I’m back from vacation, back to New York’s never-ending heat wave and an apartment that (due primarily to my husband Joe’s environmentalist zeal) lacks air conditioning.
We are sorely missing our lakefront cottage rental in Maine, where nights were cool and days were filled with swimming. We’ve been going to Maine since Ellie, now almost 7, was a baby, and it’s been rewarding to watch it evolve into a family tradition, one the kids adore as much as Joe and I do.
We started going because Joe, who grew up in New Hampshire, had fond memories of visiting his aunt in Maine as a child, and in some ways I’ve come to think of our trips there as a time in which we honor his side of the family and his heritage. Whereas most of the year, in New York, we see much more of my (Jewish) family than Joe’s, in Maine and en route, we catch up with his (Catholic) family. This year, his sister, brother-in-law and their adult children had a cottage near us, so we hung out with them even more than usual, relying on their outdoor grill abilities so we could introduce Ellie to marshmallow-roasting and s’mores-making.
At home in New York, we mark each Friday night with the Shabbat blessings, but on our trips to Maine, we never get organized to find candles and other supplies. I don’t miss it, however, because Maine itself is a little like Shabbat: a ritual we return to, something the girls can’t remember not doing, a quiet time when the four of us come together and relax. In fact, in our cottage — where we have no Internet, no cell phone reception and no TV — we tend to disconnect from technology more than we ever do on Shabbat. We watch sunsets, listen for loons and bullfrogs, tell stories, read, do puzzles and play games.
It’s fun to watch our city-kid daughters running around outside, discovering a variety of insects and birds (this summer a family of ducks befriended us), picking wild berries, canoeing and playing in the lake.
As a child, I never had a regular summer destination. My parents both prefer traveling and sightseeing in Europe to hanging out by a lake or beach. On my admittedly privileged vacations, I saw a lot of museums and cathedrals, but not so many insects. (Yes, I know one day Ellie and Sophie will complain about never getting taken to cathedrals or museums.) I can see why going back to the same place year after year sounds boring, even a waste of vacation time and money, when there are so many beautiful, exciting locales to explore and discover. And yet there is something so satisfying and comforting about having a familiar place, one that each year we experience in a slightly new way. In the same way that there is something satisfying and comforting about celebrating the same holidays year after year or reading the same Torah portions year after year.
This summer was the first time Ellie ventured out into a kayak, the first time 4-year-old Sophie was old enough to play board games, the first time Joe and I could read while the girls entertained themselves.
And now we are back home and I still don't know if Chelsea Clinton is having a rabbi at her wedding!
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