Back in June, during the first week of our summer trip, we stopped in upstate New York for my youngest brother’s high school graduation. Seven of us went to the ceremony, including my other brother, Ryan, my Dad, my sister, and Jay, who didn’t have a ticket and sat on my lap.
We’d seen the program the night before, and knew that early on four seniors would be singing “Forever Young,” which I mentioned in a previous post is one of the songs Caroline sings the boys before bed each night (though this was the Rod Stewart redo, not the Dylan original the boys know). When the quartet rose from their seats and gathered in a corner of the stage to sing, everyone in my family turned their eyes to Jay: They wanted to watch his reaction when he realized his mom isn’t the only person who knows one of his favorite songs.
A high school graduation is full of talk about young people setting out on their own. I think hearing four strangers sing a song he knows well might have given Jay a glimpse of the scale of life beyond our home—a hint that there’s a lot going on in the world outside the confines of his childhood.
Graduations are also full of talk about all the people who help you on your way to adulthood. The moment at the start of Forever Young captured that, too. I saw my brother, my sister, my sister-in-law, all looking at Jay, all eager to see his face light up. It struck me then how many people care about him and will play a part in the way he grows up.
Two months later, we’re back in South Carolina. After months of driving, we’ve returned to a familiar routine: home, school, work. After months of visits, now it’s just the four of us, and it won’t be until October, at least, before we see family again.
This is the second summer in a row we’ve spent two months away from home. The ritual feels increasingly like the kind of thing we want to make a staple of how the boys grow up. This year’s trip can be sliced a few ways.
There are the places we went: New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Boston, Nantucket, Virginia.
The vehicles the boys drove: riding mower, farm tractor, John Deere gator, dinghy, motorboat I, motorboat II.
The seafood we ate: Not enough in one person’s book.
But a few Wednesdays ago, as we drove the last 400 miles home, I realized those ways of looking at it miss the point. Somewhere south of Richmond, I convinced Caroline to forgo a passenger-seat nap and instead help me make a list of all the people we’d seen. After we had all the names down we counted the number of days we’d seen each person—deciding, after some debate, that we needed to have spent at least one quality hour with a given person on a given day for it to count. In total, our seven-week trip yielded 94 “person-days.”
That list is the summer’s real bounty—and that’s especially true for Jay and Wally.
Many of the best moments from the summer were when I watched the boys go off to do something with someone else. I think of them baking a cake with my sister-in-law, learning to swim with my aunt, having a sleepover with my stepfather, pitting cherries with Caroline’s mom, covering the boat with Caroline’s dad, drilling a hole with a scarily large drill bit with a friend, flipping blueberry pancakes with Grandpa, building a fire with my brother-in-law, racing bikes with their cousins, learning how to do cannon balls with my college roommate.
I love watching the boys spend time with other people for lots of reasons. I’m proud of them, of course, and like seeing other people enjoy their company, too. More than that, when I see them comfortable with other people, it makes me think they’re on the right track, poised to stand on their own two feet.
It also makes me think they know what’s good for them. Caroline and I give the boys a lot in life; our love makes everything else possible for Jay and Wally. But we’re just two people, with our own specific sets of experiences and knowledge and our own well-worn ways of interacting with them. There are limits to what they can learn from the two of us, but as this summer made plain, virtually none to what they can learn from all the other people they might meet in life.