Monday, April 20, 2009

I. they. we.

I woke up about two weeks ago with an epiphany, the sort of long-time-coming realization that alerted me to the fact that the inevitable was taking place under my watch. That time was marching forward with a slow but steady, relentless, ruthless determination, and taking my children with it.

They were eagerly looking forward to spring break, worn out as they were from the day-to-day demands and dramas of school and homework and dance class and performance rehearsal. So they would have settled for our usual spring break fare of staying up late and sleeping in late, would have been as content as kittens to let the days unfold in no particular order.

We were accustomed to approaching spring break in this way, preferring to save the trips for summer vacation, when we could anticipate and savor and rest and recover without the buffer of school obligations behind and in front of us, leaving us feeling as though our break was nothing more than a parenthetical breath-catching before we took the next obligatory plunge.


I wanted this spring break to be special, to give them something other than what they were used to, to show them how to savor not just a chunk of time, but the morsel-size moments that it consists of, like tucking into a tremendous meal, one silver spoonful at a time.

They staggered into spring break bleary-eyed and exhausted, hungry first for sleep, the basics. 10 days yawned before them, and they were anxious to find a patch of restorative sunlight on the floor by the window to curl up in, to doze and dream and forget in, to slowly, leisurely reclaim what Obligation had taken from them.

We planned it all out in advance. Each night at dinner, one girl would draw a slip of paper from a basket, on which would be written the next day's activity, culminating in a short trip to Santa Barbara — a thick, fine bow to put on what we hoped would be a worthy spring break.


I had been mentally preparing a week's worth of girl dates, changing out one idea for a better one, hoping to strike a balance between mere consumption and active participation, knowing that they, like every kid out there who feeds at their country's trough of plenty, need to learn how to slow down. Observe. Appreciate. Savor.

They embraced the idea, thrilled (relieved?) at the thought of only knowing what was coming the next day, that they, like recovering addicts, were only required to take it in one day at a time, to deal with the day on its own terms, safe in the knowledge that they would be taken care of.

We started out with manicures and mini-massages at the nail salon, washed down with frappuccinos from Peet's Coffee. Nothing extravagant or earth shattering. But later, at dinner, as the girls recalled for Dad the day's outing, we were delighted to hear that this spring break had already been judged The Best Spring Break Ever.


I read recently that the average American child receives 70 toys a year (a statistic from 2005). Which means that some, obviously, receive much less, but others, much, much more. Where we live, we witness the much, much more factor on a daily basis. How do you stem that tide? How do you express the value of things earned and anticipated — or given from out of the blue, with no expectation, no demand? How do you communicate to your child her worth without the assist of empty props, when all around her she sees stuff paraded and then tossed aside in favor of newer, better, and is told that her good comes from these goods?

They passed the week in a state of dizzy expectation and fat-cat satiation, one 24-hour period at a time. After the manicures, there was a picnic and a trip to the bookstore, and frozen yogurt and a trip to the mall to window shop for graduation ideas, and yoga class (to balance things out) and fruit smoothies. The day before our trip to Santa Barbara, their task was to plan, shop for, and prepare dinner and dessert for Dad who would be taking a rare, three-day weekend to catch the last of the spring break fun.

We sat down that night to a homemade pizza (what else would he have wanted?), piled ridiculously high with squash and tomatoes and chicken carmelized with apples and red onion, plus mushrooms and sausage and garlic — and cheese. Lots of cheese. Two pieces of our monsterpiece, and even Josie (aka "The Stomach") had called it quits. So it was nothing short of heroic — a miracle, even — when we all polished off a piece of pudding pie.


I enjoy the quiet when they're gone, but I know that soon enough, I'll have more quiet on my hands than I'll know what to do with. Or maybe not. Maybe that Other Life, the life I've been weaving and wondering about since forever will start to unfold, to fill the space left when they have moved on. But it's days like this, with childhood making a break for it, that I wish we could have more of spring break, or that summer would hurry up and get here, already.

They are back into their routine, with final school projects and rehearsals, and then dress rehearsals, and performances all looming large. This is their busiest time, these last five weeks before school lets out. But they're ready for it, up for the challenge. The break was a good one.

We learned something over the past 10 days, something about slowing down and looking up, about tasting and anticipating, something about smelling roses along the way.

I hope it stays with them.

They do, too.

We all want this kind of spring in our step to last, after all.


Spring Break Photos
Santa Barbara, California
April 17, 2009

At a cafe.

Off State Street, a block from the ocean. The stories this door could tell.

Carpinteria, just down the freeway from Santa Barbara. The sun was so bright that day that it washed the color out of the sky. Or that's what you'd think, looking at this picture. Actually, it was true blue. My camera just wasn't up to snuff.

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  1. Pamela,

    I re-read this again this morning and it suddenly struck me that your relationship with your daughters and your writing are equally beautiful.

    Both my daughters are grown -- have careers -- but oddly(??), have moved back home to save $$ before venturing to purchase a place of their own to call home. Your story reminded me of how we spent our spring breaks: cruising to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a chilly -- but beautiful -- week at the beach with the occasional lighthouse excursion.

    Now, it's just Momma and me and we still eagerly await Spring Break. Our youngest is a teacher and when she goes on break, she has the privilege of watching my Mother-in-law while the wife and I travel. But still, I miss those days with the kids. I'm glad you are enjoying yours -- so few parents really do.

    Ok, I've babbled long enough. Look forward to the next installment of 24h World.

    Best regards,

  2. Mike:

    Thanks for your note. The post (and entire blog, actually) is meant to make me slow down and savor, assuming I have just four years left with my oldest daughter at home, and seven with the youngest. A blink of an eye, as time goes.

    But reading about your not-so-empty nest, maybe we'll have longer than expected after all?

    The Earth Day Date Stamp should be up Tuesday or Wednesday. I'll let you know when it's there.

    Thanks again.