are all close and that this was the last opportunity to spend quality time together before Charity left, and was there any chance I could fly back? He'd even looked into potential flights and was tossing out times. If I would allow it, he really wanted to do this for us.
I was super excited. Eric, sitting next to me, was oblivious, so I started filling him in. I tried not to let my mind run away without first weighing whether or not this could happen. Since I'm still nursing, I needed to consider my options. It seemed like I ought to bring her along so that Eric could focus on his studies without distractions. I could certainly have Brennan fly on my lap, but would Chad be able to come into possession of a pack-and-play and convertible carseat? Those items would be too large for me to bring along solo. Plus, there were all the accoutrements that go along with traveling with a baby - toys, clothing backups, diapers, possibly the baby monitor. Add schlepping suitcases and a stroller, going through security and the like: was it crazy to even consider this trip? Then there are the logistics: could I be so lucky to have her nap in the baby carrier again, or had she outgrown that? Would she stand to be confined during the flights? She's pretty mellow, but she does have a will that she sees fit to exercise now and again.
Then Eric reminded me his parents were coming in town that same weekend for a baby fix. After Eric gave his blessing for me to go on a solo trip while leaving him and his parents with care of Brennan for the weekend, I booked my ticket before my brother-in-law could rescind his offer. I sent him the itinerary, which had me flying in Friday about when he would get off work.
Then Sunday morning, I get an email from my brother-in-law. In addition to flying me in, he was offering me a stipend to plan some sister activities for Saturday morning. As he suggested, manis/pedis, or whatever girls like to do; it was up to me to plan. He was offering a budget, and it was up to me to create some memories.
This was an attractive proposition. What should we do together? Sure, manicures and pedicures are decadent and relaxing, but we technically could pamper ourselves in our respective towns; we didn't all have to be together to indulge in nail care. I remembered some friends of mine who had gotten a sister photoshoot as a gift for their parents, and I dared to hope I could arrange something similar.
I wrote my favorite photographer, a friend from college who does it professionally on the side. She is based out of Iowa City (a couple hours from where I'd be staying), but she happened to be in the area for a wedding in the fall when we had her take Brennan's pictures for her birth announcement, so I thought it was worth a shot.
I was anxious as I waited for her response. What were the odds she was free? And if she was, would she even want to travel all that way for a photoshoot? If she was busy, I knew my chances were pretty slim that I could find: 1) a photographer that wasn't already booked at such late notice on a Saturday in August, and 2) someone that would fit in our budget.
Fortunately, she had plans to attend the Iowa State Fair that Saturday, and she was free that morning and more than happy to play a role in this weekend. I was ecstatic.
Chad and I were sending rapid-fire texts and emails as plans fell into place over the coming days (we tallied nearly 50 texts and maybe a dozen emails in under a week). He worked with Hope's fiance to make sure Hope would show up Saturday morning with the clothes she'd need (she works overnights and wouldn't have a chance to head home before our shoot). There was a chance of rain Saturday, so he let me know he had a key to his friend's photography studio. We were trying to manage every contingency.
I was anticipating my departure on Friday afternoon, and my co-workers and friends were anticipating the surprise with me. I even had trouble sleeping a couple nights as I was thinking about the surprise and how much I was looking forward to this time. I was like a little kid, getting impatient and hardly able to wait until the day came. Chad shared that he even made a secretary at work cry after he told her what he was planning. He, also, was getting excited for Heather's reaction.
Finally Friday came: I worked a partial day, and then Eric whisked me to the airport. I was getting a little emotional as I said goodbye to Brennan. This would be the longest I'd ever been away from her. I'd never been gone even six hours, and suddenly I was planning to be absent two nights.
|If we ever form a band, this is part of the cover art|
Flights were uneventful, Chad picked me up, and we were just waiting for Heather and Charity to return home (Charity stays with them when she is in town). Heather had an art opening at work that would keep her away until around 7 PM, and Chad had hinted to Charity that it had been a long week and he might like the house to himself when he got home from work so he could decompress (clever cover to get me inside unnoticed, no?).
The girls knew something was up (Chad was having trouble hiding his enthusiasm), but he tried to throw them off the track. He kept saying that he couldn't wait until Saturday, and that Heather's birthday gift was ordered and it looked like it would arrive in time for the weekend. As it was something he thought she would enjoy while Charity was still around, he was going to give it to her early.
Our plan was to have them open a card. Inside would be a picture of the gift - me! I would hide out in the loft until the appropriate time. My Kindle kept me company until Charity arrived home. I eavesdropped on her conversation with Chad (kind of a surreal experience), and then Heather arrived home. I took a video of the exchange - it's nothing special since I was trying to keep my cover, but I think it should get to play a part telling this story.
They were happily (and completely) surprised, and later Hope joined us for dinner. I announced our Saturday plans: a photoshoot followed by pedicures.
Saturday was amazing. It has been a long time since we four have been together with no other family around. We're talking years. As in I don't even remember when. Usually we can only swing three sisters together, and if all four are present, so are many other bodies.
There were so many stories and laughs and hilarious revelations. As you can see from all these pictures, we were smiling and laughing pretty much nonstop. I just got these proofs a couple days ago, and I've picked a number of my favorites from the 78 (!) images. I tend to be drawn to black and white shots, but I noticed I'm especially favoring the candid shots Mandy caught of us. It captures how we act when we get together and how much love we have for each other. I love that this goofiness and hilarity is memorialized in film.
The weekend passed in a whirlwind. Three weeks later, and I'm still so thankful I got to have such an experience. It was so much more than the price of a plane ticket and a photoshoot, and I trust that was apparent to anyone who saw us together. It was beyond special, and I'm still so amazed that Chad stumbled upon the idea at the last minute and decided to act on it. I'm also humbled that my visit was Heather's birthday present (and that she didn't find that wanting). I hope their souls were fed as much as mine was.