These are my toes on vacation.
I just got back from vacation. Sort of. It was a single-mom style vacation, so the days were roughly twice as exhausting as usual. The girls and I and a delightful assortment of friends were up at the beloved house in the Adirondacks that’s been in my family since it was built by my grandfather in 1912; I’ve gone there every summer since I was born. Because so little in the house and the surrounding landscape has changed since then, the things that do change from year to year–the cast of characters, life circumstances–are thrown into stark relief against the ever-constant backdrop.
R first joined me up there a few months after we’d started dating. It was July 4th weekend, 1989; his immediate and total appreciation of the place sold me and my entire family on him and ushered in the all-about-the-two-of-us vacation years. We were strapping twentysomethings who voluntarily woke up at 5 am so we could hike 14 miles and be back before sunset. During our free time, R would play with wood–chop it with an axe or make nifty things with twigs–while I made the house lovely. We were just adorable in a way that was probably a little nauseating to those around us.
That phase lasted until 1996, when our daughter was born (we baptized her with water from the lake.) Those early baby-makes-three years involved waking up involuntarily at 5 am; if we had any leftover energy for hiking, it would be a brief hike, carefully scheduled around nap time; the pursuit of glorious mountain-top views was replaced by the pursuit of a rock at the ideal height to change a diaper and frantic attempts to keep the baby from toddling off the dock.
In 2001, we added daughter number two and fully surrendered to a child-centered, the-four-of-us life. We compromised in ways that would have seemed blasphemous during those early years, purchasing a brightly-colored plastic kiddie pool, even though the house is set on a magical lake. Sweet the-four-of-us rituals evolved–popcorn by the fireplace upon arrival, no matter how late; a trip to the library in town the next morning, roast chicken and potatoes for our first dinner. R built a Barbie tree house. We wanted to introduce our girls at an early age to the joys of hiking in the wilderness, but the relative convenience of mini-golf was suddenly apparent too.
So there’s 19 years of summer fun in a nutshell, during which my house became unmistakeably ours. Hence, last August–two months after we separated and the first time R did not join us–we were disoriented. The surroundings were still there, reliably stunning as always, but it was a week of non-stop soy-milk episodes. I knew R wasn’t with us, of course, but still, I wondered “where is he?” Sitting on the dock felt weird because I kept expecting him to do his signature run-jump across it and into the lake. Looking at his assorted twiggy touches around the place made me cry. The first-night roast chicken tried too hard to make everything OK and didn’t taste good. I was certain I would never find my magical summer place fun again.
But this summer, I’m pleased to report, fun started to seep back in (you knew that was going to happen, didn’t you? It would be such a downer otherwise.) I didn’t wait for R to run-jump into the lake and I didn’t cry once during the entire week, not even when I caught a glimpse of the Barbie tree house in the corner of the play room.
I guess the girls and I have officially entered a new the-three-of-us phase–a different one–to be played out against the reassuring, constant backdrop until the cast of characters, or the circumstances, shift once again.