Road Trip For Ben

October 30, 2022

Our road trip by the numbers:
13 - Days we were gone.
43 - Dear people we visited.
6 - Blueberry bushes delivered in pairs to garden beds in Maine, Arlington, and Northampton.
1742 - Miles Traveled, Approximately.
162 - Pounds of apples (mostly Winecrisp and Mutsu) picked in Ithaca.
4 - Enormous pumpkins purchased locally in Ithaca.
7 - Bags of awesome hand-me-downs received.
A Very Lot More - Amount of Total Stuff we returned home with as compared with how much we had when we left.

——

On October 11, the kids and I drove off on an adventure. The initial idea was focused on Ben: since he’s not currently attending college, I wanted him to to visit a variety of people living in a variety of places, who could share a variety of stories concerning their lives, education, and work, along with some of their hopes, dreams, regrets, and triumphs from back when they were 18 and beginning to think about all these things.

The trip ended up being an amazingly fun time for all six of us, our only regret being that we left Jeff at home, holding down the fort and making all the money which we handily spent at food co-ops and gas stations along the way…

It really was a fabulous road trip, not least because nobody regularly threw tantrums along the way. Every single day was filled with dear people, beautiful walks and hikes, and fun surprises. Every single evening, dear people opened up their homes and spare bedrooms to us, and we played board games, cooked and baked, talked and laughed, stayed up way too late, and felt part of something special that we haven’t felt in a long time: a community. After nearly three years of sputtering and painful Rage and Sadness and Doubt concerning human societies, not to mention the ecological webs in which we reside, I experienced certainty: a revolution also involves HAVING FUN!

So while the trip was in theory to expose Ben to new ideas and possibilities, the reality was even better. Kai got less sleep than ideal, mainly because every night he felt the need to recite an ever-lengthening list of people and doggies and birdies and fun places he’d seen recently. “Tuzzin Nick and Jof! Big furry dog Theo! Bad flatbed truck! Tammy Vu! Tammy Vu Tammy Vu Tammy Vu. Jenny an Brett! Goin’ a Maine! Max Robot! Goin a Ithaca! The wheels on the bus go roundin round, upin down….”

——

The first day of driving was the absolute pits, because the NY Metropolitan Area is so incredibly horrible for driving through. When we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s in northern Connecticut, after nine hours of ~rush-hour traffic (“Will we EVER get there, Mama?!?!” Dunno, my child, the GPS has said “1 hour 25 minutes” for the last hour and twenty five minutes”…), I was both profoundly glad to be alive, and wishing that I might never in my life ever again attempt that drive.

Once I saw the kids hugging their cousins (“Tuzzins!” Kai proudly announced), and Ben told me that he was going right away to hang out so he wouldn’t “waste any of our short time with family”, I knew despite my headache that the trip would be worth the schlep. Eliza and Ivy happily spent hours examining the contents of Grandma’s jewelry box, and Eliza noted that it was “great to see everybody and meet all the dogs.” Ben enjoyed talking with Grandma and Nick, seeing old family photos, and hearing about Grandpa and Aunt Celeste’s work.

One of my children (who shall remain nameless) asked at bedtime: “Is this the room where Papa used to sleep?” Yup, it is! I said, imagining Jeff as a cute little cherub child, adorably sleeping within. “Ah!” said my child knowingly. “Then when he was little, he must’ve peed right out THAT window!”

——

The first thing we noticed in Maine was the air: so incredibly clear, and fresh, and beautiful. The second thing we noticed, right when we arrived at our destination in Blue Hill: how awesome it was, to be with dear friends after a decade apart!

(These were the friends who, on that fateful day in April 2010, handed me the GAPS book in the middle of one of Ben’s daily tantrums. There was desperation in my eyes. There was love and concern in theirs. “Read this book. We know you don’t want to eat meat, but maybe it’s something that could help Ben.” The next day was the beginning of the rest of our lives…)

For two days and three nights, we made the most of our time in Blue Hill: relaxing in the most beautiful naturally-built house we have ever had the privilege to see, laughing, hiking, cooking, talking, talking, and talking. The big kids hadn’t seen each other since they were hardly older than toddlers, and the younger kids hadn’t been born yet. This time, everybody played board games and went for night walks with no streetlights and found a beaver dam in the woods. Jem said, “This is the first time I can remember when there are other people besides me who would rather go for a walk at night instead of watching a movie!” Eliza and Ben said, “We need to move to Maine!” Ivy said, “My tummy hurts from so much laughing!” Kai announced, as he headed down the driveway, “Walkin’ a look at the DUCKIES!!”

Some of Ben’s favorite memories from our time in Blue Hill: playing games; going on walks; taking a hike with D. and hearing about his life experiences, along with tales of an acquaintance who is in his eighties and has been a lifeguard for all of his adult life; going to the ocean; and shopping with T. at the library book sale.

Thanks to the handy bathroom scale we utilized during our stay, I discovered that I now have approximately 396 total pounds of children! My life’s work is definitely growing.

We were so sad to say goodbye! “Why can’t we stay WAY more time???” everyone wanted to know. Kai can’t wait until he’s about ten years older so M. might let him play with a bedroom full of amazements (i.e. legos and robots).

——

Ben was born in the Boston area, at 49 Quincy Street in Medford, near Tufts University. Nobody was home the day we drove into town, but after walking through the campus and looking in the windows of our old home, I tried to remember who I was back then, nearly half my life ago, at the time when our first child was born, when Jeff and I had just gotten our first mortgage and had embarked upon our (still ongoing) search for The Right Place to Raise Our Family.

I guess it’s been lots of Right Places.

We stayed that night in Arlington, with old friends who were new friends back when we left Boston in 2006. There are always those people in life with whom one regrets not having had a chance to spend more time; and here we were for one brief evening of catchup with some of these excellent people, after a decade and a half! While we had an impromptu dinner party with even more new friends who stopped in, and we teens and adults discussed singing, regenerative agriculture and soil health, and the incredible versatility of perfect pitch, Eliza and Ivy had an incredibly fun time playing with the seven kittens in residence. Kai also thought these were pretty awesome, and when they were nursing (“kittens naaahing! Kittens naaahing!!”), he thought he rather like to do the same.

The next morning, Ben and Jem got to accompany C. to work, where he is choir director at a Unitarian Church. The younger kids and I wished J. a happy birthday, and joined up for the church service (Ivy sobbing for the entire drive, due to the abject sadness of saying goodbye - “You can NEVER bring us to stay with anyone ever again who has kittens, because it’s too AWFUL to leave!!”), and enjoyed the awesome music, while Kai enjoyed the superior toy trucks in the daycare downstairs.

And then, our whirlwind day wasn’t even over: we “zipped” through Boston-style gridlocked traffic in order to reach Brighton, where Jeff and I once rented our first apartment together on Foster Street starting on New Years’ 2000, until December 31, 2003. Our dearest neighbor from those four years still lives in the same complex, and she is still a fabulous person and an amazing artist - only now she is also a wonderful friend.

D. made us appetizers and an elegant lunch that impressed the kids absolutely (“I have NEVER had such a beautiful meal, EVER!!”), asked all the kids about their lives, shared art supplies with the girls, showed us the beautiful things she’s collected during her long life, and Ben thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her adventures and discussing movies.

We had to say sad farewells in the late afternoon, but I had forgotten that avoiding rush hour traffic in Boston is literally impossible. So while Kai continued his day-long refusal to nap, we sat in traffic and the kids discussed: “D. is awesome!” said one child. “She is SO NICE!” agreed everybody else. Ben said, “Don’t you think that any other older person would want to have her life, because it’s been so interesting, and she’s so sharp and still doing everything?” And all the other kids said that probably _anyone_ would be envious of her life, no matter how old they are!

Kai fell asleep moments before we arrived back in Medford, ready to snap a photo of Ben in front of his birth-house, since we had now - due to our sitting in traffic - missed the chance to get a tour of the inside from the current tenant. Instead, we happened to run into the neighbors, who’ve lived there since before we moved into the neighborhood, and we enjoyed a tour of their beautiful garden, and incredibly restored 150+-year-old home.

Unfortunately, Kai woke up from his ill-timed nap right as the sun went down, and with his bellows of indignation drowning out our goodbyes, we were past due to drive through more traffic to our evening’s destination.

——

New friendships can be forged from the ashes: our next stop was with dear people whom we just met last year. They opened up their beautiful home to us all on a drizzly October evening - one of us still hiccuping and red-eyed - and had invited even more new friends to join us. As we prepared and shared a gorgeous dinner, and laughed and cried as conversation dictated, Kai finally got happy again. I noted how our incredibly special day, topped off by such a warm welcome, made it seem as though Boston was simply teeming with awesome, sane people with senses of humor!

Both mamas kind of looked at me, and hesitated for not a moment: Uh, no it isn’t!

Ah well. It’s nice to dream!

We made the most of that evening, being together in time and space, and experiencing the special sort of connections that come from friendships forged in the crucible. The rules of such friendships are simple: Don’t Screw Each Other Over. Friendships like these are precious, don’t we ever know it. “Ten and counting!!”

Ben really appreciated the conversations he had. We hung out with the “big fuzzy dog” named Theo, chatted about bidets (seriously, these friends have the best toilet seats in the world, which they say are common in Japan. I texted Jeff and he thought maybe he should rent a car and drive up really quick to meet us by morning…), and the next day we went for a walk in the Middlesex Fells, where I used to bring Ben when he was Kai’s age.

Jem discovered that C. designed the entire new second-floor bathroom renovation with the rendering software Blender, which Jem thought was really cool. Eliza and Ivy and Kai took a bath in the Japanese soaking tub, which they thought was really cool. We all learned about the joys and incredible sorrows of parakeets, and some of us shed many tears as we left their beautiful home.

——

In Northampton, due to the fact that we’ve visited four times already this year, Kai knows the drill: arrive, carry up our bags, and get to work playing with pretty much the best toy collection anyone could possibly assemble for a boy of 2, which includes trucks, trains, and enough stuffed animals to fill a small swimming pool. Eliza and Ivy always look forward to joining their friends in adventure, and this time the games involved a seemingly endless supply of giggles concerning the complicated use of a giant swing and five juggling balls with the collective name of “The Powers.”

Jem went kayaking on a chilly day in a freezing river and nobody came along to keep him company. All four girls spent some happy hours drawing and decorating for the birthday upcoming (see below). Eliza and Ivy were thrilled by a doll and horse collection. Ben and Jem went for an epic four-hour walk in a nearby forest with B., and Ben said that this, along with a short bike ride, walking down the creek, helping with the stuffed animal mosh pit, and playing birthday games, were the highlights of his visit.

It was B.’s birthday on the day we left, and his aspiration for birthday #42 was: to play 42 board games during the course of the day. My kids helped out with games #1 and #2 before we sadly (notice this pattern we’re getting into??) had to say goodbye before our next long drive.

——

On the chilly afternoon when we arrived awkwardly at EcoVillage, we saw a few neighbors and piled our bags into the common house guest room. Later, we had an impromptu dinner party with several dear people from a previous lifetime, and it was one of those occasions when the adults all look pretty much exactly the same but the kids are basically entirely new giant people. Our conversations ranged between trying to catch up on giant swathes of lost time, and Voting: Philosophical Opinions of Same, and laughing at all the things it is so fantastic and safe to laugh about with those with whom friendships have been strengthened in the crucible.

During our few days in Ithaca, we tried to cram in woods walks with friends, shopping at the best co-op and most awesome kids’ used clothing store, and apple picking at the orchard from where I procured many of the apple trees currently growing in our yard here in Delaware. Ben and Jem went for a hike into Coy Glen. Kai basically wished he could live in the EcoVillage sandbox full of Diggers and Dumper Trucks.

The next night, we had a wonderful time with very dear friends who knew all four older kids when they were small. Ben remembers reading Ronald Dahl books at their house; Eliza remembers receiving a gift of her favorite hair clip. This time, Ben got to hear all sorts of useful stories concerning work and school and not-school, and some valuable truisms concerning how bosses can sometimes be both incredibly talented and also assholes.

I cried that night again, because…why can’t all the excellent people in one’s life just live nextdoor to one, so one doesn’t have to drive all over heck and tarnation to visit people who live so far away, and can instead just put the kids to bed of an evening, and get together to play Hearts?

There is so much to do in Ithaca! And we couldn’t even cram in a fraction of the attractions: playing at the Anarchy Zone and children’s garden at Cass Park, visiting the houses where Jem, Eliza, and Ivy respectively were born, visiting Graham in her awesome gourd workshop, stopping by to see our friend’s gorgeous custom-built shed (finally!! Eliza has now expressed inspiration concerning wanting to learn carpentry!!), running into old friends all over town, walking through the Dewitt mall, climbing the newly-rebuilt Cascadilla Gorge Trail…

It was sad to say goodbye, but by the time we left town, four of my five kiddos were experiencing slight yet very strange and obvious Recurring Health Symptoms, and we also had a long drive ahead of us. We filled our water bottles at the spring in Lisle/Whitney Point, and continued on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s in central New Jersey.

New Jersey’s highlight was getting to see Tuzzin Michael, and also going to the playground, playing solitaire with Grandpa, and for Ben, “getting advice from everybody, hearing Grandma’s story, and going to the Helyar woods botanic gardens with Grandpa.” A highlight for me was eating a fabulous dinner that I neither cooked nor cleaned up after. Nobody wanted to leave so soon, only one day after we arrived.

——

But it was time. Day #13 of our journey was the last day of clean underwear for some of us, and it was DEFINITELY past time to see Papa, who was surely needing some help to make the giant empty and quiet house feel more lived-in. And lived-in it became, the moment we arrived and piled onto Jeff for hugs, and unloaded our enormous van full of Stuff into the garage.

It’s been a week since we came home, and what has stuck with me the most is that 1. Our greatest strength and possibility in life stems from our Health. And 2. After Health, it’s all about the people. They are the most important parts.

Thanks for being in our lives, dear people.

Xoxoxo
Love,
Sarabeth