My brother and I were mere lads when our parents decided to transplant their young family from the Midwest to northern California. Nestled between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevadas, they targeted Vacaville for its smaller town appeal. After three years on the south side of town, they traded their 15% interest rate for one closer to 10% and bought a place in a nicer north Vacaville neighborhood near better schools. Corner lot, swimming pool, space for an office—it met their needs at the time, and for the next 27 years that house on Cheyenne Drive would serve as a depository for many memories. I only lived there for 10 of those years, but those were formative years, so in a sense I’ll always live there. But I grew up and moved out, and when it was no longer my residence it became my retreat. Visit after visit, I’ve always pulled out of the driveway with the prospect of returning for the next holiday or long weekend. Until 2015. My dad is starting a new season in his life, so he will soon close the door on Cheyenne Drive and hand the key to someone else.
Childhood homes are time machines. They conjure up the past in particular. With the girls buckled in their carseats and the minivan packed up after Christmas 2014 in Vacaville, I took a quick timeout to meander down memory lane. I went back inside the house and moved from room to room within the walls of Cheyenne Drive. The family room is where—on sick days home from school—I occupied the couch and was a glutton for junk food and game shows. Years later it functioned as base camp for my mom’s battle with a much more grave illness. The kitchen was a frequent high school pit stop for my friends and me to consume vats of nacho cheese before jumping in the swimming pool. In the last few years it was equipped with a high chair, sippy cups, and baby wipes for three growing girls to munch snacks of their own. The living room was typically the spot where the Christmas tree would twinkle in the window as eager children circled it to investigate the shapes and sizes of various wrapped goodies. My brother and I appreciated early access to presents via our tradition of opening them on Christmas Eve; Naomi, Aria, and Juliet got to fill that same space with anticipation and joy. From childhood to adulthood, so much of it happened while I called Cheyenne Drive home. I built imaginary worlds with Legos. I was voted sixth grade president. I got cut from the team—a few of them actually. I played basketball in the backyard and home run derby in the front yard. I snuck out for a number of late-night sorties. Alas, it was finally time to head out for good.
I shut the front door behind me and donned my sunglasses—either it was bright outside or I was a little misty-eyed. Putting the minivan in drive and turning my thoughts back toward Escondido, I pulled out of the driveway one last time. The view of that house in the rear view mirror is one that I’ll frame and hang on the walls of my mind. Naomi Mariam (FIVE YEARS OLD!): You’re F I V E! The morning of your birthday, you ran out of your room to find the entire house decorated, and a brand new purple big girl bike (!) with ribbons, a basket, and a bell (just as you requested)! We picked up GrampBill and GG at the airport, headed straight to a big girl salon to cut and style your hair (you’ve been asking to cut your hair for months!). Then we all headed to the French Bakery to have a very special tea party with your Ama, Noelle, Hannaly, and Auntie Anjuli! You loved the dress Ama got you, you ran straight to the bathroom and changed into your fancy new blue tea party dress from Costco (just liked you asked for)! That afternoon we had a party with all of your friends. You were a darling hostess as you welcomed everyone, offered them snacks, and showed them to the craft table to paint homebaked Christmas ornaments. You should have seen your eyes when I walked outside with that giant stack of chocolate donut holes smothered in “Frozen” blue icing! You basked in the Birthday Song and so wishfully blew out your candles— all FIVE of them! It was a perfect sunny December day. Perfect, because you shined, all day long, you shined with your sweet delightful joy.
*You are asking so many questions, and you’re using new language and concepts all the time! This last month you caught my attention with “Hey mom! The Christmas tree is so posh. And I’m just chillin’ on the couch.” I stopped what I was doing, looked right at you, and we both giggled at your new posh vocabulary! You are so much fun! *You’re discovering so much and trying so many new things. You’ll eat almost anything these days. This month you tried Thai Panang curry for the first time. Your response: “Yum.” *One night as we neared bedtime, you got really confident and declared “I’m not scared anymore, cause God is with me!” *You conquered the monkey bars, Naomi! Aria and I both cheered proud-loud for you! And you were so proud of yourself. *You put on your Christmas dress and, immediately pretending to be Dorothy, you cheerfully sang— “We’re off to see the lizard, the wonderful lizard of Oz!” *In the midst of Christmas commercialism, you were so good at stressing “presents are nice, but people are more important than presents. I care more about people.” You are so darling. As we were playing with molding clay, it was your idea… “Aria! We should make things for people in Africa. They don’t have very much, and we can make them things and make them happy, cause they don’t have things like we do.” *GrampBill gave you a harmonica for Christmas. When he came in the room and found Aria playing with it, you told him “Aria really wanted a harmonica and she didn’t have one, so I gave mine to her.” GrampBill was so moved by your gesture, he went and got his fancy expensive harmonica and gave it to you. When GrampBill told me the story I started crying. You are such a kind and thoughtful girl, Naomi. *After we watched Idina Menzel sing an ear piercing rendition of “Let It Go” on New Year’s Eve, in the most adoring way you said, “I thought it was wonderful.” *When your Auntie Malina arrived from Hawaii, you ran up to her and said “I missed you so much! Let’s go sit on the couch together and talk about how much we missed each other!” *One night in the bath you hit one of your sisters. Daddy grabbed your hand and gave it a good slap. You looked right at Daddy with huge tears, “But Daddy, now you hurt me.” Your Daddy was stunned. You were right. This parenting thing is tricky. *You had your first ballet performance! Boy, did you shine. Not a bone in you was nervous. As the youngest in your class, you danced with your chest out, arms high, and one enormous smile. You stole the show with your confidence and exuding joy! Aria Ellen (3.5 years): Oh girl. You are full of personality. So fun to watch. These days, I love watching you run. You love to run. You are a fierce and explosive runner. See the picture above. In your pink tutu, you are about to bolt. You position your arms like in the cartoons — right elbow bent high behind you, left arm bent across your chest, fists tight— and GO! *Let me explain that big scar on the inside of your mouth. It happened at “Yellow Pole Park.” We had just arrived and you ran straight to the slide! As you were hurrying up some stairs, you tripped, and went face first into a stair edge. Your teeth went deep into the soft tissue of your upper lip. Blood everywhere. As always, you pulled it together quickly, and got back out there in full Aria. *You got another card from Papa in the mail (he loves sending you girls postcards with pictures of you!)… “Did the wind bring our cards here, Mama?” *One night you were sooo upset. I ran to your bedside. In huge tears — “I swallowed a monkey!!” I fell over in quiet laughter. Aria, you should know that when we clean out your ears, we call the ear wax “monkeys”. *You ate a hamburger!! This is a big deal. Little miss particular ate a hamburger. Mommy and Daddy love seeing you open your taste buds to new. As for ketchup, it’s on your plate almost every meal. *On a windy day, “Mommy! Eh so windy owsye, I awmos bwowed away! But I didn’t. I gaw insye kick.” (It’s so windy outside, I almost blew away! But I didn’t. I got inside quick.) *This story makes me laugh every time: Aria, you opened your Christmas gifts with big enthusiasm, then you saw what it was, a sticker book. You frowned, handed the gift back to GrampBill and said “This wah noh on my Christmas wist, no thanks.” *One of your favorite Christmas gifts was a ball. It was on your Christmas List, so it was acceptable to you. You were so happy about your ball you slept with it in your arms and cuddled with it all night. Juliet Mae (17 months): You are such a fun little girl. And that’s it exactly, you are quickly turning into a Little Girl! You hang with your sisters no problem, and if I were honest, I’d say they hang with you! You will not be left out, and most of the time you rule the roost. *Let’s talk about our drive to Vacaville. Everyone had a good attitude about it, but not you, Juliet. You hated the 9 hour drive to Vacaville. And because you hated it, Mommy and Daddy did too. Grumpy, grunting, discontent. It was a very long drive. *I believe we’ve mentioned your love for talking. Oh Juliet, you loved your Christmas present. We got you a Sesame Street smart phone! You held it to your ear and talked and talked. And then as clear as day Mommy and Daddy heard you say into your phone, “Is this Santa?” *You learned how to sing this month! I love hearing you experiment with your voice, holding out long notes and high notes. It’s one thing to hear your beautiful voice, it’s another to watch your face. It’s like you’re surprised to hear these sounds coming out of your mouth. You’re singing! Did I mention you sing loud? *You know how to sign “Please”, and it’s oh so cute when you do. *I’d say besides eating and sleeping, one of your favorite things to do is take a bath. You run to the bath. Nothing makes you smile more than splashing around in the bath with your sisters. During every bath, Daddy always asks “Who wants a vitamin?” That’s when your happiness explodes. But the funny part is you don’t eat your vitamin. You hold it so tightly between your thumb and index finger, dipping it over and over again into the water until it’s almost dissolved. Then, when it’s a small wet dissolved vitamin, that’s when you eat it. *One night, you were dry and out of the bath. Daddy had you in your diaper, but before he put your pajamas on, you ran… and dove into the bath! Maertz Family Memories: This month was a very big month. The first week of December is always the biggest, the grandest, the wow-est. GrampBill & GG visited to help celebrate Naomi’s FIFTH (!!!!!) birthday and help love on you girls during the Collective weekend. Mommy and Daddy had oodles of practices down at PLNU and the Flood offices. After a long Saturday setup, we rested and enjoyed a little escape at a boutique Gaslamp hotel (minus Todd’s drunk visitor at 3am!). Sunday’s Christmas Collective at the San Diego Convention Center, with about 6,000 in attendance, was so much more than this sentence could ever really capture. There were many memorable parts, but Mommy’s favorite part was during The First Noel. Mommy was singing the third verse and only one musician was playing to support my vocals. Just me and Daddy. And beautiful back story: It was only two nights earlier when your Daddy stepped up and offered to play the keys. I could see the doubt on faces. Your Daddy is the guitar player, he’s never played keys before. And these were not just any keys, these were fancy keys that required twisting and moving components to get the sound just right. Oh girls. I wish you could see the pride that jumped out of my chest that night. Your Daddy took all doubt and kicked it to the moon. He nailed it. To end the event right, Mommy and Daddy joined up with the Heinrichs and Whites at a nearby bar and raised a glass to another Christmas Concert DONE. *On Monday, the day after the Collective, we ordered Round Table Pizza and found out big news that made us both cry happy-shocking-relieving tears. *MOPS Christmas Party in my new Stitch Fix (tags attached!) sweater. *Karen’s snacks and craft night with Priscilla, Brooke, and Lauren. Tim and Joe drank beers and watched basketball at our house. *Digging and digging for a septic tank pump out. A very not interesting memory. *Bartons’ Housewarming Party! Music blasting, kids dancing, family and fun. *Mommy led worship at Hillsdale. *Christmas Collective musician after-party at Stone Brewery. *Enjoying many afternoon walks around our neighborhood, the views and the neighbors are sweet. *Naomi’s first ballet performance at Westminster’s Christmas service! Ama, Papa, Great Ama and Great Thom came to watch you! *Hours after your performance we loaded the car and drove to Vacaville! Swimming at GG’s, shopping at the outlets, eating out at Digger’s and Afghan food, visits with Mikalis and Creighton, Christmas with Kelyne’s family (you girls sang a darling “12 Days of Christmas” for everyone), drive to Candy Cane Lane, a perfect afternoon winter walk at Lagoon Valley, late night chats around the kitchen table with Melissa and Jim (it will take many more to redeem ourselves from a horrible prank!), trips to Alamo Creek Park — Mommy and Daddy took their marriage to new territory (a tennis court) and surprised themselves (and GrampBill!) with some very athletic tennis skills! On Saturday we drove home, a very long drive, and to only make matters worse, just as we were driving out of the infamous Grapevine looking for dinner, Aria threw up all over herself, the car, and Mommy. *The very next day, we joined up with ICF’s (International Christian Fellowship) Reunion, a coming “home” for so many of Mommy’s childhood “aunties”/”uncles” and now friends. Thai dinner at Eak’s Spice ‘n’ Rice in La Jolla! (On the drive home Aria threw up again.) The next evening everyone gathered at my parents’ house to prepare and cook 80 lbs of shrimp! We played music in the living room for hours, just like we did in my childhood, but this time, Naomi, you played and sang along too (with shockingly good tempo). For the final evening, we celebrated at EFCC with food, song, and powerful teaching from YoungTak, an international student I remember from when I was 7. There were many favorite moments from the reunion, but I got most teary eyed when we led “Welcome to the Family” on the final night. Maki (from Japan, was like an older brother to me during my early 20s) started singing the ICF song. And with many who had been a part of the worship team from almost every decade, we all sang it. Many of the students didn’t know each other because they all came to ICF over a span of 40 years. But the Maneevone family knew almost all of them. It was really incredible, girls. Your Ama and Papa have loved thousands of internationals over those 40 years, telling all of them about Jesus’ great love for them, and for a few days over one hundred of them came from near and far to be together again. *As for the big New Year’s Eve, we took a few family selfies before bedtime, and Mommy and Daddy watched the suspenseful, creative thriller A Most Wanted Man. Goodbye 2014!