I’ve written about my extended family before.
These are almost always stories of absence. The cousins we have yet to meet. The grandparents we too rarely hold. Family, for us, is always too much or too little.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children.
Our lives are stretched across too many time zones. My father has always said it is a good thing our country is not any larger because then we would only live farther apart. But with one sister’s imminent move to Hawaii, our country has suddenly grown much larger. And we will, indeed, live farther apart.
But summer days are reunion days, and through some miracle of spirit and frequent flier miles, we came together.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I have found this to be true. But now I know that absence grows other good fruit. Because the holes in our lives where family might be do not stay empty. These gaps and fissures turn out to be fertile ground for things like hospitality and community. Friendship and adventure. Without family to lean on, we become needy, but these needs are always met.
We come together and discover that we do not have less but so much more. We have family, and we have friends. We have family, and we have neighbors. We have family, and we have our communities. We have family, and we have life in abundance.
We have more.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
I’ve been thinking about my Summer List.
This once-favorite tradition hasn’t traveled well. I started writing Summer Lists in Chicago. At first, they were just for me, but my oldest child did contribute an item or two in recent years.
A Summer List is exactly what it sounds like: a list of activities and experiences you want to do and have before September arrives. It might sound sentimental and overly precious, but my Chicago Summer Lists were deadly serious things.
Having endured months of bitter cold and forced hibernation, I often felt a little stressed at the beginning of Chicago’s second season (you know, don’t you, that Chicago is called the Second City because it has two newspapers, two baseball teams, and two seasons? You don’t need me to tell you what those seasons are, do you?). A Chicago summer offers so much goodness, I actually worried about fitting it all in.
What if Labor Day arrived and I hadn’t seen a film on the grass in Grant Park? What if the wind turned cold, and I hadn’t yet eaten apricots and just-made goat cheese on a blanket at the Green City Market? What if busyness or laziness kept me from packing up the kids and the snacks and listening to music under the stars at Millennium Park? What if we said “yes” to too many weekend birthday parties and forgot to leave time for blueberry picking in Michigan City?
Thus, the Summer List.
Those lists helped me to make the most of a glorious but, ultimately, fleeting season. It felt like an antidote for the to-do lists that kept me rushing and preoccupied the other nine months of the year.
The problem with a Florida Summer List is that the season is not fleeting. I’ve discovered that this part of our country also has two seasons: hot and not so hot. Everything I could think of to write on my list today caused me to think, “Well, but I’d rather do that when it’s not so hot.”
Beach? I prefer to collect seashells in February sunshine. Pool? Yes, of course, but we’ve been swimming since March, and I’m already a little tired of wet swimsuits. The zoo? It was beautiful in January. Disney? Not if you paid me. Too many tourists this time of year. And did I mention the heat? Maybe fruit picking? Beau’s two favorite episodes of Caillou are the one in which Caillou picks strawberries and the one in which Caillous picks apples (which makes me very, very happy). Oh, but Florida’s strawberry season ended months ago.
So many people love Florida because the joys of summer last for most of the year. And even I can’t complain about weather like this. After all, I enjoyed those grilled pizzas in January. But what do I make of summer now? Is there anything special about June, July, and August when our activities and experiences are mostly the same? What is summer, anyway? A date? A point of view?
For now, I’m focusing on the one thing I have in abundance only during these months: time. I’m not teaching, baby girl isn’t due to arrive until the end of September, my two oldest are out of school, even the two-days-a-week preschool is on summer break. We have time.
We’ll get bored. We’ll get hot. No doubt, tempers will flare. But, unlike summer itself, these hours will never come around again. Once crossed off the list, they’re gone for good. I do not know what they’re for or why they’ve been given, but I’m glad that, for now, they’re still mine to anticipate. Each hour listed neatly on pristine paper.
Edited and reposted from the archive.
My father likes to say it’s a good thing our country isn’t any bigger. If it were, he jokes, our family would live even farther apart.
It always makes us laugh. Then sigh. Because it’s painfully true. From western mountains to eastern beaches, southern swamps to midwestern plains, the members of our immediate family have spread across the miles to create a kind of star map, the lines of our constellations drawn with automobiles and airplanes.
This past week, quite a few of us (we never do seem to gather the whole) met in my Florida home for a week of beach, pool, and grill. A family reunion. A family vacation.
The parents of a toddler and infant buckled their weary selves into the car, along with the bottles and sippy cups and squeezable applesauce, for the two-day drive to family. The mother whose husband couldn’t leave his military duties dutifully packed the minivan and buckled the three kids into carseats. The grandparents drove two days (or was it three?) to help us hold babies, take photos, plan multiple forays to the grocery store.
We talked long and late over the noise of eight grandchildren. We fixed snacks. We changed swimsuits. We packed picnics. We fixed more snacks. Sometimes we remembered to feed ourselves.
At least once each day we’d look at one another with half-smiles to say that vacations with young children are more work than work. In other words, going back to work, returning to our everyday, would offer more rest than this vacation.
And that is as it should be. We don’t vacation together for the rest. We do it for the fun of it. We do it for the memories. We do it for each other.
Despite (or because of?) the chaos and messiness of a family vacation, my thoughts this week often turned toward the theme of rest. Maybe the adults in the house weren’t resting (though, I admit to doing quite a bit of reading by the side of the pool), but the kids certainly were.
No, they weren’t necessarily sleeping in or taking long naps, but they were enjoying rest.
True rest, I think, looks a lot like this: all is provided (watermelon and grilled cheese appear, as if dropped from the sky) and you have no control (mother decides if it’s pool time or movie time, quiet time or monopoly time).
The only tasks on the to-do list are to receive and to let go. Receive the good gifts, let go of the need to plan. The worry about tomorrow.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
“When I am talking about food I am talking about life.” Nigella Lawson
I should be back in this space next week. In the meantime, it’s all about the pool, the cousins, and the food.
The firstborn and I will be back in Chicago soon. Four days with the people and places we both love best.
I feel an urge to write that we are going home, except that we aren’t.
It isn’t only that we sold our Chicago apartment 18 months ago. It isn’t because we have no family there. We do have many friends, and they were our family for ten good years. Rather, it is that I was once planted in Chicago. I’m not planted there any longer, though I haven’t yet laid down roots in any other place. I feel as if (actually, I hope as if) we are in between homes. (Florida, you are lovely, but I do not think you will ever be home.)
Perhaps I can write of Chicago from my daughter’s point of view. She was born there, after all, and has more of a claim to the place than I do. Here is the hospital where she took her first breath. A few blocks away is the converted hotel (with a tunnel where Al Capone once smuggled gin). It was her first home. Here is the museum that became her own private wonderland; fairy castle, baby chicks, and all. And there is pebble beach, our pebble beach, where we swam in summer and climbed ice dams in winter. Even now when I stand at some water’s edge and look to my left, I half expect to see the glittering wall of a downtown skyline. Perhaps she does, too.
In this life, home is always temporary. In Chicago, I learned that it is possible to feel at home in a temporary place. It is possible to breathe deeply and live thoroughly in a home that won’t always be home.
Possible, yes, but never a given. Or, perhaps I should say that it is exactly that: a given thing. A grace thing.
When God tells his exiled people in Jeremiah that he will bring them home one day, he also says: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage …” (Jeremiah 29:5-6). His gift to them is a home in exile. Permission to live, even as they wait.
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills.”