On my 38th birthday, I drove a rented dark blue mini-van through rainy New England. The van carried four generations of my family: my boys, my mother, my maternal grandparents, myself. From western Massachusetts to southern Connecticut, my mother and I shifted our attention constantly from the youngest child, still in need of a great deal of attention, to my elderly grandparents who were quieter about their needs but also required much consideration. As we listened to the gleeful joke-telling in the second and third rows, I watched my grandfather, nearly 90 years old, attempt to drink from a Starbucks cup for the first time. At first quite taken with the small lid opening, he soon tired of the learning curve that prevented him from sipping his hot cocoa successfully. I handed him tissues and wet wipes constantly as I drove through the dense woods and over reservoirs, trying in vain to protect his trench coat from complete ruin without driving off the winding roads.
There is so much to say about the short but very sweet trip we took earlier this week.
I’d like to write about seeing my kids with my own grandparents, and all that the boys learned from spending a few days with a much older generation. Things like slowing down and being patient, and the value of some of the attention being placed on other people – ones who are neither fast nor physically strong anymore but who continue to be vibrant, funny, curious and loving, and how much those things count. About meeting my cousin’s new baby and giving my grandparents a chance to be in a room with all five of their great-grandchildren at the same time. About my mom reading bedtime stories to my boys in a big hotel bed and then laughing ourselves silly in our own adjoining room until nearly midnight, once the boys were asleep. Visiting with my wonderful, timeless uncles and my cousin’s family, and being out in the country in homes that boasted acreage and vegetable gardens, chickens and goats and sheep and a horse. Watching my city boys cluck and flap happily among the free range chickens, collect a dozen eggs from the hen house, and ride their cousins’ horse out in the yard.
There is so much to say about it all. And yet this evening, after a couple of days back at home, I lay next to Baxter while he drifted off to sleep holding my arm tightly around himself as if he would never let me go, and what I was really left wanting to say was how marvelous it is that we can have a truly miserable day together like we did today, full of back-talk and short fuses and attitude, and yet we can still lie down together at the end of it all, warm and snuggled and loving, and I can smile into his hair, letting it all go, and say, “We’ll try again tomorrow, okay?” and mean it.
And in my heart, I know it is all part of the same story, and it’s about roots and wings. Where I was earlier this week? Those were my roots, and by extension also my children’s, and without those roots we wouldn’t be who we are. Not by a long-shot. Forgiving each other after a lousy day at home, my mom and my grandparents and the boys and me all together on my birthday, uncles and aunts we don’t see often, being back among the familiar hills and trees of the place where I grew up, second cousins playing together, a new baby passed from lap to lap, and Baxter on that horse waving to his nearly blind great-grandmother who was nevertheless watching from the window, so as not to miss a moment of his ride, waving and cheering him on. It’s all connected.
All of it.