I’ve been hiking with Grey since he was born. Pretty literally. Here’s a picture of us together in the Fells about 6 days after he was born. (For the record, too soon. I overextended myself pretty significantly on that hike.)
I remember walking with him in the woods and imagining that day, someday, when his feet wouldn’t drag behind mine and I wouldn’t have to slow down. I knew that it was likely that in a twinkling, he’d go from being behind me to being ahead of me – fleet feet dancing lightly up trails that made me feel the gravity of my years. Many’s the hike I’ve dragged my children on when I told myself this impossible story – that some day they would be stronger, faster and more enduring than me.
Grey has had this phenomenal weekend. Saturday was supposed to be dedicated to cleaning out the attic. It’s amazing what sort of neat stuff you do when you’re procrastinating, isn’t it? Instead, we played a video game together as a family (Ultimate Chicken Horse – I was the hapless sheep and terrible at it). Then Adam and I found the *perfect* countertop, which happens to require us to find a brand new flooring tile because it works with the backsplash and beadboard beautifully, but doesn’t go at all with the flooring. This is something of a miracle, because neither Adam nor I have been able to stand a single one of each other’s selections until we got this one, and we both really like this one.
After we got back, we decided to go for a hike. Thane really didn’t want to go, but we dragged him anyway. Grey was happy to come, and wore the really neat wool nurse’s cloak that his great grandmother (or great aunt – something like that – Laureen can you tell the story in the comments?) wore when people wore woolen cloaks with brass buttons. He was awesome on the hike, and the only thing he complained about was his brother’s complaining.
The he came home and finished Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Lady in the Lake” which he clearly enjoyed very much. “Man,” he said, “All the characters seem to really dislike the private eye. Pretty much every single one of them has called him a bad name!” Adam replied, “Dick is the slang term for a Private Investigator. It doesn’t mean jerk.” “Oooooh that makes a lot more sense.” We finished the night up watching some Star Trek Deep Space 9.
Today, he cheerfully went to church and cheerfully participated in a lovely service. Then after we got home, he was struck by a brilliant idea. He wanted to go geocaching. And for once, his brilliant idea was brilliant. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do geocaching for years! It’s exactly the kind of thing I always hoped my kids would get into. Grey watched a Youtube video on the fundamentals of geocaching. He proposed a token to leave behind (a sticker of our family crest). He identified the best app, which he asked me to download. He found the nearby caches, and pointed out two that were in easy striking distance. And then he very politely asked me if I would go geocaching with him (since I’m the one with a smart phone). The weather was fairish today, and he’d also been talking about how much he really wanted to go ride a bike, so I suggested that we ride our bikes to the Fells (it’s less than a mile) and proceed on foot from there.
I’ve been wanting to bike to the Fells for YEARS. If this was my childhood, that’s what would’ve happened all the time. It’s so nearby, and so amazing that it’s within easy biking distance. And it is – less than 10 minutes each way. That’s nearly what it would take to drive it, and way faster than walking it.
Once in the Fells, I followed his lead in finding the caches. His joy and satisfaction and enthusiasm on finding his first ever cache just radiated from him. He was extremely diligent in logging the visit in the logbook, and putting the cache back just as he found it. The whole time he was just projecting happiness.
His appetite whetted, he begged for just one more. Now I had serious attic-cleaning duties to attend to. But when my child begs me to hike longer, um, it’s possible I don’t have as much willpower as it would take to be like “No, I need to go clean up the curtains I bought 10 years ago and never got around to hanging.” So we headed further into the Fells, finding ourselves on a trail I swear I’ve never seen before and as previously mentioned I’ve been hiking there for over a decade. The second cache we found ourselves at the base of an 80 foot cliff with the sinking realization that the cache was at the top of said cliff. I put my foot down on scaling the cliff (How old I have gotten! But I’ve seen first responders try to get into the Fells and I don’t want to do that again.) So we took the long way around.
And then it happened. He was twenty feet up the trail from me, with wings on his feet and light in his eyes, bouncing up rocky slopes like a gazelle. He called back over his shoulder “Can we pick up the pace? Like a light jog or something?” And I realized that my “someday” was in fact “today”. Today was the day when he was faster than me – when he would fly up trails and leave me to admire him from behind. Today was that day I’d dreamed about so many years.
We didn’t find the second cache, despite much hunting and searching at the top of the hill. It must be lost. But we did find a third cache. With the winds on Friday, one needs to be careful in the forests. Many trees are down today that were standing on Thursday. The third cache was in the shadow of the most astonishing widow-maker I’ve ever seen. There’s a dead tree resting on a dead tree, lodged in what I sincerely hope is a living tree. It gave me the chance to tell him about his great-great grandfather who died from the unhappy fall of such a widow-maker.
To cap off the weekend of being perfect, after dinner he went into the kitchen and made us a chocolate cake from scratch. It’s delicious – moist, light and airy. It’s some of the best chocolate cake I had. Then he posed for a picture, mimicing the exact picture from last year which I have on our calendar for this month. And then we watched some M*A*S*H episodes to honor the memory of David Ogden Spiers.
Parenting is hard work. So many nights checking homework, insisting on chores and fighting to make sure everyone does what needs to be done. So many days getting the call from the nurse that you kid needs to be picked up. There are a thousand and one hard things about being a parent. But then every so often you have an amazing weekend with your kid and you realize that wow. You really like your child. This was that moment for me.
As we close the book on the summer, I can’t help but think that this will be The Summer. I’m sure you had a summer like that – a summer you look back to in your childhood. It stands out golden and long and joyful, and is the marker for what summer should be. My Summer was when I was 9, and it included a pond and a raft, waves of grasshoppers that would explode from every footstep I took and journeys through the wild woods behind my house.
This summer, Grey was 11 and Thane was 8. And if this summer wasn’t peak-childhood-summer, I don’t know what could be.
We did a bit of pre-season summering with our first camping trip of the year, to the Waterville Valley Campground. It was a superbly relaxing weekend. We didn’t go very far or do very much, and were contented to hang out in hammocks and read books and be together. It was a superb camping trip, and we resolved in the future to carefully plan more nothing for our camping trips.
The summer started a bit quietly. School ended in mid June. We spent the last few weeks of June saying goodbye to our dear and beloved friends, as they prepared to move. We spent absolutely as much time together as possible, including heading up to New Hampshire together to celebrate about five of the kids’ birthdays. I armed them all with NERF for some epic neighborhood battles.
It was a strangely empty neighborhood we left for our longest camping trip of the year, the 4th of July trip, to our ancestral camping grounds at White Lake State Park. We’ve been there every summer since Thane was a 9 month old, and it never ceases to be a favorite of all of ours. You can take a hike, hang in a hammock, go down to the beach, ride bikes or forage for the sweet fern which grows nearby. In keeping with the traditions of our camping trip, there was extreme weather. In this case, we upped our game to include tornado warning, which sent us to a favorite local watering hole. In this case, the correlation between the soccer game we wanted to watch and the necessity to shelter in place was very serendipitous. We returned to a campsite that hadn’t been evacuated, but which had been clearly flash-flooded. Since we include moderate flooding in all our camping plans, this was accepted as nothing more than expected excitement.
We’d only be home a few days from the camping trip when the second annual Flynn’s Fiery Feast came up. It was a particularly peripatetic adventure, since the weather was gorgeous… between storm cells. So we kept moving the people and the stuff in and out, and in and out. Everyone was remarkably good sports about the whole thing.
The very next day, it was time to drive to New Hampshire again (a theme in my summer) to drop an extremely confident eldest son off at his third (or fourth?) year at Camp Wilmot. We spent a special week at home with our littlest one, and got exactly one letter from our eldest telling us what we’d forgotten to pack him. The next Sunday found me driving that oh-so-familiar stretch of 93 to drop Thane off for his first year. He sent three letters in six days, earning the “Mailman” award at camp. When Erin and I picked up our collected progeny, Thane told me that as much as Grey loved Camp Wilmot, he (Thane) loved it more.
We picked the kids up from New Hampshire on Saturday. On Sunday, we drove up to New Hampshire for a tubing trip on the Saco (rescheduled from the 4th weekend when the river was at flood stage). We had a great time throwing frisbees and floating, with the exception of the section where Thane and I managed to get totally tangled up, lose our tubes and I permanently lost my favorite hair thingy. Woe! Thane is not a huge fan of tubing after that, sadly.
They had a whole five days between that tubing trip to recover before it was time for my company summer outing at Six Flags. It rained, but that just meant that there were ZERO lines for the biggest baddest rides. Thane is now tall enough for Superman (the biggest of the Six Flags roller coasters, and a legitimately big one). They have no fear, those children. It was neat to be able to do it with friends, as well!
The day after our Six Flags adventure, we flew to Barcelona and spent a totally jetlagged day there, as well as most of a second, walking the green and joyful espalandes of Las Ramblas. Thane chased the pigeons, we ate ice cream and caught Pokemon and lost ourselves in the rambling alleys of the Gothic Quarter.
The next day we went up to Montjuic on the Funicular, and spent time going deep on the history of that grim fortress – first built to protect the city and then used to terrorize it. We walked in the gulleys where hundreds were executed, and watched the flags flying with philosophical questions.
The next day we took the train from Barcelona to Carcassonne. As we sped through the Mediterranean countryside, the boys opened their dice bags and continued the role-playing games that have threaded through all the fun times of our journey. Carcassonne city was glorious. We stayed in the newer section (you know, like 1600) in this Roaring 20s era hotel near the train station. We’d walk through the high end shops and cross the bridge to go up to the medieval city itself. It was truly remarkable, even knowing that it had been restored a mere shmere 130 or so years ago. You could lay your hands against stones that had been placed there by the Romans as they spread across Europe. But there was this whole lack of self-consciousness of the weight of history that only the Europeans can really pull off. Even the medieval city felt lived in, as though it was home to real people.
Also, the cassoulet was unbelievable.
Our greatest highlight of the Carcassonne portion of our visit was the day we spent with James MacDonald visiting Lastour and Minerve, and coming to come to intimately know the Cathars and the Crusaders who persecuted them. Climbing up to the remarkable towers at Lastours was unbelievable. It looked like a Byronic play backdrop. Minerve seemed barely changed at all from the siege of 1220, except for the Victorian bridge that now spanned the chasms. Between them we visited a neolithic tomb. There are some days where you can feel yourself accruing the value of your life. Days where you find the very meaning that you have longed and yearned for. This day was all that – to gaze on these places and walk their worn steps. It was remarkable.
Adam and I passed our 17th anniversary in the warmth of Barcelona, before we headed back to the states from a truly remarkable week in the 13th century. (And a scant week before terrorists plowed through the crowds we’d just been part of in Las Ramblas.)
Once again, we gave the boys a gracious allowance of a week before the next thing. Although this particular week, we sent them to boating camp on Spot Pond where they spent six or so hours a day on the water honing their sailing and kayaking skills. I counted, and the children kayaked on three distinct bodies of water this summer, in three different states. I kayaked in zero bodies of water. I think this shows that my children are living more wisely than I am.
My folks departed Boston ASAP on Friday night after they finished boating camp for parts west, racing the sun across the country to be in Idaho Falls in totality to witness the complete eclipse. On the way they passed through Niagara Falls, Minnesota with their cousins, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Hiawatha Trail (where they went on a 17 mile bike ride) and Yellowstone. They also kayaked on Mineral Lake at the end of their journey.
They got back from this adventure about 3 days before school started. (Meanwhile, I was hiking Chocorua.)
We were supposed to go camping Labor Day weekend. I regret that we didn’t. It is not restful to be home, I swear. But we were so worn out from all our wanderings that we just stayed at home and took a deep breath in preparation for our busiest season, the fall.
But truly, if that doesn’t count as the best summer of your childhood (maybe your life?) then, well, I’m not really sure what it is you are hoping for. It was a glimmering, golden, busy, joy-filled, friend-filled, nature-filled, history-filled, ice-cream-filled summer, and I will treasure it forever.
My husband and I have been married for 17 years. We started dating 21 years ago. Eleven years ago we added Grey to the family, and eight years ago Thane joined in. Now, this is going to come as a massive surprise to you, but it’s hard to spend great quality time with your spouse when you have two children, two full time jobs, a rather obscene number of side interests (see also: Pastor Nominating Committee, role playing games, local politics, Mom’s Groups…). But Adam and I would like to stay happily married for another 2x 20 years. (Given our ages when we got married, we have a shot of making it to 60 years of marriage!) And that means that sometimes taking a break from the tumult of life to focus on each other.
When we switched the kids’ afterschool option, I wasn’t sure if there would be February break coverage. But do you know what’s cheaper than $900 a month for afterschool? Airline tickets and retired parents. So last Friday I waved my children goodbye as they went down the gangplate. (No pictures because I left my phone in the car. I didn’t have it for like 2.5 boring hours! It was a sobering highlight on how dependent I am…)
We then had the AWESOMEST weekend. We ate out practically the whole time. That night we went to the Baldwin. The next day we went snow shoeing. That seems funny to say right now, as it’s 60+ degrees out, but it was a lot of fun! Then we went to a regional theater performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirits and ate a super fancy dinner. We actually got a chance to talk about something other than the upcoming week’s agenda.
Sunday I went to church. We had lunch with a friend, went on a run, and then had dinner with other friends. We ended the night at 11, reading the Iliad aloud around the dinner table.
Then, oh bliss!!! Monday was a holiday! First we had brunch at The Ugly Mug in Salem. We wandered through a used book store (where we bought books mostly for the kids, whom we were missing…). Then we went to the Peabody Essex Museum and went to the maritime art section (which ostensibly interested neither of us, but which we were both quickly enamoured with).
We took as long as we wanted, and Adam spend half the time on his belly near the furniture to see how the artists had jointed it. We got home just after noon, and I initiated project “second batch of beer”. I think I did… better this time. Not amazing, but better. It’s really a lot of work for a product that has a high likelihood of inferiority, so I’m not 100% sure there will be a third batch.
On the flip side, I discovered that dude-hobbies have cleaning devices driven by power tools.
I asked Adam to get me a sink connector for the wort chiller. He ended up going to like 3 different stores and buying 5 pieces of hardware. None of it, in any configuration, actually connected our wort chiller to the sink.
We ended the weekend at another friend’s house having another delicious dinner and playing games. We got months’ worth of dating into one action packed weekend!!!
It was awesome. It’s easy to lean on him as a capable partner, hard worker and good provider. But that can risk forgetting that my husband is funny, loving, great to talk to and in sum – he’s the guy I want to spend my life with.
I got my children back on Friday night (the same day my husband hied him off to yet another gaming convention). I really missed them too. The house seemed very quiet and clean without them – unnatural, I tell you! But I’m really looking forward to spending more time with this awesome guy I’m sharing my life with!
Halloween eight years ago marked one of my better costumes. Adam had spent all day in the basement putting together a robot costume for our then three year old eldest son. It had light up LEDs on the chestplate and wiggly arms. Grey wept bitter tears because he couldn’t put his arms down. (Oops.) He wore the prior year’s costume.
But my costume at that Halloween party with friends was an accessory. Specifically, a pumpkin I was carrying in my arms. The day Adam had been making Grey’s costume, I came home from the hospital with my wee Thane. He was a sweet child from the very start. He was little – just over six pounds. He had dark hair and dark eyes. And extremely large feet. He pretty much immediately stopped being little (he’s lurked between 70th – 90th percentiles for height), and dropped his dark brown hair for blond curls.
He still has gigantic feet. 8 years old – size four.
Thane has been a joy to parent. He’s joyful, loving, sweet and cuddly. My favorite part of the day is when I get to snuggle him to wake him up the morning. I’m really enjoying this year with him, because while he’s independent and capable he still has some of the sweet innocence of childhood to him (if you ignore the poop jokes).
My youngest has a personality that has two settings: calm focus and exuberant bouncing. He’s a kid who can’t walk because he’s skipping, jumping, hopping or dragging his feet because he’s soooooo tired. But when he sits to focus, he has an incredible ability to zero in on one thing and focus for hours – usually singing to himself while he plays. He also has a long history of being obsessed with one thing: puzzles, dinosaurs, Scooby-Doo (that one lasted literally years). His hyper focus is more spread out now. Current favorite things include Pokemon (he’s my Pokemon Go buddy) and a return to Legos.
This year was a breakout year for Thane with math. He showed early promise with his ability to do spacial reasoning problems (like puzzles). But first grade gave him enough of a math vocabulary to start tackling bigger problems. His mental arithmetic is about as fast as mine for the addition, subtraction and multiplication. (OK, he’s actually faster than me on some multiplication.) Division he can do, but has to think about it harder. He went to the Winchester branch of the Russian School of Math for the end of the year and a summer program, and in his first set of homework worked out the Fibonacci sequence (which I’m not sure I was *ever* actually taught). After the summer program he didn’t want to do it anymore because it wasn’t fun. I was disappointed but sympathetic. Forcing him to do it doesn’t seem like the right way to encourage him to love the subject, but I’m hoping that he finds his way back to pushing his knowledge of the subject.
Sunday, he wrapped up his fall soccer season. I’ve just started realizing that both boys have been playing for years – even if neither one has ever fallen in love with the sport. Thane was a major contributor on his team – especially as a defender who will challenge for and take away the ball. He has improved massively on the “randomly falling down” metric. He doesn’t love activity and exercising, but he’s done well by it.
Thane is a cheerful, resilient kid. He seems to not even feel pain. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that his joyfulness covers a very thoughtful mind and kind heart. He’s not a quiet kid by any stretch, but he’s undemanding in many ways. But don’t underestimate his strength, wisdom or insight.
Tonight Adam and I snuck in a run in the very last of the after-work light. About a mile in, my phone rang with an unknown number. It rang again. Then I saw a text. “Mom?” It said. I answered on the third ring. “Mom,” said a no-nonsense voice on the other end. “What oil do I use to grease a cake pan? Is it olive oil? I’m making you a cake for your birthday because I feel bad we didn’t do it earlier.”
I explained the wonders of Pam to him.
Half a mile later, I got a Google video call. “Mom” with the camera pointed to the mixer, “How do I hook up the beater to the mixer?”
When we got home, the batter was mixed (ok – he did use the bread hook instead of the beater). He followed the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook. All by himself. “I’m sorry for the mess. I am still learning how to do all this.” The best birthday gift a mom could ask for cools on the stove.
Tonight marks the last night when my son can answer the question “how old are you” with only his fingers. Of course, being a pre-teen, he’d be highly unlikely to answer that question using his fingers anyway. For us, this milestone birthday finds us starting Middle School. There’s homework (lots of it, and hard). There are after school clubs (Ultimate Frisbee and drama are his top two choices – with a conflict that means he can’t do extra band practice). There’s the independence that comes when your primary mode of transportation is your own two feet, and you’re on your own recognizance to get between all the places you go in a day. (I recently bought him a backpack cover, because he’s expected to walk in all weathers.) There is the beginning of making choices that are different than the ones your parents would make for you (see also: Ultimate Frisbee instead of band). We are entering a new stage of life together.
Grey is still incredibly fun to be a family with. He has a cunning wit, and keen sense of humor and wordplay. He reads comic books over and over compulsively (just like I did – he stole all of mine). He prefers realistic fiction in his reading materials, and is becoming entranced by manga. (I got a giant box of manga for him for his birthday. We might not see much of him this week.) Like so many boys of his generation his favorite things have screens on them (to my dismay). He loves watching these obnoxious Youtube videos, and playing those freemium games that are the bane of the internet. His birthday party includes a very small collection of friends – just enough to match the number of simultaneous Xbox players.
When forced to be away from his computer, Grey loves to be with people. He loves role playing games, both as a player at his father’s table and as a GM with his peers. There are wide-ranging neighborhood adventures, and a pack of children who move around together. He plays soccer (and is vastly improved), although he doesn’t love it. He’s a great lover of variety, in food and entertainment. Grey is a sucker for the cozy. He’s at his happiest curled up over the heating vent in PJs eating sunflower seeds (there are seeds EVERYWHERE in this house), listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song” and reading a comic book while the rain falls outside. Grey adores things that are cute. Like cats. He loves cats. And little kids. He’s really good with the younger set, which is a good thing because as one of the oldest kids in the set, there are lots of little kids.
Of course, Grey’s not perfect. But over the decade plus I’ve known him, I’ve watched his faults diminish and his gifts flourish. I can only hope that trend continues unabated through (gulp) puberty and beyond.
I always get nostalgic around fall. If you search my archives, you’ll see many fall related posts. (Only about half of which reference Tolkien and how I wish I’d been born on the 22nd instead of the 23rd. I digress.) And these last few fall days have been glorious ones indeed. We went to King Richard’s Faire. The first of the drought-strained leaves are beginning to fall. After a squishy, humid summer the air is beginning to have a crisper bite to it.
But that’s not the season to which I refer.
For the last, um, seven or so years of my life, 8 am and 6 pm have found me at the old box factory between Gould and Pleasant Streets – the location of the Stoneham YMCA Child Care center. Daycare, then preschool, then summer camp, followed by afterschool. This awesome center has been a huge part of my life for years and years. They’ve always taken great care of my kids, and have loved them, even when they were perhaps not incredibly lovable. (See also: Thane at 4.) They took my kids to swimming lesson. They figured out a way to work in ski lessons (which was amazing). They got the kids outside every nice day, running off excess energy. I’ve always known my kids were safe and well taken care of.
But Grey is on the verge of aging out. He certainly doesn’t need the super high levels of supervision and rigor that the Y provides. And suddenly this year, the “pack” of kids has shifted from the Y to the very nice but much less hands-on other alternative in town. The kids really want to go where their friends go. And the fact that the other after school program is much less expensive is also nice.* So…. I finally worked out all the logistics to switch the kids. (Which, just putting out there, was not a simple thing to figure out.)
Grey is in middle school this year. He’s signed up for some afterschool clubs (Ultimate Frisbee & Drama – two clubs he’s excellently well suited for). He is beginning to own his own schedule after school. He walks to the afterschool, and walks home from the afterschool if he chooses to. This seems both natural and right, and absolutely astonishing.
It feels like there should be a ceremony. You should have to bake a cake for all the people who watched your children for so long. You should have to write a letter saying how much it’s meant to you. You should have another graduation, or something. It doesn’t quite seem right that one day they got on the bus like they have practically their whole life… and the next day they don’t. But there it is. I have expressed my extreme gratitude to the Y for their awesomeness. But it doesn’t seem quite enough.
I’ll miss the Y a ton. But I’m proud of the fine young men my sons are turning into!
*Being ambiguous for security reasons. If you want to know more about it, feel free to send me a message.