Recently, we went on vacation. It was a week of visiting Cate’s family in Pennsylvania (who I hadn’t met) and her dad in Baltimore. It was the first vacation we’d taken since our honeymoon.

Generally speaking, Cate and I are pretty responsible and we hadn’t taken a vacation because we’d been busy saving for one thing or another. In fact, we still are as the hope is that a new house will be forthcoming in the next year or so. Additionally, I tend toward hermitishness. I like my routines and I like hiding in the house.

But let me tell you something, I’d forgotten how much I like a good vacation. Having not had a good vacation since our first child was born, I hadn’t realized how nice it is to divorce yourself from the normal responsibilities. No house to pick up. No grocery shopping. Lax bedtimes. It was delightful change of pace. And, there were a bunch of lovely new experiences. We toured the Martin Guitar Factory. We took Simone to the Crayola “Factory.” And we spent time by the Sea. God, I love the sea. I think Tolkien knew what he was doing when he described the elves sea-longing. We spent an evening on the Chesapeake Bay at a little café I found through the miracle of modern technology. There was a lawn and several docks, one of which had an osprey nest at the end of it. There wasn’t quite water all the way to the horizon, but it was close. Every time I’m at the sea, I find it almost impossible to leave.

Anyway, it was an excellent time and it helped me reset from a long school year. I’m back now to my normal routines. Writing (6200 words and counting), playing guitar, working out. Some of these are routines that haven’t been a regular part of my life in ages, and I feel like myself more than I have in a long time. I think a lot of it is because I had the chance to not be responsible for a week. We may have to make a habit of this.

Where I’ll Be

June 12, 2013

Note: The following is cross-posted on both Elephants for Bookends and The Winesburg Eagle.

School is out and we’ve just gotten back from a little trip. This was a long school year and during it, I did almost no fiction writing. But a couple of months ago, I got an idea. I’ll be working on it a lot this summer, but here’s the start…

Two people stand together on the last night of a midwestern county fair. In the background, improbably, an organist swirls through Greensleeves. Through the dark, the melody rises and falls opposite the surrounding cacophony. Children scream and laugh. Prizes are won. Poorly maintained machines whirl dangerously around. Lights flash and flicker. It is just as you remember if you have the appropriate background to remember such things. The song is perhaps unseasonable, but it feels appropriate even so. The night is warm, but there is a breeze trying to turn into a wind and it scrapes leaves up against the booths and rides and ankles. Being fair time, it is also that time of year when all concerned sense the coming cold. It will not frost tonight, but it may tomorrow night. It is the time when minds, if not yet bodies—which are busy with their last revel, turn inward and hearthward. Though he tries not to, the male half of our couple can feel it. He has been gone for a long time, but this is still the ground where he was bred. There is only so much we can do by way of escape.

And it is in this spirit that the organist, an aging hulk enduring from an earlier time when this kind of celebration was more commonplace, offers the song. A glance at him reveals his intent. His fingers and hands seem too thick for the organ. They are more suited to the farm. The farm is where he began, but he found that he liked the clothing of pomp and circumstance better. His massive hands, though clumsy at first, proved an aide to his art, each finger just small enough to avoid overrunning the struck key. For half a century he has done what he is now doing, and though his selections may be idiosyncratic, as tonight, they are always strangely appropriate. And so, any Romanticism you or I may feel looking at this scene is fully appropriate. It has been carefully orchestrated, after all.

This moment is the moment when the story of our couple is decided. I will not hold you in suspense. It will be a happy ending, though they do not realize this. And like all happy endings, there has been a great deal of strife and sorrow before this moment—just as there is more to come. But as the song plays and the minds turn inward, they each reach the point when tension and turmoil must choose a direction and turn permanently into affection or disdain. More than a little of the reason each turns toward affection can be found in the mood created by Greensleeves winding through the last night of this fair. Nothing wants a beginning so much as an ending.

And this is a beginning of sorts because though our couple may seem a pair of high schoolers from a distance, they are older and each has taken so long to come to this moment that neither realizes it is, in fact, a unified story they are experiencing. He sees only his story and she sees only hers. Some of that future strife will be spent in each accepting the unity of their story. But for now we turn backward and leave each their own. We will start with her because it has taken her longer. Or, at least, she has paid the greater price.

Four

June 6, 2013

On Saturday, Simone turned four. I have been waiting for this since she was born because I remember being four. I don’t remember being one or two or three. Oh, there are a few scattered, hazy memories from when I was three, but nothing real. No sense of self lurks in those year. But four I remember.

Because I know what it’s like to be four, it seems as though there is less guessing in parenting all of a sudden. I pay attention to my daughter. I know, generally, what she needs, and now I have my own experience and memories to fall back on.

These next several years, for Simone will be all about wonder. Watching her through these first four years has meant watching someone learn how to interact with the world when the rules haven’t been laid out. When everything is surprising and sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. There is still some of that of course. On Sunday we were out, and Simone wanted to make friends with all the kids and give them flower petals. The ones her age or younger understood, but those a bit older were to busy running around. Simone isn’t gregarious and so she stood there and watched them run and became sad because they wouldn’t stop, though they said hello.

It took a while for her to come out of it, and later she fell and got an enormous goose egg on her forehead, but at the end of the day, I asked if it had been a good day or a bad day and she said it had been a good day because she got to run around in the neighborhood we like (we plan to move there in a year or so). And just writing that, I see her running down the sidewalk and stopped to pick up rocks and flower petals. Pine cones and sticks. And that is wonder. That is why it as a good day for her. I remember that. Being curious. Exploring.

At four, I knew the rules of the world for the most part. I knew I was safe when I was with my parents and that I could always go to them. Because of that safety, I was free to explore without fear. Simone has that now. It’s been growing in her for a while, but it feels very sudden.

There will come a time when she’s seven or eight maybe when she’ll really start to understand disappointment. When some of those around her will really hurt her feelings in a way that isn’t mended by collecting sticks. Things will happen that Cate and I won’t always be able to fix. And it will be sad.

But for right now, she gets to explore. She plays with her friends and her brother and us. She reads books. She asks questions and we try to find the answers to the ones I don’t know. It’s a good life, a happy life.