Somedays the wind is howling around the mountains. Other days, the sun is pointing out every new bud in the forest. Even when it’s grey and the back section of our trail is more pond than path, though, at four o’ clock, at least one kid and one adult will ask if we’re all ready to walk. Our walks have attained the ritual sacredness of communion, and, even though they are peppered with swear words when the boys argue about whose turn it is to chase the frisbee into the increasingly green rosy-bush, there is serious communing going on.
The walk around the house is about a tenth of a mile. Thing1 has a goal of getting his parents to do 30 laps walking and then running. I’m treating it as physical therapy for my ankle and, on days when my lungs allow it, have managed 10 laps with a few passes through the garden to talk to the peas and carrots. The Big Guy, waiting for a knee replacement, is less focused on the number of laps than on just walking with the boys.
The kids will do two laps for each of ours, deliberately tossing the frisbee into the woods or at each other’s heads. Thing1 and the Big Guy will talk car repairs. Thing2 will talk music and life.
We don’t see each other for most of the rest of the day. Thing1 is finishing up classes from college online until late at night. Thing2 has class in the morning and then has creative projects. I write and study, and the Big Guy reads. There’s an implicit understanding that, while we are locking down, we need to have our physical and mental separate corners.
Vermont’s governor is slowly relaxing restrictions that have helped keep our infection rate down, but, with high-risk people in the home, our family won’t relax the current routine until we see evidence of a prolonged absence of a second or third wave of infections. As the rest of the state returns to normal, I’m grateful for these organically grown rituals that keep us close but not constricted, knowing they’re about to become even more important.
In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.
The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.
The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.
By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.
Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.
Jack was born in the summer. By default, our summer travel routine and the vacation plans of most of his classmates made most of his birthday celebrations quite a bit smaller and tamer than the circus-like orgies of cake and presents that are depicted as normal and desirable in movies or ads. His birthdays are often spent with family doing something special at the beach or going to a favorite museum.
We knew that six-year-old Thing2’s October birthday made the more traditional kid birthday party more likely. He’s seven today, and we planned his birthday over the weekend. Watching Jack’s interest in traditional kid birthday parties (even when we offered) begin to fade when he was around nine, I know there won’t be many of these left.
Thing2, the Big Guy and I decided he should invite his classmates, and a few weeks ago, I filled his backpack with his homework, lunch, and seventeen invitations. Knowing that not everyone RSVPs for kids’ parties, the Big Guy and I got the house ready for a halloween-themed party on Columbus Day Weekend.
Three kids and their moms showed up.
At first I was a little nervous about Thing2’s reaction to the dearth of kids (and presents, of course), but he didn’t seem to notice. For two hours, the kids cavorted in the sun and the leaves for two hours. They beat apart and divided the treasure from a piñata filled with candy for 16 kids. There was no pin-the-tail on the donkey or other party games. Instead, they screamed and laughed as they chased each other through and around the house. The Big Guy in his Herman Munster costume and I as Lily Munster sat at the table with the three other moms getting to know each other a little better than we do at the bus stop.
Thirteen-year-old Jack’s own memories of these few traditional kid parties are often impressions of sunny days, the details blurred by distance. I know this day will blend into the collection of parties we’ve thrown for Thing2 as well. But I’m hoping that his memory is marking that, while a larger party would have been fun too, sometimes less really is more.
I woke up a few Fridays ago determined to get my ‘down’ time in on the trail before the workday started. I got it. I also got a lesson from Mother Nature down time management.
I got the kids to the bus, miraculously in time for the first stop. Then I headed to the trail at the park. It had been raining all night, and there were still drips and drops, but there were also peeks of sunshine. By the time I stopped at the park, it was drizzling, but I wasn’t too worried. It was about to clear up.
Wrapping my mp3 player in a plastic sandwich baggie and then into my belt, I pushed play and headed down the trail. Five hundred feet into the park, the sky opened up. Instantly, I was drenched from head to toe and supremely grateful that, in my now-soaked shirt and running pants and looking like a jelly donut entering a wet T-shirt contest, I was the only person in the park. I thought seriously about turning back.
It wasn’t fortitude or courage that kept me going. It was the knowledge that I had a To-Do list a mile long. Work was next on the agenda, then (hopefully) blog posts, getting ready for a class I was about to help teach, laundry (always laundry), vacuuming, dinner and writing before bed. I knew this was the only time to get my down time.
I took refuge under a shelter when the rain was too blindingly-heavy to navigate the path. When the rain slowed, I restarted my run from the beginning, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any wetter. Mother Nature laughed and let out another sprinkle. As I got to the end of the third mile and started the fourth, it had stopped feeling like work and begun feeling like down time – without and with the rain.
That’s when it struck me that the rain was just part of the game. The weather is going to do nothing but get worse over the next few months. As I write, it’s still dark this morning. Weather and time changes close in with their excuses not to run, but the dark is also part of the game. Winning that game and getting that down time – on the trail or the keyboard – is ignoring those excuses and getting it anyway.
I’m making a third birthday cake for Thing2 today. He had one for his party over the weekend, we took cupcakes in for his class today, and we’ll have our family celebration tonight. It’s the last cake for the last seventh birthday I’ll ever make for one of my children, and while I don’t want to do this again, I also don’t want it to end.