Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing the Moments, 2011

The February blizzard moves in just as the Daddy/Daughter dance begins, and Jason and Annie arrive home covered in a layer of white. We wake up the next morning to inches and inches of snow drifted halfway up our door and every school closed. Jason cancels patients for the day. Our streets and sidewalks - usually cleared by the dozens of speedy city plows - remain completely covered with snow. Just after lunch, Sarah and Katie and I strap on snowshoes and wind our way through city blocks and across baseball fields step by step. The sun is out. There is no traffic. The only sound is our voices and laughter as we cross the street and traipse across the frozen lake. We talk about books, about upcoming vacations, about soba noodles. We find ourselves at Rose's and it seems right to strip off a layer of snow gear and have pints of dark beer in a booth. When we hike back to our street, the neighborhood has gathered in our front yard with their sleds and cameras and children and there is a pile of snow a mile high next to our driveway.

*****

I wake up in a canopy bed draped in white netting, the room still smelling faintly of mosquito coil incense, and I can't wait to throw open the shuttered wooden door and see the sun rise over the ocean. The girls giggle in their beds in the next room and I roll out my yoga mat so I can face the water. I breathe half-heartedly through a few poses but what I really want is to sit, cross-legged, and watch the sky turn incrementally lighter by the minute, listen to the waves lap against the shore below. After breakfast I take a kayak out along the coast as far as I dare to go alone and then I drift. I tilt my face up and close my eyes and let the sun beat down on my smile. When I return, we all swim together off the raft that's anchored off shore, and there is a moment when I am quite sure that this is our whole family as it is meant to be. Later, I lie in a hammock that's just feet above the water with the girls and take turns reading them the books they bring to me as the sun gets lower in the sky and Jason snorkels off the reef.

*****

We've spent the day on the beach, a jumble of dogs and kids and jet skis, and there was an all-ages dance party after cocktail hour but before dinner, and now the children have been de-sanded and tucked into bunk beds. It is dark and starry and still warm this late at night as we make our way down wooden steps to the beach and laugh our way out to the deep. We have not been night-swimming since long before marriage and children but this August night the stars align and we all stay in as long as we want until we go back up to the hot tub, until Jemma comes out to find us at midnight and we remember that we are middle-aged parents, after all.

*****

It's hot and we've camped for the day at a magical place where North Bar Lake flows out to Lake Michigan via a warm, shallow, clear tributary. After we picnic and the girls try to catch a few fish with their grandpa, we leave Mimi and Jemma behind to play in the sand and we walk north to the dune overlook. Jason, Annie and I start clawing our way up and she has never climbed anything like this before but up she scrambles like a monkey, stopping to rest whenever I do, smiling proudly when she reaches the top. We stand for a moment and look out at the Manitou Islands glinting in the sunshine, and then we begin bounding down. She and I hold hands and practice jumping, feet together, and then we bound, one leg at a time, our strides becoming wider and faster the farther down the dune we go. She lets go of my hand and goes a little ahead of me. When we look at each other again, we are both smiling with pure joy.

*****

We're at Great Wolf Lodge with cousins and we've split up to wait in line in pairs for various rides. Annie and I have climbed the stairs with our tube and are waiting for our turn when we look down and see Jason and Jemma in their tube as it shoots out the bottom of a giant water slide. I see Jason paddle the tube over to the steps and get out, then help Jemma out of her seat so she is standing on the pool deck. She jumps up and down with glee, then pumps her hands victoriously over her head, a huge smile on her face, and wants to get in line to do it again. And again.

*****

We're wearing neon-lettered sweatshirts, blue eye-shadow, and side ponytails. We're drinking Red Bull and vodkas against our better judgment. We're crowding the stage to get as close as possible and we're singing the lyrics to every song until we're hoarse, dancing until the music stops, smiling so much our cheeks hurt the next day. (Also, our heads.)

*****

It's girls' weekend and the six of us are at Connie's cottage. The kitchen island is covered with food: cheese, crackers, olives, almonds, cereal mix, avocados, chips, brownies. We sit on stools or we stand, idly drinking a glass of wine, but what we really want to do is talk. Gina starts a story and we are rapt except for the parts where we can't help but interject our disbelief: "I love this story!" I say, halfway through, before I even know what's going to happen next.

*****

It's freezing on Mackinac Island and we've bundled ourselves in down before getting into a horse-drawn carriage to wind our way up to the center of the island for dinner. When we arrive, the restaurant is full of the clinking of glasses and silverware and there are fires burning in the huge old fireplaces. We're seated at a table in the back corner, up a few steps from the rest of the dining room, and from our vantage we can see the packed house, candlelight and wine making everyone's cheeks rosy. We split a bottle of red, Jason orders beef goulash with spaetzle, and he is so happy when it comes that I think he might cry. Our bellies full of warm food, we take another carriage home, breathing in the cold air, listening to the clip-clop of horseshoes, holding hands under the blanket.

*****

I'm sitting in a church pew at Uncle John's funeral having struggled through a hymn and passed Kleenex down the row before deciding definitively that there should be no more looking at Aunt Bonnie. His two best friends, looking for all the world like characters from a movie about the mob or maybe Texas football, get up to talk. They talk about life and loyalty, childhood friends and, yes, football. Then one of them says, a little abruptly in Aunt Bonnie's direction, "You know he loved you so much, girl," and the tears are welling up again because I am realizing how rare that kind of love is, how lucky I am to have it, and how it might feel to lose it. In spite of myself, I look at her again. She is beautiful, nodding, crying. She knows.

*****

It is the fourth of July and we have stood in the heat of the parade until the fire trucks sprayed us down at the end. Now we settle on the huge front porch at Trevor and Lisa's and the girls race by in a blur of red, white, and blue while the grown-ups drink mojitos and play guitar. Later, the kids will get cranky and scared of the fireworks and too full of sugar for our liking, but just now they're getting wet in the sprinkler and we don't care. We're looking out at the blue bay, just talking, and feeling like there's no other place in the world to be than with family up north on the fourth of July.

*****

The tree is just up and we decorated it today without breaking any ornaments and with a minimum of fighting or tears. There's a fire in the fireplace, Elf on the television, hot cocoa in our tummies, and little girls in flannel jammies in our laps. Thanksgiving is just over and the whole of the Christmas season stretches out in front of us. Our family of four is snug and happy and healthy in this cozy house, and all is right with the world.

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