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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

User-Friendly Family Reunions

Ours is not a close family. I’m not speaking in terms of love and affection, I’m referring to geographical distance. Trying to get all of us in one state, nation, or continent is not going to happen anytime soon. That’s why they call it an extended family–they’re extended, distended, and upended. And somehow we plan to visit as many as possible this fall to let them meet our cherished children.

Ours is the family that you won’t see in same-colored t-shirts, playing horseshoes, and eating fried chicken on picnic tables for several days straight in unbearable heat and humidity, clouds of mosquitoes or swarms of cockroaches greeting us in country cabins with broken screen windows, when we could be doing other perfectly fine activities, such as getting manicures, managing our portfolio, or relaxing at the country club. I’m not the least bit upset about missing the campfire true confessions hour, finding out which relative is having “problems”, who’s lost their job, who’s gained the most weight, or who makes the most money.

So our family tries to stay in touch, in order to avoid such extreme encounters. We do the Skype thing with those who desire to be in touch. For those who “vant to be alone”, we send a birthday card or holiday gift. I release the occasional silly family newsletter, but eventually, we really do have to make the trek to Mecca and see the folks, at least. If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, this mountain-sized family is going to have to visit the non-traveling grandparents. It’s going to happen in approximately four weeks’ time and I already I feel that we’re Counting Down to Disaster. Apocalypic-like images of Armaggedon flash through my mind.

As a personality that could be accurately labeled “Controller of the Universe”, I find it very difficult to plan for every eventuality. We’re talking four kids and a few grandparents. Assorted siblings have already found it necessary to schedule being out of town the very week we arrive. Have you ever gotten this certain nagging feeling…?

It will entail creative flight scheduling, such as flying to Spain to land in San Francisco, or going through Alaska to make it to Paris. I’m sure the traffic controllers and ticket agents know what they’re doing, but I’m still trying to figure out how many granola bars a family of six will need when traveling for 49.73 hours straight, to accomplish a trip that could be walked in, well, maybe 49.73 days straight. So, chin up, we are saving some time, here.

And supposedly money. But once you add fuel surcharges, airport taxes, 9/11 fees, landing fees, bathroom fees, and seatbelt fees, the costs add up. Take your initial ticket price and multiply times pi. There was some fine print that flotational devices and oxygen masks are extra. I figure if we fly over the ocean really fast, or really low, we’ll be okay.

Plus, we’ve been informed that our family has been selected to act out the pre-flight emergency exit routine with those special hand motions where you point down the aisle with two fingers and a thumb. The flight attendants are cutting back on their roles and focusing all of their attentions instead on those who dawdle when boarding, on those who deign to use the restrooms or ask for a snack, and on those who demand that three inches of overhead bin space should belong to their assigned seat and should be within ten rows of said seat.

Already my father is discussing driving directions from the distant airport. He’s convinced we’ll miss his house. Probably because I did once, heading over the mountains toward points unknown. I just kept driving up and up, there were waterfalls and then snow, and really nowhere to turn around, much less anywhere to phone. It was before mobile phones and I was on my own. But it’s okay, Dad has much more confidence in Benedetto. In the recesses of my father’s mind, I’m still ten years old and utterly incapable.

Which means when I come to visit, anything I might say or suggest is overridden by the grandparents. Hence, my anxiety. The first time I took Petya to visit, it was just he and I. My father and his Russian wife were overjoyed. The only instruction that I gave, pre-visit to Little Moscow, was to not feed my son any sugar. He was used to small meals, and no sugar.

Naturally, when we arrived we ate an imperial Russian-style feast of ten or fifteen courses, followed by cake and ice cream of gigantic proportions. I told them no, while they plied my son with more and more. They separated us and spoke with him in Russian off to the side. I feared they would lock me up and take away my passport.

The next day, he’s sicker than sick. He moans and groans with a bloated stomach. He literally cannot move. He lays on their couch, the beached whale.

I don’t want a repeat performance this time.

Benedetto’s mother is much more easy-going, probably because she can’t hear anything we’re saying. This has its benefits. Once highly opposed to the idea of international adoption, homeschooling, spirituality, or any number of things we happened to pursue, she is now one of our greatest fans. She believes that our kids are the cutest, sweetest, brightest beings on the face of the earth. Never mind that they don’t speak the same language, since she can’t hear them, anyway. One shy smile in her direction and a kiss on the cheek for Babushka, and she’s smitten. What’s not to love?

Since she can’t get around very much, we plan to take her out to small-town cafes, drop her right at the door, then Benedetto will park the car and explore with the kids while they make their way back to the cafe’. That means that I get to chit-chat with someone who has as many aches and pains as Starbucks has choices in drinks. It could be worse. My own mom is no longer among us, so we count our blessings.

I try to prepare the kids for the Russian side of the family and their lofty educational bar for the children. No doubt they will be asked to recite the times tables forward and backwards in Russian and in English, name every Russian writer, poet and composer in alphabetical order (the Cyrillic alphabet, that is), and sidestep prying inquiries as to what exactly they did to become orphans in the first place.

On the Italian side of the family, I prep the kids regarding various cheeses and pasta sauces. Parmesano is never placed on any seafood pasta or frutti di mare risotto, capisce? They practice their spaghetti-twirling skills, avoiding using a spoon like the peasants, and Mamma mia! never, ever a knife. Napkin in the lap, elbows off the table, sip the soup, stop monopolizing the conversation, and… enjoy! Jump on the plane to head to the next relative as we check them off like numbers on a bingo card.

At least we’ve been spared the picnic table pow-wows, stick-on nametags, and “Team Smith” t-shirts. We will reunite with relatives in our own way, but do it we will. Both Benedetto and I are down to one parent each, and idiosyncratic and eccentric though they may be, they’re all we’ve got. Whether inquisitions, irritations, or indigestion await, love conquers all. Time to pay them a visit.

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