“Six toddlers? You mean I’m going to be trapped on Toddler Island?”
I was apprehensive. Very apprehensive. But early this summer my daughter talked me into it.
“Mom! Come up to Maine with us.”
“Maine? The island? The island that’s only accessible by boat? The island that has no plumbing or electricity? Ummm…we don’t camp anymore. And we don’t want to impose on your in-laws.”
I thought that was that.
“Mom. There’s a hotel. Pops will pick you up every morning and deliver you back every evening. Tell dad to book a room now, before the hotel fills up…”
“Just think Mom” she pleaded “my children will have two sets of grandparents to cuddle them!” Clearly this is the definition of paradise for a two-year old and a four-year old. I think there may have been some further discussion; but before I knew it, we had planned a three day trip to the Island over the Labour Day weekend.
I’m not sure when I realized that there were also going to be 4 other toddlers. And other in-laws. I counted. Six toddlers. Combined with one outhouse, limited cell coverage, no electricity, no running water, one continuous open fire, and a deep, deep lake.
I have anxiety issues.
But we had already booked three days in a hotel. I really, really hate to lose money.
“Love. The hotel has Wi-Fi. You can still get your daily Internet fix.” my husband assured me.
So, on a fateful Saturday morning, I waited anxiously by the boat dock, carrying everything I thought I needed for what could be a very long day in one oversized backpack. I gritted my teeth; wondering what I had forgotten; and what I was in for.
“Are you ready for speed?” our host asked, and the boat hydro-planned.
My first surprise, as I braced myself, and watched my water bottle slide to the back of the boat, was the smell of the air. And then I looked around at the lake and the mountains. And it bought me back.
Let me digress. I grew up in Rehoboth. It was, and is, a pretty rural town. There was a field of cows next door, and the trolley car path in back of my house lead to woods, swamps, and a stream full of frogs. I roamed it at will. Later, my mother and her sisters bought a cabin on a lake in New Hampshire. We went up frequently when our kids were young. Later, they had willed the camp to me; but I made the difficult decision to sell it. It was too expensive, and for me, way too full of ghosts. We sold it in 2004.
Since then, my life has been busy and happy. I retired; my children got married; we had four grandchildren. We couldn’t have gotten up even if we hadn’t sold it. It wouldn’t have been the same, and I never looked back.
Until the smell of the air hit me that morning.
How long has it been, I wondered? How long since I went swimming in real water? How long since I stepped in a boat? How long since I sat in front of a fire? How long since I went a day without checking Facebook? How long since all I could see were tall, tall trees…?
I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.
I sometimes try to explain to my grandchildren how quickly the world has changed.
“My grandmother” I say “did not have electricity. She traveled by horse and carriage. My mother used an outhouse. I grew up without computers, or cell-phones.”
I’m not sure they even understand me.
But, on the island, two of my grandchildren got a trip to the past. They saw food cooked on a fire. They roamed without fear of cars. They played with pine cones instead of legos. They caught live frogs. I was so happy that my in-laws could give my grandchildren this experience.
Now in the interests of full disclosure, I won’t claim that my apprehension was totally unfounded. I did tip over a kayak (although I blame my grandson.) More ominously I did discover that I was 12 years older than I was in 2004. Since then rocks have grown steeper and more slippery. The process of getting me in and out of a kayak isn’t anything I want to discuss or relive. Oddly, on this trip everyone insisted on giving me a hand off and on the boat.
And there were 6 toddlers. I did have anxiety attacks watching them play on the steep and slippery rocks. I nervously watched them teeter on the edge of the dock. At camp, I found myself convulsively counting to make sure the woods had not swallowed any. I gritted my teeth when they got too close to the fire.
“Breath.” I reminded myself. “Their parents are here.”
I admit they all played remarkably well together. (And left me alone. My husband? Well that’s another story)
Perhaps there’s something about the air. My in-laws were gracious hosts and I got to know them better. We strongly agreed that all children should get the chance to spend time in the woods.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I was glad to return to my hotel room each evening. I wasn’t ready to sleep on a cot, go 24 hours without the Internet, or listen to toddlers cry in the night. And right now, I’m saying a tiny prayer of thanks for running water, flush toilets, and micro-wave ovens.
I thought I was going to endure being trapped toddler Island for the sake of my grandchildren. But I was wrong. It bought me back. I remembered what I had forgotten, and I’m happier for it.