I fight against my inclination to fit myself into one of two rigid, fixed categories. Introvert/Extrovert. Liberal/Conservative. City girl/Country girl.
I do it anyway.
I believe I’m a City Girl.
The thought of being too far from a city fills me with a sense of dread, of floundering. Wide open spaces, while beautiful, would eventually make me feel trapped, claustrophobic. I don’t like dirt or working with my hands. I take comfort in the closeness of lights, the din of silverware in a restaurant, the sounds of bustling, noisy life. (Except when it’s on my street during naptime.)
And yet, I find country life very appealing. Farms and solitary farmhouses provide few distractions, force a person to spend time with herself and those around her, travel deeper inside. There is something magical, meditative, I’m sure, about planting your own garden and watching it grow, distilling your own water, refurbishing wood and sewing curtains. All of it sounds so lovely, and I want to take part, to retreat into the quiet of domestic duties, with visions of fluttering birds and a sky full of stars.
Maybe at some point in my life, I will. But for right now, I’d prefer for my projects to be intellectual. Rather than heading out to pick tomatoes from the garden for a stew or salad, I’d rather head to an art gallery or poetry reading. Often times, my nourishment comes in sitting still.
I am so grateful that it is not the same for others, like the woman who runs the bed-and-breakfast we stayed at this past weekend for our first-ever family vacation.
To be honest, we were a little nervous about the trip. We hadn’t been on a vacation as a family of four because we weren’t sure how to make it work. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, and we knew that being in a new place, possibly holed up in a single hotel room, would be just the opposite. Nor were we interested in dealing with any sort of long travel time with two young children. There is no way that I would willingly pay for the misery of handling my 19-month-old daughter on an airplane.
This is why we settled on Mussers’ Bed and Breakfast–a 200-year-old farmhouse that used to serve as the town’s General Store and Post Office–nestled in rural Lancaster County, a little over an hour away from our neighborhood. If you’ve never been to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, what many people call “Dutch Country,” you can’t help but be swept away by wide open fields of corn and wheat set beneath white barns and silos, hand-sewn dresses and pants belonging to large Amish families hanging from clotheslines. The clip-clop of horses and buggies pass you on the side of the road, and signs from farmstands promise home-made pies and fresh vegetables picked that morning.
I selected this particular bed-and-breakfast because rather than one room, it had two suites to choose from, which ensured some grown-up wine time after the kids went to bed. When we arrived, our hostess, Barb, opened the door to our suite, and I was immediately taken in by the smell of old, polished wood. There was a neatly made bed on a stone floor and above it, a large loft bed with a tiny window overlooking the garden. Through the next door was a brightly lit room with couch, chair, and small table, the pictures on the wall famous Impressionist pieces. Not only that, but the suite included a kitchen with stove, sink, counter and refrigerator space. It felt like a home we were coming back to, rather than a place we were visiting for the first time. Barb showed us a locked door that led to what she called the Common Room, which was used for morning breakfast as well as watching TV, playing with toys from the cupboard, or reading from the vast bookshelves.
We had planned kid-friendly activities in the nearby towns, but we didn’t want to leave the house. The kids explored the beds and the rocking chairs and played with blocks on the shiny wooden floor of our living space, and we all appreciated some time to gaze and read and relax.
After lunch, Ben asked to see inside the tall, handmade toy cupboard, where we found decades-old puzzles whose pieces, once removed, revealed an entirely different, interior picture.
Ben and I always seem to connect while doing puzzles. The one we pieced together on Saturday afternoon was of a castle in the middle ages. We slid horses into place along with nursemaids and merchants. We found spots for the sun and the sky and thatched roofs of the village.
It was this process that made me realize how important such a vacation was and would continue to be each year that our family goes on a new adventure. Together, we’ll experience something entirely new and form memories and traditions. By setting ourselves apart intentionally, we’d focus more on each other, grow closer, discover new parts to ourselves.
That night, we ordered pizza and sat on the patio, watching the kids wander through the grass and peek in the windows of a covered root cellar. The memory of them exploring and dancing and taking pleasure in their new surroundings will, I hope, remain a mental place of joy and escape from the wilderness of my mind. It was there, in an old house set amid granaries and fields, that I felt renewed and invigorated by my little world. For a few moments, I saw into the “life of things.”
I can’t wait to go back.
Excerpt from “Tintern Abbey”