Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There She Weaves

Family vacation: it can conjure images of golden beaches and sun and ice cream and laughter.  Or it invokes a leviathan of sunburn and fighting children and hours upon hours of monotonous driving in a semi-air conditioned car.  All of the above, if we are honest, are true for a parent—though the state of the air conditioning may vary. 

Last week our family jaunted off to Ocean City, New Jersey—I love the place!  Family friendly, great boardwalk, and—if you go before peak season begins—not jammed with hoards of beachgoers.  This year my mother and I went down early with our three girls, leaving my husband and father behind to join up with us later.  I had high hopes of relaxing, laying on the beach, reading a good book, and—yep, you guessed it—writing!

When we finally arrived after a GPS-intensive journey, my mother and I spent the next few hours wrangling children and unpacking the car in 90 degree heat.  We then, in the cooling evening, went for a walk on the beach.  It was balmy and tranquil—the sea breeze, the brush of chartreuse water over sand, the picturesque blush of sunset…until one child fell into the surf and another pitched a full-fledged tantrum over something so miniscule I now can’t recall what it was.  So we hauled ourselves and three squalling children back to the beach house where we spent the next several hours trying to bathe them, calm them, and get them to sleep.

            While things did improve the following day—and then got enormously better when Daddy and Papa arrived that evening—I again confronted the same quandary I so often face.  It’s the age old “Lady of Shalott” dilemma that Tennyson so aptly put to verse.  Do I stand back and allow my internal artist to take in the events swirling around me, like Tennyson’s Lady—absorbing and documenting sounds, smells, facial expressions, the chicane of conversation?  Or do I enter in?  Do I allow myself to sacrifice art to life—to miss some good writing fodder for hands-on interaction (or, at times, altercation) with my family?  It may seem like a no-brainer.  But it’s no simple choice.  Because entering in means getting involved and sacrificing not just fodder, but also time—precious writing time. 

           Well, as I so often do, I chose to dive in.  And every time I make that “entering” choice I am left without regret—this time was no different.  For had I not entered in to the chaos turbining around me, I would have missed my five-year-old daughter looking at the little pink room she was to sleep in and, with her hands on her cheeks, say, “Oh, what dainty beds!”  Or my two-year-old giggling and squealing with glee while gripping tight to my hand as a wave plashed up against her chubby thighs.  Or sitting next to my three-year-old on her haunches filling a bucket with seashells we found, calling them “precious treasure” and daintily treating them as such.  Or holding hands with my husband while we watch our children with their grandparents flying kites on the beach—my hand always feels so safe in his.

          Indeed, there will be time for writing.  Not bountiful, but present.  Like this very moment—with my littlest one wearing her Dora biking helmet at the kitchen table next to me and having a pretend tea party.  (Of course, I must stop every few sentences to taste her tea and exclaim, “This is the best tea ever!”)  But no amount of prolific writing—or money I could make from my literary genius—could compensate for these all-too-brief moments.  This may make me less of an artist to some, and I’ve made my peace with that.  Wasn’t it Thoreau who said, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."  Well, while at times living is a bit stark for my taste, it cannot be said that I’ve not done any of it.  And, unlike our dear Lady of Shalott, there will be no Lancelot standing over my dead body saying, “What a shame she’s dead, for she is quite pretty” (obviously I’m paraphrasing) while the poor woman never had a chance to proclaim her undying love for the woefully ignorant knight.  I guess, in comparison to that sort of demise, a frenzied family vacation is looking pretty good. 

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