My eldest daughter thinks it’s terribly droll that I shush her. She’s 21, apparently beyond the age of shushability.
“What do you mean ‘shush?’” I asked.
“Camping,” Emily said. “You shushed us.”
“You deserved to be shushed.”
Indubitably. We were camping at Brighton State Park in Vermont, the entire family plus a friend for Abby. The small kids were in one tent with Deb and me, the three older siblings in a separate tent. It was, as I gruffly pointed out, bedtime.
You have to understand that I am a serious believer in quiet hours, which in Brighton begin at 10 p.m. True, I’m what you might call a born-again quiet-hour enforcer, having lived an unseemly past as a bellower, a chortler and a fireside flibbertigibbet. But I’ve since seen the light and now douse the light at the designated hour. It’s respectful of other campers, and, more important, I need my sleep.
I couldn’t hear what was being said in the tent opposite, and my inability to properly eavesdrop only added to my aggravation. All I heard was James’s deep drone of comic comments, eliciting chortles from ever-genial Katie and sly wisecracks from the 21-year-old.
“Hey, you guys!” I whisper-shouted, violating quiet hours myself but purely out of necessity. “Shush!
“Yes, Daddy,” came the reply. Sarcastic little twitchers.
I learned the next morning that they were actually talking about us, their parents, making fun of us, in fact. This is what they do now. And now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I think that’s just fine.
This state park is the closest thing we’ve ever had to a summer place. We’ve tried to camp there at least once a year, but haven’t been able to as a family for some time. It’s one reason we squeezed in this Labour Day outing, a last chance for all us to be together, probably for a while. Next week, Emily flies to Malaysia to study for a year. Katie has transferred to John Abbott College, which is too far away to just drop in with a load of groceries. And James is in his final year of high school, Abby her last year of elementary.
The family is transitioning. It’s like one of those plants that send out runners, creating connected but essentially independent plants. Before long, family (this family, at least, the root family) won’t matter so much, or at least it won’t be a priority in our children’s lives.
We’ve seen the changes coming. There haven’t been sand castles on the scrawny pond shore for quite some time. Instead, there was kayaking and horseshoes. Rather than telling stories around the campfire that began, “Once upon a time…,” they tell stories that begin, “Remember the time…?” Or they make fun of us – the way Mom waves her hands and makes that face when she eats too much wasabi. Or the way Dad sticks out his tongue and rubs his bare belly, which I did maybe ONE TIME!
This is the nostalgia of transition, a remembrance of what unites them before they go their separate ways. Emily has essentially been out of the house for four years and needs these chances to reacquaint herself with her fast-changing siblings. Katie, with all that love in her, and James, that big-hearted mimic, have been such buddies and will miss each other terribly. And then there’s Abby, so much younger, creating her own “Remember the time…?” stories with her brother and sisters before they desert her to the weirdness of Mom and Dad.
“Let’s play the campfire game,” she asks at every campfire. We don’t know the name of this game. Someone is “it” and plugs his ears. The rest of the group then comes up with a rule that the person has to figure out.
“How about we can’t use the letter ‘S,’” Em suggested one time.
“So, like, instead of saying ‘fast,’ you’d say ‘fat,’” Abby clarified.
“Or… you could say, ‘quick,’” Em suggested.
That’s the idea.
“Let’s play the game!” Abby said this past weekend. The older campers groaned but we played. Everyone took a turn at being “it” and ended up having more fun than we thought we would.
But then it was game over, no more S’mores, bedtime, lights out, quiet hours, go to sleep, go live your lives, be wonderful young people, shush!
“Remember the time Dad shushed us…?”