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When I was in sixth grade, I had the coolest teacher ever. I now suspect that Mr. Warbrick, the first male teacher I ever had, was fairly new to the field. Teachers who so enthusiastically do their own thing, I’ve come to learn, are either fresh and green or comfortable veterans.
The memories that stand out to me from that year of school are consistent for the way our activities made me feel – excited, interested, capable, respected and fun. Aren’t those the emotions school is supposed to inspire? Our classroom, the former library, was a suite of three rooms. We were tasked, as a class, to agree upon a theme (we chose jungle), sketch out a design and then paint our main classroom space. The smaller room on the right became the designated reading room, which we furnished with a couch we had fundraised to purchase. The smallest of rooms was a kitchen and, again, we worked together to raise the money needed to buy a secondhand refrigerator which we used to keep our lunchtime ice cream sandwiches frozen until class movie time.
I learned a lot that year. Things like how to do the hustle, what it feels like to be recognized as more than merely the girl who’s always reading and the possibilities of what can be achieved with collective effort. It was a fantastic academic year for me despite the fact that I recall nothing of what we studied during official class time. The lessons I learned were more about how to be a human being.
As I approach my twenty-fifth year in my profession, I find myself becoming more reflective of who I have been as an educator – and who I want to be. I’ve shared a library for the past fifteen years and, while collaboration can be stimulating, this year I am feeling compelled to break out a bit and do things a little differently. My way.
I want to create an atmosphere which allows children to grow, while also reflecting my experiences and viewpoint. I want the library to be welcoming and comfortable and I want to make connections – between myself and students, kids and books, and information and the world.
I got started last week with 15 orientation classes for 6th graders. It was a hectic three days, but I was exhilarated. We talked about areas of the library and dystopian literature and the amount of pressure – social, academic and athletic, students feel and I vowed to not add to that burden. That doesn’t mean we won’t tackle academic tasks, just that we both need to remember that these students are eleven years old.
My students were awesome and I’m filled with gratitude that my job is to work with all these kids. I’m so lucky – and my goal is to make as many students as possible feel exactly the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good year.
As of mid morning on Monday my hair still smelled like woodsmoke from Saturday night’s bonfire on Herring Cove beach. I washed it later in the day, but delaying the shampooing allowed the odor to linger in a lame attempt to cling to the week I had just spent at the Cape. It ended too soon.
After my adventures in Greece earlier this summer, I came to the realization that 2 weeks in Greece was essentially the same cost as the house I rent in Wellfleet. Hmmm. That was striking. Maybe it was time to let go of of this twenty year tradition for the sake of experiencing new destinations…
But, the magic of the Cape seems to get me every time, even when getting there is a clusterf*ck of traffic. Morning walks to the ocean, swimming with my dog in a pond that feels like our own and enjoying friends and low key entertaining…I just don’t know how to let it go.
Difficulty letting go has been a theme for me, it seems. This annual vacation, my Volvo wagon, lovers, specific articles of clothing…I hang on to things that have personal meaning that is sometimes irrational and beyond physical properties. I suspect it comes from unresolved childhood issues and a general lack of stability growing up. I mean, by the time I was in 6th grade I had attended three different school districts (and 5 separate buildings) and moved at least 8 times, which certainly didn’t lend much in terms of consistency to my life.
Perhaps all of that upheaval created a need for some constants in my life, beyond my brother and oldest of friends, and the annual trip to the Cape has simply grown into an event that is beyond a mere beach vacation. It’s a touchstone of my summer.
As I drove east and then south to Wellfleet, I did so with the mindset that this was it, end of an era, and I felt okay about it. Seven days later I knew that somehow I would find a way to continue this tradition, even with an anticipated return to Greece and a trip with my youngest son to Spain. At least for the next year. It’s just too important to my emotional and mental health, and my dog, to abandon.
What do you struggle to let go of?
When I awoke from my afternoon nap to the sound of the wind in the trees, for a moment, I did not know where I was. I smiled that my response to that temporary state of being was excitement and not fear. Good. I prefer the unknown to be interesting instead of scary. I took a breath and, before opening my eyes, recalled where I was…the Cape, in the most perfect house I’ve ever stayed in the two decades since I began visiting this lovely area.
I’ve lost count of the number of other houses there have been over the years. The first few trips to Cape Cod were short getaways of just a couple of nights. My older boys were little guys and we were in the depths of daycare expenses hell which didn’t leave much of a vacation budget. We stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast/inn in Harwich Port and I fell in love with the adorable town and watching my babies enjoy the waves and sand. I was hooked.
We moved on to renting a tiny cottage for an entire week – a big leap forward. The lack of a dishwasher was a drag, but what really propelled us into getting a different house the following year was the need for a washing machine. Beaches + boys = laundry, and lots of it.
Our criteria for a rental now included the following: dishwasher, laundry facilities, dog friendly and an outdoor shower. We found a house a bit further out on the Cape that met each of these demands and rented the same place for the next few years, happily. I learned to immediately remove all the little throw rugs for the duration of our stay, thus avoiding the game of slide-around-the-oversized-kitchen, and somehow managed to sidestep any medical emergencies other than swimmer’s ear and the chicken pox.
During some exploratory drives beyond Chatham, I fell hard for Wellfleet and directed my attention to finding a rental there for the following summer. Fifteen or so years later, this remains my favorite spot on the Cape. The houses we’ve had have mostly been winners, but there were a couple of exceptions.
At this point a week on the Cape had become two weeks, sometimes divided between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. For a number of years there was an awesome “upside-down” house that featured a second story kitchen, dining and living room which gave the place a tree house feel. The deck wrapped around two sides of the place and there were turkeys in the back yard and a hammock the boys would swing in until someone reliably got unceremoniously dumped.
We switched things up the next year for a house with newer furniture and a better yard for the kids to play in, but these perks came with unexpected consequences – ants and mice. After a week of storing all of our food in Rubbermaid containers, we knew it was a one and done kind of situation. There was no looking back.
Honing in on our happiness took us closer to the water, near Lieutenant’s Island. The first year was a fail in a house that failed to indicate that going from the upstairs to the downstairs required walking outdoors and down an external staircase, not great with still smallish children. The stone fireplace on the deck wasn’t enough to get us back the next year.
We made the leap over the bridge, (which is inaccessible during high tides), to a decent house within a 10 minute walk to a calm bay beach. During our stay that first year, the kids made friends with a boy in a nearby house and I took the chance to take a peek inside. It looked perfect for us and was in fact an ideal set up with bedrooms and baths scattered over three stories with awesome decks, including one outside of my bedroom that attracted hummingbirds from early morning through dusk. Despite the tight galley kitchen, I really loved that place and we returned to it for the next 3 or 4 years.
As the kids got older, though, the bay didn’t appeal to wave seekers and we shifted our eyes to the other side of Route 6 where we found what is now my ideal house. Hidden in the woods with a semi-private pond directly across the rutted dirt road, the place I’ve visited the past three years is as close to perfect as I can imagine. A 15 minute walk gets us to the ocean and Wellfleet Center is a drive just slightly longer.
The house itself is ideal with a small footprint, but three stories tall. The kitchen and dining area are spacious and open directly onto a large screened porch with a view of the gardens and “our” pond. The separate cabin was perfect as a “crib” for the boys and avoided a whole lot of arguing about wet towels and swim suits on the floor, because I just didn’t have to see it.
The “boys” are older now, though, and no longer interested, or able, to spend a week away from friends or jobs. Last year, for the first time ever I spent a week away from my children at the Cape and filled the house instead with friends. The small cabin became an oasis for a couple and the bedrooms on the second and third floors were occupied with a fluid array of grown ups.
We never ran out of milk. I didn’t drive for five days. We ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. There was a rager of a party, which we celebrated by taking a swim in the dark in the pond. It was dreamy.
This second year without my sons feels even more indulgent. I’m as infatuated with this house as ever, but I’m looking forward and thinking I’d like to explore some new beaches, maybe in Greece again. The price of the beautiful home I rent is about equal to the cost, I believe, of what I can instead spend putting together two weeks in Greece. It’s time to make a new tradition.
This summer is flying by, don’t you think? I can’t believe it’s been almost three weeks since I got back from Greece. It some ways it feels like forever ago that we were there, however, I’m still successfully mentally resurrecting the sense of pleasure I felt being there just by closing my eyes. That country definitely is staying with me.
I’ve been to a fair number of European countries over the years, but there’s something about Greece that really rang a bell for me. It was effortlessly beautiful with blue skies, bright perennial flowers and white washed buildings. The hills were arid and reminded me of the mountain in Palm Springs, another favorite place for me. The ocean was everywhere. My eyes simply never grew tired of the sights before them.
The Greek people are wonderful, gracious with their use of English and seemingly always interested in providing hospitality that goes a little beyond the expectation. After nearly every Taverna dinner we were provided with some small treat – a scoop of ice cream, a shot glass of a local liqueur or hunks of watermelon. After a life changing* bowl of chick peas that had been slow cooked in a bath of olive oil, onions and salt, I was given a bowl of watermelon tasting ever so slightly of the garlic cut with the same knife. My satisfaction with the meal could not have been greater.
Returning to a particular island has occupied my thoughts since I got back home – Paros, the last of the three islands we visited. The reasons for the fondness I have for this place are purely emotional. I felt very comfortable there. The island isn’t too big, the towns are picturesque without being fussy and the food and drink both stellar. There were also two things that occurred that gave me a sign from the universe that I was in a good place, the right place even.
The first was when son and I travelled to a different town on the island, Naoussa, which was to the north of Parikia where we were staying. It was late morning when we arrived on the bus and walked through the village on our way to finding a beach. Imagine my surprise to hear someone seated at a sidewalk cafe calling my name. It was a group with whom we had enjoyed the previous evening’s Farm to Table feast down island and now here they were! How random is that?!
The second affirmation came on the bus. I had purchased tickets for my son and I for a particular destination from which we would take a hike. He decided prior to departure that he didn’t care to go, so I went solo. As the bus driver’s helper came down the aisle to collect tickets, it turned out the beauty rich, but euro poor, young woman seated behind me did not have the necessary fare for her ride. I was able to offer her my extra ticket which turned out to be exactly what she needed. The smiles exchanged between she, the bus employee and myself could have lit up a room. It was a simple, happy moment.
I’m going to figure out how to get to Paros again and create some more of those. We all need simple, happy moments, right?
*Only slightly hyperbolic
My relationship with souvenirs is complicated. I find it easy to buy things for friends when I’m traveling, but have grown into a person who doesn’t want to bring another thing into my home unless it serves a practical purpose. With a couple of exceptions, that is.
Here’s what I brought home from my most recent trip:
A miniature Parthenon for our family collection.
A bag of oregano to add to Greek salads and anything else as the mood strikes.
A couple of key chains and a bracelet for my son because I love the power of the evil eye symbol.
A jar of orange marmalade for my morning toast.
Some pretty stones and small pieces of marble I picked up while walking. They were warm from the sun and I thought I might give them to friends who might appreciate their beauty and need evidence that one never knows where they might end up. I mean, those rocks probably never imagined they’d make it to upstate New York one day!
Refrigerator magnets as gifts.
Vivid memories and hundreds of pictures.
And, about that whole eternal life thing…On our final night in Athens, G and I walked the Plaka and I noticed a copper necklace with a medallion bearing an intricate design. As I admired it, the vendor shared that it was a symbol for eternal life. My son told her I was buying it, even without the added origin story. He was right.
I’m really enjoying being a part of CivMix! The site is still being developed, but I think you will find there to be some cool features, both in terms of content and interface, once the website is fully fleshed out.
Here are my most recent posts over there. Why not give a read and some feedback – here or there!
I want to get away – Part I
…and Part II