It is the last day of vacation. “I’m bad with transitions,” I announce to my family, as if that is actually a thing.
I say it confidently, hoping that they will think I am speaking with the diagnostic authority of an old nurse, which they know better than to question. I hope that it will sound like something that people—preferably the smart and sensitive artist-people—are, instead of what it really is: a poor and totally unofficial, completely made-up-by-the-non-nursing-me excuse for the sulky moodiness that overtakes me in times of change, and at the end of seasons and school years, visits and vacations.
It’s unreasonable, and besides that, it’s kind of selfish. It’s downright immature. I know. I know I should just be grateful. I know that it will be great to sleep in our own beds, that fall is also beautiful, that the routine of the school year will bring a bit of welcome change, that I can trust in the wonder of whatever is coming next. To everything there is a season, and all that. I know. I’m trying. Yes, it has been a great trip. Yes, I am really grateful. No, of course I’m not crying. I just have something in my eye.
We’ve been on the coast of Maine for several days, on what was certainly one of the last—possibly the very last—trip with our family of six. Maybe this is why it is especially hard to leave. Like I said, I’m bad with transitions.
It was, simply, a piece of heaven.
Hot coffee sipped on cool, crisp sweatshirt mornings on the deck, the sun sparkling on the water, lub-dub boat engines signaling the beginning of the work day. Sunny, breezy hours spent on hikes and bikes near the harbor, and in kayaks and powerboats and sailboats within it. A long and solitary journey made to a magical island forgotten by time (I almost chickened out when no one else wanted to go, but how could I, after “Beth, for one”?) but not soon forgotten by anyone who has taken in its views to forever, from cliffs dropping into an ombre of ocean blues. Head to head family-review-competitions of lobster rolls earned in long waits at tourist traps and short ones at local dives. The lighthouse and its steady-eddy foghorn. Urgent texts on the Family thread announcing an unexpected “Open” sign at the S’mores Station: delightful, smiling Nicholas keeping the fire and a chuckle going while breaking the graham crackers and chocolate bars neatly apart, just to make it fun for everyone. My grown-up kids alternately sharing grown-up drinks at the bar and acting like kids in pirate games, just to delight the rest of us. Family fun and time together in a seaside spot that looked, from any view, like a postcard.
Sighing, I reach for the old suitcase from its spot in the corner, where it has stood watch since accompanying me to this vacation spot, a silent sentinel of our regular lives, both chaperone and citizen of the home which holds our everyday. Returning to our home and life, both of which I love under normal circumstances, now seems impossible, unwelcome. I am not as gentle as I might be with the old valise. It seems to glare back at me, resenting the implication of its irrelevance. Maybe that’s why it now seems smaller, unable or perhaps just unwilling to hold all the clothes I’d packed forever ago, when we were just starting out.
I ask my husband, as I always do when I get this way, if we really have to go back, and if he thinks we could maybe just move here? He speaks to me gently, as if I am a needy child: yes, we do have to go back, and it will be OK; it will feel good to be home. Then, using a low and quietly reassuring voice usually reserved for cancer conversations, he touches my shoulder and reminds me gently not to worry, it’s just that thing I have around transitions. (Ugh. The guilt.)
I remember vacations when my kids were small, the sadness of the last day held off by the promise of a souvenir of their choosing from a shop in town. Rather than a more touristy memento, they would often choose something that could just as easily have been bought at home: a soft plush animal, or jointed figure made of smooth plastic, something they could hold tight in their one chubby hand as the other grasped my own. They would turn their happy faces up at me as I made the purchase, talking excitedly about what a great choice they felt they had made, how special the item already was to them. About how it would always remind them of this trip. About where they planned to keep it in their room. And as they spoke, planning the adoptive journey for their new friend—a keepsake which would have begun its day in some faraway, magical vacation place and would miraculously end it in the child’s very own, everyday room—you could see in the child’s eyes a growing confidence for the return trip. Somehow, in the telling, and with their newfound friend and its vacation time-travel magic along, they could see how they, too, could possibly go from here to there in one day. How they would make the journey home.
Preparing, reluctantly, to leave, I, too, want to clutch something in my hand, to adopt a new, special, and carefully chosen friend into my very own life, to keep in my very own room. I want to bring a little memento from this lofty piece of heaven back to earth, to take something from the extraordinary back into my ordinary.
Life at home is not as rich with unscheduled time. It is not meant to be; this is the magic of vacation. Still, maybe there is time and space to be found in our ordinary lives. Maybe I can find little things, small enough to hold in my hand, to help me make the journey.
I do not live very near the sea but I do walk each day along a river, and there is a heron who meets me there each day. I do not have all day to gaze, but I have a moment to watch him, to say hello.
I do not have an island within a dayboat’s voyage, but I can steal away on a solitary retreat outside, after dark, to gaze at the stars. I can be brave and not chicken out of journeys which can seem, right before you leave, to be too far and potentially lonely, and I can be rewarded by solitary views into all kinds of forever. I can find the time and space for silence and solitude in my house and in my life and in my mind. And in doing so, create time and space for sharing, too.
I do not have that seaside postcard view, but I have a porch with a view, where I can have my coffee on mornings which are, at least, cooler than the afternoons. And when those mornings grow so crisp and cool that the end of summer threatens, and the change of season brings those old sulky feelings in its wake, I can pull on my sweatshirt and remember the impossibly sweatshirt-cool Maine mornings in July.
Eventually, back at home, the chill will really settle in. The early-winter winds will leave us little view. The everydays will get short and cold; there will be no lighthouse and no foghorn. It will, in time, get harder and harder to remember the feel of a summer seaside sojourn, and, in time, even to remember when we were a little family of six, and again, I will feel sulky.
Maybe what I’ve brought from Maine is some new knowledge of what to do, in this season and the next. Keep the homefires burning, and a chuckle too. Be a kid sometimes, even when you are a grown-up, just to make it fun for everyone.
And maybe, one chilly day soon, I’ll even send a text out on the Family thread, just to let them know: there’s an unexpected “Open” sign, at my S’mores Station.