Road Tripping with a Dragon

I'm just coming down from a wonderful invigorating weekend in Champaign, where I took my little dragon buddy Sammy to a TaeKwonDo tournament on the campus of my alma mater. Champaign-Urbana will always have a special place in my heart; it's where the political fire in my belly got lit and the musical fire (that was lit when I was six watching my big brother's garage band) was stoked to a flaming burn that still rages to this day, and it's where I spent four years trying to figure out what kind of writer I was going to be (a question I still haven't answered...) It helps that I had terrific hosts, Cynthia and Ernie, who understand about remembering and celebrating your past but also live in the present. They have a pair of kids too and Sammy got along swimmingly with them.

We started the weekend arriving at the local martial arts dojo just in time for Sammy to do a workshop with Chief Master Minton, apparently a legend in the TKD world and the legend is justified. Minton is a 73-year-old rockstar of a guy -- eyes popping out of his head, quick with both the moves and the sense of humor. There wasn't a person in the house (kids, adults and spectators) who wasn't enchanted with him. Sammy was in the front row and didn't need to be told to keep his "eyes on the instructor." Who could take their eyes off this guy? Amazing fun stuff, and I love a good workshop whether it's physical or mental. It helped tucker out a rather nervous Sammy so he could rest up for the next morning's tourney.

Let me say this now: I'm so proud of Sammy! He was kind of nervous about his first major tournament, especially since it was built up by the previous night's four hour drive. As soon as we checked in, he headed to the side gym and practiced his forms. He ended up in a group where he was the lowest ranking belt (he is a Camo, the rest of the kids were green and purple) and I think he was the only kid in his group for whom this was a first tourney. He did well on his forms, but for sparring he was paired in the first round with a purple belt who had been to some 15 other tournaments and was thus much more used to the pressure. Nevertheless, Sammy came out swinging and landed the first blow -- a two point kick to his opponent's head. The kid was taken by surprise, and Sammy never let up. They spar until five points, and Sammy was leading this kid 4-2, and then the other kid made his comeback. Sammy was clearly disappointed, but after a couple of minutes he looked around to see what he was up against and he genuinely believed me when I told him, "You have nothing to feel bad about. You went the distance with a kid who's two belts above you and has lots more competitive experience and you had him scared." I think that's what I'm most proud of -- that he still felt good about the experience and learned something. We told his instructor what happened (he was judging another ring) and his instructor was also smiling and very proud of him.

We did dinner at The Esquire Lounge, a place that in my day was an great after downtown-hours watering hole and the site of many an engaging political argument. It's now three times its former size, has a full-service kitchen, and not a bad place to bring in the kids for, as Cynthia and Ernie's kids term, "Fries and Peanuts." It's one of those joints you toss your peanut shells on the floor; and the fries are indeed excellent. Problem was, it wasn't until we parked downtown that it occurred to us, "Oh, it's St Pat's day. It's Amateur Night. Great." Still, I had an excellent bar cheeseburger, Sammy enjoyed an excellent bar pizza, and we both got a kick out of dumping our peanut shells on the floor whilst Wisconsin dumped Vanderbilt to the ground as well. The whole weekend, centered around the TKD tourney, was relaxing in that I had nothing, I mean, nothing else to do except wander around the campus of my alma mater, and sit inside and outside Cynthia/Ernie's wonderful house enjoying this weirdly wonderful summer weather, drinking coffee, wine, listening to birds chirp and kids play and catch up with good friends.

Weird thing is that, as Cynthia pointed out, we weren't all that tight when we were undergrads, (we barely knew each other!) but over the years via our mutual blogs (and I also have to credit FB) we've become quite tight: we both have discovered a lot of friendships in our lives are like this. (Heck, some of my best friends are iVillage women I've never met in person, but have known since Stella was a baby and I was looking for diaper rash advice...). Over Ernie's homemade Sunday morning biscuits I wandered around their garden taking pictures of the outdoor bric-a-brac they purposefully littered all over.

With Discovery World membership in hand, one our way through Chicago we popped into the Field Museum because Sammy is one of those kids who adores dinosaurs, so it was in and out. The whole dinosaur exhibit is part of an "evolving world" thing, that starts out with primordial ooze and take us through five mass extinctions through to the modern day. We both pulled a bronx cheer as we walked into the Soldier Field parking lot just south of the museum and headed home. I'm still recovering from a oxymoron of a weekend -- busy yet relaxing. And there's a lot to be said for just going on a road trip with just one of your kids, a mom and my boy kind of weekend where we could jam out in the car, eat boy food, and just run around. I'm wonderfully spent.


It was glorious having you and Sammy here V'ron. I wish I'd felt better so I'd have been more on top of things but I had a great time despite it. Much love to you both!!!
SMD said…
It's weird and wonderful to wander around your college campus as an adult.

It sounds like a great weekend!

I love the ivillage shoutout and the photo of Sammy from behind.

Kudos to him for his big weekend too!

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