Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Picking Blackberries

Right around January 1 I thought I'd do a kind of "reflective, parental" activity and ask the kids as we sat around the dinner table if they could recall their absolute favorite day of the year we'd just lived.

Everyone sat for a moment and thought, including me. Vacations, family celebrations, holidays and long car rides came to mind. The kids began to chime in with things. Very quickly a theme became apparent.

"There was the time we took the ferry to Long Island and went to the beach...but Chloe threw that huge tantrum because she was so overtired."

"What about when we went to Busch Gardens? Except the weather ruined everything."

"Then the next day we went to Jamestown and visited those ships but it was so misty and clammy."

"I know, the Big E!" I brought up that one. "That was an awesome evening...warm; we went on rides; everyone ate yummy food."

"Yeah, but remember the way Ethan and I didn't really want to go at first and were stressing out about our homework?" Anna had to add.

Again and again it became obvious that no matter what happy memory we managed to come up with, there was something about the day that had gone wrong or had been less than perfect. There were traffic jams and tears and messes and lost tempers.

I couldn't believe my kids were going to dismiss everything because of that.

"Wait, guys!" I interrupted. "You have to stop. Just because something bad happened that day doesn't make the whole memory invalid. That's usually how life IS!"

Indeed, our days, even our vacation days and family gatherings, are rarely like Disney World. In that I mean the Disney that they try to craft for us. I once sat in a corporate gathering while the keynote speaker from Disney described in detail everything that is set in motion to make sure a guest's experience is as memorable and magical as possible...the cleanliness...the staff staying "on stage" or in character at all times...the people at computers  monitoring busyness in the park who just might send a parade to one area to spread out the crowds from another.

Life is rarely like that. Real life is rarely sanitized and usually messy. Does that make it any less beautiful or worthy of remembering fondly?

One of my favorite Pixar movies, Inside Out, explores the characters residing in a tween girl's mind. Each represents a different emotion (Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger) and they are always at odds with each other. Most of all, they seem to butt heads on making sure Joy stays in the driver's seat. Sadness is the black sheep. No one wants her in charge and no one wants her tainting memories. Only in time do they come to realize that Sadness (and to some extend Fear and Anger, and other emotions) have their place, too.

Life can still be beautiful without being completely happy.

I tried to convey this to my kids. I'm not sure how much sunk in. But I tried. I told them about one of my favorite moments of the year. It was in Maine, in August; probably the most cloudy, misty, dreary day I spent in Maine all summer. I hate weather like that.

The kids and I did a few errands and then I decided to take a back road to see where it went. Years and years before we had gotten water from a spring on that road but somehow over decades and decades we'd never driven all the way down to see where the road went.

After a while the pavement turned to dirt, then narrowed. Tall bushes grew up high along either side of the road. Anna and Ethan, both of whom normally aren't fans of aimless long drives, were curious. I rolled down the window and suddenly spotted them -- blackberries! Thousands upon thousands of blackberries. Most of the bushes along the roadside were berry bushes.

We halted the car and went digging for something, anything to put blackberries in. All of us (Chloe included!) love berry picking. Alas, we didn't have much, but managed to fashion a huge makeshift bowl out of some cardboard and paper. Anna and I hopped out and began picking furiously, sometimes stabbing our hands on prickers. There were so many we only chose the best of the best. After a few minutes we'd jump back in the car and keep driving...only there were always more bushes. The blackberries were endless; we were in blackberry paradise.

This went on for what had to be close to an hour. Chloe and Ethan's faces were stained purple from sampling juicy berries. Our hands were stained, too. All that time, not one car drove down that little dirt road that eventually led to a lake and other homes. It was as if we were in the world alone.

Then Anna realized the moisture from the berries was beginning to rip through our hastily constructed bowl. "Ahhh, my legs!" she started to shriek as they seeped into her lap. We realized we needed to get back to the cabin. "Don't move!" I urged her. "We have to save the berries!" We barreled down the road, laughing while Anna simultaneously kept wrinkling her nose, saying, "Eeeeww!" as only a tween can.

We got back, saving 90 percent of the blackberries. Anna honed her cooking skills and made us something between a blackberry pie and a blackberry tart. We did nothing the rest of the day besides look out at the misty lake, quiet from the usual boat traffic, and eat pie. It was so gloriously good, of course because we'd picked those berries ourselves.

It wasn't Disney. It wasn't blue skies and beaches. It wasn't extraordinary or perfect. It was just a simple, sweet little day. I hope those are the days my kids will choose to remember. Not always the huge Christmas gift or the grand surprise. These moments, warts and all, are precious ones.

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