When our mom and stepdad packed up eight or nine years ago and moved from the only home we'd really ever known to the middle of nowhere in rural, central Arizona where they knew absolutely no one… let's just say it took my sister and I awhile to get used to. To me, my mom retiring after 30 years of teaching finally meant she'd become that mom and that Nana I never thought she wouldn't be: coming for open-ended visits or maybe even moving to be closer to me, being my eager and go-to babysitter, seeing my kids on a daily basis, hanging out with me on weekends, coming over for spur-of-the-moment meals. I think we thought she'd retire in the fold of our families and slip right in to our daily lives with no strings attached, something she never could have done while she worked and raised us as a single mom.
So instead, when she retired and left the state, I just couldn't figure it out. I still kinda can't. But nonetheless, the next chapter of our lives began. Mom started driving back and forth across the desert every month or two, spending a week with Corey in San Diego, a week with me in Santa Barbara, then returning to Arizona, establishing friends and a life for herself there, then repeating the process again. And we started visiting her, testing out the climate at various times of the year and finally settling on the week between Christmas and New Year's as our favorite.
I'm a sucker for tradition, and if nothing else, our visits to Camp Verde each year have become that. And a solid one. I now know where I'll be every year as the door closes on one year and opens on the next. I know I'll get to spend my sister's birthday with her every single year. I've gotten to experience things--and expose my kids to things--we probably wouldn't know too well without this place as part of our lives. Like seeing the Grand Canyon, the red rocks of Sedona and the pines up in Flagstaff; riding quads and exploring Indian ruins; climbing salt flats; feeding livestock from the palms of our hands; being part of (very) small town life. Or this year, waking up on New Year's Eve to a winter wonderland, making snowballs and snow angels, fishing on a lake surrounded by frozen ground.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this solitary week that comes but once a year is why Mom's move was meant to be. The whole family comes together, no one has an agenda, the kids are removed from their distractions at home, my work emails are routed to a co-worker and we're all just there, and present. And we have so much fun. Now don't get me wrong, I'd still trade it all for my mom to be my neighbor, but with every visit that comes and goes, and with the kids' unwavering anticipation for next year's adventure, I find myself sweeping aside some doubts and confusion, and settling in to this way of life more, and more… and more.