We just came back from a family vacation. We spent half of our time with my parents at their house near Bar Harbor, Maine and then the other half staying at Shawn’s grandmother’s house in Bristol, Rhode Island.
In many ways, this vacation felt a little like unpacking parceled off pieces of our past together. This was not the expected outcome as I groaned and grumbled under the piles of vacation prep I was racing to complete the night before we left. I wasn’t sure we’d arrive in one piece, let alone actually enjoy ourselves while we were gone. I said multiple times (out loud, to myself, and via text to my long suffering friends) that there was nothing quite like preparing for a family vacation to make me actually never ever want to leave my house again.
Grace and I have been going to Bar Harbor with my parents for her entire life. It is truly one of my favorite places in the world and would be fairly close to perfect if it didn’t happen to take almost four hours to drive there. It sounds sort of crazy, but vacationing in Bar Harbor feels some how spiritual for me. Kayaking on a quiet cove (for the first time- without drowning!), luxuriating over a cup of coffee on the porch- it's almost like going to church. Grace and I have made this long drive by ourselves many times. And although we always loved being there, sometimes it felt kind of lonely for me. Sharing this special place with Shawn and Everett was wonderful. Just as wonderful was watching my parents get excited to show us their new favorite spots (including a Greek restaurant with tzatziki sauce so good my mouth is watering just imagining it) and to introduce us to their sweet neighbors. Honestly, I sometimes resent the idea of their house in Maine, for the implied and imaginary time it takes away from us as a family, and for the self-imposed guilt I feel that I just can’t get it together to drive there more often. But being there all together this week (as I know they envisioned when they bought the house) and I suddenly understood the appeal.
I was also excited to experience Rhode Island with Shawn. He hadn’t been back to his grandmother’s house since she passed away, only returning to the area for family obligations like funerals. As he unlocked the door to her house and led us inside, he remarked quietly that somehow, despite massive renovations, the house still smelled exactly the same. He showed us around the impressive finished garage, that used to have a loft space that he was constantly getting scolded for playing in and the basement with ceilings so low you have to duck to enter (another favorite trouble making spot). There were several lovely framed photographs of his grandmother and extended family and one in particular of his grandfather, sitting inconspicuously on a side table. Everett caught sight of it immediately and began pointing at it excitedly and shouting “BB! BB!”. For the rest of our stay, if we asked Everett where BB was, he would point to that photo in the corner with confidence. A photo of his grandfather’s father, who neither of us had ever seen before.
Our first night there we walked a few blocks to a small Portuguese restaurant, delighting in introducing the kids to fried chourico sandwiches and shrimp mozambique. Every morning, Shawn and Grace would walk to a Portuguese bakery, with a shabby store front and outdoor sign that had been broken for as long as Shawn could remember. They would arrive back at home triumphant, with fresh popo secos and on Sunday, melassadas still warm, the powdered sugar sticking stubbornly to everyone’s fingers. Shawn has since told me that those trips to the bakery were among his favorite parts of our vacation. They didn’t talk about anything consequential or discover anything groundbreaking, but I can imagine that it must have felt so lovely to watch Grace experience a piece of his own childhood, essentially unchanged. That brief conversation on our way home inspired me to write about the feelings this vacation uncovered in us both, to bottle that magic in a way thats more concrete.
Sometimes, I wish that our memories existed on some kind of flash drive, that I could unplug and hand over to someone else as a way of downloading a whole bunch of shared experiences. There is something attractive to me about the prospect of easy understanding and instant intimacy. But peeling back the layers of ourselves, uncovering new memories and stories still left to share? Making new memories as a family like Shawn and Grace conquering a daunting ropes course together or watching Everett truly start to prefer walking over crawling at his grandparent’s house in Maine? That’s the good stuff. As always, this morning I feel like I need a vacation from our vacation but (equally as predictably)...it was totally worth it.