Schools are back in session, so I guess that means that summer is over. But thoughts of summer are still very much with me. For a while, after our kids were grown and out of the house, the TG and I escaped the confines of the academic calendar. We were free to take our vacations in September, when the weather is still nice but most of the tourists are gone because they have to get their kids back in school.
But now that my son Calder's Father is a teacher (studio art and art history at one of the best private schools in SoCal – allow me one small boast, and I won't mention his recent successful art show), we're back on the academic calendar if we want to do a family vacation. And we very much do.
So we repeated – same place, same days, even the same restaurants – our vacation from last year in Cambria, the quiet, hidden jewel on California's Central Coast. Less famous and showy than its neighbors to the north like Big Sur, Monterey, and Carmel, Cambria is the perfect place for rest and relaxation. There was one big difference this year: our grandson Calder was one year older -- he is now one year and nine months old -- and he was much, much, much more "mobile."
I've had a lot of love in my life, but this Grandparent Love is something entirely new and special. The unconditional way that Calder loves me -- and I love him – is something that I haven't felt since my kids were little, which was a long time ago, and is now a huge, continual wave of pure happiness, late in my life. He is very easy to love: besides being ridiculously cute, he is smart, funny, active, playful, willful, a major consumer of food and books, and as his wonderful mother says, "companionable." Wherever he goes, a light seems to shine on him. Everywhere we go with him, people make a fuss over his astounding cuteness like a number in a Disney musical. One of our many nicknames for him is The Golden Boy, which is true on several levels. The TG and I are lucky enough to live fairly close to his family's house, and we get to see him twice a week. Once at their place, once at ours. It couldn't be better.
The only thing might be better was the three uninterrupted days of Grandparent Love in Cambria, getting up early with him, walking on the beach and the boardwalk with him, watching his every move like a hawk as he climbed rocks, encountered dogs large and small, confronted ground squirrels, and chased birds. The flipside of Grandparent Love is Grandparent Responsibility: nothing can possibly go wrong while I'm watching him ever, ever. Ever. That kind of vigilance is exhausting. And Calder is a very active boy: he can wear out four or five adults easily.
It's funny that Calder himself will not remember these years of love. Nobody has any real memories until the age of three or so. I have a great memory, and I can't remember anything much before then.
All this love is just feeding his "roots." The support and care he now gets from his super-diligent parents, his aunt the Flower, the TG, and rest of his family will be subliminal to him for the rest of his life. He won't remember what a great toddler he was and all the love that he got and gave. But we'll have the pictures and the stories to prove it. And he will feel it within him, feeding his confidence and sense of self.
But while all this was happening, I was also thinking of the summers in my past. A couple of weeks ago, there was a reunion – the 70th Anniversary – of the summer camp in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania that I went to for many years and served as much of the inspiration for "Camp Mooncliff," the setting of the first third of my novel WHAT IT WAS LIKE.
I didn't attend the Reunion: I now live 2,753 miles away. (I suppose I could have driven there at the last minute. Google Maps says I could have made it in 40 hours via I-80.) But it did spark a round of new Facebook contacts that brought many names and faces from the past back from the far recesses of my memory.
Anyone who has read my book knows that I have a pretty detailed recollection of those days (the late 60s) and that place, allowing for the changes required by the Story, which means pretty much anything. But I was surprised by a few things in the lost connections and deeper feelings that surfaced from various FB contacts.
In particular, one woman wrote, "I still remember what you said to me at Camp."
Egotist that I am, I first thought that that was a compliment. Maybe I said something funny or witty or nice to her. But now I'm not so sure. People seldom remember the nice comments; what they remember are hurtful, cutting things. Did I say something mean to this smart, talented girl, a girl I liked? Was it just aggressive teasing and/or raging hormones? When does teasing become harassment?
I tried to capture some of the casual cruelty at camp, the "Lord of the Flies" culture among boys, and the edgy fliration between the sexes in WHAT IT WAS LIKE --
"Kids can be so cruel: there was a kid in the next bunk who was born without one of his thumbs. Some kids used to call him "Niney" behind his back, and sometimes to his face."
"Kids have no feelings," Stewie said from the head of the table as he whacked the Doggy Bully, who had been elbowing the Smart Doggy, on the head with a spoon. "Stop that, dummy!"
"The Very Fat Doggy pulled down on my shoulder and squealed with discomfort, "I gotta drain my lizard ... real real bad!"
I turned on him and growled, "Tie a knot in it!!"
"And then, there we were, face to face.
She smiled at me. There was a slight pause in the Universe.
I said, "It's hot."
She said, "It's summer," looking me right in the eyes. Her eyes were very blue. Blueblue. Right then ... right then, I felt that something was going to happen between us. I didn't know exactly what, but I knew it was going to be something ... significant."
"Just after he left, a nasty fight between the Redheaded Doggy and the Very Fat Doggy broke out over the order of possession of this much-passed-around Classics Illustrated COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO comic book, and I had to break it up, yell a lot, and punish both of them. I dumped both their beds over onto the floor – the frames, the mattresses, everything: a traditional Mooncliff punishment. Then, they had to pick up their beds and make them themselves, in silence. This was after repeated warnings. I hated getting that angry at the kids. First of all, I am not, by nature, a violent person. (I know that may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, writing this from a jail cell, but it is the absolute truth.) It just seemed like a lot of wasted energy."
"You know I would have found you, eventually," she said moving right up next to me, as she dodged one of the volleyballs that came our way. I reached out and deflected the ball away from us, and her arm touched my arm. I didn't move as our skin touched; neither did she. I felt like our first kiss could happen at any time, that I could just turn, put my arm around her, and kiss her, but I held back. I actually should have kissed her: she was so beautiful, and right there. But it wasn't the right time, not with all these kids around.
"I couldn't wait for 'eventually,'" I said."
"When she walked away, it was as if the world had dimmed. Everything was alittle darker, a little less exciting, a little less alive. I noticed that the very first time she left me, and it was never, ever really any different."
I like to think of myself as a nice person and that haven't been unnecessarily mean in my Life, but thinking back, now I'm not so sure. I know that I was a smart-aleck and know-it-all, but cruel? I hope not. But it's got me thinking.
It's something I'll have to model for Calder as much as anything: simple, everyday kindness. I want him to grow up to be a kind, considerate human being, the way that his father turned out.
Another facet of Grandparent Responsibility is Grandparent Example-Setting.
INTO THE WOODS – Act Two Finale – "Children Will Listen" – typical genius and unusual wisdom from Stephen Sondheim
How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen
How do you say to a child who's in flight
"Don't slip away and I won't hold so tight"
What can you say that no matter how slight
Won't be misunderstood.
What do you leave to your child when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in it's head
Things that your mother and father had said
Which were left to them too
Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do them too
Children will see
Guide them, but step away
Children will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
"Listen to me"
Children will listen (repeat 3x)
BEAUTIFUL BOY by John Lennon
ALRIGHT GUY by Todd Snider – on Conan – with 'scumbag' censored