Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ducks, Docks, Donuts, and Dirt

One of the highlights of every summer since I’ve been married is time spent at my in-laws’ house on Cape Cod. It’s a good-sized house, so our visits are often shared with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and often other family or even unrelated friends who’ve become family. So this past Thursday afternoon, we threw a bunch of stuff into the minivan and headed down the Cape.

To elaborate on that last sentence, I really do mean “threw a bunch of stuff” very literally. In the past, we’ve had to minimize and calculate to make sure we can fit everything we actually need into the trunk of a sedan. There were always tradeoffs: Do we really need to bring the full-sized stroller? Can we manage with the small umbrella stroller? Do we need the highchair or can we take turns feeding the baby on our laps? How many diapers do we need to bring for three days? Can I manage three days in the same pair of shorts without grossing everyone out? And of course, these questions were often asked as we stared into the full trunk in frustration, with 20 “needed” items still sitting forlornly in the driveway. But with a minivan, we literally tossed anything inside that we could possibly want, never mind need. It was great! Unfortunately, the drawback to this laissez-faire method of packing was a lack of organization that resulted in our leaving behind my husband’s backpack, which included all his toiletries and clothes (fortunately I had packed his swimsuit in a separate bag, so all was not lost). But it was the Cape, and it was vacation, so we rolled with it.

My son Ryan had first experienced the Cape House last summer as a 7-month-old. His enjoyment of it back then was pretty limited to sitting inside a giant inner tube on the lawn and being crowed over by dozens of adoring relatives at the annual family summer party. He was non-mobile enough at the time that it was easy to plop him somewhere with something interesting to watch and just sit back and relax myself. Ha! Not so this year. As soon as we brought him inside, my now VERY mobile 20-month-old was off and running around the house exploring every nook and cranny. He carefully pointed out each clock, turned every lamp on and off, and strained to reach every wall switch. He threw all the throw pillows on the floor, peeked in every cabinet, and attempted to fall off the porch into the bushes.

And then, he found the beach. (One of my favorite features of the house is that it’s right on a good-sized pond so the porch affords a lovely view of passing kayaks, sailboats, and various wildlife, not to mention a small private beach.) But even better than simply the beach, he found the ducks. A mother duck with 8 adorable, fluffy babies swam by to beg for handouts. Cousin Troy grabbed the sleeve of stale crackers which was waiting for their arrival and rushed down to the beach with Ryan eagerly following. Enthusiastic but not completely clear on the concept, Ryan imitated Troy throwing bits of cracker to the ducks by throwing handfuls of sand to them. Fortunately, the ducklings weren’t overly clear on the concept either and just as enthusiastically swam over to explore the splashes where the sand had landed in the water. Ryan turned to me several times and pointed at them, excitedly announcing, “Ducks!!” I was just thrilled that he made the connection between actual ducks and the animated and cartoon versions he’s seen on Curious George and in books.

When the ducks had had their fill and gone on their merry way, Ryan took advantage of being near the water and splashed a few inches into the pond (he would happily have plunged right in if it weren’t for his stick-in-the-mud mother who insisted he put on a swimsuit before that particular exploration). He was curious about the feeling of wet sand between his toes, and found a big flat stick to dig in the wet sand with. After a few barely-thwarted attempts to squat in the water to play, I hauled him back to the house to get him into his swimsuit.

Daddy gladly took over at that point (Ryan was not the only one eager to go play in the pond), and soon they were both suited up and ready to dig in the dirt and swim. One of the many items tossed haphazardly into the minivan had been a set of sand toys, and Ryan happily explored the bag of goodies. Buckets and shovels and molds, oh my!

He also enjoyed floating in the pond with some assistance from Troy.
And of course, a few swim lessons from Daddy:

The next morning we took a drive to pick up the morning paper, and on the way stopped by the docks to admire the boats. Ryan was as impressed by the real boats as he is by his toy boats, and happily waved to the various captains and passengers with an enthusiastic (and loud) “Hi!!!” to them followed by the announcement, “Boat!!” to everyone on shore who might not have noticed.

On our way back to the house, we stopped one more time for coffee and donuts – a special treat that Ryan rarely gets. He deigned to share a chunk of glazed donut and a bite or two of chocolate glazed while he watched Mary Poppins in the DVD player, his eyes glazing over as it approached nap time. I figured that he would settle right down in his crib for a nap when we got back, but I don’t know WHAT I was thinking. There’s no napping on vacation! As soon as we were back at the house, he insisted on running around again, stealing beanbags from Uncle Jim’s game, being chased by ever-patient cousin Kayla, climbing on the picnic table to see what Pappy was doing, and giggling while racing past Aunt Holly’s and Bammy’s legs. He didn’t want to miss out on a moment of fun at the Cape house!

But one of the highlights of our visit, to me, was our outing to a Falmouth Town Band concert. The town has a lovely bandstand with a great stretch of lawn that plays host to band concerts every Thursday night. Families set up lawn chairs and spread out blankets, others sit in their cars and honk appreciatively after favorite numbers. Herb and Ryan and I merely plopped on the grass and sat back to enjoy the fun. Ryan was tired enough that he was content to sit in my lap and sway along with the marches, his eyes wide as he took in the rows of shiny brasses and watched the cymbals and timpani clashing and crashing. At one point he did get up to chase another small boy next to us who was running in circles, as small boys do. It reminded me of the many other summer concerts I’ve been to throughout my life, both as a performer and as an audience member. I suspect that you could go back in time a hundred years and, other than the clothes and cars, see exactly the same scene. Families relaxing, children running about chasing fireflies or each other, people clapping in time to familiar marches, happily ignoring the occasional missed note or muffed entrance.

Families relaxing and having fun together: that’s what summer vacations are all about. That, and ducks, docks, donuts and dirt.

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