It’s a dark, windy, rainy mid-October day. I’m listening to a Pandora station that seems to be taken entirely from my own iPod library. But still, it’s good. It’s just a little, well, sad. All the songs of love, loss, home, journeying, hope, despair — with strong overtones of a capella.
In addition to writing a complex query and laying out (yet another) pdf report, I’m thinking about what to do with a long weekend. It looks like the weather has a chance at brisk and glorious. Here’s what I’m thinking about for a glorious Saturday…
We’ll rise earlyish. I’ll let Grey finally finish the Avatar episode he’s started 3 times this week, and I play with Thane in his room. Thane loves, loves his bedroom in a way Grey never has. He’ll bop the Weebles down the slide, crawl between stacks of books, and then imperious hobble over to me, a Weeble-princess in one hand “Horn to Toes and In Between” in the other and announce “Boo! Boo!” We’ll eventually pile our sons into the car, carefully loaded with snacks and entertainments and drive North through the Merrimack River valley. Grey will be confused, wondering if we’re going to daycare on a Saturday.
We’ll pass through the lands of concrete onto smaller and smaller roads, through impossibly picturesque New England towns with white steeples and lots of acrimonious town politics, until we get to the Shaker Museum. Grey will get up close and personal with a livestock. We’ll stand in a room built by hands dedicated to equality and pacifism. No one lives there now. Perhaps there will be a hayride. I’ll feel torn between permitting my youngest to explore his world and forbidding him to explore cow-patties. I’ll buy a token of my memory of this period of unworldiness and optimism.
Last time I was there, my mother bought me a pin that was also a vase. It could hold a pansy — called heartsease — in water on your chest. It was stolen from me in a burglary we experienced on September 11, 2009.
Unless fortune truly smiles at us, we’ll have to leave when one or more boys hits too-tired. We’ll put them in the car, hoping for a nap. The child who desperately needs to sleep will not. We’ll drive to our next destination. 5 minutes before we arrive, the child will fall asleep and silence will descend on the car for the first time all day. We’ll drive in circles around our destination, afraid to stop until just a little more sleep has been obtained.
We’ll go to Moose Brook State park. The boys will play on the playground, swing in the swings. We’ll play with the great stomp-rocket Grey got for his birthday. As the shadows loom long, we’ll get a campsite and build a campfire. I imagine sitting around the fire, watching embers fly up to the stars, singing songs together and telling stories. I imagine putting our sticky, sweet, sleepy children into the car and silently returning to our daily lives back in the suburbs, flying down thick freeways in time to be at church the next morning.
Thus I imagine. I have enough experience to know that it’ll be nothing like this. It will be better. It will be worse. There will be a moment most sublime. There will be several that will be quite banal. I give it 50/50 odds that Grey throws up at least once.
On a melancholy autumn day, I think about these days and moments. This is my sons’ childhood — their one and only. It’s desperately brief. You get one shot at being a child, and one shot at giving the people you created their childhood. Will Grey remember this trip on a melancholy autumn, some day 30 years from now? Will these journeys be the touchstone for him? When the smells of October waft through his office window, which of these memories will pop unbidden to his mind? Which cobalt sky will define perfection in cobalt skies for my sons? Will he remember the laughter? The hot dogs? The feeling that the world is a bigger place than he realized?
There’s a Simon and Garfunkel song (“And the Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall”) that says “I don’t know what is real, I can’t touch what I feel.” I sometimes think about how few of the things I touch are real. When is the last time you ran your hands across the bark of a tree? Do you remember how silky soft the inner petals of a dandylion are? I sometimes fear that so much our world is created, constructed and extruded that my sons will never touch what is real, to know it when they feel it. I suppose that’s a funny thing to fear. But my roots still reach down to the water table of the wild. I drank great draughts in my youth. I can only hope to help my sons know that it is there if they choose to reach for it.