One of the best lines in Nelson DeMille’s novel Plum Island is this: “The problem with doing nothing is that you don’t know when you’re done.” Or something like that. DeMille must have been pretty fond of that line himself, as his protagonist, John Corey, actually repeats the line in a later book. *
I usually spend the last week of the summer vacation before I go back to work at the beach in North Carolina. Our plans changed this year, so we went earlier in the month. This past week, I’ve been haunting my own house like some baggy t-shirted spectre of despair. I couldn’t fall asleep at night, so I’d sleep late all day then drag myself through whatever activities were mandatory – like occasionally bathing and
throwing cereal down the stairs to the tv room feeding people, but I didn’t do a whole lot else. I was absolutely annoying my husband, the kids were getting ticked when the novelty of unlimited access to the fridge and the remote control wore off, and I was starting to get on my own nerves, too.
In a moment of Ben and Jerry’s induced clarity, it hit me: It’s Not All About Me. What’s that you say?? That’s right. It’s not all about me. My desire for summer to go on forever so that I don’t have to go back to the daily grind of lunches, laundry, homework, soccer practice, not to mention my ENTIRE JOB is really pretty irrelevant. Not only is the end of summer vacation not about me, but all of summer is not about me. In fact, while there are a few (very, few) things that are decidedly about me, most of my life is not about me at all.
So. Huh. Yeah.
Remember summer when you were a kid? Seemed like paradise, right? Swimming at the pool until your fingers were completely pruned and your hair was chlorine-crispy? Sleeping late? Mealtimes became more flexible? Big gatherings of families and tons of new kids to meet and play with? Riding bikes around the neighborhood behind the mosquito spraying truck while I was growing up – it’s lucky my kids weren’t born with flippers and vestigial tails? The food groups of summer morphed to include the Popsicle Group and the Hot Dog Group? Your parents had a tendency to
sit on the porch and drink beer be more flexible about bedtimes?
My summer vacation was coming to an end, but so was my kids’ vacation. One of them is starting kindergarten and both are nervous about what the new year will bring. As I think about all of this – me, my kids, summers past, I hear it in my head like a mantra, “It’s not about me. It’s not about me.”
On Tuesday night I told my kids that they had to go to bed early because we were getting up early on Wednesday to go on a surprise adventure. When they begged and pleaded for clues I told them that they’d need work gloves and heavy boots because we were spending the day moving rocks up a mountain and cleaning dog poop up off the streets. They repaid me for my sarcasm by agreeing to go to bed early and then rocketing out of bed and around the house at five minute intervals until they dropped, like exhausted puppies, at around 11: 15.
I woke them early, took them to breakfast at a local diner, and we set off. I gave them little clues until they guessed, hesitantly, “Amusement park?” It was a long drive, but it was worth it. And aside from the fact that I expected the name tag on every single
sideshow carny employee in the place to read, “Cletus, the Slack Jawed Yokel,” the day was perfect. **
Knoebels is an old-fashioned family amusement park in the mountains. It’s inexpensive (relatively speaking, but you don’t ever feel like you’re being ripped off) and small enough to be manageable but big enough to be exciting. You can look it up yourself or click on the link I provided, but where we went is sort of beside the point.
We had so much fun. The kids were adventurous, even daring, about new experiences – like solo rides on roller coasters and log flumes, they were cooperative, they were joyful. At 9 o’clock at night, after 10 hours of playing, riding rides, and swimming, as we rode high up in the sky and looked out over the flashing and spinning lights of the park on our third ferris wheel ride of the day, my two
babies big kids cuddled up on either side of me, I felt like I’d had this meaningful and happy summer experience that both filled me right up and made me feel light as air. I was ready for the jump into the school year, and I could deal with the fact that it wasn’t all about me – regardless of the season. And really, I was as happy as I’d been all summer, maybe more so.
Turns out, ”NOT all about me” is all I really want and all I really need. So I guess, in a way, it is all about me.
*OK. So it’s not really highbrow intellectual literature, but we’re not snobs, are we? Yeah. You’re right. I am. But I really like these books.
**As if to prove a point about the aforementioned snobbery, let me just interject here that my children and I were the only people there who didn’t have tattoos. Not that I have any objection at all to tattoos, it’s just that I didn’t know that people could get tramp stamps for their toddler girls. Maybe it was a fake tattoo on the small of that two year old’s back, but judging from the giant rhinestone dangly earrings she wearing, however, I would be reluctant to rule out the possibility that these parents had tattooed their baby girl.