Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mom's almost never grouchy at the lake

We survived a week-long heat wave. We came to our senses one hot afternoon and moved into my family's tiny camp on the shore of a not-too-tiny mountain lake and stayed there, hiding out,  and didn't consider leaving until we felt a crispness in the air, cool enough to send our arms flying up and around our own bare shoulders in an attempt to hug ourselves warm.

Lake life suits me. Who wouldn't it suit? Life is pared down to the essentials at the lake. We get hot, we swim. We get hungry, we eat. We get sleepy, we nap. We get overwhelmed by the ceaselessness of the natural scenery, we read.

Most appealing is existing, feeling perfectly content and fulfilled, with one one hundredth of your belongings around you. Bathing suits, perhaps a favorite pillow or two, three to four selected items of clothing, a scarcely- used fridge containing only those food items you all chose together just hours before, a good book, a magazine.... what else.

What few drawers and closets exist in the lake camp are not stuffed with clutter that anyone would claim. Therefore no one feels the need to organize that clutter, to harness it lest it swallows us. We just let it all be, as it is, and as it has been for close to sixty years.

Aside from the occasional sweeping frenzy to pick up all the pine needles and dirt carried in on wet bare feet,  very little, if any, time is spent on housework at the lake. At a temporary shelter I am liberated from the persistent nagging, oppressive nature of my permanent home.

"Live in me, enjoy yourself, be happy, go outside and jump in the lake," the lake camp seems to say.

"Clean me, harness me, sew up these rips in my seams, take control of this place, maintain order lest you are exposed as someone who's, gasp, messy, and take a look at all the crap you've accumulated over a lifetime, all the stuff you claim you "need" to make it through your days on this earth," my home seems to scream.

There is no harnessing the lake house. The lake house harnesses us in the most underhanded of ways. 

Lake life suits my children. They move through their days at the lake needing no guidance. With the water calling them constantly, a beautiful, shimmering thing just outside the window, I don't need to tell them what to do. They are in that water, in one way or another, for hour upon hour.

Esther, with her new fancy swim goggles Ian bought her, and her subsequent newly-discovered love of deep-lake diving, is inseparable with the water. My heart comes into my throat each time my eyes scan the lake's surface and don't find her. Then, seeming lifetimes later, I catch a glimpse of eyes, nose and mouth popping up just long enough to take in a fresh supply of oxygen before disappearing under again and leaving only a vague footprint. Sometimes I see a foot, or half a leg, that breaks the the surface and gives her location away. Sometimes it's just her swirling footprint, remnant turbulence, as if a predator fish is chasing down its dinner.

I had no idea, until now, how at one she was in the water. And it makes sense to me, now, that she might just be of aquatic background, of fishy persuasion. As long as she has been able to talk, this girl has complained of the feeling of too much air coming into her nose. I've never been able to use heat in the car without getting an urgent request to turn it off because she "cannot breathe."

Anyone who knows her will attest that she often has a hand over her nose, especially while sleeping, as a make-shift filter for what her body perceives as suspiciously-dry and empty air.

Watching her in the water, hearing her talk about how natural it feels, as if she can almost breath under there, made me realize my daughter is indeed part fish. As she was in the womb, before her lungs took in their first gulp of air, her little respiratory system still longs to be. What she's missing is gills.

And Isla, whose swimming style instills me with fear, tries on her new-found swimming confidence eagerly each day. She knows when to ask for a noodle. She knows when she doesn't need one. She follows her big sister and the occasional friend around  from float to float, to Henry--the huge, moss-covered rock that sits on the bottom calling children to stand on him--and back with persistent, somewhat dog-like, motion.

And each night at the lake, in her sleep, Isla battles with her superhero self. She talks the night through, fretfully tossing, turning, sitting up, doing the crawl, rolling on her back and gasping for breath, re-living every pirate adventure she has with her sister or maybe cousin Rudy the day before. Fluctuating between aquatic species and land-dweller has never come easy to Isla. She swims, and splashes and thrashes  as if she is dreaming about swimming to a surface that never appears. A visceral child, she lives her life, re-lives it, through her sleeping body.

And my mother, she relives her childhood in the water. She spent an afternoon sitting on the lake bottom with Isla, who taught her, or refreshed her memory,  about the joys of letting out all your oxygen and sinking as deep as you can.  Again and again she held her nose and went under, only to pop up laughing moments later.

First Esther, then Isla, then even my 89-going-on-8-year-old mom would all disappear under the water's surface as if taunting me, all of humanity's lifeguard, for being such a nervous worrier.

It's cooler now. We're back home in the meadow. Back to the lawn that needs mowing and pile of mail that needs sorting and, "I don't have any clean underwear or shorts and I can't find my iPod charger" problems that need solving.

In some ways it's nice to be back to normal, to see my kids feeling listtless on the couch and experiencing "the boredom." In other ways, it makes me want to bust free again, and see just how long we could survive living on lake time before we started to crave the creature comforts and routine of home.


mooserbeans said...

Just beautiful. I loved your descriptions of how the houses feel. Reminded me of the Giving Tree in a way. I also feel like my house is a demanding high maintenance wench. She is never satisfied. No matter what I do it is never enough. It is so important to allow ourselves to practice the fine art of just being. Bravo to you!

Betsy said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, mooserbeans. A demanding high-maintenance wench indeed. And a stout and lusty one at that. (:

mizzee/melissa joy said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful words. You are awesome, Betsy. That is all. :)

Angela said...

Thankyou Betsy - you make me feel like I am there too, playing in the water, part fish!

My daughter also favours Isla's swimming style, it is not so relaxing for me...

txwinter said...

Betsy-please write a book! I want to keep reading your beautiful, descriptive words past a scroll down of the screen... I'm greedy that way.

wilma said...

Betsy, the more I hear you describe your beautiful home, the more I feel you need to reinvent your life in the meadow.


Perhaps you could start by getting rid of...stuff. For me, I can only "breathe" when there is less around me. Less clothes, less dishes, less food, less clutter. Less, to me, means more. I have pared down my physical house to the point where I can breathe. I have two small children (both boys) who also seem to do better with less--less toys, less choice, less things, less clutter--which means more time to play (especially outside).

(oh--and for us, less clothes means less laundry--it all gets dumped together, washed more often, and then hung up or immediately worn again...)

Just one small thought.

I love your writing.

Betsy said...

Wilma. I think you are right. But there are two things to keep in mind. We don't really have all that much stuff, relative to many people I know we're practically minimalists. We also don't have any closets or kitchen cupboards with doors on them to hide the stuff, mostly necessities, we do have. Therefore I am confronted with our "stuff" always.
Also, the real problem may not be the stuff or the house, but what the entire concept of a permanent home represents for me. Instead of stability and security, it represents an anchor, an impediment, the antithesis of a life of travel and adventure and spontaneity--the life I lived for 12 years as a perpetually moving, homeless, independently wealthy snowboarder. You see I have an affliction. It's called wanderlust. And I am not sure there is a simple cure. Therapy perhaps. or lobotomy...

Kingsmom said...

Betsy - The photo of your mom and dad made me cry happy tears.

Was Living Down Under said...

"And Isla, whose swimming style instills me with fear...She swims, and splashes and thrashes" This really resonated with me - my own 7 year old's swimming style is hardly graceful. It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

As always, beautifully written Betsy. You transport me.

HeatherW said...

The photo of your parents is so beautiful it made me cry.

wilma said...

Betsy, it sounds like you've thought a lot about these things (and I'm no way trying to "fix" anything or say that there are simple answers to anything--there almost never are). Just a joke, but maybe you need some cupboards? But joking aside, I don't know if it's truly possible to "reset" one's internal buttons...maybe a little? I really have no idea. Anyway, I love your writing, and your summer days at the lake sound wonderful.

Anonymous said...

It sounds peaceful and wonderful!
I love the picture of your parents together. So sweet.


zmama said...

Betsy always in awe of your ability to capture life and emotions with your simple yet poetic creative grasp of both written word or photography. Again touched my heart and soul...and the love parents display for life and each other....priceless goal I desire.

Irishmama7 said...

I also am hardly ever grouch at the lake. Our lake happens to also be Lake Michigan. When on the beach my stress and to do lists are gone. I can feel it drain out of me when my feet hit the sand. As always I love your writing! Thank you. Also I am glad Isla is okay, I agree with the "Death to Dots!" comment. My heart broke for you when you wrote about the tears falling and you facing straight ahead. I could feel them too. On a different note I am trying to plan a family vacation this Fall to Vermont and wondered if you have any suggestions? The kiddos are now 7,4 and 2 and we plan on being there for 3 day, probably a weekend. If you feel like sharing or anything inspires you I would appreciate it. jug sie 218 at yahoo dot com Thanks again!

John Hilston said...

Love this adventurous travel story, thanks for sharing it with us.
long stay parking luton

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