Holidays are the spaces between, yet as one ages ,retires from work, life becomes in a way, a holiday. Without the demands of bosses, assignments, prescribed hours, one is freer to chart their own course. For me, the transition between work and “ holiday” was difficult as I had anticipated that I would ease out of my work world, work part time because I enjoyed the sphere I was in: it was exciting to present internationally , write policy and impact on the lives of many. But choosing between a rock and a hard place, I finally decided to take retirement, searching for some consulting gigs, hoping that writing might take me into a new career- and it did – but only briefly.
But life offers surprises and a windfall wound up propelling me into a new phase, and so I was able to move my winters to California. California has been three years delicious. Having scouted out the environs for my Christmas birthday last year, we selected Palm Springs, anticipating warmer and hopefully drier weather than San Diego had experienced in the previous two years. Although extreme sickness almost prevented one part of our clan from gathering, our littlest rallied at the last minute, her sweet smile re- emerging sufficiently to endure a five and half hour plane ride.
We have never rented a cottage so I imagine this time together resembled a summer in Muskokoa by the water up north. In Palm Springs, by the heated pools and backed by mountains, we slept, ate and played together, three groups related by Howard and myself and marriage. It is a task to remain considerate for an extended period, but two wings of the house provided early morning quiet. Food choices varied, with vegans, picky eaters, gourmets and gourmands😜, but somehow we managed to find meals that seemed to meet most tastes from roast beef to pizza. We had incredible takeout freerange chicken( apologies to Paul who thought that all the white meat was gone), amazing burgers, the Russian lady’s premier attempt at roast beef delivered on our first night as holiday traffic took four tedious NEVER- ending, not two hours of travel to gather us all at our location; and Jordan’s most valiant attempt that night to scurry back and forth to numerous stores endlessly collecting each family’s emailed list: from cherry coke to cream cheese to lactaid milk.
Cooperation is always a key, and children were parented by those other than their own. We had a jigsaw puzzle by Florine Stettheimer of silly salesgirls tending their clientele at Bendels in the 1920’s so random people stopped and placed pieces at their leisure, satisfying a need for order and calm. On the tv, my son projected group games that incorporated group drawing and concocting huge lies, so we, attended by the oldest grandkid delighted to be up late late with the adults, giggled uncontrollably at outrageous answers.We gave ourselves outrageous aliases too.Early morning swims, occasional naps, impromptu meals, and of course, glomping around the damn IPad. So it went for five days, some family members dispersing to Joshua Tree National Park, the Annenberg estate, or dinosaur parks, tennis volleys, or Howard and myself disappearing to an art museum: interested in glass works by women. We wandered and walked, coming together and being apart, moving to our own individual beats.
It makes one wonder about the notion of a family, more than just being joined by blood lines, how caring and cooperation and respect play into a group. I suppose we maintain our ties because it is more or less expected in a family, but often we reflect that we have no choice over family ties, and would we in deed bond with the people with whom we are related. But as in any relationship, there will be aspects of people we admire or really annoy us and the challenge may be to dig deeper or merely keep one’s mouth shut to avoid confrontation. Sometimes difference of opinions does arise, but during our little respite, my family was, as they say “ chill”; several sulkily cooling their heels or tongues before flames destroyed the unity of the group’s dynamics, consideration for another’s view, thoughtful of avoiding danger of sparking a momentary destructive flame.
As a parent, I listened to the resurrection of childhood memories, of trips we took together, shared accounts, both good and bad, laughter overflowing, retrieved secrets revealed by now older adults, as a special times of foods and adventures, pinches and parfaits, Prague and Montebuono, not totally consumed in their memories in the blaze of days. As a parent, you watch, you stand aside and hope you prepared the ground for their experiences, sowing seeds so some might germinate into the people you aspired they might be, reinforcing the values you deemed the right ones. “But you never know”( as my wise mother used to harp) if what you have done made sense to a certain burgeoning personality, or if life has unwound its numerous perils and unexpected twists to allow for the implementation of lessons.
A book on Mindfulness I read awhile ago softly suggested that we did what we thought best years previous- so let it go, forgive yourself for what you now understand to have not been the wisest direction or action. This is easier written than accepted, for one thinks of situations inadvertently created or words shouted or conversely not spoken that might have made a difference. These are the barbs that in your quieter moments ping your heart, too late to remedy, reminding you of a person you don’t much like. And so, cowardly here, I do apologize for those times. One hopes that with age comes wisdom.
Yet in our home, we tried to foster the growth of critical, thinking, independent souls who would make their own way in the world. So in spite of Howard and my desires, admonishments( don’t run with scissors), our children insisted on and charted their own courses. All hardworking ,admirable professionals of whom we are extremely proud, I might add. And because they are my children, and I did not want to make a speech on my transitional birthday, I will tell them how now and here how deeply I love you all, “in my bones,”again as my mother would say. And thank you for all coming together, being together, on this special occasion, hoping that these five and more days will live in their heads as they will in mine: flowers that will continue to appear from time to time, reminding us that- when we’re back in our separate lives- that we are endlessly connected, cherished and always loved- each and everyone of us.