Last week, on our fourth annual trip to Storyland to celebrate the end of school, I learned several things.
I learned that my children are as smitten with tradition as I am. I had told them weeks ago that I knew they were getting old for Storyland, and this might be our last trip. Halfway through our day at the park, Grace turned to me, eyes filled with tears, and asked, “Do you think this is our last trip, really?” I hugged her to me and said of course not, it was up to her, as long as they wanted to come, I wanted to take them.
Every aspect of this trip has ossified into ritual. We stay at the same hotel, we go to the same water park, we eat dinner at one restaurant and breakfast at another, we start and end our day on Bamboo Shoots. I love our breakfast spot for many reasons, including that it’s called Priscilla’s, which was my grandmother’s name. There was an unexpected wait (the place was jammed with Harley Davidson bikers, one of whose shirts resulted in a long conversation on why you’d have a shirt with b&^%@ on the back) and so we sat on the porch, deciding what to do. “Let’s just go somewhere else, guys,” I said, glancing at my watch.
Whit looked at me, absolutely scandalized. “But that would mess up our tradition.” He folded his arms and sat down. And so we waited.
I learned, again, that our family’s traditions form a scaffolding on which our life is draped. I need to write more about this, but the older the children get, the more important some of our rituals, both big and small, seem to be to them. They provide a reassuring rhythm to life, I think, as well as a space for them to still be children in a world that seems to be pushing them to young adulthood faster than they might want to go.
I learned that Grace is the voice of reason in my life. As we drove home we talked about what would happen when we got home. Maybe we can skip showers, I mused. “Mummy, I think we need showers,” Grace chimed in from the backseat. “I mean, after a full day at an amusement park? Don’t you think?” Good point, I admitted. Showers it was.
I learned that Caramel Bugles are troublesomely good.
I learned yet again of the wisdom in Storyland. I take a picture of this sign every single year. And it just gets increasingly true.
I learned that every year the edge of time’s passage cuts me more sharply. My favorite part of the (long!) drive up involves 14 hilly and twisty miles through the woods with glimpses of Crystal Lake on the right. It’s absolutely beautiful. As we passed the landmarks we know so well (the raft in the lake! the archery targets! the stilled ski lift!) I felt a pang of grieving this trip, even as we set out on it. As I watched Grace and Whit barrel down the water slides, their laughter echoing off the cavernous roof, I felt the familiar prickling up and down my arms that I’ve come to think of as the physical sensation of total presence, as well as the somatization of my distress about time passing. Even as I lived the moment I’d so anticipated, I was already mourning it.
As we walked through the doors of Storyland, leaving on Friday afternoon, I felt a tightness in my chest. I looked back over my shoulder and the park’s bright colors blurred because my eyes were full of tears. I blinked quickly but could not hide my emotion. The sting of sorrow at the end of something we had looked forward to took my breath away. I feel this way every year, but it keeps getting stronger. Surely the day is coming when I’ll sit down outside the gates of some activity or place and simply refuse to leave. Life’s endings bring me to my knees, face to face with all that is transient. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my heart regularly breaks open at the constant reminders that these moments I so thoroughly love are flying by. They will be over soon, and I am not ready.
I learned that I do still remember some college Chemistry. Whit brought one book on our trip, an introduction to the periodic table. As we drove up he talked about different elements, and more often than not I remembered the abbreviations, or their color, or their basic state. He was impressed and I was proud (fun fact: if I hadn’t majored in English at college, I would have chosen Chemistry). One thing is true, for sure: the conversations with these two just get more and more interesting.
I learned that my children are aware of this life’s poignant beauty in a way I never used to be. As we drove home through the outrageously glorious dusk light, I said several times, “Oh, guys, look: what a beautiful world this is.” I pointed out smudges of clouds at the horizon or the way that the dark green trees flared against the hydrangea blue of the gloaming sky. Not one single time did they shush me, or ask me to turn up Katy Perry. They always looked, and noticed. At one point, unprompted by me, Whit sighed from the backseat, “It is so beautiful, Mummy.” And yes. It is.
It is an astonishingly beautiful world. How grateful I am that Grace and Whit can see it.