We had, for 19+days this summer, two or fewer children. With each child-shuffle, the balance tips. Things are different. Sometimes quieter, smoother - other times... just quieter. Almost universally easier, from a logistics-standpoint.
It is a luxury to have these stores of fabulous adults that want to liberate us from our children - godmothers and godfathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I can write this now, in fact, because local support (Agatha!) has us with none, on a Sunday afternoon. Preparing for my new reality as a full-time-working mom...blogging, cleaning, organizing.
In my family, as kids, we would go to the Farm every summer. We were a little foreign in Connecticut, where others noted our southern dialects and expressions. Where we winced, a little, at cousins' nasally tones of "Antie Baabrah." We were comfortable there. We moved quite a few times, and it was the place where nothing changed: the lush giant garden, the rows and rows of blueberry bushes - the peaches, strawberries, raspberries, apples, rhubarb - each seeming to magically appear for us, in succession. Grandma would bake and can and prepare - a kitchen chemist of few words, warm sweet smells, and generous yield.
We would arrive late. Very late. Off the interstate, we would press our faces to the glass looking for the trolley museum, the sign we were close. We would pass Uncle Ansel's farm on the left, turn right onto Scantic Road... and then, when we turned the one curve half a mile or so before Grandma and Grampa's, the tall white house with the lights on assured me we were seconds away.
When we got there, we would announce ourselves as we crunched forward on the smooth pebbles of the circular drive, breaking up chamomile with each wheel rotation. Grandma and Grandpa would appear on the front porch. We would unfold and tumble forward. I would run to Grandpa's strong arms and be lifted up, twirled around. He wore work pants in a dark green or navy, a button-front workshirt, light blue - sleeves rolled up. The waist of his pants would sag between belt loops, held up by a belt fashioned from saddle-leather and notched to the farthest point - a raw-edged hole punched through with an awl.
Grandma would laugh her rare laugh, clasp her hands together and look truly delighted, embracing us each with powerful hugs. She would be wearing bits and parts - giant, baggy, leftovers from teenage cousins. Clothes designed only to cover. She might have a bandana over her hair - long, silver hair she would brush out at night, and braid into coils, pinned into place on the back of her head, the same exact way every day.
Our grandparents toiled. At all times. They got up before us, and went to bed after us. They were constant, with ropey forearms and Things to Do. We would slather on citronella oil from little brown apothecary bottles and try to outwit mosquitos, sometimes 'keeping up' with farm chores, other times avoiding them by staying gone and staying busy. We'd hike down to the pond, avoiding thorny bits, whacking at tall grasses with bigger sticks. I would ride on my grandfather's lap and steer the 40-year-old John Deere. We would make bricks out of natural clay on the banks of the Scantic River, a tributary of the Connecticut River down the road. We would pick blueberries and "smoke" unlit reeds stuffed with ground up mint leaves.
Mom would drive home a few days after we arrived, and pick us up weeks later as summer closed.
We grew each summer. We worked, we played - we explored boredom (but didn't speak of it.) We felt hot dirt under our feet and invented games. I followed my grandfather through gardens with a salt shaker in my pocket. I slept with my mom's old stuffed animals, and pored over evidence of her youth in the attic, trying to know more. I twirled in her college gowns and attempted to make paper dolls as she once had (hers, pages and pages of elegant creations made while near or in high school - fashion designs with painstaking details. Mine made around age 8, wobbly and crookedly cut - hashed out, over-embellished, and abandoned.) Our socks grew dingy from farm use, and came off the line crunchy and hot.
People have asked how I can leave my chidren - Annabeth for 12 days with her godmother in California, Sebastian for 10 with his grandparents' after we'd left. I can do it, partly, because I did it. Every summer. There is peace in separateness, a break from family members, a chance to re-invent yourself, to explore versions of yourself those closest to you are blinded to. To get away from the gnawing of siblings, the nagging of parents. There is growth in learning that other adults do things differently, that you don't have to buy Mom's crazy, or Dad's. It is good, halfway into a summer crammed with the togetherness of road trips and Things to Do to experience missing the same people that drive you nuts.
There is peace, too, in two-verses-three. Giving and receiving additional attention when one is out of the mix. Quibbling less, competing less, and exploring gentler spaces.
Tomorrow we collect Sebastian from the airport. He will walk tall and proud, wearing the pin that identifies him as an Unaccompanied Minor. In two weeks school will start, and I will start a job, and there will be no more room for breaks from routine.
Our children are each made better by their time away, living and exploring inside someone else's rules and routines. They learn from other people, people whose ideas sometimes differ from ours - or don't differ at all, but are easier to receive and more palatable from someone else - someone more interesting, new again each visit, and wise.