Family is often a complicated matter, and even when we’re at our very best; it can be a delicate dance to keep us in that condition. Sometimes though, the stars align and there’s no extra effort at all and a day or two (or even more) just sparkles in ways that make the time extra special.
This has been a busy weekend, with one activity after another, the pace of which doesn’t necessarily lend to stellar moods. However, it was a remarkable weekend in ways big and small; the kind that weaves memorable threads into the intricate tapestry we have created of our family life together. At face value, one might miss the little moments that led to the big. I didn’t. I notice and appreciate them.
Actually, it had been a hectic week as well, with many nights out after work and assignments of various types to follow up on when I finally did get home. My car started acting up a bit, and one of my sons willingly handed his fairly new one over to me to use for a couple of days for work and other places that I had to go. His birthday was yesterday and I picked my mom up later on Friday evening so she could be a part of the festivities. In spite of her age (almost 84), she goes with the flow regardless of what time of day or night something is planned or will happen. My middle and oldest son worked together that evening, DJing a local school event, and my mom and I enjoyed conversation with them upon their return.
Yesterday was also my day to spend time with 10-year old Little Sister, and given that my mom was over, I invited her to join us although I had no idea what we’d be doing. Since the weather was supposed to be gorgeous, I wanted to do something outside but fairly local since the whole crew was coming over later in the day to celebrate my son’s birthday with dinner and an evening together.
I decided to visit a beautiful local park that once was a well-known zoo; somewhere that my parents had brought me to many times over during my childhood. It was a place that I dearly loved and had many wonderful memories of and I was excited to not only enjoy the day there once again but share it with my mom as well. I only recently introduced my Little Sister to the park and was delighted with her pleasure in the visit and her desire to go there regularly going forward. She seemed to enjoy hearing stories of my time there when I was around her age as much as the ideas of what we might do there in the future. I especially like that she likes to learn about things that happened far before she was born and is open to creative adventures and little things that may not be exciting but are fun in a gentler way.
Yesterday was one of those days. We did nothing big or exciting but had such a nice time together, the three of us. I packed a picnic lunch and brought along sketch pads and colored pencils. As we walked along the water’s edge at the park, we were happy to spy a turtle sunning itself on a rock, never dreaming we’d see not one but twenty in just a few moments also basking in the sun across two sturdy logs. We watched with glee as we spotted little heads making their way through the pond, those tiny prehistoric-looking creatures putting so much effort into mounting the logs. Occasionally, a turtle would jockey for position, only to be ignored or pushed back into the water. The determined turtle would swim on and finally find a spot to stake a claim, sometimes on the back end of another turtle.
Suddenly a pair of Canadian geese glided near with five goslings between them, sternly leading and following up on their charges, all business the entire time. We were fortunate to view them up close, of course not so close as to render any anxiety on their part. From there, we ventured forward and viewed more turtles and even a water snake, curled up waterside in a clump of high weeds. Between my mom and my Little Sister, there were some sharp eyes on our side and it was great fun to share the time together.
We found our way to a beautiful vantage point and had a picnic lunch, and talked about what animals once roamed close by in the various areas and memories from long ago of zoo visits. We went through the 9/11 Memorial, which has such impact regardless of how many times I see it. Sitting near the memorial, my mom read a book while my Little Sister and I broke out the sketchpads and pencils. Not feeling particularly inspired or ambitious, I opted for my old standby, flowers, while my young friend decided to draw the 9/11 Memorial. In spite of the difficulty of the task, she captured the essence of it very well.
The three of us went to visit one of my friends, and her adorable dogs, that lives nearby and then met up with the birthday boy and enjoyed ice cream together. It was just a very nice day that combined some of the special people in my life, and yet it had only just begun really.
When I arrived home once again, my youngest son was home from college with the majority of his gear, although he still has a couple of finals left. Slowly, the rest of my children and their partners began to trickle in and the house swelled with their presence as I prepared a birthday meal. As always, conversation is spirited, much food is consumed, and the evening held many comical moments. As in every family, each birthday celebration holds tradition, inside jokes and thoughtful gestures. I say in every family, but I guess I’m overstating here. Every fortunate family has traditions, inside jokes and thoughtful gestures. I guess this makes us one of the very lucky ones.
A wonderful day ended somewhat late and today started quite early. My daughter and son-in-law embarked on trip to Punta Cana to celebrate their 3rd wedding anniversary and 10 years of being together and we left at 5 am to take them to the airport. By we, I mean my mom, my middle son and me. Given that it was Mother’s Day today, I figured it would be nice to do something special for my mom after we left the airport. However, it was slightly before 6 a.m. and the options available to us were limited. Being so early, it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to travel down a bit south of Boston to a place from my childhood that holds many, many good memories and had no limit on what time of day we could arrive. My son was game, so we decided to do it and not say a word about where we were going to my mom.
Our destination was a little beach called Humarock, where my family stayed many times during my early years. My cousins who lived in Connecticut would stay there each summer and we would often share a small cottage with them. Later, they would move to the town of Marshfield, where Humarock adjoins and even then our excursions continued. I had only been back there perhaps once or twice in my adult years, and only once with my mom when we visited her sister about six or so years ago. Her sister has since passed away and I was certain that my mother never dreamed she’d see the beach again.
We arrived so early this morning that the water glistened with the low, but still rising, sun. The tide was high and we were amazed by how little sand there seemed to be and how many small rocks now engulfed the sand. The sea wall, which we once walked nightly on our way to Clark’s store for goodies of some kind, perhaps an ice cream or a bag of marshmallows, was barely noticeable now, rocks to the edge and most of it missing completely. Houses that had been once so grand had been burned almost to the ground. I remembered a house near the decrepit sea wall with a swimming pool in the front and wondered if it was the one that had a cement frontage now. Houses that had been modest had been replaced by large, yet somewhat humble, homes. There was more than a fair share of luxurious homes as well.
We went down the street (bless my mother’s memory) where the small cottage we once shared with my aunt and uncle and their five kids still stands. It’s actually in great shape but still small, and I wondered how seven kids and four adults managed to squeeze in there. Once, we had fished for crabs all afternoon off the bridge and had several buckets filled with crabs, which we kept under our beds overnight. The next day, as promised, we released the crabs but not in the river where they had been found but on the beach itself. Picture a hot summer day with lots of moms sitting at the water’s edge in their sand chairs and a crew of kids coming, approaching with buckets of crabs and releasing them. It’s been many years but I can still remember how quickly moms picked up their toddlers and their chairs and hurried away from the surf.
I remember walking from my cousins’ house many years later, the small posse of cousins so young yet with such amazing freedom to walk the harbor, check out the boats, crab fish from the docks, watch the teenagers dive from the bridge (not allowed!), and go to the kids’ dances which were held at a parking lot just a street away from the beach.
There was an old man with a wooden leg fishing at the river, near a beautiful house we rented one year directly on the river. He had drawers built into his wooden leg and kept his fish hooks there. Humarock had quite an undertow and fairly often, large waves. I was a fearless fish-child and never really understood the power of the undertow until one evening, just as my father arrived for the weekend after working all week, I was swept under the surf and pulled back out into deeper waters. I remember the helplessness, the swirling water and two strong arms pulling me out of that scary place. My father dove in, fully clothed, wallet in his pocket, clearly panicked by what he saw (or in fact didn’t see as I was completely under the water).
My aunt, my mother’s sister, was not the mother that my mother was and is. My mother loved to do things with her kids, reveled in treats and special occasions. My aunt, who had five children, was usually unhappy, quite often cranky, and didn’t do treats, didn’t do special things, and most certainly, didn’t seem to enjoy her children all that much. Perhaps she was overwhelmed but she wasn’t a particularly happy person in any part of her life that I could tell, even years later, and my mother often escaped with us to indulge in some fun. She was kind as can be to my cousins as well and if we had gone off for a private walk to enjoy some time together, or a special treat, she would always bring back something good for my cousins, too.
We spent time at the beach today and drove around for a bit, remembering different things that perhaps would never have come to mind again had we not visited. Memories rushed back and it was especially nice to introduce my son to this wonderful place, too.
He treated us to a delicious breakfast and we then headed back up toward Boston, amazed that it was still so early in the morning and that very little was open yet. Knowing we had an afternoon project to complete at my mom’s, we visited Home Depot and picked up the netting fabric to cover up my mother’s flowerbeds and picked up flowers to plant, too. This was all in preparation for what we were really waiting for – IKEA to open.
My mom had never been to IKEA, so now it was our turn to show her one of our favorite places. She was a quick convert, and came home with a mega-comfy chair and footstool, which we put together when we finally got to her house. Our purchases for the day, from IKEA, Home Depot and Christmas Tree Shop, packed my son’s SUV from top to bottom and even took up a portion of the backseat. It was an adventure, by far, and one that we’ll remember for a very long time. Nothing overly exciting, by any means, but just lots of small, enjoyable moments; thoughtful and caring ones that added up to a wonderful, wonderful day.
Later today, my son laid ground cover, as I figured out where flowers would go. Another quick jaunt to the store resulted as we realized we needed far more bark mulch than we had gotten earlier in the day. My son did a host of other small jobs while we were at my mom’s house, from putting in her air conditioner to changing out smoke detector batteries and changing glass doors to screen doors. He did a lot, and a lot of driving as well, in spite of very little sleep. Best of all, he enjoyed the day. Really enjoyed the day and for that, I am grateful (and I know my mom is, too!).
Little moments throughout the weekend. Cooperation and conversations. Commitment to projects, big and small, to help me around my own house. One of my sons putting together a yard swing that I picked up with my Little Sister a couple of weeks ago. Bottles of wine and delicious food. Cupcakes and ice cream, presents and laughter. Cards with thoughtful words; acknowledgement of the special family we are and how much we mean to each other. Friends and family connecting together and family connecting even more. All of these moments weave together, and although the weekend was busy and exhausting, it was exhilarating, too. I am grateful every day for the family I have been fortunate enough to have. On Mother’s Day especially, I count my blessings and remember all the little things that make my life so full.