Never does the idiom “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” get driven home more truly than when one looks at one’s child and thinks, “Who IS that?” Half me, half David, and all Eliza, who is someone who is not me or David. I didn’t really expect her to be some kind of a cross between the two of us (OK, I kind of did) but even at 23 months, she’s more a product of her upbringing in downtown San Francisco than any kind of amalgam of the both of us.
Take this vacation we’re on. The house and grounds are nice enough. It’s a well-landscaped backyard, although the fenced-in water feature is overfull and has turned the only walkway into a bit of a swamp. But the plants are lovely, and I’m writing this from the sun-dappled warmth of a wisteria arbor. The whole site is enclosed (there’s another cottage on the property) and while the bordering two-lane road has an unsettling Pet Sematary feel to it, the giant gate keeps toddlers safely in bounds.
I had a few things on my list to do during this stay: 1) Drink coffee and read outside in the morning; 2) Read outside in the afternoon; 3) Have wine and/or beer in the evening, outside. All without a jacket. So this morning, once I finally got Gillian to sleep, I dressed Eliza and headed out for the backyard, at which point she began shrieking and ran for the back door. (I should add that since yesterday, she decided she despises shoes.) I brought her back out and set her on the grass. She complained. I pointed out the plants. She shook her head. The tractor driving by through the neighboring vineyard cheered her momentarily, but then she headed for the back door again.
After explaining that no, we would NOT be watching more TV, I tried the front door. The driveway between the cottages is tiled with stone, and it has a quasi-natural curvy appeal, like a big Zen garden with stone to represent water. I pointed out to her that there’s no grass in the front, only pavement, and couldn’t we go in the back?
She loved it.
She didn’t beg to go back inside. She didn’t complain about the lack of grass; she reveled in it. We spent a good half hour walking up and down the paved driveway, chatting, and the few times she ventured off the pavement, it was to try out the stepping stone walkways (which she did not like, probably due to the fact that she’d taken off her shoes and the gravel hurt her tender feet). To her credit, she did spend some time moving gravel from one side of the driveway to the other.
At the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, I spent my summer days running around our backyard barefoot, traipsing through ankle-deep onion grass and dandelions, toughening my feet on our gravel driveway that was really more a rock driveway, wading through creeks and stepping on god-knows-what (sometimes requiring a tetanus shot for my troubles). My daughter, though, child of a downtown apartment, where going for a walk means pointing out motorcycles and buses and garbage trucks rather than trees and birds, prefers toddling around a fully-paved, landscaped driveway.
I guess I’m a little sad about that. As much difficulty as I had going to school in rural Pennsylvania, my summer memories are always awash in a crepuscular glow of orange and green, swinging on a tire swing, night swimming and popping tar bubbles on the road. Eliza’s life experience will be so completely different that I can barely conceive of it. That’s not good or bad, mind you; it just means that will be a history we won’t share. But my mom, who grew up in the shadow of the steel mills of Braddock, PA, managed to adjust to raising three kids in the country. I’ll have to do the same.