My husband and I are crossing a bridge to a resort island for a fall weekend getaway. It's just the two of us in the car and we take in the sight of salt marshes stretched out beneath us and sailboats on the horizon. It is a familiar beauty, this road to the beach; we have taken it before. There were summer family vacations here. There were getaways like this one; weekends without the kids. But this is the first time that we cross this bridge in our fifth decade. It is the first time that we cross it as parents of children who are grown and are no longer at home awaiting our return. It is an unfamiliar road.
As the bridge ends and connects to the main road that runs through the center of the island, I wonder how the weekend will go. I am surprised at the lump in my throat as we pass the mini golf course where we spent evenings as a family happily whacking a small ball through plastic windmills and artificial waterfalls. It was only a game, but small pleasures loomed large then; our children made it easy to stay in the moment where the real treasures lie. The reality that those days are gone hits me hard here in the car on our way to the hotel.
We check in at the front desk and take our luggage to the room. We buy a newspaper and two coffees and head out to the pool. There are mostly adults here, absorbed in books and distracted by cell phones. To the left of the pool I see a small grassy area with striped hammocks surrounded by sea oats.
I sit in a lounge chair and beside me, my husband sits in one too. We read the newspaper and sip our java. And then, off in the distance, I see a small boy. He is on the beach with most of his body immersed in sand and he is giggling with delight.
"Let's go sit in a hammock," I say to my husband.
"Together?" he asks.
"Well, yeah," I answer. "We can both fit. Come on."
We leave the newspaper on our chairs and walk through the grass. I am careful to sit on the hammock first and then my husband joins me; we are afraid it might tip over. We stretch out on our backs and stare up at the autumn sky.
"Look!" my husband says. "That cloud is a face." I can see a silhouette: crooked nose; sharp chin; white, wispy hair.
My husband puts his foot on the ground and gives us a push. The hammock tilts steep to the left and then with a swoosh we bank hard to the right. We are swinging; back and forth we go between the sea oats. We look for more drawings in the sky.
The afternoon is hot. I step out of the hammock and slip into the deep end of the pool. Soon, my husband jumps in too. "Race you to the bottom," he says.
Sunday comes and we are back on the main road heading towards the bridge. We are driving back to our house where we raised our family; back to a familiar beauty. And though our children will not be there, we will. And we are able still, my husband and I, to experience real treasures in the moment and small pleasures that loom large. The reality that those days are not gone gives me comfort here in the car on our way home. And this road is not so unfamiliar after all.