When I shared our big news last week, I mentioned that we’re trying to spend as much time as possible visiting family and friends this summer. We started with our wonderful trip to Harris at the end of June, and I said at the time it was one of the best weeks DorkySon had ever had. That remains true, but after the fortnight that we’ve just spent in the States I think we’ve got another holiday to add to the list of favourites.
We started off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – DorkyDad’s old stomping ground – where we spent a week staying with friends who have two sons under the age of ten. What a joy it was to watch those sweet, smart boys take DorkySon under their wing and let him explore their world. How proud it made me, to see them help him make decisions that were brave, and dissuade him from making decisions that were foolish. At the pool, it was their encouragement and enthusiasm that coaxed him into the water for the first time in nearly two years, and we were all amazed by how much he loved it. But it was also them who gently persuaded him to leave the water slide alone until he was more experienced.
The boys were determined that DorkySon was going to have a good time, and they could not have been kinder. They helped direct the timetable for the week, making sure there was time to take him to their favourite pizza restaurant and frozen yoghurt shop. In the evenings they would take him to the dock at the end of their street to go crabbing, or out to water the plants and play with trucks in the garden, or onto the driveway to give him rides on their little electric car. Then, when they were all tired and full of hotdogs, or waffles, or whatever delight they’d had for dinner, they would all three collapse onto the sofa in a tangle of long, bare limbs, playing iPad games, looking through books together, and making up songs and rhymes. They loved DorkySon’s British accent and would make him say particular words or phrases again and again, dissolving into affectionate laughter and howling for more.
On the days when our hosts had other commitments, there was still plenty to do in Portsmouth. We went for a breakfast at Colby’s; a café that serves pancakes bigger than your head, and provides endless refills of coffee. We headed up to Maine, for lunch with friends who have a lakeside cabin, and DorkySon was thrilled by his first ever trip in a kayak. We watched the construction of a new bridge, mooched round an excellent local toy shop, and made yet another trip to a fire station, where DorkySon spend a good half hour investigating the vehicles and equipment.
A couple of nights before we left, the two older boys waited until DorkySon had gone to bed, and then scurried down to the basement, whispering excitedly to each other and hiding several mysterious bits and pieces under their t-shirts. The next morning they presented DorkySon with a bundle of toy cars, which they had taken the time to wrap up in brightly coloured paper and cover in tags, bows and ribbons. It was all the ones that he had mentioned as favourites, and they were gifting them to him to take home.
So after a busy week it was with slightly sad but very satisfied hearts, and a much heavier suitcase full of toys, that we left New Hampshire, drove down to Boston, and boarded a plane for the next bit of our adventure.
The pace only slowed slightly when we reached Virginia, where we were staying with two of DorkyDad’s oldest and closest friends. They have a beautiful house, right by a river that eventually runs into Chesapeake Bay. There was a dock for fishing and crabbing, or just for crouching down and watching turtles swim by. There were Adirondack chairs out front, where if you sat and looked one way you could see herons and geese on the water, and if you turned the other way you could see hummingbirds, cardinals, finches and numerous beautiful butterflies among the flowers.
Despite DorkyDad’s best efforts, DorkySon didn’t have the patience for fishing. After casting the line twice and failing to get a bite, he declared it boring and wandered off to sit on a swing bench hanging from a nearby tree. But he did love going out in the boat, skimming quickly along the water and feeling the breeze in his hair. And DorkyDad had some other truly special parenting moments with him during our time there; one night waking DorkySon up after dark, wrapping him in blankets and carrying him out into the garden to watch the lightning bugs dance; the next night bringing him downstairs to sit with us on the porch and watch his first ever thunderstorm. Both displays elicited wide eyes, and quiet whispers of ‘wow’.
Our final stop was North Carolina, where we walked in the door to the wonderful smell of home cooking, and were treated over the next few days to all sorts of delicious fresh seafood. DorkySon wasn’t too enthusiastic about the crab cakes (which was fine, all the more for us), but he was thrilled to pieces by the trays of warm brownies, muffins and cookies which kept appearing on the kitchen sideboard as if by magic.
He was also thrilled by the tree frogs, which we would watch climbing up the windows in the evenings. And by the golf cart rides. And by our day on the beach, where he only splashed in the shallows for a few minutes before rushing headlong into the waves with shrieks of joy. Having taken a few years to feel comfortable in the water, it now seems it will be hard to keep him away from it.
There were some things that were constants at each stop on our little tour. Sunshine. Plates piled high with juicy, sweet watermelon. Well-behaved little dogs who were so good about having our noisy little family in their space. Ice-cream. Late nights full of chatter and music and card games.
And much as though this trip was about DorkySon and his adventures, it was also about us. About DorkyDad and me. It was about friendship and love, catching up with the very oldest and best friends while our son made new ones. It was about filling our bellies with beer and shrimp and laughter. It was about DorkyDad reading his poetry at the bar in Portsmouth where that part of his life really began. It was about drinking a little too much, staying up a little too late, and dancing to old records in early hours of the morning. And it was about happy coincidences. When we were planning the trip, we were devastated to hear that a friend we’d hoped to see in New Hampshire had recently moved out of the state… but then thrilled to discover that his new home was less than an hour from where we were staying in Virginia. We spent a very happy lunchtime together in Yorktown, and left feeling well-hugged, with huge smiles on our faces.
In the coming weeks and months, I know we will hold on tight to so many of the memories from this holiday. It was the best reminder possible – one that we really needed right now – that distance is no object to friendship, that with the right people you can go months and even years between visits, and still feel comfortable walking right into their house and helping yourself to something from their fridge.
It has given us something to aim for. When we are choosing a new house to make our home in Hobart, we will make sure there is space for friends; that there is a corner in the kitchen for a well-stocked fridge, and room in the garage for dancing.
We can’t wait to welcome you.