Don't misunderstand. I have the best job in the country. Maybe the world.
But work isn't about perfect moments very often. There are triumphs and friendships and projects that make you proud. But, truth be told, at work we are only as good as our last story or widget or whatever, and there is never enough time to be perfect.
In our real lives at home, some of the same constraints apply. The garden may look good today, but tomorrow those horsetails will rear their ugly heads again. The kid may say something funny enough to make you laugh every time you think about it for the next 30 years, but it's hard to savor when you have to be at the piano lesson 10 minutes ago.
It could just be me, but there seems to be an upswing in the number of rituals of passage in our lives. For example, no longer do we merely graduate from high school or college these days the pomp and circumstance extends to middle school and kindergarten. Some kids even have ceremonies commemorating rising up from preschool. And that's just the beginning.
Ask any mother. The school year is littered with obligations. Sports championships, Little League tryouts, dance and music recitals, end-of-year art fests: All require attendance with cookies for post-whatever socializing. Is it possible that I am the only one who notices those oversugared beastie boys who haven't yet had supper rampaging through lobbies at these events? It's clear that all dads have to do is make it to get points. Did you read that book about the frantic, working stiff distressing a store-bought pie at 2 a.m. so as not to be revealed as a bad mommy? And don't get me started on summer programs that end at 3:30, just like that old farm-model school day.
These are not the feelings that perfect moments are made of. Stress is the enemy of good memory traction, as are to-do lists with no ending.
Time off is another matter. And time away is another matter altogether, once the stress of reservations, packing, airport security lines and flying with knees pressed against chest has passed. Suddenly, there are no tugs in another direction. No errands to run, no play dates, no trips to Costco. Long days and nights together can commence with no more weighty decision to be made than where to eat. Perfect moments can lazily unfold, which is what they need to do.
Once in Mexico, we walked along the beach to a restaurant with our two daughters. The youngest was 5 and shy, but the sun had unfrozen her sodden Seattle countenance as we took a table on the beach with kittens playing all around. She decided the guitar player needed vocal accompaniment and burst into song to his and other customers' delight. No way that would have happened at home, or maybe I wouldn't have noticed, or, God forbid, found it annoying as I prepared dinner with my coat still on.
I did my time with my thumb out as a kid, backpack and all. I landed places with not much more than small change and friends, working my way around the world. Someday, I plan to take my young adult children back to a Europe they will probably show me. Student exchanges and cheap airfares have made access to the wide world easier for them as it got harder for me, tied as I am to school and work schedules. I always hated sightseeing anyway. These days, I vote for doing nothing on vacation. Nothing but indulging in the luxury of paying attention.
Waking up late. Conversations over morning coffee. Catching up on that huge pile of New Yorkers. Good long swims. Romantic dinners for two. Finally prying that info out of a reluctant teenager. Checking in with family so the children believe they actually have relatives. Hosting family dinners so the kids can hear the same old stories for the hundredth time. Why shouldn't they? We had to.
I hope, someday, I'll get back to exploring the world, but not from a five-star hotel room in Paris or a restaurant only tourists can afford in Bali. I want to take stock, not parachute into a place, gobble up a taste and race back.
For now, I just don't have the energy for anything more than setting the stage for those latent perfect moments.
Kathy Andrisevic is editor of Pacific Northwest magazine.
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