My son and I had a little adventure last weekend. We went to visit the grandparents in the country leaving J behind to do some seriously needed catch-up on her grading. I was initially unenthusiastic about the trip, but BG had been begging to see his grandparents for a couple of weeks, so when the opportunity arose, and when it was going to benefit my wife as well, I felt I shouldn’t pass it up. As is so often the case these days, my boy surprised me. He’s growing up, and with that he’s becoming so much more adaptable.
Leaving home and driving through wine country, Nick Drake played on the car’s stereo as we rounded curves and breathed in the first crisp of fall. The vineyards, even greener from our first rain of the season revealed only the slightest hint that soon they would change color. Between the backdrop of the vineyards and my steadfast attention to the road, I stole glimpses of my sleepy boy, his head lolling, his eyelids heavy, falling soundly asleep. His quiet snores soon offered another layer to Drake’s sleepy melodies.
For the first time in ages, I had a full hour to listen to music I wanted to hear and to think thoughts I wanted to think. Driving for me is therapeutic, and even though a good part of the drive consisted of some hairy California freeway driving, it was still just lovely to to be going somewhere. When he woke up, he alternated between “Car driving on street!” and “Going Grandpa Grandma’s house!” This boy was excited, and this enthusiasm was utterly contagious. I fed him car snacks of carrot chips and almonds. I let him finish my sparkling water. We were living on the wild side.
On our way there, my mom was finishing her teaching day, so we met up with her at a gas station before we headed into the foothills to their home. BG hugged and hugged his grandmother, and as we neared their house, my mom stopped at the post office and offered to let BG check the mail with her. He got to put letters in the slot, turn the key, and even bring the mail outside. He grinned broadly the whole time.
The time at the grandparents’ house itself was easy. BG got to visit the neighbor’s donkeys and goats. We took walks to see what was growing in the garden, and he stole not-yet-ripe strawberries, pointed out kale plants, admired the compost and the flowers. He lamented the broken “park swing”–a swing that had been attached to the branch of a huge oak tree twenty-five feet in the air from a single rope that allowed the swing to spin wildly and to swing wide and slow. On our last visit, the rope broke, and while no one was hurt, the swing now awaits Grandpa’s repairs.
The morning brought a visit to Great-Grandma’s, my 90-year-old grandmother. BG protested this visit, but as soon as we entered her warm mountain home, I swear he felt the same joy I did at visiting this home as a child. He kissed his great-grandmother and squealed when she brought out some toy cars for him to play with.
We also met up with my godmother, who has lived in Alaska for years, so that my mom could show off her grandson to her best friend. My godmother claims BG as her grandson too. He was blissfully unaware of our talk of birth and motherhood as he ate chicken and sweet potato fries.
On our way out the next day, BG and I were on our own getting ready as my parents had left for a football game. He helped me ready our bags, and off we went to see my brother and his one-year-old son. “No Baby Z,” my son chanted as we drove the hour to his house, but when we arrived, the boys shared snacks and played, pushing each other and otherwise being their toddler boy selves as my brother and I shared our challenges in our marriages, in our relationships with our father, in maintaining our selves as parents.
BG didn’t fall asleep quite so quickly on our way home. He was excited to discuss his visit. He recounted donkeys and gardens, Great-Grandma and her cars, Grandpa giving him icewater and making him eggs, Grandma letting him check the mail not just one day but two, driving in the car on the street. And soon he fell asleep as I traveled the freeway speeding ahead of the Sunday traffic thinking my own thoughts about the visit, a little sad that it was so short, that there never seems to be enough time with these people I love but so grateful my son has family, the sort of loving extended family that I knew growing up.
The boy continued to sleep as we made our way through the Carneros Valley (between Napa and Sonoma). I listened to Patty Griffin sing about lost spouses and making pies. I witnessed huge flocks of birds dipping in formation into the vineyards in a way they only do this time of year once the harvest is over and the vintners have left clusters on the vines. The birds dipped and swooped and flew in drunken patterns, high on the sugar of late-harvest Chardonnay. I smiled, falling in love once again with this place I call home because nothing compares to autumn in wine country.
Soon, through the rearview mirror, I watched my son slowly blink himself awake. He sipped his water and slowly looked around, and as he spied the vineyards, their leaves turning red and gold after our two short days away, he whispered sleepily, “Going home.”