Why I think I’m an elf.


I first read “The Hobbit” in the fifth grade, and “The Lord of the Rings” when I was in the seventh.  I fell in love with the characters, and I wanted to be a hobbit for a long time. Like a hobbit, I love comfort, I’m always ready to eat or take a nap, and I have thick wavy hair. I love to grow flowers, and I’m a good cook.  All I needed, I thought for many years, was a house with a little round door.

But now that I am older, and have owned my own home and yard for many years, I can see that I was wrong. Now I’m pretty sure that I am an elf.

Oh, I know. I’m not tall, blonde or graceful, and I sure can’t shoot an arrow. But I most definitely feel an affinity for the trees.

This beautiful sugar maple stands just off my deck, at the spot where our yard meets the woods. I have watched its leaves open for 22 years, have enjoyed its shade every summer, have admired its golden orange foliage every October.  Paul and the boys used to tap it in February to make maple syrup.  It’s like a beautiful guardian of our property. Like a lovely old friend.

Yesterday I was home alone, because the kids and Paul were hiking for the weekend.  It was early evening, and I was on the deck, grilling my dinner.  As I stood there in the silence, with the sun setting behind me, I looked out into my woods.  I was struck by how the sugar maple had grown.  When we moved in here, it was a medium sized tree, and I could look over its head into the sky above the forest.  Now it fills that area of sky, spreading its branches over what used to be part of our lawn.

I looked around the yard, thinking of how the trees have changed in the time that we have lived here.  They grew up with my children.  And some have gone just as the children have.

I remember when this pine was taken down, after we realized that it was too old and too unsound to remain where it might fall on the roof.  I remember how sad I have been each time we have had to bring a tree down.  The loss that I felt as each of our sentinels crashed down to earth in a shower of broken limbs.

We have lost branches to ice storms, wind storms and even a hurricane or two.  Like an elf, I suffered the pain of each break, feeling it deep in my own heart. Each snapped branch has felt to me like a broken arm, but one I can’t soothe or cast or ease in any way.

Like one of Tolkien’s elves, I also celebrate the new growth of my trees.  Yesterday, as I walked around the yard, I was aware of how steadily the woods are growing into the yard. There is a beautiful stand of hemlock on the edge of the woods in a spot that used to be all grass. There is a group of new young white pines, clustered together like the children of the trees we have lost.And everywhere I look, I see new saplings rising.  Maple saplings grow on the stumps of old pines.  Hemlock, pine and even a spruce or two pop up in every sunny break in the woods.  There is such a feeling of “life goes on”, of renewal, of hope in the future.  The trees keep coming, keep growing, keep filling in the spaces.

Like Legolas Greenleaf of Middle Earth, I am happy to see each baby tree. I greet each one with a smile and some words of encouragement.  And I let them grow, even when they are in the middle of my daylillies.

Too fast


It happens too fast.  It happens before I am even ready to begin to get ready. It happens in the blink of an eye.

I wait all winter, through the dark days and early dusks.  Every cold, icy morning as I leave the house, I look with longing at the barren branches of the lilacs.  When the dawn is barely breaking on cold February mornings, I peer so closely at the tips of the silvery branches, sure that I can see the infinitesimal swellings of the buds.

As the weeks slowly pass by, and the sun begins to linger more lovingly in the evening sky, I start to really yearn for those lilac blooms.  I imagine the heady purple scent, the warm breezes, the grass below the feet of the healthy plants.  It seems to me that the sight of those beautiful blossoms will bring me back to life after my long winter hibernation.

And spring inevitably arrives, with the pebbly snow mounds melting away, the robins arriving, the daffodils emerging from the frozen ground.  I watch it all, but I wait for the lilac blossoms.

The sun gets warmer, the kids put on shorts and come to school with their summer buzz cuts. The peonies push up, the irises arise, the daisies spread out.  We mow the grass and breathe in the perfumed air.  We clean the grill and wash the windows and put the snow shovels into the shed.

And still, I wait for the delicate, glorious clusters of lilac blooms to open and bow and send out that crazy, too sweet smell.

Each day for at least two weeks, I watch each tiny bud on each lilac cluster, waiting for the first little gem to open its eyes and start to sing.

At last, at last; the lilac blooms.  The air is almost too intense; the sweet purple scent mixes with the hundreds of lily-of-the-valley that cluster along our walk. The sun comes out and warms the grass, the woods, the flowers themselves.

The lilac have bloomed, and spring is really here.  I sigh in delight.

And then, in what seems like only hours, but what is really days, the blossoms fade and turn brown and fall to the ground. They have been and gone.

How did I miss them?

And so the metaphor is clear, obvious to even the most obtuse.

So often in life, we wait and wait and hope for something that isn’t here. We yearn for something just a little bit sweeter than what we have before us. We convince ourselves that this one little pleasure will make everything just right.

And then it comes to us, and bursts into being. But before we can catch it or name it or breath it in the way we were always sure we would, it has passed us by, and we are back in yearning mode again.

Like childhood, like new love, like a vacation on the beach, the lilacs come and go before we are even ready to get ready to capture them.

Play ball!


Some things defy definition. They can’t be easily explained. Some things can only be experienced, they can’t be described.

So I won’t try to explain why I am sitting inside the house on a perfect afternoon instead of walking in the woods or gardening under this cloudless sky. I won’t be able to make you understand what it means to me to have TV on, or why I am wiping away the tears that keep coming, one after the other. You probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Instead, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher was a crusty, demanding older woman. She wore tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She read to us every day and she always made us go back and try again when we didn’t know how to solve a problem. She hated noise, and she loved the Red Sox. In May of that year, she took the whole class to a game. I had never been to one before, and had no real expectations. But I still remember coming up from the darkness under the grandstand and stepping into the light. The grass of the Fenway Park infield glowed like a jewel, spread out before me in all its glory. I was breathless.

It was 1967. The Red Sox won in extra innings, and I was in love.

That was the “Impossible Dream” summer, where the Red Sox went from last place to winning the American League Pennant. It was the year of my first crush: Tony Conigliaro, the dashing, handsome young star who was downed by a fastball in August and never recovered.

That incredible summer and its story of impossible dreams was the first time that Boston baseball fans hung banners from buildings and screamed for their team as they arrived at the park.

Since that magical summer, baseball has continued to be the soundtrack of my life. The sweet crack of the bat, the distant calling of the vendors in the stands, the voices of the announcers coming late at night through my transistor radio. Baseball has been there.

For me, baseball has always meant hope: As a Red Sox fan for many lean years, I learned long ago to think “Wait till next year!” and to recognize unfounded optimism rising like maple sap every spring. In spite of past history, there was always hope of victory, hope of triumph, hope of undeserved good luck.

Baseball games were always on in the background as my Dad puttered around the yard on summer days. Baseball games accompanied barbecues and picnics, family vacations and camping trips. Baseball players were my heroes and my secret crushes. Handsome Pudge Fisk, Dewey Evans, Nomar and Captain Varitek.

Baseball means summer. It means youth and strength and unbelievable grace. Baseball, since October of 2004, means magic and crazy rituals to bring luck. It means belonging to a group that is larger than any I’ve ever known, sharing the most intense of emotions with millions of strangers as the Red Sox win and lose. It means always wearing a Sox hat or shirt when we travel, so that we can find other members of our tribe when we are far from home.

Baseball means America in all its innocence and optimism. It means Cooperstown and “Field of Dreams”. The smell of beer and the taste of peanuts. Fingers crossed, rally caps on. Baseball means a link to the past, to the history that we have all shared here in this “new world”.

Today as I sit watching Fenway Park celebrate its 100th birthday the sky is blue and cloudless, the sun is bright, the organ is playing. Time seems to have rolled back as we remember the first pitch thrown out by Honey Fitz, then Mayor of Boston.

On this exquisite afternoon, there are no steroids, no growth hormones, no cheating. Boys play baseball for the joy of the game. America is still the land of opportunity, and anything is possible.

Play ball!

Regrets


Lately I have read several blogs and even a newspaper article in which writers think about their life’s regrets.  In these posts, the writers look back on mistaken decisions, missed chances, unnecessary conflicts and poor financial choices. They think about the “what ifs” of life and wonder about what might have been.

Naturally, I’ve started to think about my own regrets and missed chances.  At almost 56, there are a few things that I wish I had done differently.  Mostly these are little things, with only financial ramifications.  Mostly, I don’t truly regret them at all.

But there is one memory from years past that still haunts me sometimes, and does truly fill me with regret.

I think it was the summer of 1998.  August, if I remember correctly, hot and humid.  We had just set up camp on the beautiful Maryland island of Assateague.  As a child, I had read and loved Margeurite Henry’s books about the wild pony, Misty, of nearby Chincoteague Island. I read them all over and over, and dreamed of one day walking on those beautiful beaches and seeing those wild ponies.  Now as a mother of three young children, I was making that dream come true.

We had set up our little pop up trailer that afternoon in the brilliant sunlight of the campground.  We arranged our shade tarp, got out the cooler and cook stove, tied a kite to our camper to fly in the unending ocean wind.  The kids loved the gulls, the sea shells, the soft white sands, the row of dunes that stood between the campground and the incoming waves.  We went swimming in the afternoon, then had dinner and headed in to sleep in the camper.

It was the most magical, beautiful night.  The moon was full and the air was warm and sweet and tangy with the taste of the ocean.  All day we had watched small bands of wild ponies trotting down the roads of the campground, crossing the dunes, cropping the salty grasses of the marsh.  The kids had already chosen their favorites, and we looked forward to a week of getting to know them and of sharing the island with them.

The boys were only six and eight years old that summer, and after a day of sun and swimming, they fell asleep quickly.  At twelve, Kate took a bit longer to wind down.  I remember that she was reading by flashlight after both of her brothers were breathing deep.  Paul and I lay talking quietly for little while before we, too, gave in to the night and fell asleep.  I remember looking out the screen window at the rising yellow moon, and seeing the milky mist in the sky.

Much later that night, well after midnight, Kate woke up and softly called to me.  “Mom?  Sorry….I need to go to the bathroom.” In the warm summer night, it was no real hardship to walk with her to the bathroom, and I got up quickly.  I grabbed a flashlight, although it was obvious that I wouldn’t need to turn it on.  I closed the door to the camper as gently as I could, letting Paul and the boys stay asleep.

As we crossed the quiet campground, barefoot on the sandy path, we noticed two ponies, drinking from the water that had pooled around the outdoor faucets.  We laughed as we skirted them in the moonlight, watching their softly switching tails and the shine of their big dark eyes.

After we had used the toilets, we started back toward the camper, hand in hand. I remember the warmth of the sand on my bare soles, and the smell of the air, filled with the scent of horse and salt and beach grass.  I remember the huge orb of the moon, hovering over the dunes.

Suddenly, we heard the sound of a stallion on the beach beyond the dunes, calling a shrill command to his mares.  From somewhere further to our right, we heard their whinnying reply and the sound of hooves.  Again, his cry came from the beach.  It sounded so wild and fierce, it absolutely gave me the chills.   Kate clutched my hand in hers.  “Mom!!  Can we go down to the beach to see them?”  Her beautiful face was filled with excitement.

And there was my moment of decision.

The moon was gorgeous, the night was perfect.  The sound of the horses was compelling and my little girl was full of curiosity and joy.  I should have grabbed her hand and run with her up the boardwalk, across the moonlit sands and onto that empty, endless beach.  I should have said, “Of course!”

Instead, I told myself that it might not be totally safe.  I told myself that wild stallions are unpredictable and aggressive, and that there could be other unknown dangers to my child on that beach.  It was the middle of the night, and we were far from any telephones or police or hospital.

I told myself, and my little girl, that this was only our first night on Assateague, and that we’d have other chances to see the horses on the beach.  I took her back to the camper, kissed her cheek, and went back to sleep.

And the truth is this; I have been back to that beach many, many times since that night. I have never again heard the stallions calling on the beach, or seen the horses running under a full moon.  I was offered a moment of pure magic, and I passed it up in the name of caution.

And so that is my greatest regret so far in this life.  I still wake up on moonlit nights, in my landlocked house so far from the sea, and think about what Kate and I might have seen if I had dared to throw caution to the wind.

My best day.


I love the movie “City Slickers”, don’t you?  I love the scene in the beginning where Billy Crystal’s Mom calls him on the morning of his birthday and relives the whole day.  When I first saw the movie, of course, I identified with Billy’s character.

Now I am all about that Mother.  When I can’t sleep, deep in the darkest heart of the night, I still relive my children’s births.  If I have so far refrained from retelling every anxious moment to those children on their birthdays, it is only because I’m not quite there yet.  Give me time….

But my favorite scene in the film, the scene that I think about sometimes when I’m driving or cooking or cutting the grass, is the one where Billy Crystal asks his two friends to identify their “best day”.

I have given this idea a lot of thought.  I really have.

And I have a few “best days”.   But there is one, in particular, that rings true to me now as my very best day.  As I sit here tonight, having sent one son off to his new apartment, and waiting to move the second one out in the morning, I keep thinking of this “best day”.  The irony, of course, is that at the time I had no idea that I was living a memory.

The day happened one hot July in about 1998.  We were camping down on Assateague Island in Maryland for the very first time.  As I recall, Tim was just turned six years old, Matt was almost 8, and Katie was 12.  We had chosen Assateague as a vacation spot when I passed a billboard for it on Route 95 the winter before.  I had remembered my abiding love of the Marguerite Henry books about “Misty of Chincoteague”, and we had decided to take the kids there to see the site of the story.

On this particular day, my “best day”, we had woken up in our trailer at the campsite, walked the short distance over the dunes to the beach and had spent the morning enjoying the waves, the sun and the wild ponies who walked the beach.   I had given the kids lunch, and had brought us all back into the trailer to rest.   I opened the book, “Misty of Chincoteague” and began to read out loud.  Kate was lying on one bed, listening with a smile on her face.  Paul sat at the table, with a AAA guidebook in front of him.  And my little boys were lying on the other bed, with me perched on the edge.  As I read to them, they kept their eyes on my face, and reacted to each new event in the story with smiles, gasps, or laughter.

As I read out loud, a part of me could not believe my good fortune. Here I was, sitting on the real beach at Assateague Island, surrounded by my supremely beloved three children, reading aloud from what had been a formative book from my own childhood.  I read, I felt the heat of the day, I heard the waves crashing on the other side of the dunes.  I looked at my beautiful babies, those incredible gifts that I once thought I would never receive, and I breathed in a deep, salt laden breath.

Eventually, all three kids fell asleep, and Paul and I whispered as we planned the next days’ adventures.  The hottest part of the afternoon passed, the kids woke up, and we went back to the beach where the ponies stood in the surf.

I think that was my very best day.

Never satisfied


The first cool morning of late summer happened this morning. It was a “pull up the quilt” morning.  A crisp, blue skyed, breezy, great dog walking morning.  There were exactly three red maple leaves visible from my deck.

The very first breath of the new season.  I stood outside and breathed it deep.  Sweet, exhilarating air.

This new season, like all the others before it, reminds of the fact that I am, literally, never satisfied.

Here I stand, reveling in the comfort of long sleeves. “Ah!”, I think to myself.  “Cool air is so refreshing!”  I really, truly believe this thought as it dances happily through my head.  I honestly think, at this moment, that it will feel wonderful to put on mittens, to sit by the wood stove, to come home for nice, hot soup.

I forget, somehow, that on the first warm morning of spring, I stood in this very same spot, thinking “Ah! Warm air is so soothing!”  For some inexplicable reason, the first bite of barbecued chicken tastes like ambrosia, and I want to eat grilled foods every day forever. For some mysterious reason, the first sip of hot chicken soup in October tastes like heaven, and I want to eat it every day for the rest of time.

The first day of wearing a sweater balanced against the first day in shorts.  Leather boots against flip-flops.  Hot coffee, iced coffee.

As each season arrives, I wrap my arms around it and celebrate. Even the first snow storm makes me smile, make a snow angel, and settle in with a mug of enhanced hot cocoa.  Its only after a few weeks that I become cynical and bored, and the season loses its charms.  I begin to long for what I can’t have.

In summer, I want winter.  In winter, I yearn for spring. When the kids are around the house, I long for some quiet time and a clean bathroom. When they are all gone…well, you know what I yearn for then.

And so it seems that I am never satisfied. I never get to the point where every day feels just right.  And I wonder, as I think about this situation, whether my dissatisfaction is a good thing or a bad thing.  Maybe it would be great to be content for long periods, to enjoy every last day of heat and humidity and barbecue.  Or maybe it is a gift to be able to get excited, even after all these years, by a sweep of cool air in midsummer.  Maybe it is a gift to be able to enjoy both the crowded dinner table and the quiet breakfast alone.

I don’t know.

Well, it used to be MY city….


There are so many moments, as we age, when we seem to be hit on the head with our own irrelevance.   I swear, sometimes it just makes me laugh!

For example, I live in a very, very rural part of our state.  As I write this note, I am surrounded by the sounds of crickets and wind in the trees.  I can hear my dog breathing. I live in…. how can I put this?…..I live in the woods.  To anyone who has met me in the last 20 years, I am the very definition of a “country mouse”.

But this was not always true!  Unbeknownst to my young friends and relations, there was a time when I both lived and worked in the heart of Boston.   I took the T every day; I walked around the neighborhoods, streets and historic areas to visit friends, to take classes, to play, to eat, to have some fun.  I knew the city as it looked way back then like the back of my smooth, unlined hand.

This week I have found myself thrown once again into life in the city.  Only this time, the landscape has changed.  While I was out in the wilderness having babies, they moved the buildings, changed the traffic flow, repaired, tore down, rebuilt and replaced.  And so I have found myself on very familiar ground, but lost in all of the new and updated.

What a funny feeling!  As I followed my very young friend through the streets of the city, I was more often confused than secure. I was bewildered by the glittering signs and brand new buildings.  I couldn’t always see my gritty old city under the glamorous “pedestrian walks”.  After a time,  I began to realize that not only had the city changed, my place in it had also changed, immensely.  While I was seeing the Boston of my youth, my young friend was seeing the area only as it is now!  Unlike her clean and crisp perceptions, my own view was colored by what used to be.  Like everyone’s worst image of the old lady Aunt, I found myself repeatedly saying,  “This used to be…” and “I remember when….”   I horrified myself even as I savored the memories of time gone by.

For example, I was telling my friend what it was like back in the last 1960’s, when the ground had just been broken for the new Prudential Center.  My Dad used to drive us by the work site, saying, “This is going to be the new skyscraper in the city!”  We didn’t understand, back then, why anyone would want to put up a tall, elegant building in a neighborhood of empty warehouses and abandoned factories.  Today I drove past the Pru, gazing at the glittering buildings, upscale shops and chic restaurants.  My young friend only knows the Copley area as it looks now: rich, expensive, trendy, elite.  She can never imagine the memory that I have of the same streets when they were empty and desolate and hopeless.

As we walked through the North End, I wanted to keep saying, “When I was in college….”. I wanted to tell her all about how this section of Boston used to be inexpensive, isolated, and so very ethnic.   My grandparents came here when they first immigrated to America.  They were married here.  I used to come here to be surrounded by the Italian language and the immigrant perspective.  I never would have envisioned the line of well dressed Americans standing outside of Mike’s Pastries.  This was a little slice of the “old country” for me!  For my young friend, the North End means expensive restaurants, lots of tourists and clean, upscale, rebuilt streets.  She can never appreciate the changes that those images represent!

It can be so hard, as we get older.  I want to keep showing my younger friends, and my kids, the world that I knew when I was their age.  Faneuil Hall was a scary, dark, abandoned place where we only went so that we could eat the cheap food at Durgin Park.  The North End was where we went to see St. Leonard’s Church.  The Prudential Center was a new, expensive attempt to update the city.  The Charles was filthy, the harbor was toxic, the mood in the city was grim.  This is the Boston of my memory.  This is the Boston that I love.

But just as I know that the city of Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty no longer exists, I also know my memory is  of a city no longer real.  My views and impressions are as old and as dated as the lithographs of the 1820’s.  They are only relevant to those who seek them out.

Oh, good Lord.  As I walk through the streets of Boston, remembering the city of 1975,  I am as antiquated as those old Patriot activists.  Oh, my God.  I am history.

A confession, of sorts


A view from the beach.

Last night Kate and I got back from an eight day camping trip on the beach at Assateague Island.  This is one of my favorite places on earth (of those places that I have seen!), and it was my fifth trip down there.  The campground is simple, primitive and spare.  The beach is pristine and wide and absolutely full of life.  In the past, I’ve been there as part of a big family group, and each trip involved a lot of packing, planning, cooking, dishwashing and organizing.  This time it was different.  The trip was my daughter’s idea, and the two of us approached it as a real chance to be low key and low effort. Our meals were simple, mostly cold, and eaten whenever we got hungry.  We walked, we slept, we swam, we read a huge bag of books and then went out to buy some more.  We didn’t plan or scheme or even talk very much.  We rested.

Unlike past camping adventures, this week gave me the unexpected gift of hours of time to myself. At first I was restless, but by the end of the second day, I realized that the repetitive sound of the waves served to mask the usual monologue in my head, soothing and drowning out the “shoulds” and “have to’s” in a supremely satisfying way.  By the third day, I had learned to enjoy the lack of coherent thought, and to simply soak up the sun and wind and salty spray.  If there is a Heaven out there, it will surely feel a lot like that beach!

One particularly beautiful mid afternoon, I was sitting by myself on the sand just at the edge of the surf.  Ever mindful of the power of the sun, I was slathered in SPF 85, covered with a shirt, and wearing a big straw hat.  I sat leaning with my hands splayed out behind me, my feet stretched toward the foamy waves.  I looked straight out from under my hat brim, taking in the golden sparkles of the waves, the wheeling gulls, the purplish horizon line meeting the clean blue sky. The world before me was framed by the arc of my hat, and was as clear and defined as a photo. I swung my gaze to the left: limitless blue ocean as far as I could see.  I shifted my head slowly to the right: nothing but blue and gold shimmering on into infinity.  I was filled with happiness, as buoyant as one of the birds that I could see bobbing on the waves.  I sat for a minute, tasting and holding that pleasure inside, until I began to ask myself its source.

And I realized something about myself in that moment, something that doesn’t make me very proud, but something that I will hold and treasure nonetheless.  My exquisite joy in that beautiful setting came from the fact that I was completely surrounded by life on that beach, from birds, to fish and crabs and clams and mussels.  I was surrounded by millions of creatures who were living and thriving and eating and breathing all around me, but not one of those living beings was human.  It was the absence of other people that made that moment so sweet.

I don’t think that I would want to be all alone for long, or that I am truly misanthropic.   But it was a wonderful, powerful, beautiful few moments when I felt like the only human on that beach!

Control


I have been wondering lately about the whole issue of “control”.  I tend to think of myself as a “control freak”, and I’ll bet that my kids would agree. I have a real need to know exactly what foods I have in the fridge and cabinets.  I need the laundry IN the hamper, not on the floor, and once it is clean and dry, I need it put away.  In the right places!!   The sink has to be clean of dishes, cups, spoons, lids and food bits, or else I feel anxious and restless.  I keep a list of chores for myself, and I do them.

I know other people, mostly women, who have the same desire for control of the environment that I have.   So where does this whole urge come from?  And is it a good thing, or a sign of my increasing mental instability?

I think back to the time before I had kids. I think about my first apartment and my first real job.  I can see the books piled on the kitchen table and the bedroom floor.  The shoes in a pile by the door.  The drawers filled with all the daily little items that had nowhere else to live. At one point, we had three different “junk drawers” where you could find everything from tape to bubble gum in a big jumble.   I remember roaming the grocery store and getting what looked tasty; without a list of preclipped coupons!

I know that I slowly began to organize when the kids were born. For a while there, I had three kids with significant allergies.  I had a closet literally filled with medications and supplies to deal with the runny noses, the watery eyes, the asthma, the sinus infections and the earaches.  I kept it organized, neat and well stocked at all times.  The more worried and anxious I was about their health, the more I relied on the organization of that closet to keep my anxiety under control.  So I wonder: did the cleaning, straightening thing appear as a kind of self-therapy? Is THAT what is going on with a lot of us?

Now, let me be clear here.  My Mom and my sisters would be laughing out loud reading this, because out of all of us, I am the messy one.  I don’t insist that the sofa pillows be lined up in perfect symmetry; they are covered in dog hair and drool anyway!  I don’t think about “under or over” when I put on a new toilet paper roll, and I am able to look through fingerprints on window glass for weeks without getting a stomach ache. But I do have little freak outs and panic attacks when someone leaves empty water bottles in my car, or on the window sill.

And here is my challenge to myself.  How much of this control can I release and forget, now that the kids are grown and mostly independent?  Can I leave a cup in the sink until the next meal? Can I train myself to look at the coffee table if it is covered in books and newspapers?  And should I do these things?

Kate and I are going away camping for a week, to beautiful Assateague Island in Maryland. She wants us to “vagabond”,to simply grab a pack and go.  She just got back from an incredible three weeks of travel around Central America, a trip for which she packed in about 24 hours.  I just got back from three days in New Hampshire with my whole family, a trip for which I packed for two weeks.  See the conflict?

So part of my transition plan, as I enter the “empty nest”, is to let that nest get a bit more cluttered.  My plan is to find a way to manage my anxious insides without needing to manage every inch of the outside.  To teach myself that I can be a healthy, worthy woman even if I do still have a big “junk drawer”.

Wish me luck!

PS: I won’t be blogging again for 10 days or so.  Unplugging for this vacation. Woohoo!!

 

Camping


This weekend we are off to our favorite camping spot, at Dolly Copp Campground.  It is a beautiful area in the White Mountain National forest; simple, lovely, unchanged.  My husband has been camping there his whole life.   My experiences as a camper began when I fell in love with him, some forty years ago.

This campground has been witness to so much in my life!  It was there that Paul and I first held hands.  It was there that he taught me how to make a fire, and there that we rested after he brought me hiking for the very first time.

We have camped there with my parents, my siblings, our High School friends.  We have been at Dolly Copp in the rain, the heat, and even the first frost. We have gone skiing in the winter and fishing in the summer.

It was at Dolly Copp that we pitched our very first tent.  We spent two nights of our honeymoon up there, in a secluded little spot by a stream.

Most meaningful, to me, is the fact that I was lying in a tent at Dolly Copp campground the night that I felt my first child move for the very first time. That makes the campground a place of miracles for me.

Our children have been there every single summer of their lives.  They have camped in an old poplin tent, in Grampy Rick’s camper, in our own popup camper, and again in tents.  They have fished in the brook, splashed in the river, hiked in the mountains around the campground.  I remember the night when we were awakened by the Rangers, telling us that a dangerous thunderstorm was approaching. I grabbed my sleeping baby, who woke only long enough to tell me, “Katie need food” before dropping off to sleep once again.

I remember bathing baby Matt in a plastic tub at the campground. I remember taking Tim to the stream to fish, then cleaning his tiny, three inch trout, and cooking it for us all to share.  I remember the bears, the flood, the times when we brought Tucker with us.  The sidewalk chalk, the chicken fingers, the games of “Rack-O”.

I remember going up in the fall, and lying on the grass to watch the meteor showers.

I remember swinging Katie in a plastic swing, hung from the branch of a giant pine.

For the past dozen or so years, Paul’s family has joined us for a weekend in the mountains.  Our huge family party has grown from ten people, to thirty, to fifty or more.  It is a time to renew family ties, to laugh, to see some magic tricks, to watch as the next generation learns to walk, to ride a bike, to drive.

Last year, I hated every single minute of the family reunion weekend.  I was still the Mom in charge of the camper; the adult female with the cooking supplies, the cleaning supplies, the place to get out of the rain.  But my kids weren’t kids any more. They were adults with beers in their hands, guitars on their knees, separate tents off in the back of the campsites.   I hated it, because everywhere I looked, I saw my little ones, smiling and holding out toasted marshmallows, dirty and happy and sticky and mine.   I cried through the whole weekend, coming as it did just a month before both of my boys moved out of my house. I was in mourning. I was bereft.  I vowed not to go back this year.

And now, please fast forward.

The camper is now safely in the hands of our young niece and her husband, who will take over the central location. We will be in a nice new tent, with our kids in separate tents around the campground.

This year I am used to the comings and goings of my troops.  I am used to sharing the cooking duties with them.  This year, I am happy to be on the periphery, happily holding the babies and cuddling the toddlers and talking about books with the school aged kids.

This year, I think, there will still be melancholy, and sweet reminiscence.  I will still see the shadows of my kids running on the grass.  But this year, I think that I will be able to smile, sigh, and turn to see what is happening around the fire.