I’m writing this from a family “vacation” at the beach in Maine. “Vacation” is in quotes, of course, because with three young children the idea of vacation falls into the same category as The Myth of Weekends. Back when we had fewer children, I remember asking our former pastor — himself the father of three girls — how his family vacation had been. He looked at me sideways for a minute, and then said, “We have three kids, Faith. It wasn’t a ‘vacation’; it was a trip.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
So here we are in Maine, not really having a “vacation,” but having a wonderful trip. A week-long trip that took a week to pack for. Late nights and early mornings with girls hopped up on ice cream and the excitement of seeing their grandparents and cousins. The unbelievable logistics involved on either end of a single hour spent at the beach.
Another reason this feels more like a “trip” than a “vacation” is that we live in Vermont. And an interesting thing about living in Vermont is that almost anywhere else you travel is bound to be more congested and bustling than Vermont. So, while most people take vacations to places where they can relax and enjoy a slower pace of life, we’ve noticed that it’s harder to find those places when you live in Vermont. This small beach town in southern Maine is hopping compared to our home base.
When we arrived last night, I was holding on to my sanity for dear life, and grasping to recover my sense of joy. The week I’d spent packing everybody up for this trip had been a hot one in Vermont, and we’d had to keep the windows closed (we have no air conditioning) because a crew of six men is painting the outside of our house. We’d hit traffic jams — something else we’re not used to in Vermont — two times after crossing over the New Hampshire border. The four hour trip to get here was the longest amount of time we’d spent in our car with the three girls, and now that they’ve become little outdoor-sy Vermont hooligans, they’re not very good at spending hours trapped in the car (not that ANY kid is good at this, but I guarantee ours are worse than most). With 2/3 of our girls now potty-trained (yaaay!), we had to stop at almost every rest station in New Hampshire to use the potty (boo!). And then we had to explain why, yes, you DO have to actually use the potty, because at rest stations it’s not appropriate to “pee in the grass.” (See aforementioned Vermont hooligan comment). Also during this drive I’d begun to have burning, aching pain in both of my knees for no apparent reason. In my typical calm, rational style, I determined that I had either Lyme disease or Lupus, and would probably be suffering chronic knee pain for years to come.
We didn’t think that the cottage we were renting had internet access, but it turned out that it does. So, after the girls were in bed (very late) that first night, I logged on to my email for the first time all day. And among all the Amazon Mom and library book due-date notices, I had these two emails:
1. A friend from our Berkeley days, mother of a son the same age as Fiona, who tragically lost a baby girl late into her second pregnancy — this friend’s husband sent an email announcing the healthy birth of their second son.
2. A friend from Vermont, mother of one of Fiona’s preschool classmates with whom I’d just been discussing chickens and the sad fact that we’re going to have to give up our rooster and be left with two lonely hens — this friend had gone to pick up her own litter of baby chicks and, thinking of us, had asked whether the farm supply store had any extras. When she heard from the store that there were, in fact, extra chicks to be had, she drove back and picked up more chicks, which were ours for the taking. Chicks of the EXACT breeds that I’d been wanting to try out next. (Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, if you’re interested).
These two emails were — on the surface — small, small things. But to me they were so huge that I let go of the sanity I’d been holding on to for dear life, and instead, for the past 24 hours, I’ve been holding on to these emails. Because they’re not just email updates; they’re little seeds of hope. Hope that pain can be redeemed and sorrow can turn to joy; hope that people are kind and sometimes things all come together at just the right time and in just the right ways.
My knees still hurt, and I don’t know why, or if or when they’ll feel better. And we still have another four hours in the car ahead of us when we travel back to Vermont. But somehow those two little seeds of online hope are all I need to get me through this moment.
There’s a plant that grows along the Maine coast called a sow-thistle. It’s a weed that looks like a dandelion, except it grows to be 1-4 feet tall. The sow-thistle isn’t a native plant — it was introduced to the United States from Europe — but it’s become an invasive species, found in almost every state. So, when Fiona took a handful of its tiny, feathered seeds and tossed them into the wind on our walk back from the beach yesterday, she was helping to birth plants that can grow taller than her, that can take root in the rocky Maine coast, in the cracks of New York City sidewalks, and in cultivated agricultural fields in California.
That’s how hope is. The tiniest thing — a new baby coming into a space of loss, or extra chicks at the perfect time — can take root in the parched, rocky soil of our lives and give us all the hope and joy we need to keep going.
So, I wish you many tiny little seeds of hope in your inbox, today and always.