I took some time off this summer to help my mother out with the camp that my family has been rented exclusively for close to 40 years. She's not up to staying there anymore, and so a certain amount of cleanup and consolidation of the family detritus was necessary. It wasn't all work, however, and the last day included a family trip to Stowe. PP got his first (and second) ride on an alpine slide.
My concerns about how he would react to the ski lift proved to be completely unfounded. Getting on and off was a bit of a challenge, given that the seat is about at the level of his bottom. He can't exactly just sit down as the seat arrives underneath him. Instead, I had to lift and hold him next to me as the seat caught him like those old mail bags at the train station.
On the way up, I think he was more relaxed than I was. We spend the time watching the hundreds of monarch butterflies flitting around in the milkweeds that grow on the ski slopes during the summer, and marveling at those magical technological devices that actually let you make snow. "It's just like swinter."
As for the ride down. He loved it. We obviously didn't have the fastest sled in the bunch, but we swooped down through the curves with the wind in our faces, and me being very careful to keep my knees tucked in away from the speed-blurred concrete inches away. Auntie had him for his second ride. While I waited for a picture opportunity at the bottom, I got an earful as the couple next to me exchanged stories of minor, major and occasionally career-ending injuries suffered by friends and friends-of-friends on the slide. Base on the stories, they apparently impregnate the concrete with MRSA each morning.
In spite of the mortal danger, PP and Auntie arrived at the bottom unscathed. PP grinning from ear to ear, and Auntie slightly out of breath and looking like she could use a bit of a lie down. He was happy in spite of the obviously defective sled they'd been given. "We couldn't go any faster, even though we were both pushing." Behind him, Auntie shook her head and made pulling motions with her hands.
On the whole, it was a great day, and we got back to the camp about an hour before dark. The plan for the evening was a simple one. We'd stop off at the neighbor/landlady to drop off a check, and then Kate would take PP down to the beach for one last swim while I tried to finish up in the camp. We had a long drive in store for the next day, and I'd left far too many things for the last minute.
It didn't quite work out that way, as Mrs 'Struction got talking. PP was getting increasingly antsy, so I took him down to the beach. I could be relieved when the conversation was older, and then get on with my necessary chores.
You can probably guess what happened. Time wore on. It started getting darker and darker. The sand was soft, the water was unusually shallow, the water was warm, and PP was having a blast. I had my kite-board down on the beach. There was a nice onshore breeze blowing. The waves weren't very big, but a light 5 year old with a kite board can actually surf under those conditions. We went back and forth, chasing each other in the waves. I would launch him and listen to his receding laughter, mixed with the sound of the surf and the gulls, until the waves took him in to a point where the skegs dragging in the soft sand finally stopped him.
And the whole time, all I could think was "Where is she? Doesn't she know I have work I need to get done?" I was getting increasingly uptight. Finally the beach had all but disappeared in the gloom. The two shivering boys wrapped in our towels and made our way back up to the camp.
That was when PP reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that I had promised that we'd have a camp fire and make s'mores during our stay there. Further that we hadn't done it yet, and lastly and most importantly, I had promised. I couldn't refuse, so armed with flashlights and a grocery bag of hastily assembled s'more making supplies, out we went again. We gathered drift wood, sticks, some dried cat-tails for tinder, and headed down to a rocky point adjacent to the beach that makes an ideal area for campfires. We gathered some rocks into to a make-shift fire pit, complete with back wall to reflect the heat.
I'd brought some newspaper to help start the fire, but I needn't have bothered. Dried driftwood will just about light from a match all by itself. In no time we were hunkered down, practicing the fine and highly challenging art of the perfectly toasted marshmallow. It wasn't long before we were full, sticky, comfortably warm on our fronts and comfortably cool on our backs.
The conversation was still ongoing, apparently. Where is she? I kept thinking. She knows how much I still need to do. It's going to be bed-time soon, and the camp is too small for me to blunder around packing while the boy is supposed to be sleeping.
That's when I was hit by the day's defining moment. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze. The stars had come out. A few feet away, waves were gently lapping the rocks. PP was sitting, toasting a marshmallow, his face lit in the warm glow of the fire. "Daddy," he said, "thanks for the best day ever."
I'd been spending the whole time sweating how I was going to get my last few chores done. It was all mundane stuff like cleaning out drawers and sorting through toiletries. In the mean time, he was having "the best day ever," and I was missing it. I guess this is what those management-types call a "reframe." It took until that moment to realize that I'd been having a truly awesome day with my son; a day that he'll remember long after I'm gone, and I didn't even know it. I knew it then,
PP, I don't know when you or if you'll ever come back through Dad's old blog posts and find this, but thanks for the best day ever too.
I have coding, writing and cleaning to do, but I think it's time for the boys to hang out together for a while.