Monday, May 31, 2010

Lending a hand

This weekend, the kids and I spent two nights in Portland together. In general, being the only adult and going away with them isn’t my favorite scenario. It’s not that they’re so much work; I just have more fun with Rick or friends along to share the adult responsibilities with me.

But this weekend it worked out well, and one thing I kept noticing was how all three of us were helping each other out. When we’re in the configuration more typical in our family, two children and two adults, the adults tend to help the children; it’s a fairly straightforward equation. This past weekend, with myself, my 11-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter, it felt more like a symbiotic triangle, as I observed how each of us found ways to help the others.

Saturday, we went for a long walk around town. I had a street map, and Tim helped me read it to figure out the various ways to get to the post office and the playground. He navigated again for me yesterday when we drove twenty minutes to see our friends at the beach, this time from the front seat of the car. We made a few wrong turns based on his misreading of my handwriting, and we would have gotten there a little sooner had we the advantage of state-of-the-art GPS technology, but we didn’t; we had only the directions I’d scribbled down while on the phone with our friends earlier in the day, and we had Tim’s earnest attempts to make sense of them. GPS is great, I found myself thinking, but this kind of teamwork is kind of fun too.

When we needed milk and orange juice, the kids together walked down the street to the market just a block away. Holly carried the grocery bag both ways; Tim handled the change (and, I admit it, the cell phone, since this independence is new to us and I couldn’t help being just a little leery). And when our bikes started to slip off the bike rack on the back of the car, all three of us had to work together to fix the problem: Holly held the duct tape and scissors; Tim supported the bikes; I wrapped lengths of tape around each juncture until the bikes were fastened tight and ready for travel once again.

I was still weary at the end of the day and had the same feeling I do at home of having spent a lot of the day doing things for other people, but when I reflected upon it, I couldn’t deny that it wasn’t a one-way street this time. When Holly realized after we’d left the condo for a walk that she couldn’t possibly go an hour without her blankie, Tim took the door key from me and sprinted back to fetch blankie for Holly. She in turn offered him all the bacon from her breakfast sandwich that she didn’t want.

The biggest thing the kids did for me was agree to bike along next to me so that I could fit in my daily run. They like biking, but might not have chosen this particular course or time of day. Yet they knew it was really important to me to fit in a 45-minute run before breakfast. And they knew I couldn’t leave them alone for that long. So they agreed to go with me. Holly biked a short distance ahead of us; Tim rode next to me and asked questions about every single boat we could spot in the harbor as we passed by – questions of which I knew the answers to exactly none. But I was grateful to the kids for being willing to make my daily run work out for me.

Later in the day, watching them play a modified game of one-on-one in the courtyard outside the condo (because they had a ball but no basket; the game consisted of dribbling and stealing but no shooting), I thought about how much more reliably they get along together when we’re away from home. It’s not that they quarrel at home, more that they generally go their separate ways. The proximity of traveling puts them unavoidably in each other’s company, and they make it work for them, with games like this one, with help here and there, with enjoying each other’s company and making things easier for me when they can too.

Everyone helped everyone. To use my father’s favorite cliché from his years as a camp counselor, we ended the day tired but happy. And I felt a new appreciation for the kids’ attempts to pitch in when needed. It’s one of the great things about traveling: giving them the opportunity to be more than the people they are during normal everyday life. They came through for me in numerous ways, and I really appreciated it.

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