Back in the U-S-We-Are (‘you don’t know how lucky you are, boy…’)
On Relaxation and Revelation
Oh dear, I’ve done it again…let way too much time slip by between posts. But this time, the lapse was facilitated by a worthy cause: more than a month back in the States with the Kid, while Husband Extraordinaire joined us for about 12 days. BLISS. And trust me, ‘bliss’ is not always the first word that comes to mind when reflecting on a trip home, no matter how happy we are to see family and friends (EXTREMELY), no matter how many BBQ’d hamburgers I get to eat (too embarrassing to admit), no matter how much clean, sweet, Pacific Northwest air I can inhale.
If you haven’t been an expat before, then you might not be entirely familiar with the phenomenon I’m about to describe. For lack of a better (more concise) term, I’m going to call it ‘Love and Laughter and Happiness–in Hyperdrive.’ To be fair, I suppose ‘LLHH’ applies in some degree to most people who have moved away, even if not so very far, and then return for a visit to a hometown. And it definitely applies to just about any holiday season. But when, as in our case, the distance traveled home exceeds 5 and 1/2 thousand miles (9,000 km) as the crow flies and 15 time zones, and when the door-to-door duration of the trip is measured in days as opposed to hours, and when at least 4 days must be factored in on each end to compensate for jetlag, the impact of ‘LLHH’ becomes magnified to an extreme extent.
And alright, all you Pollyannas: let’s take a step back for a moment to acknowledge that I am basically complaining about a surfeit of love, laughter, and happiness. I know, I know–life is tough.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s a strain to be a guest over a long period of time. Even in the homes of the people you most dearly love in the ENTIRE world. Living out of a suitcase never ranks up there as a Top 10 quality-of-life booster. And if you’re blessed with more doting relatives and friends than you can count, you inevitably feel like your distribution of ‘quality time’ is bound to be found inadequate by some, if not all, parties. Finally, the pursuit of this elusive ‘quality time’, while fulfilling, is also downright exhausting.
So every six months or so, when Husband Extraordinaire and I return from a trip home, we look at each other and say, ‘We need a vacation.’
On this trip, however, we managed to strike a perfect, grace-filled balance and were able to fully enjoy and appreciate the ‘LLHH’ while not becoming overwhelmed. The trick? Well, I’d known all along that it had to do with doing LESS–particularly less driving from one city to another, less staying for 3-5 nights in one place only to race off for another 3-5 nights somewhere else, repeat, repeat. But this time around, I actually DID it. Arrived in Seattle and stayed put, at my parents’ house, for MORE THAN 2 weeks. (Well, that doesn’t count a quick weekend trip to Utah for my sister’s bachelorette party, but since I got to do that by myself, leaving a jetlagged Kid to recuperate with Grammie and Papa while I got a solid 10 hours of sleep for 2 nights in a row, I think it hardly factors in as stressful travel.)
As if that wasn’t enough, we also got a long stretch of 7 nights together as a family (joined by now by Husband Extraordinaire) at Spirit Lake, in northern Idaho. Yep, Idaho. The state directly east of Washington. Home of good potatoes. And spectacular lakes. Husband Extraordinaire’s family has had a cabin at Spirit Lake since his dad was a kid. So Dave has been going there every summer since he was a little boy, along with his siblings and his cousins (the kids of his dad’s sister).
I’ve probably been a guest at Spirit Lake half a dozen times since meeting Dave, and up until this summer, I thought I fully appreciated it. ‘The Lake’ has a powerful, almost mythical presence in Dave’s family’s consciousness, but since I had my own ‘The Lake’ growing up, I could totally understand the reverence with which Spirit Lake was treated. It’s an experience, a religion unto itself, a tradition so steeped in family lore and history that it truly defies explanation–at least on the level at which I tend to discuss things on this blog.
Nevertheless, I figured that I ‘got’ the Spirit Lake thing, that I understood its impact on Dave’s childhood and life in general, that I fully sympathized with and partook in Dave’s agony when we couldn’t make the trip for the last 2 summers in a row.
And then we got the Kid out there.
It’s actually not his first trip to The Lake–but last time, his main experience of the family’s hallowed ground consisted of entertaining us all with his newly-acquired ability to roll from his tummy to his back. I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t really hold that memory among his most vivid.
However, turn a 3 year-old loose in a paradise comprised entirely of water, sand, grass, speedboats, kayaks, fish (and a Buzz Lightyear fishing rod), soccer balls, flotation devices, ‘pirate treasure,’ copious amounts of food, and endlessly energetic, adoring family members–all within a 10 yard radius, and you have a formula for the most memorable vacation of all time. (I think the Kid liked it, too.)
Watching the Kid sprint tirelessly from one activity to another, sunrise until sundown, his face a beacon of wonder, absorption, and absolute joy, I had a whole new awareness of what this place means to Husband Extraordinaire. The Lake means the most perfect memories of childhood rapture. It epitomizes the dynamics of fierce familial affection and allegiance. It both encompasses and perpetuates the best of love, laughter and happiness. Period. No hyperdrive in sight.
So was I as shocked as I should have been when Dave actually turned off the email function on his Blackberry? Did I gasp at the miraculous return of color and vitality to his previously work-paled face? No. I sat next to him, reclined in a lounge chair, cold drink in hand, facing a lake as smooth as glass, and watched our son just exist in his own personal Utopia. Our own personal Utopia.