We were in Virginia Beach last week. We rode bikes and swam and waited for the sun to come out but then decided to ride bikes and swim anyways.
We went to The Water Park Formerly Known as Wild Water Rapids. They’ve renamed the rides and now sell funnel cakes but I can still take you right to the First Aid room in case you lose a tooth.
I spent some time at my parents house around the kitchen island. At one point I found myself eating tacos with my 20-year old brother at three in the afternoon for no reason except my Mom made them for us and we were at the island. We followed them up with a few trips to the pantry for chips and the tub of chocolate covered almonds, all the while discussing, with fervor, a range of topics upon which we consider ourselves authorities. Or, at the least, funny.
If you’ve been to that island and you know only two things are required: an appetite and an opinion. The appetite can be forced and the opinion ridiculous, but you best show up ready to roll. And if you find yourself alone, just wait, someone will join you. They may speak only Spanish, but those almonds unite us all.
My parents bought their house in 1990. Daniel was 10, I was 9, Ruthie was 5 and Peter was as my Mom would say, ” a twinkle in God’s eye”. My Dad had to do some significant renovations just for us to move in, and by significant I mean, the house was awful. But its purchase provided a return to the beach from their 4 year exile to suburbia. When I begin to wonder how I’ve made it in my teeny house I remember that “For sale, As Is” sign and our family’s deep belief in the three rules of real estate: location location location.
In 1992, Peter’s arrival was imminent, my Dad renovated the room over the garage to become Daniel’s bedroom, and space was made for the small post-Christmas child.
During the winter of 1995, I was an eighth grade cheerleader, and we lived at Grandma’s house while my Dad (wait for it) added a sunroom, renovated the kitchen and built the island.
Then my Dad rested. No not really. He built a few boats, moved people in and out of horrid college housing, hosted a few weddings and built us a shed in our backyard.
In 2009 they hired contractors to do the biggest renovation yet: enlarging the family room, dining room, and adding a suite for my grandparents, who were moving in.
But by this point, four of his grandchildren were running around, so my Dad, at my Mom’s decree, managed to throw up a custom playhouse in the backyard in 2011.
This year the grandchildren count has reached seven and last month my Dad, at my Mom’s decree, built a 57 foot wheelchair ramp for my grandmother that wraps discreetly around the side of the house.
The island stands strong. The pantry remains full. If you need a salad dressing, any salad dressing, it’s in the fridge.
In recent years, I’ve realized that my parents are radicals, and not just in their ability to stockpile condiments. When everything around says GO, CHANGE, FAR, FAST, They stay, they welcome, they make more room.
Travis commented on it with awe to me a few years ago, “Do you know what it costs to be that stable?” We had just added one mouth to feed and would look at that tiny infant in our tiny apartment in our chaotic lives and feel exhausted.
“She’s always here,” he’d whispered in those first blurry months. What do my parents think about all of us? Still crowding around their island on trips home? Still eating their food, and between bites requesting custom built furniture. It hasn’t been the two of them in a house since 1979.
This August time in Virginia Beach has become a tradition – a last chance to rest before gearing up for the Fall. I wanted to come back with a short list of priorities that would provide a shape to these next months, perhaps a clear manual on “how to parent a first grader for success and security.” What I got? A reminder of what truly powerful lives look like, and how they are built on sacrifice, not success, and so often, staying, not going.