We put it off several times: once, because someone was sick; a second time, because the timing was no longer convenient. Did we put it off a third time? I can’t remember. But this weekend has been a long time in the making. We were originally going to spend last Labor Day weekend at Huntington Beach, but we ended up spending Memorial Day — that seems appropriate, timing-wise, as they two three-day weekends bookend the school year.
We first went about six years ago.
We fell in love immediately. We went back again at some point, but none of us can remember when exactly. It was pre-E, for sure, but that’s about all we can remember. Perhaps the link above is to our second visit? it all gets smeared in the memory. I reread the entry and find this:
Her first beach experience, some two years ago, was moderately traumatic for her. The sound of the waves terrified her, and the waves were forever chasing her form the water’s edge when she finally got the nerve to approach.
This year was different.
That first time at the ocean was at Edisto, so this must be have been our first time at Huntington. Still, it’s only a year before the Boy’s birth: when did we go again, pre-E? Again, smeared it the memory.
So I want to set about to to write down all the details of this experience I can remember, knowing that if I don’t, I won’t remember it. But I set out doing so with the understanding that I will only pick and choose, letting the pictures do the rest.
The first day we arrived and, after setting up camp, headed out to the beach. The Girl took her boogie board out to test the waves; the Boy, after a few minutes, turned to the gigantic sand box that lay all around him. Then they switched. That pretty much sums up the entire weekend: playing in the sand, playing in the waves. After all, what else can you do at the beach?
But there were the subtle changes. L, no longer afraid of the water, gradually found the courage to go out with me a little further than before, looking for more boggie-board-able waves. The Boy was at first reticent to go far beyond the last little crests and bubbles of waves that had been churning inland for some tens of feet. He finally found the courage, with a little help from K and me, to go out further, and to require less of a reassuring hand while doing so.
Day two started at Brookgreen Gardens. “We’ve been here three times now — we have to go,” declared K. It is famous for its sculptures, a fact interested me and bored L — until she started seeing statues from Greek mythology, her current obsession thanks to the Percy Jackson series.
The final day — another morning on the beach.
A perfect weekend, over all.
The Boy woke up at six this morning, ready to go. He’d been worried since Wednesday when he came home with a fever: “Will I be okay by my party?” he asked. Certainly. So this morning, he had his materials packed — cars and guns and other toys stuffed into the book bag Nana and Papa gave him for his birthday earlier in the week — and by the door by half-past-seven.
Later in the morning, he was packing his goodie bags for his guests, filling them with the Polish sweets he and K had chosen at the local Russian store (of course it’s called “Euro Market” or something similar, but like most Euro Markets, it seems, it’s a Russian owner). I sat down and glanced at the “Time Machine” links just at the bottom of the page as is my Saturday morning custom, and there was a post about holding the Boy when he was just a few weeks old.
Long gone are the days when you can hold him in the crook of your arm. Now it’s difficult to pick him up. When he falls asleep in Mass, it’s always in K’s arms, and I almost always end up holding him during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which means figuring out a way to kneel and hold a sack of concrete.
By the time it was actually time to head to the party, the Boy was more than ready, all nearly-fifty pounds of him.
The party itself was bliss for him. Many of his friends from pre-school came, as well as neighbors and kids from the Polish community. K brought some games for everyone to play, including a sack race, but in the end, what was most successful was what was simplest: E’s toys.
The Girl, though was sick, which accounts for her absence as well as Nana’s and Papa’s.
Saturday is always busy. This time of year, the lawn always needs a trim, and hedges often need their season’s taming. Tomato plants are starting to blossom, literally and figuratively, so it’s time to stake them. All fairly common late-spring Saturday work. Today, though, was a little different because of timing: tomorrow we will be going to a friend’s First Communion, so the Mother’s Day celebration had to be rescheduled.
Since I’ve neglected K’s vehicle the last few weeks, the Boy and I decided it was time to clean Mama’s car — well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it sounds better that way. So the first thing we tackled today was the interior of the car. Every surface was exposed to an area of low pressure — e.g., vacuumed — and then wiped down. The Boy to the windshield rag and wiped down the parts of the exterior that, concealed by closed doors, never really get clean from normal washing. And of course, with the two of us involved, there was a bit of playing as well.
Afterward, the lawn got its weekly trim and the Girl prepared her Mother’s Day present for Nana.
Our Mother’s Day celebration isn’t the only thing tomorrow’s First Communion throws off, though. Tomorrow is the Boy’s birthday. “I’ll be a five-year-old tomorrow,” was a common refrain today.
So after dinner came presents. It’s a sign of his growing maturity that only a couple of the presents was a toy: a small jeep and trailer set that he took to bed with him and a Lego set that he will put together with Papa on Monday. The rest of the gifts were practical, useful even. A backpack — an appropriate, camouflaged design — will get its first test in a month when we head off to Poland. “And I’ll use it in K5 for all those big books!” he explained excitedly. A new cycling helmet to match his new bike. A flashlight so he doesn’t have to keep borrowing mine. “Daddy, I just need to…” So perhaps more than a couple of toys.
I sit writing this and glance down at the clock: five years ago, we would be leaving for the hospital in about an hour. It was Sunday night, and I was just about to drift off to sleep, some time around eleven, when K woke me and said we had to get to the hospital. A couple of hours later, we were holding the Boy in our arms. And now, in a few hours, he’ll be the same age — year-wise — as L was when he was born.
In another five years? The Girl will be almost old enough to begin learning to drive. She’ll be in her second year of high school. Entirely new worries, concerns that are now non-existent, will likely consume me. Boys will no longer be icky. A moment of inattention could result in more than just a broken glass. Her grades in school will no longer be of little consequence.
Five years used to seem like such a long time…
We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.
We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?
You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.
Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.
We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.
“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”
“I just want you to be happy.”
What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”
K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.
In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.
A satisfying Thursday evening.
“Do you think I’ll catch a Clownfish?”
We were eating breakfast when this question came up. A typical Sunday morning: breakfast around half-past eight. The Girl off to choir practice at quarter past nine. The boys off to Mass about an hour later. That morning promised to be our normal, comfortable ritual. The afternoon, though, promised adventure.
“No, son. Clownfish live in the ocean. They’re salt water fish.”
“Plus,” added L, “they live in reefs.”
It only took him a few minutes to get the hang of it, and for a while, he was casting beside the Girl as she practiced with her new archery set.
A few bites later, he had another thought. “What if I catch a shark? I’ll have to be strong if I catch a shark.”
“I don’t think you’ll catch a shark.”
“Oh, right. It lives in the ocean.” He thought about things for a few more moments, then added, “All the fish I know are salt water fish.”
Planning for the afternoon fishing trip really began on Christmas Eve, when our children following Polish tradition were opening their presents. Our neighbor, who goes fishing often, had bought the Boy a beginner’s rod and reel set, complete with a small tackle box. He was thrilled, and he was even more excited when I found a casting weight in my old tackle box downstairs and explained that he’d be able to practice casting in the backyard.
A few days ago, when our neighbor was packing up his gear and hitching his boat to the truck for a morning fishing trip, the Boy informed K that his rod and reel were, in fact, for nothing. “They’re not for decoration,” he explained. And so she told me when I got back home that afternoon, “You must take him fishing this weekend.”
I haven’t been fishing in probably close to thirty years. I can’t remember ever going fishing with my father — not because I asked and he refused. Fishing was simply not something we did in my family. My mother’s brother was very much a fisherman, and during one visit, he gave me a handmade graphite rod with a very sturdy reel with a tackle box filled with every imaginable worm-like, grub-like, and fish-like lure one could imagine. I was twelve, I think. I probably used it no more than half a dozen times, if that many.
In thinking about taking my own son fishing, I had a whole list of concerns. Some were reasonable: what’s the best type of bait to use at this lake when fishing from the shore. Some weren’t: what if I can’t remember how to tie a hook? But with muscle memory, that latter worry disappeared. But the bait? When I saw the lake, I realized that it really didn’t matter: we weren’t going to go onto one of the fishing piers because the Boy, having no practice casting with an actual hook, might cause disaster. (In fact, he caught my shirt once, but fortunately only my shirt.) Since the lake was so shallow with a gentle slope out to the deeper water, I knew he’d never cast far enough from the short to catch anything, so we tried a number of lures.
He caught nothing but my shirt. But he begged to go back tomorrow after school.
Today is the last Sunday of the month, which means Polish Mass. It’s not much of a Polish Mass as much as it’s an English Mass with responses in Polish. Finding a replacement Polish priest is not all that easy, it seems. Yet L’s recent involvement in the children’s choir has energized and interested her: she doesn’t want to give it up. So we went to Mass in the morning, the three of us, and K went in the afternoon. Kind of like we used to do when one of us was sick: one stays home with the kid then goes to Mass later in the day.
It’s been a real benefit to the Girl, children’s choir. It keeps her focused in Mass for thing. It’s hard to fidget about when you have to pay attention and be ready to sing. It’s also helped her make new friends with girls who seem to have their heads looking forward and their priorities straight. It’s a constant worry we have: what kind of friends is she making at school? What kinds of behaviors are being modeled at school? We’ve met her best friends, of course, but she comes into contact with so many other children that it would be impossible to keep up. And so we’re happy to have some more positive influences in her life.
After lunch, it’s the same old Sunday tradition: exploring. The Boy and I headed to the other side of the creek to the neglected, overgrown portion of the lot of the all-but-abandoned house. The owner of the house died in his backyard a few years ago — we heard the cries of anguish in our yard when they discovered him — and I guess they moved his wife into assisted care or something. At any rate, someone comes and mows the yard a few times a summer, but the long triangular off-shoot of the lot has been completely neglected. There is now a stand of Sweetgum trees there that just makes me shudder.
But we were after something else, something sweeter.
Honeysuckle. When I was a kid, finding a fine of honeysuckle was a rare and wonderful treat. Our neighborhood didn’t have any wild areas, and I don’t think many people cultivate honeysuckle.
Later, in the early evening, E and I went back down to have another snack. The Girl joined us, bringing a small bowl to bring back some blossoms to enjoy during the movie.
I love the simplicity of that.
Every day has a story in it. That’s what writers will tell you. “You just have to find the thread of the narrative and follow it.” Something like that. If that’s the case, the threads of our Sunday afternoon stories area always the same. They always weave about our little recreation area down at in the corner of our property.
First, there’s the green swing. “I call green swing!” one of our children — usually L — we shout when we head down the hill. Yesterday, before the kids went down (our Saturday evening threads are often the same as our Sunday afternoon threads), while the Girl was still getting ready in her room, the Boy whispered, “I call green swing.”