Thursday, September 23, 2010

imperfect prose: a Place for rest

(one essay of a series I'm working on from summer vacation, August 2010)

If there were an easier location in the world to be together as a family, I’d like to know where it is.  A big, green, level yard for running, whacking a whiffle ball, toddling about with soft grass to land.  Pond water so shallow and clean we didn’t hesitate to plunk the bare baby bottoms down in the soft mud.  For several years, when my kids were the littlest, Grandpa thrifted an old porcelain bathtub into the soft soil of the pond, just past the rectangular deck.  This was the perfect place to corral squirmy offspring, as well as found turtles, guppies, minnows and the morning’s catch of sunnies.  Not all at the same time, of course.  We used that tub for several years in a row – since we had babies in the house for about eight years straight, it was an ingenious concoction. 

And no one does resourceful gadgetry better than Grandpa.  He’s the guy who can turn an old tractor trailer tire into a tire swing.  You’ve seen that done, but not like Grandpa’s tire swing.  He's the guy who can turn a tractor trailer tire into a swing that several babies can curl up simultaneously inside the black rubber, like a cradle with chain linking it to the crossbeams nailed into the tree trunk.  When my kids were little we’d fit two of them in there – one with legs draping over the front cut-out of the tire and the other, usually the shorter, with legs poking out the doughnut holes of the tire, one on each side.  Swing and swim. Swim and swing.  Swing and swim.  Those were the early days of raising kids in this Place. 

If we were lucky – and we made darn certain that we usually were – the kids would all tucker out for a long afternoon nap.  Right in the middle of the hottest part of the day, when the dragon flies were at their buzziest and the crickets at their lazy-afternoon droniest.  When the heat and activity had drained us of our purpose, we’d tuck them away into the back corners of the little square house, their pink cheeks pressed to the pillow or the playpen, curtains drawn, fans gasping out rattly air.   We would tiptoe around the floors outside their bedroom doors, slipping into our bathing suits, picking up our pillows and books and cold iced drinks to spend the afternoon in the sun, reading.  Reading did happen, but usually only for a few moments before our own day’s activity – that of pushing swings and lifeguarding swimming babies – caught up with us. 

The best naps of my life took place pond-side in that Place.  The kind where the sun and the bugs and the soft, lapping water provides the tranquilizer of choice.  No other nap has surpassed those naps, lying with blanket and pillow on the sun-baked dock.  Between the rhythmic lullabies chirping around me, the light soaking into my winter-paled skin, the musty smell of the just damp planks of wood underneath me, I didn't stand a chance.  The few pages I managed to read only added to the sleep-inducing haze of the cottage summer afternoon.

No matter how long this downtime lasted, it never seemed long enough.  When we heard sounds of the waking babes, we’d try desperately to coax a few more minutes of sleep.  A few more minutes of being masters of our own selves.  With toddlers, it seems that all of your time is spent between the two extremes of prying off clinging little bodies or chasing after little bodies running headlong into danger.  In this place, it could be the road up the short hill of a driveway with logging trucks and countrified pick up trucks barreling past.   The other direction’s danger was the murky water of the pond.  Only a few inches could be danger for an unattended child and, like one great maternal eye, we kept watch.  Grandma did her duty each year to talk us through her collection of stories involving drownings, fires, electrocutions.   She made sure we were well-versed in all that could go wrong and so we were vigilant.  This is the reason we pretended not to hear those first few calls from the back of the house, to give ourselves just a few more moments of stillness before the second half of the day when it all began again.  Swim. Swing. Swim. Swing. Swim.  And – swing again.

 Now, we come back to this Place after a long absence.  We find that we can take naps  any time we want.  It is a major difference and one that pleases us greatly.  Our children know the contours of this land and these buildings, can navigate them with confidence and comfort.  They’ve learned well the secrets of building their own napping caves.  How to curl up on the wooden planks with blanket and pillow – or better, yet, on the steamy rubber of a floating inner tube, baking under the cloud-sparkling sky.  Since they now drive the sloping driveway at the entrance with their own licenses, our concerns for danger have shifted.  They swim now across the width of the water, to the mysterious stumps jutting out, like a belt buckle across the belly of the pond.  We watch with one eye from our napping places.  Or we join them, free to move about the place with our own bodies intact and separate from theirs.  It is a different season, but a good one.  The cottage calls us into the same grassy lap, the same chirping melodies and we are gathered gladly. 

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