“Look out! He’s going to crack his head open!” my wife Kara yelled, pointing across the cottage at our son Zack, who was wobbling along as if he were sailing on a storm-tossed ship. I grabbed Zack’s shoulder and redirected him away from the Coffee Table of Doom, the one with edges so sharp that you could shave your legs just by walking too close to it.
Zack’s at that tricky developmental intersection at the corner of Ambulatory and Clueless. Given the choice between going down stairs or a ramp, he will choose to go over the railing. He navigates around rooms like a bat, except instead of bouncing sound waves off of everything, he uses his head.
In our normal lives, we’ve managed this situation by removing all the right angles from our house, or burying them in a half-inch of foam padding. On vacation in a rustic Maine cottage last week, though, we had much less control over an interior that seemed designed as a baby obstacle course.
“AHHHH!” Kara yelled, diving to catch the lamp that Zack was pulling onto his head.
We knew what we were getting into. My family has been renting the same cabins on Rangeley Lake in western Maine for nearly thirty years. Looking back at the pictures from our early summers in Rangeley, it’s amazing how little the place has changed. Only the people are different, with each of us, in our own way, getting thinner and better-looking every year. (Which is what you’d say, too, if you knew your family was going to read this. In our case, it happens to be true. Which is also what you’d say.)
The cabins, though, look exactly the same. Every winter, they are battered by wind and snow, biodegrading at such a rate that without intervention, they’d be gone in five years. Then the warm(ish) weather comes, and the family that owns the camp begins the process of cobbling the place back together, just keeping pace with entropy. A woodshed collapses, a new gazebo is built. Everything stays in balance.
We like these cabins just the way they are, with nails poking through the floor, leaking pipes fixed with strategically placed bowls and extension cords stapled to the ceiling. It wouldn’t feel like vacation without these things. If my family wanted light switches instead of pull cords that you had to stumble across a dark room to locate, we could just stay home.
We love it there because when you try to open that creaky screen door that wedges itself against the floor when you pull on it, just on the other side, you might see a loon pop up beside the dock, framed by a mile of water before the mountains rise in the distance beyond. Or you might see one of your little cousins inviting you to come for a swim, or throwing cracked corn to an army of perpetually hungry ducks. Or you might just see nothing but gently lapping waves and a soon-to-be-occupied Adirondack chair.
“Dude! He’s going for the stove now!” I yelled as Zack tottered toward the Franklin stove with the concrete hearth. Kara put herself on a direct intercept course.
While it’s great to see your kids experiencing the same things you experienced so many years ago, it’s tough to relax when your offspring is bent on self-destruction. When I mentioned this observation to my cousin Rachel, who has three children of her own, she said, “We don’t call them ‘vacations’ anymore. We call them ‘family outings.’ Helps us to keep our expectations in check.”
In the end, our family outing was quite a success, mainly because we managed to keep Zack from plunging off the end of a dock. This may have been a temporary victory, though, since he’ll get another shot at it next year.
You can pull up an Adirondack chair beside Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4 days ago