The holiday season started with a whimper, not a bang. The whimper came from Jennifer, not Penelope, as we drove three hours to Montgomery for Thanksgiving dinner. Grandma Petrie and Grandma Padgett, husbands in tow, arrived at my brother’s home for dinner. Penelope was the star of show, coming as no surprise to Jenn and I. Both grandmothers had gift bags for Penelope. My brother pointed out “We never got gifts for Thanksgiving”. No, we did not. I suspect a lot of things that will be different for Penelope. When it comes right down to it, that’s fine with me.
Later that evening Jenn and I watched the greatest Thanksgiving movie of all time; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I’ve been waiting to watch it again for months. What better day than Thanksgiving?
Friday afternoon we met Stephanie and Charlie at Serenbe for a picnic lunch and stroll around the grounds. After bouncing on the trampoline we set off, passing the farmhouse and assorted animals along the way. It was a Sandra Boynton book come to life as we saw sheep, donkeys, horses, and chickens. As we passed each one we would ask “what does the sheep say?”
“What does the horse say?”
We took turns holding Penelope’s hand along the way. I would hang on for a while, then she would ask for mama. Jenn would hold her hand. Sometimes Charlie and other times Stephanie. When Charlie grabbed a stick Penelope got one too. It was the antithesis of the previous day. Instead of cooped up in a car nature surrounded us on what I suspect will be the last perfect day of sunshine and 70 degree weather we will have for the year.
In the woods at Serenbe a large tree-house with a tall wavy slide waits for wandering children. You know there’s something special about Serenbe when you see a place for children to play in the middle of the woods yet feel no hesitation about being there.
The slide was bigger than any Penelope had been down. She’s a naturally cautious child and I knew she wouldn’t go down on her own. I climbed the steps with her and asked if she wanted to go down. She shook her head no. “Do you wanna sit on daddy’s lap?.” Jennifer asked.
“Now you’re talking daddy” I could imagine her saying. I sat down and Penelope sat on my lap. I transformed into a human bobsled for one. Her trepidation may have lingered but she was now willing to brave the slide down.
Away we went. We reached the ground instantly. Whatever fear she had vanished as she immediately headed back to the stairs, insisting I follow her. We went up and down a few times until I felt my back could no longer take the sudden impact received after each descent. My back will howl in protest next time we go there, begging me to send Penelope down on her own.
More hiking, a stop for treats at the Blue Eyed Daisy and back to the car. For a few hours everything was right in the world. The only thing that could have made it better would be a pet-sitter and lodging at Serenbe for the evening. When we left I realized I hadn’t looked at my phone for hours. Disconnecting never felt so good.
It was the high point for my extended weekend (sorry mom, loved seeing you and the family but driving six hours on Thanksgiving was rough). Penelope and I spent Wednesday morning out running errands. After six months I’m not asking “OK, what do I do now with her?”. It’s coming naturally now. As we walked the trails at Serenbe she rarely wanted to let go of my hand. After a mile of hiking she lifted her arms up to me. She didn’t need to say a word. I handed our bag to Jenn and picked Penelope up, carrying her along, feeling the wisp of her silky hair on my cheek. In China I couldn’t carry her for ten minutes before I was begging Jenn to take her, the burn in my arms like a fire stoked by each pound of her frame. Now I can’t wait to pick her up. I feel as though I could cross mountains with her in my arms.
Our six month Gotcha Day anniversary is in two days. Nothing planned but time to reflect on how much our lives have changed. For the better.