Letting go, lunch on a lake, remembering Grandpo, turkey quills, and our version of Shabbat dinner.
Day 2, Fri, July 18
Money Spent: $48 – groceries, Trader Joe’s; enough for dinner tonight, and breakfast, lunch and snacks tomorrow. Possibly could eke a dinner out of it for the kids tomorrow night.
Gas Used: <1/5 a tank… approximately 3 gallons
Quantity/Quality of Exercise: excellent for Milo—he was really wiped out after our hike; very good for Floyd, Duncan and Wyatt; not enough for me. Hiking with the kids is better than sitting around, but it’s not enough to get my heart rate up. I’m going to need to get up early to run, or be disciplined about doing some plyometrics at home, if I really expect to get a good workout during the week.
Temper: A-… I did a great job of being patient, present, and keeping my sense of humor right up until 6PM when Wyatt got his brothers all riled up chasing them around the house in a ninja mask, throwing our recently cleaned dining room and living room into disarray. Then I let out a “WYYYYYYAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!” which could probably be heard two blocks over.
Toll on House/Yard: Neutral. We got the first floor thoroughly cleaned, but the second floor has gone downhill fast since our return home two days ago.
Screen Time: 100 minutes for everyone – Friday is often Family Movie Night in our house. We watched “The Lego Movie” on DVD tonight.
Scheduled, over-, under-, or just right?: Just right. It was a magical day with a good balance of activity and space. We got out the door, had some fun, and got back home without a struggle. It doesn’t happen that way often, but it sure is nice when it does.
Activities/Outings: Lafayette Reservoir
Today I took my inspiration from a friend of mine who recently shared with me her goal of loosening her grip a bit on how she thought she wanted/expected/envisioned her life to life to be going. She means to do this on a larger level—letting go of who she thinks she ought to be in favor of embracing who she actually is (which, by the way, is an especially lovely human being)— but for myself, I decided to start with just a single day.
The only thing I had planned for the day was to get outdoors before lunch. Yesterday’s lazy, sedentary, indoor day was fine as an infrequent occurrence, but I am not a happy person if I do not get fresh air and sunshine on a regular basis. So after breakfast, I dressed all of us for a day spent outdoors—shorts, t-shirts, sunhats and an extra layer—and I packed a picnic lunch, our water bottles, and extra pants for Milo (just in case). Duncan is my pickiest eater. He doesn’t really care for peanut butter, cheese, meat, butter, or salt. Sometimes he still has to eat these things— I’ll only go so far in catering to pickiness in my children— but since he eats a varied and healthy diet, and since the things he dislikes are not essential to maintaining his health, I usually don’t mind working around his predilections. Hence, vegetarian potstickers are a more frequent hiking lunch for him than the ol’ PB&J standby.
We didn’t rush the morning—there was time for coffee-drinking and preparations interspersed with play—making our way into the car a bit before 11AM. The kids had been playing with bamboo sticks in our little backyard. This is a favorite and frequent game—they like “harvesting” the dried bamboo stalks from the plants lining our yard and then using them as props in their imaginative play (someone gets whacked in the head and comes screaming into the house usually at least once per episode of playing with bambo, but even the aggrieved party protests when I make them give up the sticks and do something else). Wyatt asked if they could bring their current bamboo pieces with them on our outing. I was going to say “no”, but then changed my mind, saying, “Why not?”
I had no clear idea of where we would go. I thought I would head East for a bit and exit the highway when I felt like it, looking for a good picnic spot. Whether we found ourselves on a hike or visiting a playground or doing something else, I didn’t care. And this is how, without much effort, we found ourselves at the Lafayette Reservoir. Parking happened to be free today, which was nice, although, as I explained to the kids, I don’t mind paying for parking in that kind of place since I know it helps maintain the open space for the benefit of the public.
The parking lot is set at the top of the dam. Looking down, we could see a dock full of paddle boats and row boats, practically begging us to jump aboard. I told the kids I couldn’t make any promises, but if the boats weren’t too expensive and if dogs were allowed aboard (we had Floyd along with us), we would rent one and eat our lunch on the lake. It was not a straight shot to the boat rentals—we had to wind our way down the path and around part of the lake—but there were blackberry bushes along the way for grazing (not many ripe ones yet) and lots of people and dogs out and about. This is a thought I am often struck by during such outings: How do so many people have the middle of the day on a weekday free? When we hiked during the week when we lived in Pennsylvania, we rarely ran into another soul. Out here, I guess there are just so many people doing so many different things with their lives that on any given day, there are a number of folks available for outdoor adventures and exercise.
It turned out that dogs were not allowed on the boats—we will come back another day without Floyd—but we soon discovered that there were a series of floating docks with picnic benches along the shore of the lake. We claimed one just as a trio of teenagers with fishing gear abandoned it.
Being on the water was wonderful. The lake was big and blue. The opposite hill was that classic Northern California picture of yellow grass dotted with green live oaks (views like that always remind me of Steinbeck novels). Waves rocked our dock gently, at least giving the illusion of lunching on a boat. Floyd was a little nervous, walking along low to the ground and hiding under the picnic table.
I noticed a snarl of fishing line on our dock and picked it up, not wanting the kids or dog to get tangled in it or for it to fall into the water. I was about to stuff it in the pocket of my backpack to throw in the trash later when I noticed a sinker and lure in the mass of line. Wyatt was asking questions about fishing—none of the kids have ever been—so I presented my findings and explained their purposes.
“How do you know so much about fishing?” Wyatt asked.
“Oh, I used to go all the time with Grandpo—Didi’s daddy— when I was a kid,” I told him.
“You went fishing for real fish?” Duncan asked.
“My yike fish, too!” said Milo.
They seemed interested, so I told them all about fishing with my grandfather: When I was growing up, the best summers were the years—many in a row—when we would take two trips: one to visit my mom’s side of the family at my grandparents’ house in Indiana and one to visit my dad’s side at my uncle’s house in Connecticut. These visits with extended family were such the highlight of my childhood that it was not until I was much older that I learned those trips were each only a week in length—I had been telling people for years that we spent half the summer with each side of the family.
My maternal grandparents, “Grandmo” and “Grandpo” as I called them, lived on a lake. They had a big family, a large sloping grassy backyard, lots of trees, a trampoline, and something delicious always being prepared in the kitchen. Grandpo loved to fish and to windsurf and he introduced me to both of these pastimes when I was little. I was the first grandchild by several years and benefitted from my special role in the family, being doted on by my grandparents and all my devoted (to this day!) aunts and uncles.
One summer I managed to have my own bedroom during our annual visit to Grandmo and Grandpo’s house. I’m not sure how that happened—maybe our visit that year didn’t overlap with as much of the rest of the family as usual—but I had “The Dark Room” all to myself. The Dark Room had a large fluorescent light built into one wall but no windows to let in any natural light. I think it was used as an actual darkroom by the previous owners but my grandparents had more of a need of bedrooms for their many children than the ability to develop photos at home. I knew of The Dark Room long before I knew what a darkroom was, and even after, it was a while before I made the connection between the two.
That summer I slept in the Dark Room, I must have been nine or ten years old. Grandpo told me if I woke up early enough, I could come out fishing with him before my sisters or cousins were up. For the first few mornings, I found myself waking to total darkness, jumping out of bed and running upstairs, only to find that it was already late morning, everyone else was up, my grandfather had already been out fishing and home again, and Grandmo was pan-frying his catch to serve with toast and fried eggs. I can clearly remember cutting into the egg and letting the yolk run over the fish and buttered toast, devouring two full servings, with my mom asking why I would eat fish in the summers at my grandparents’ house but not at home. As much as I enjoyed the fish, I was sure it would have tasted even better if I had been the one to catch it. I slept with my door open after that, willing myself to stay alert all night so that I wouldn’t miss the sound of Grandpo’s footsteps in the morning.
He didn’t seemed surprised to see me the first morning I made it up in time to catch him. I had awoken in the middle of the night and put my swim suit on just so I would be ready to run upstairs and out the door at a moment’s notice. I was proud to have caught him, but he just handed me a shovel and walked out the door. I followed him across the road and we dug worms together by flashlight. Then we drove the pontoon boat puttering across the lake at dawn, parking it at the dock of a shop that sold gasoline and other supplies. I stayed on the boat while Grandpo went into the shop, relishing my independence, eating the breakfast Grandmo had packed for me—a hunk of cheddar cheese and a tart apple— and hoping that the other early morning customers mistook me for a boat kid; yep, just me and my grandfather living off the lake in our pontoon boat home... I maintained this daydream all morning, never telling my grandfather the story I had woven for us. He didn’t talk much while fishing which left plenty of room for my story to take shape in my mind. Later, when we returned home, I thanked him for taking me along. Grandpo, never one to flatter unnecessarily, just said, “Well, I needed someone to untangle the lines.”
I never remember being scolded or punished by any of my grandparents, but I can remember shriveling under a stern look from Grandpo when I had displeased him in some way. While Grandmo showered me with unconditional positive regard, Grandpo’s praise was hard earned and highly prized. And yet I still dared to disobey him. Once, I can remember surreptitiously “freeing” the minnows he had bought to use as bait. I had spent so much time staring into their bucket at the back of the boat that I began to feel sorry for them and dumped them into the lake, wasting my grandfather’s money and giving any larger fish in the area a free meal without a hook. Once, I remember complaining that I needed to pee and my grandfather telling me to just wait until the fish stopped biting. Finally, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I jumped in the lake with a tremendous splash—scaring away any fish that might’ve been tempted to take the bait— and swam frantically all the way home. I didn’t look back until I’d reached the shore and then I peeked over my shoulder to see my grandfather standing on his boat, watching me and laughing, head thrown back, to see my guilty posture following my panicked swim.
Many of the different fishing trips with my grandfather blend together in my memory—I can’t remember which ones were from that particular summer and which happened at other times—but there is one that stands out especially clearly in my mind. I had successfully managed to get up early enough to join Grandpo again on his morning fishing excursion. This time was different—we didn’t just head down to the lake in his backyard—but instead we drove in the car to another location. I don’t know if we were going somewhere we shouldn’t have been or if climbing over the fence was just a shortcut, but I was proud that I could scramble over the fence with my pole in my hand and catch up to my grandfather as he headed down a short trail to the water’s edge. Instead of a boat or a dock, this time we waded right into the lake. We were the only ones around, other than birds. I wore my sneakers and a swimsuit and nothing else. Grandpo had his khaki pants tucked into tall rubber boots and a faded blue collared shirt on.
The fish were not biting. All that morning, Grandpo kept having to remind me to stand still or else I would scare them all away. I thought I was being quite still, and yet he would turn again and remind me to cut out all the fidgeting and splashing. I stood there, pretending I had been turned to stone from the White Witch of Narnia, and rapidly losing interest in fishing, as the sun rose and grew steadily hotter. I stared longingly at the water, imagining what it would feel like to dive under. Grandpo seemed to read my mind when he turned around and asked me if I would rather swim than fish.
It felt like a test. I froze. If I said “yes”, he might be disappointed in me for not loving fishing as much as he did, but if I said “no”, he might catch me in my lie. “Well,” I hesitated and then stopped.
And Grandpo was marching out of the water just like that. I had failed.
I watched him reach the shore, wishing I had declared, “I love fishing!” without hesitation, and then trudged slowly after him, watching my sneakers stirring up silt with each step. When I looked up again, Grandpo had set down his pole and taken off his boots and shirt. Before I understood what was happening, he turned around and came splashing toward me in great strides, diving under the water just as he passed me and swimming way out into the lake without coming up for air. For a split second I panicked at being left alone in silence and then I ran, tossing my pole next to his and throwing myself back in the water to swim with him. We arrived home for our second breakfast that morning, sopping wet and empty-handed. It is one of my favorite memories of my grandfather.
Wyatt, Duncan, and Milo love hearing these stories. I am pretty sure I had told them all before, but still they had me trot out every last detail for the sake of their lunchtime entertainment. Wyatt asked if we could fish with the sinker and lure I had found. I knew they were unlikely to catch anything, but “Why not?” I thought.
I tied fishing line onto each of the bamboo sticks they had brought from our yard. Wyatt got the sinker and lure; we fashioned a hook from a safety pin he had on his backpack. Duncan got a real fish hook that I found under our table—he loved that it was shiny and red—and we baited it with a grape from our lunch. Milo got no hook but I tied a piece of grapevine onto a line for him and he was just as pleased as he could be. They caught nothing, but they were pretty sure a fish almost ate Duncan’s grape and that was exciting enough to keep the three of them entertained for a long spell. I got bored before they did.
After our fishing excursion, we took a little hike, just long enough for Milo to grow leg-weary and Floyd’s feet and legs to become completely covered in burrs. Our previous dogs were shorthaired and built for hiking; Floyd’s got a coat better suited to manicured lawns, beach trips and leashed sidewalk jaunts. I picked burrs off of him on the side of the trail until my fingers had been pricked too many times for me to continue. I decided I would cut the remaining burrs out with scissors when we got home.
On our drive out of the park, we came upon a herd of black-tailed deer comingling with a flock of wild turkeys. I stopped the car and watched them until I realized cars were beginning to line up behind me. I found a gravel strip to pull over and park, leaving Floyd in the car and the flashers on, while the kids and I crept back to watch the wildlife. The male deer had fuzzy antlers and watched us warily while the females and young continued to graze. The turkeys were not nervous enough about our presence to fly or run, but as we moved closer, they maintained a constant buffer of scraggy ground between us. Here and there we found beautiful large feathers with iridescent stripes near the end.
“Let’s use these as quills to write with,” said Wyatt.
I recalled that I had bought some ink on sale at the art store this spring with no plans for how I might use it. “Sure,” I said.
“Yeah, no problem”
“Today?” he asked, as if he might be pushing his luck.
“Yesss!” he cried with a fist pump. “Let’s go do it right now!”
We had to swing by the grocery store for ingredients for dinner on our way home; I parked the car and then sat there, trying to decide the most responsible compromise with how to shop in the store while accompanied by a dog and three kids. It would only be a short trip– I knew exactly what I needed– but I couldn’t leave them in the car without inviting scrutiny and possibly a call to the police from concerned strangers. I thought about tying Floyd up, but the only obvious spot already had two dogs attached and one of them growled and lunged as we approached. So, I left Wyatt just outside the entrance holding Floyd’s leash. At age 8, he is probably a little too young to be left unsupervised in a public area, but this seemed like a pretty safe choice: he was in clear view of the cashiers and the half of the store where I planned to shop. Even with my back turned, I could hear him enthusiastically asking everyone who passed, “Do you want to pet my dog? He’s really nice! He doesn’t bite!”
When we got home, Duncan made macaroni for snack with my help, and then the boys tried out their turkey feather quills.
I love the way the kids’ different personalities and stages of development come out in projects like this. Milo experimented with lots of different ways to apply the ink, from the end of his quill to the top of the feather, his fingers, a small twig and an accidental spill. To me, his end result looks like two eagles with hooked beaks flying into the wind. Duncan has a very captivating stroke with a paintbrush. I don’t know if he will be able to keep it once he starts trying to do more figurative drawings, but right now I love the loose and easy way he naturally applies ink or paint to paper. On his paper he wrote “HIDN” beautifully and then asked what it spelled. I told him it almost spelled “hidden” and he said, “Yep, that’s what I wanted it to say.”
The above photos look so nice that I feel it would be dishonest to share them without revealing the state of the rest of the kitchen. Also, Milo still had ink on his stomach, face, and hands even after a thorough scrubbing in the tub.
Wyatt used his quill to write his “Independence List”. He put his name in “fancy writing” and his favorite number (5787) at the top and then listed his requests: Weekday Bedtime of 9:00; Weekend Bedtime of 9:30; An extra 5 minutes of screen time everyday “payday” (we pay him for chores in access to computer games); “OUT OF MY ROOM” (a warning intended for meddling little brothers); Declaring July 20th an official “Yes Day”; and “Fix my broken computer” (this being the defunct laptop my uncle gave him to take apart). I told him I would think about it and talk with Daddy to decided which, if any, of his requests would be granted. Over dinner that evening, we decided he could have a 9:00PM bedtime for the rest of the summer (it is usually 8:30 on weeknights) and that we would make July 20th a “Yes Day” for him and his brothers.
Yes Days are favorite family events which are usually granted only for very special occasions: either as a birthday gift in lieu of a party or as a final prize for hard-earned work (checking off rows and rows of boxes on a chore or behavior chart). During a Yes Day, any reasonable request made by the child who earned the day is granted. Requests cannot be expensive or dangerous and must be able to be accomplished within a single day, otherwise anything goes. This will be our first family Yes Day with more than one child at the lead. I will be interested to see if it is as enjoyable for all when the kids have to come to agreement about their requests.
After the kids were done with their ink-and-quill experiments, it was time to get the house ship shape in time for family dinner. Everyone pitched in. Eventually. (After a quick drum session).
My goal is to have the house cleaned top to bottom, and a nice dinner and dessert on Friday evenings. We do not follow many of the Jewish traditions of Aaron’s upbringing, but Shabbat is a weekly ritual I learned to respect and love while working as an after school teacher at the JCC. I haven’t been able to get it together to make this a weekly occurrence in our home in recent years, but the one remnant we’ve consistently held onto is that Friday night is Dessert Night! This is something the kids look forward to all week. Tonight, we lit candles and sang the blessings over (not kosher) wine and lavash bread instead of challah. Milo was consumed with jealousy that Duncan got to help light the candles and he also wanted to blow them out, confusing Shabbat with birthdays, so I pulled out some little candles leftover from Duncan’s birthday and let each of us light one and make a wish. It was very nice. I liked it so much that I was about to declare, “We will do this every week!” and then I thought about my track record with Shabbat and hedged a bit, saying, “Every time we celebrate Shabbat and happen to have birthday candles in the house, you can each make a wish after dinner!” Not quite as satisfying to proclaim, but a promise I am more certain to keep. I should start declaring in times like this: “From now on, we will do this sometimes!”
Although it pushes bedtime back a bit and usually means skipping book time entirely, we often have a family movie on Fridays. This week we watched The Lego Movie and went up to bed singing, “Everything is awesome!”