At the beginning of March, I found myself really missing Emily. We had not seen her for two months, since the start of the winter quarter at the beginning of January. I was becoming more and more painfully aware of the length of our separation. I heard "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder on the radio and resolved then and there that I would drive up to see her on her birthday, March 3. I could leave in the morning, take her to lunch, and meet the boys at home at the end of their school day. I mentioned my plan to Al, who was unable to join me, and to Joey and Jack. To my surprise, they both said they wanted to come as well. They were both (not surprisingly) willing to leave school early and withstand a lot of drive time for the chance to spend a few hours with their sister.
The night before her birthday, the boys and I went to the mall to pick out some birthday gifts for Emily. As Emily loves fragrances, we headed first to the cosmetics department of Macy's. Within 60 seconds, both boys were rolling their eyes in horror to discover that I had not yet made a selection and that they were still surrounded by overly made-up women in a rainbow display of lab coats. I tried to solicit their participation in choosing a scent that Emily might like but they were completely unwilling to formulate an opinion. Joey kept visually scanning around the store, looking for familiar faces who might shamelessly broadcast his whereabouts. Spying a Foot Locker store just outside the mall door, he and Jack beat a hasty retreat to neutral territory. I chose a fragrance that came with a gift-with-purchase tote bag and coin purse, pleased that the entire transaction took less than 15 minutes. The boys, on the other hand, chastised me for keeping them for so long in such a dark corner of boy-hell.
With my gift out of the way, I turned my attention to the boys. Joey wanted to give Emily some of her favorite movies on DVD so we headed to Target at the other end of the mall. Joey's main shopping goal is expediency and within 3 minutes, he had made his selections: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "The Hangover". Jack is more pensive and and wanted to give Emily something that would remind her of him. We browsed the shelves and I made numerous suggestions of things that I know she likes: purses, jewelry, clothes, shoes. None of them spoke to him and we continued our quest. We began looking at books and soon found ourselves in the children's section. He found a Disney princess coloring book with Jasmine on the cover. Jasmine is Emily's favorite princess and she maintains that she is underexposed by Disney because she is not white, a belief she has held since she was a little girl. I have to admit, I agree with her. It was an inspired selection by Jack and we picked up a box of crayons to go with it. As we were leaving the department, I spied a picture book about dinosaurs. Both Joey and Jack were big dino-philes when they were younger and Emily learned more than she ever wanted to through osmosis. She is taking a class on dinosaurs next quarter -- that's another blog! --and is convinced that she is a shoo-in for an easy "A" due to her extensive prior knowledge. Serendipity struck again and we quickly grabbed the book.
The next day, we set out after a nutritious McDonald's lunch with Joey riding shotgun and Jack peering out the back windows. The skies were dark and threatening and I was not looking forward to potential rain delays on the road. However, much to my delight, the skies grew brighter as we left the San Fernando Valley behind us and headed for the coastline. By the time we pulled onto campus, the clouds were bright white and fluffy against a clear blue backdrop. If you have never been to UCSB, take a closer look at the photograph above. The campus is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on two sides and is stunningly beautiful. We passed girls in bikinis "studying" on the lawn outside their dorm, strengthening Joey's resolve that one day soon, he too would be a Gaucho. We pulled into a staff-only parking space outside Emily's dorm and called up to her to let her know we had arrived. She came down a few minutes later, walked straight up to the passenger window and said to Joey, "You're in my seat." Without debate, Joey got out of the car and took the seat behind me. The pecking order had been restored.
We spent an uneventful afternoon in downtown Santa Barbara, window shopping and gradually winding our way down to the pier. A light rain began to fall as we made our way back to the car. We had an early dinner at an Italian restaurant close to campus. The boys waited patiently until after dinner to give their gifts to Emily. They were all a big hit, especially the dinosaur book. The festivities now concluded, a hush fell over us as we all silently acknowledged that our time together was coming to an end. We walked slowly back to the car, thankful that the rain had stopped for the moment, and made the short drive back to Emily's dorm. Our good-byes were short and sweet as we reminded each other that we would see Emily again in a couple weeks during her spring break. She ran back into the building, anxious to resume celebrating her birthday with her friends. We pulled away, Joey back up front, Jack waving good-bye from the back window. "I wish we could see Emily everyday," he said. My heart ached for him as I realized how much he missed his sister. "Just a couple weeks, Jack," I said. It started to rain again and poured most of the way home. The drive home seemed longer for so many reasons.