It’s good to be back in the Midwest.

I planned this two-week visit a long time ago. With a deployed husband, I know the best thing is to stay busy. Travelling to spend time with family and friends is a high priority for me, especially as the Bean is such a jetsetter. By the time we land back in England, she will have flown on 14 flights in 14 months. (And here I was Googling how best to fly with a one-year-old; I should be the one writing blog posts about travelling with babies on international flights.)

The first day of two car rides, two flights, and a stopover in Iceland was long. It feels longer when it’s just you, two suitcases, two carry-on bags, and a baby in a backpack. But I forgot how much I enjoy seeing the Parent Tribe come out of the woodwork to offer words of encouragement, an open door, or even a sympathetic smile. I felt seasoned as a lone traveller with an infant and I felt prepared for just about any situation. I did add to my vagabond’s pack a travel potty for the Bean, one that sits on top of an adult toilet. It got some looks, but mostly admiration. I’m not trying to force my daughter to toilet train, but she has been all about it since I sat her on her own little toilet at six months. Fewer diapers, less mess; it’s a win-win situation, even if I have to lug around some extra equipment.

When we finally got home, it was nearly one o’clock England time. Baby Girl hadn’t slept as well on the second flight (6+ hours) as I’d hoped, so she was pooped and cranky. I got her settled down, in her crib, and asleep within the hour. It being autumn in Minnesota, the weather was unpredictable. It was very hot. And humid. And so she didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning and eventually waking up a few hours later. I stumbled to her room, still half-drunk from exhaustion, and put her in bed with me, something I have only done a handful of times. She fell asleep and stayed mostly asleep until we got up around eight o’clock Minnesota time. (Bear in mind, this is now well into the afternoon in British time.) But from then on, with a few nights of slightly later bedtimes, she was adjusted. Brilliant.

Of course, I immediately picked up a cold which I’ve been fighting the whole time, so now I’m the snotty monster mouth-breathing through the night. Maybe it’s the change in scenery, maybe it’s the change in temperature, maybe it’s the stress of travelling, but it does kind of suck to be on vacation and not feel rested and relaxed as fully as I should. Cue my mother, who has taken care of me and my daughter as often as she can, so that’s been really nice. Plus, she gets some good one-on-one time with her granddaughter, so it works out for everyone.

My sister flew in a few days after me and we were able to celebrate a belated birthday for my mom. We spent the majority of the day at my parents’ friend’s farm and man, did my daughter love watching the pigs and the turkeys. Great sounds, great smells, and lots of movement. My sister, dad, and I went on a two-hour horseback ride through the 200+ acre farm, just moseying along at a walk, looking at the cows, bison, and fields along the way. The September afternoon was nearly perfect, with temperatures in the mid-70s, a light breeze, and a few clouds. I hadn’t ridden in ages and it felt so good to be back in a saddle. Never mind that the saddle (and horse) were currently the preferred ride of the resident eleven-year-old granddaughter. (That’s right, I’m short.) That ride made me miss having a horse, and land, and the freedom that comes with both.

My sister and I drove down to the Twin Cities the next day to visit with some old high school and college classmates and have dinner with them and their kids, which Beaner thought was the most interesting thing on earth. Four kids, three dogs, and seven adults, plus a killer set of stairs to climb up again and again. She slept well that night. Two days later, I borrowed my dad’s car and drove my sister to the Cities. We had dinner and a catch-up with one of our mutual friends from our college years (totally try pepperoni, jalapeno, and honey pizza). I had planned a long weekend with an old NROTC classmate of mine who lives just outside Madison, Wisconsin, so I continued on with the Bean.

I essentially hadn’t been back to Madison since I graduated college in 2006. I mean, there was my friend’s wedding and a lunch during a layover at the airport, but nothing long. I had hoped there was a train from the Cities to my old stomping grounds, but this being America, there was not. As a parent to a one-year-old, I tried the ol’ dinner-and-then-put-you-to-sleep-in-the-car routine. After we left the Cities, she slept like a log for the first hour and a half. Great, I thought, it’s working! And then she woke up. And stayed up. And so I thought, you know, I am the master of my own schedule. So, I stopped for the night in Eau Claire, almost exactly halfway through, and we had a pleasant night.

Madison was awesome. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that place until I came back. The gorgeous weather helped, uncharacteristically warm for late September, and also that my friends had a huge house with everything the Bean and I would need for our stay. They have an almost-three-year-old, so all of his old stuff (crib, bath toys, games and books) were on offer for us. We went apple-picking one afternoon, had a lazy Sunday playing inside for another, and explored the University of Wisconsin all day Monday. That day included visiting my friend’s Army unit and sitting in a Mike model Blackhawk, crashing my old NROTC unit and feeling old because I outranked the senior Marine there (literally nothing had changed except for a bigger gym downstairs, fresh paint on the floor, better IT connections, and that the steam/heat system actually worked), having a sip of my favorite beer as a college student (New Glarus – Spotted Cow), eating cheese curds, buying some Bucky gear, walking along State Street, walking along Lake Mendota and the Memorial Union, and drinking hipster-friendly coffee. I was amazed at how much had changed, but also at how much had stayed the same. I’d never had such a strong feeling of nostalgia wash over me as in those four hours. It made me really contemplate someday coming back and teaching at UW-Madison. One day. Maybe. There’s still those frigid winters to consider.

I was also able to have lunch and coffee with my friend, Chaplain Jen. We met in Afghanistan on my second deployment and, since we’re both Minnesotans, instantly hit it off. Her Navy Doc husband died a few years ago after having a freak heart attack while out running. He was only 40. They hadn’t been married long and had a newborn son. Jen went from mom to widow within six months. But, being a Midwesterner and a chaplain, she has been very vocal about her experiences, her heartache and pain, and her joys of remembering the amazing times she had with her husband. We talked a lot about kids (her son is now four), the military, and what comes next in life. I told her one of the best decisions I made was transferring to the Reserves so I could add more “life” to my work-life balance. That’s her next move. She’s looking forward to being closer to her family, spending more time with her son, and generally having more time to herself. It was a fantastic visit that ended too soon.

On the drive back, I decided to split the trip the same way I had come down. It was a good decision because as I was setting up the crib in the same Eau Claire hotel, it started to downpour. There had been glorious heat lightning for the last hour on the road, so I knew it was coming. And even something that simple – heat lightning – was very Midwestern; England doesn’t usually get it. I felt like I had seen a friend I hadn’t known I missed until that moment and it made me happy. Beaner didn’t sleep will that night, crying for a long time in her crib until I picked her up and just gave her a long cuddle in the chair in the corner until she fell asleep. I’m usually not like that, preferring her to put herself to sleep, but I realized we had been on the move a lot, we had driven a few hours that night, and she really wanted some mommy time. Of course, she woke up and started crying again when I put her back in her crib, but she fell asleep a few minutes later. She is starting to get a bit more clingy and that’s not going to bode well for me since my husband is deployed and can’t share in the parenting duties right now, but even with this new needy side, Beaner’s still a pretty easy kid. I can’t complain.

Now that we’re back in Minnesota for the last days of our stay, I’m trying to squeeze in the few remaining items on my list. I visited with a high school classmate who’s due in three weeks with her first, and it was really nice to be able to answer some of her questions as a soon-to-be-mom. I’m planning on a hike in a nearby nature reserve with my mom and dad (and Beaner in a backpack, of course). I need to stop by the Department of Motor Vehicles and change out my current driver’s license for a Minnesota one. I need to send my Madison friend’s sunglasses back to him. And I think we’re going to try carving an early Halloween pumpkin. Hopefully, my daughter won’t cry this year.

There’s nothing quite like knowing where you’re from and how that’s shaped the person you’ve become. I have always strongly identified with the Midwest, but it was nice to sink my teeth back into the area, reconnect with my roots, and generally come out thankful that that’s where I called home for so long. You betcha.

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