Dear Coco, Flynn and Margot,
I hope this letter finds you well, wherever and whenever you read it. I’m writing to you from a Starbucks in Ithaca, New York. Or Boston. Or New York City. Or Chicago. Or Ann Arbor. Or San Diego. Or Los Angeles. Or Fort Lauderdale. Or Seattle. I’ve been to all those places this year. Seattle, too many times to count. I’ve been away from home a lot lately; nearly every week for the past several months.
I think about my travel for work a lot or, rather, I think a lot about my travel for work and whether it's having a negative impact on you. Does it make you sad or upset? Do you notice it? Or is it just regular for you, just like having a Papa and a Daddy is regular for you? Other parents have to be away from home for work a lot. And it's not always because of travel. Is our situation really very different? (Papa says inside my head is a very busy place.)
Papa has been away from home three days a week for years. Since, Flynn and Margot, you were born. My travel goes up and down, and this year it’s been up. Really up. Typically Papa leaves on Monday morning before you all are awake. Then I leave on Wednesday morning. Coco, you insist that I wake you up before I leave at 5:00 a.m., and Margot and Flynn, I send you a video from the airport. Papa comes home on Wednesday evening before bedtime. I come home on Thursday or sometimes Friday night, usually after bedtime. Obviously, Papa and I don’t see each other much during the week.
But, even though Papa and I are gone a lot, one of us is always home in the morning for breakfast and school drop-off and one of us is always home for dinner and bedtime. Or nearly always, at least. And with all this travel weekends have become sacrosanct. Whether it’s a weekend in the country, or in the city for birthday parties, Hola Kids cultural celebrations, McKinley DogFest, or ballet rehearsal . . . . the weekends are about our time together. Work rarely interferes with family time on the weekends. That’s the goal.
Papa and I want you to have what we had when we were growing up, or as close as we can get to it.
When I was growing up we had dinner together every night. Every night Dad came home from work at the same time: 6:15 p.m. Like clockwork. (That’s because your Grandpa runs on a schedule. Always has. Margot, I think you’ll be the same.) I’d be in my room doing homework, watching TV or something. I could hear Dad’s Jeep coming, blocks before Dad reached the driveway. It was a 1974 CJ5. It was loud. The garage door below my bedroom would go up, the Jeep would pull in, the garage door would go down, The door from the garage to the basement would open and then slam shut. Footsteps coming up the stairs. Dad in my doorway.
“How’s your day?” he’d say.
“Fine,” I’d say.
“Yeah?” he’d say.
“Yeah, fine,” I’d say.
I think it probably went something like that. I’m sure he’d hope to get more out of me than that. But I was, like, 13. Thirteen-year-olds don’t talk much.
The point is, Dad was home for dinner every night.
When I was growing up we went camping a lot too. We’d pack up the trailer -- and I don’t mean the tent-trailer. The tent-trailer came later. When we got fancy. I mean the first trailer. The trailer Dad built in the garage. I don’t remember how he built it, and I don’t remember if he built it in Yakima or after we moved to Tacoma. But I remember he built it. The sides were made of plywood, and the top was too. I think it was green at first, and then maybe tan to match the color of the Jeep, and then dark brown. Later, after we got the tent-trailer, the brown trailer was used to haul firewood out of the mountains around Port Angeles. Dad would split the wood and Scott and I would load the cut wood into the trailer. I hated hauling firewood. We probably only did it once or twice a year. But I still hated it. Forty years later that trailer still sits in the backyard at Mom and Dad’s house. It’s still dark brown. And I still think of hauling firewood whenever I see it.
|Hauling Wood (circa 1980)|
Anyway, into the brown plywood trailer we’d pack the tent, the sleeping bags and air mattresses, the ice chests, the boxes of groceries, the cook stove and other stuff.
Then we’d climb into the Jeep. All five of us and the dog. (There were five of us because aunt Donna Mary - who was a teenager at the time - was living with us.) Donna Mary and I’d sit in the back seat, my nose in a book. Sometimes Scott would sit in the back too, but usually he’d sit in the front, on a sleeping bag stuffed between the two front seats, trying to keep his legs out of the way of the stick shift. The dog would be loose, of course, jumping from lap to lap, trying to get his nose and head out a window.
In the summer time there would be no windows for the front seats because Dad built half-doors for the Jeep. They were made of plywood too, like the trailer. Painted black. Scott and I liked it when the half-doors were on the Jeep. The Jeep felt open, even if the top was on. The only thing better was when the top was off.
|Huckleberry Picking (circa 1976)|
So, off we’d go. Barreling down the freeway. The five of us and the dog in a Jeep with doors made of plywood, maybe wearing seatbelts, maybe not, towing a trailer made of plywood (at least until we upgraded to the tent-trailer). I remember one summer we went camping every single weekend. Most of the time we’d head east to a campground in the Cascades; sometimes we’d head west to the beaches. September was huckleberry season so we’d head south to Mt. Adams. We’d follow logging roads into the hills, looking for a good place to camp, not too far from the swaths of huckleberry bushes growing across the hillsides.
Usually we’d meet another family along the way or at the destination campground. The Pitts. The Staleys. The Keelers. The Snyders. It was particularly fun when the Keelers came along. Jean Keeler was the only grownup I knew who would sing campfire songs for us kids. The Bear in Tennis Shoes was the favorite. Most exciting, though, was the old school bus Larry Keeler had converted into a camper. Imagine for a kid the novelty of riding in a school-bus-turned-camper! One time the school-bus-turned-camper broke down (as school-bus-turned-campers are wont to do). To get home, we all had to pile into the Jeep. We crammed five Gothams, five Keelers, a dog, and a couple bags of groceries too, I think, into that Jeep. And off we went, barreling down the highway, headed for home.
|The Keeler Family & The School-Bus-Turned-Camper|
Now, I don’t know if Dad really was home for dinner every night. He probably wasn’t. And I don’t know if we really went camping every weekend that one summer. We probably didn’t. And maybe Mom or Dad missed a few soccer games here and there, or an orchestra performance once. If they did, I don’t remember it. But none of that matters, really. What matters is how I remember it. And I remember it all as Good.
So, Coco, Flynn and Margot, how do we make it Good for you? How do we make it Good when we travel every week? When we’re not home at the same time for four and sometimes five days a week? Like everyone else, we try. We try really hard.
When you read this someday, I hope you remember Daddy and Papa – or at least one of us -- home for dinner every night. I hope you remember walking to school with at least one of us every morning. I hope you remember weekends in the country catching tadpoles in the pond in the backyard, watching deer, turkeys and wild pigs wander through the front yard, going to the county fair every September and picking apples in the orchard, and cutting down a Christmas tree every Thanksgiving.
With all that, I hope you remember growing up as Good.
|Fishing with Dad (1977)|
The Gotham Tent-Trailer & The Pitt Tent
|Camping and Jeeping, Shi Shi Beach (circa 1980)|
Dad's Jeep and Uncle Marty's Jeep
|Huckleberry Picking (1983)|
The Gothams, Keelers, Pitts and Snyders
Mike and Scott
|Hiking the Olympics (1990)|
|Summit of Mt Olympus (1993)|