All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.
- Anatole France
This afternoon, my children and I are leaving to visit Maine for a week. It will be our third year that the children will attend day camp and I’ll hang out with my father. I’ve loved this yearly routine. Until recently, I wondered how long he’d attend the camp or if he might soon become a counselor in training. Now I wonder if this will be the last year of our brief tradition.
I hinted at some of my family’s story in my Mother’s Day post about my father*. When I was nineteen, attending a local college, my parents finally divorced. My father rented a house nearby for him, my sister, and me. There he stayed for nine years until he got new job. But before he left, I lived one town over while I worked part-time and attended school full time. My dad and I spent a lot of time together, and it wound up being especially fun when I watched my nephew once a week. Soon after he moved, I gave birth to my son, and my father would visit pretty often since it was only about an hour-and-a-half away.
Stuck in a job he didn’t love, he finally retired several years later. By then I had my second child and lived in Cambridge. He moved to Maine, which meant that he was less than three hours away, and we still saw one another pretty often. My father finally had the life he’d dreamed of: owning his own place in a fairly rural area, living near the ocean, hiking, kayaking, and volunteering.
Then he started dating, which has made his life richer, even if it means he’s busier than he used to be. It’s good that he’s busier, but we see him less. That’s why I’ve treasured this weeklong summer visit.
Three months ago, my father announced that he and his girlfriend were going to sell their places and look for a new place to live. My first reaction was to be happy for them. My next was that I probably wouldn’t have to endure all the mosquitoes that live on his property every summer. (Each time we must run from the car to the house, and from the house to the car, and then kill whatever mosquitoes sneak in behind the slammed doors before they eat us alive. My poor daughter got bitten on the forehead just before we left last year, and the spot swelled up like a golf ball.)
But in the last few weeks my husband said something like, “I guess this will be the last year the kids will be in camp.” The camps are right by my father’s house, but soon his house will be forty-five minutes north. It probably won’t make sense to send my son next year. My daughter has always done one of the YMCA camps, so she’s more flexible. But my son’s camp is for wilderness survival, so it’s his kind of way to spend a week.
I can’t imagine next summer. Where will he live? How big will it be? What will it be like to visit two people instead of one?
When I first dated my now-husband, I’m sure the change of having another person in my life was weird for my dad. He’d just gotten divorced, so it was a chance for a fresh start. But I was already an adult and spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house. In fact, he’d even set up a makeshift desk for me in his room – a piece of marble atop two file cabinets. This routine had been in place in the midst of the divorce chaos, so it continued. And I had an open invitation for dinner at his house. His family made me feel comfortable, and I liked spending time with them.
Because I feel like much of my life has been uncertain, I crave stability like a dieter craves cake. Routine. Uncertain change looming in the not-so-distant future has often made me uneasy.
In the end, I’m sure our visits won’t be much different. In fact, they’re planning to move in an area that I prefer. We’ll start a new tradition. As family members come and go, families accommodate. Adapt. I’ll look back at this summer as well as the two prior summers, and reminisce of what a nice period of time it was. But then I’m sure I’ll have some other routine that I’ll appreciate, and worry about its end someday.
When things in my life are going well, I have this urge to hold on tight to it and keep it forever. But we can only do that in our memories. I remember when I was in my early twenties, appreciating that nobody close to me had died since I was two-years-old. But when I was twenty-three, my paternal grandmother died. Along with shock and grief, I thought, “I knew this time would come.”
After my daughter was born, I knew we didn’t plan to have any more children. For each milestone she’d reach, I’d be saddened to know it was my last time I’d get to live in that moment.
I battle to be more present-minded. If I mourn what I should be enjoying as it occurs, I’m not really enjoying it, am I? When I look back, most change has been good so I’m going to make a greater effort to embrace change.
I’m going to be busy and my Internet access will be limited this week. But I’ll check on my post and yours when I can. Have a great week!
* Mother’s Day post: