I think it's from a Sandra Cisneros story--about how, at every age, you still have all your other ages rattling around inside you. It's so true. I used to picture time as this rope you followed along, hand over hand, into the distance, but it's nothing like that. It moves outward but holds everything that's come before. Cut me open and I'm a tree trunk, rings of nostalgia radiating inward.
This is what I'm thinking, camping for the eleventh year in a row, in the exact campsite where we have pitched our tent since Ben was a baby. At the picnic table I write on a pad, "like rings in a tree trunk, all the years inside all the years," and my friend Nicole sees it and asks if it's a poem. "No. It's just camping. Every year I think about the year before when I was thinking about the year before, and it goes all the way back. You know?" "I think you said that last year," our friend Jonathan says, and I say, "Exactly." In fact, writing this just now, I Googled "Catherine Newman matryoshka dolls" and sure enough--I've also described camping that way, all the years nested inside each other. It is my own personal house of mirrors, writing about it. Here first, for example. And then here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And, um, here. Oh, and also here.
I drive everybody crazy with my nostalgia and happiness. I am bittersweetness personified. Only, for some reason, the older the kids get, the less filled with dread I am about their growing up--it's sweeter and sweeter, with just a thin bitter core filled with the babies who are gone from us, with snapshots of their chubby pink cheeks. Mostly, it just gets better and better: everybody swimming and biking and wiping their own cracks; fewer marshmallows stuck to weeping heads of hair and less vigilance required from the grown-ups. "I can't believe how much better it gets!" I exclaim, as the kids tear around the campground in wild bicycling circles while we sit at the campfire with our beers and happiness. "I think you said that last year," Jonathan says. Exactly.
I have always loved the camping, but now I look back and feel like maybe it kind of used to suck. I mean, there was the beach: nursing a hot and sandy somebody in a little blowing-away tent, a pee-bloated swim diaper soaking in my lap. Or the campsite itself, where I seemed to spend every minute chasing my miniature humans away from the road, or shepherding them up to the bathroom so they could admire the vast and flapping entomology lab while pooping for hours on end. I know I loved it. I did. But seriously.
In fact, we saw a couple out by the bay with a two-month-old--and they were trying to keep it out of the sun, and the baby was red and crying, and the parents were taking turns wading into the water up to their ankles before darting back to make sure the other person wasn't mad at them for being gone so long, and I wanted to say, "Oh, go home. Turn on the AC and the TV, and just relax. You can go to the beach later, when it's older." But I remember how much fun we thought we were having--and were, I'm sure--and I spare them my demented advice.
Oh, but then, some things don't change at all. I walk down the road to our campsite with Birdy's hand in mine, and it is this same moment from my entire life of mothering her: her trust and curiosity. Her absolute hereness. "Is it true, about stars, about how we see them even if they're maybe not still shining?" she wants to know, and I could burst into tears, like the weirdo I am. "I think it is," I say, "but it is so hard to understand." I feel her fingers in mine, the full moon rising up into the pines like a cosmic lantern, the squirrels chuckling to themselves in the branches above us, and I want only now. The glow that lasts beyond itself. And I have it.
|The Pond, also known as Heaven on Earth. It is the most beautiful spot on the planet, and we are always the only people there. There just happened to be 16 of us this year. . .|
|The Brewster General Store. We bought Turkish taffy and gummy coke bottles and Mary Janes and black licorice and jawbreakers and caramel bull's eyes.|
|The thrill of victory (bean bag toss).|
|And the agony of defeat (mini golf).|
|This was The Year of Whittling. We whittled and whittled and it was so much fun. I cannot recommend it enough. Try it: make chopsticks, because then you'll have a goal. And also something beautiful at the end, besides your own blistered hands.|
|Ben whittled. "I should pitch this to FamilyFun," I said, dreamily, and he said, "Good idea, Mama. You could call the piece 'Fun with Fire and Knives.'" Oh, right.|
|Everybody whittled. It is the most companionable activity ever. Only a very few injuries were sustained.|
|Shavings galore. By the time we packed up camp, it looked like hamsters had been living there.|
|And more chopsticks. Seriously, do try this at home, but don't cut off your leg or anything, okay?|
|"If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs," Michael's dad likes to joke--"If we had eggs." Luckily, we had eggs.|
|And home-grown ham. And raspberries from our friends' patch. Also fluffer-nutter sandwiches. Just so you don't think we're so fancy.|
|If you bring pizza dough camping but forget to use it, fry it up in bacon fat the last morning.|
|Then fill it with raspberry jam and be prepared for the best donuts you ever ate in your life.|
I hope you're loving July.