As it turns out, we went to Maine.
I know, I know.
My "perfect on paper" plan fell by the wayside once we realized how much we all--especially YH--missed the big kids.
And so we packed our bags and followed them north.
And it was lovely.
It was the kind of vacation that defies a linear narrative--you know those experiences that seem to happen beyond the scope of time and place? It was one of those.
|YH at the lobster pound.|
It is hot inside our rental car and the sun is shining so bright. The heat is unusual for this part of the country, this time of year. We laugh because it is rainy and gray at home in the South and so so sunny bright here in the North.
We have decided to surprise the big kids--they do not know we are coming. We are giddy with thoughts of our subterfuge. We stop at our favorite lobster pound (Lunt's) for lunch and place a call to my parents' house.
We talk to Sweet Bubs, who is busy helping my father build a set of stairs down to Ghost Hollow. We tell him we will call him back at 5pm--make sure he is at home. Make sure Miss A is there as well.
We kick our feet with anticipation as we eat our lobster rolls. YH sticks to french fries and lemonade.
|On the ferry.|
On deck there is a new ferryman guiding us into parking spots. He looks like the character "Skinny Pete" from Breaking Bad. He has a New York accent and fidgety movements; he is not who we expected. He parks the cars four across instead of three (as is custom) and we find we are trapped in the car for the duration of the ride.
Sean scoops YH into his lap and lets him "steer" the car. We roll down the windows to let the smell of salt water and kelp in. It stings my nose and fills my lungs. We are so close!
Once we reach the island we roll off of the ferry and begin the short drive to my parents' house. We remind ourselves to wave at each car we pass--island etiquette requires it.
I see all the "For Sale" signs dotting the roadway. Taxes on waterfront property were raised last year. Blue realtor signs sit askew at the edge of the treeline up and down the road as far as the eye can see. Gravel roads lead into the pine trees, cloaking houses that have sat vacant for months. Years.
We turn onto our street (peeking to see if the trailer at the corner of the road is occupied this year) and into my parents' driveway. We stop short of the house and call the kids.
Sean says to Miss A. "Hey--you should go look outside." She is skeptical. Why should I go outside?
The door opens as our car drifts into view. Miss A comes spilling out with the receiver pressed to her cheek. She sees Sean and grins. I jump out of the car I am so happy to see her. YH yells out her name and struggles to be free of his car seat. Sweet Bubs is not far behind and he gets swept into the love crush.
My family. My beautiful family.
|The secret place|
It is dusk. I follow the kids down a narrow path into the woods. They are taking me to their secret spot, their clubhouse. We wind through saplings and fallen trunks. The hollow, with its briny tides, is to our left--barely a glint peeking through the trees. The path is soft with pine needles. It dips and rises on a whim, trying to trip you with a lattice of slick tree roots.
This way, the big kids say. They are impatient with my cumbersome adult form. They slip through the brush with the ease of hares--I am not so swift or fleet of foot. My parents' dog, Nina, stays behind to make sure I stay with the pack. She has become Sweet Bubs' constant companion over the last two weeks.
Suddenly we are there. Carpets of moss unfold around large gray boulders that reach to the sky. Rays of sunlight break through the treetops and warm patches of the moss, creating magnificent spots to curl up with a book. I catch my breath--it is the most perfect secret spot ever.
The kids spend hours here. Miss A is a queen and Sweet Bubs is her royal guard. He works for a three hour shift, wielding a staff to ward off intruders. After his shift is done he gets a two hour break, during which the Queen throws him a party--complete with cake.
It sounds like a good gig.
Sweet Bubs has gone feral. When he wakes he runs out the door, hurtling towards the trees, the mud, Ghost Hollow. He clutches swords made of sticks and brandishes them at imagined foes. He scampers up and down the rocks and over the tree stumps. He is agile and fearless in a way I never noticed before.
At the quarry he leaps into the deep water with abandon. He dog paddles furiously, and hauls his little seal-form onto the floating dock in the middle of the expanse. He knows the other boys there by name and soon they are engaged in an elaborate effort to wrangle an inflatable raft from one end of the quarry to the other. His laughter bounces off the sheer granite walls that surround his swimming spot.
He discovers something new and amazing at Fine Sand Beach. He walks over the rocks that ring the beach until he comes to a quiet and sandy cove. "Secret beach! I found a secret beach!" There are submerged rocks a few feet off shore that keep the water in cool, shallow pools made vibrant by seaweed and schools of bright green eel-like fish. There is a large flat rock that tilts toward the water-- it becomes a water slide for the intrepid at high tide.
At night, after YH is in bed, he insists on playing ruthless games of Disney Princess Uno. He plays by his own set of rules--a trait that was encouraged by his grandparents, but that drives his father crazy. Sweet Bubs says things like "Pretty savvy move there Dad, pretty savvy." When one game concludes he says "Ok, ok--just 100 hundred more..."
|Miss A waiting for her musical number in the island review||.|
If Sweet Bubs has gone feral, Miss A has become shockingly civilized. Shortly after we arrive on island my parents hand me a piece of paper dotted with colored squares. It is Miss A's calendar--the schedule of all her social commitments. She attends Rec Center two times a week, Library Program two times per week, and rehearsals for the Hockamock Players Musical Review. She also has playdates with her friend Sage. Where the rest of us retreat into solitude on the island Miss A is taking after her paternal grandmother: a woman who loved to socialize and entertain.
At the beach she hones in on any other child around her size. She walks up to her target and says "Hey--do you know how to catch a hermit crab? Let me show you!" and soon she and her new best friend are thick as thieves. One dy she manages to get a group of six Quebecois kids (who are only speaking French) to help her round up as many hermit crabs as they can find. The little tribe builds an elaborate habitat out of sand and water and fills it with over thirty terrified crabs.
"Mom", she says, "I don't care that my new friends aren't speaking English--we're having fun anyway."
Miss A helps us clean out the barn. She comes across an old blue metal trunk in the corner. Inside are old furs, a musty silk pillow, and several dusty scrapbooks. There is also a yearbook from an international school--class of 1958-59. She studies the signatures on the inside cover intently, determined to solve the mystery of who the trunk items belong to.
She makes lists and cross-references them with the black and white pictures of girls and boys in tightly lacquered hair-dos. She comes up with several theories about who might own the treasures--the most plausible being a member of an island family that owns several houses near us. She makes up her mind to go to the closest such house and ask if they might know who the owner is--she has figured out a first name based on the looping scrawl in the front cover.
She marches up the drive and knocks on the door. A woman comes and Miss A asks if she is the homeowner. The woman says no, hold on...And then she turns and yells out the name from the yearbook cover! Another woman comes to the door and against all odds, it is her. The trunk's rightful owner.
His sleep is rocky at first. He wakes in a strange place and calls out for me. I scoop him up and bring him into my bed. He presses his cheek against mine and kicks his feet in a rythmic thump...thump...thump until he falls back asleep.
He loves the beaches we go to, alternating between warm sand and cold cold waters.
It wasn't such a dumb idea to come here after all.
We leave the island with sand in our pockets and heavy hearts. Sean and I have a list of things we need to do to the house next summer; it is overwhelming in the best possible way.
When we get home things are not so great. A big storm has delayed our flight so that we don't get into our home until 4 am. One of our dogs has had high anxiety in our absence and she is wounded. Our loved one is struggling with his/her addiction again. We realize our careers in education are unlikely to fund all of our dreams...
It's life. It's ugly and it's beautiful all at once.
We are together again, and that's the best thing we can hope for.