I have been away from my desk.
Instead of writing a column, I took a child for a walk on the beach. It was early morning low tide. She is my eight-year-old granddaughter, and holding her hand is one of the indescribable delights of my life.
We walked along and collected shells and stones and feathers and beach glass. We found a tuna head washed up on the wrack line and marveled at the delicate blade of a single exposed gill and talked about what a gill does.
We found many shells with a single neat hole drilled in them, as if some craftsman were working on a necklace. I explained that it was the voracious moon snail, which uses its drill-like radula to pierce the shell and suck out the guts. Kids like to hear about guts and stuff like that.
We also investigated the tracks in the sand and theorized about the animals that made them. But mostly we just walked and I just listened. Her passion, beyond her family, is horses, and I learned a great deal about that subject. And then she let go of my hand and began to run — and easily outpaced me.
Instead of writing a column, I took another walk with her sister, a five-year-old. The hand is smaller, the delight the same. The stride is somewhat different, and so is the attention paid. But the same collection of shells and feathers ensued. She likes to make bouquets of feathers. Otherwise, all these treasures come home and can be seen in piles everywhere — in the yard, on the picnic table, in the house. It seems the important thing is to collect; what to do with a collection comes later. This girl’s imagination is boundless, and much less affected by reality than mine. She brings that gift to me.
Instead of writing a column, I spent time with their older cousins, a girl of 12 and a boy of 15. The fun of being with them is of a different quality, as they represent different stages in the maturation process. It is nothing short of a miracle to see people develop into their selves.
Where I once was more central and imposing to them, now I seem more peripheral, and I can sense even a tiny bit of condescension. They show me how to use my electronic devices. Of course, they both easily outrun me. The girl has blossomed into a consummate artist, and her collection of shells and glass ends up in incredibly creative pieces. The boy has taken my love for birds and gone far beyond me in his ability and knowledge; I am like a third wheel when we go birding. What a bittersweet experience to be outstripped in an enterprise that you introduced to a loved one.
These four cousins and their parents are here together for a few short weeks. Our house is bursting at the seams, with life, and activity, and — laundry. Instead of writing a column, I (well, in truth, it is mostly my wife) am doing loads and loads of laundry — beach towels and shower towels and the rest. I end up going to the market repeatedly; I am dealing with a never-ending sink full of dishes; I am picking up, constantly, toys and books and the beginnings of abandoned art projects.
I am overseeing the pumping out of our ancient cesspool, which has seen an exponential increase in product. I am the enthusiastic cheerleader for the outdoor shower. I am relocating daddy-longlegs; I am constantly looking for things in the refrigerator, buried in leftovers. I counted six bottles of ketchup in there. I can’t find anything around the house. I try to keep my desk off-limits.
And there are those large, communal meals, with all those related people and their individual tastes and preferences. Everyone loves scallops, though. And there are numerous trips to beaches and dunes, to Puma Park, or to visit their other cousins in Truro, or to go get ice cream.
Instead of writing a column, I am spending time with our grown children and their spouses, who have entered middle age and are really who they are going to be. I am even less influential in their lives and often relegated to receiving advice. This is a phenomenon my father never experienced: I was 20 when he died.
In a week or so, this will all be over. School and work will reclaim them all. My wife and I will be back to “normal.” But for now, in this frenzy, I realize what a rich and full life we have, and I am grateful. Perhaps you have had a summer invasion of your own. Aren’t we all lucky to live here?