I love Vermont.
I do, truly and deeply. Having not always lived here, a lot of what Vermont offers is new and shiny for me, like fall foliage (all too fleeting) – and snow. (I grew up in Florida. Palm trees and tropical weather dominated the landscape of my childhood.)
Born and mostly raised in Vermont, my kids take it all for granted – the fantastic school system, sledding down my parents’ hill in the winter, the lack of billboards, and the relative safety they enjoy here. (Did I mention I grew up in Ted Bundy’s Florida? My mother never let me go to the mall alone. To this day, I think it makes her nervous when I tell her of a solo shopping outing.)
Most of all, my kids take the fleeting moments of fall foliage in Vermont for granted.
Much to my chagrin, I discovered this fact last year when my then-fiancé and I took them leaf peeping for a fun family outing. The weather cooperated perfectly – 70’s and sunny. What wasn’t to love?
As it turns out, the car ride left much to be desired, mostly due to this conversation:
Kids: “Mom! Are we there yet?”
Me: “What do you mean? We’re leaf peeping.”
Kids: “But are we there yet?”
Me: “We’re leaf peeping! This is the ‘there’. Look out your window.”
Kids: “You mean we’re just going to drive around and do nothing but look at TREES????”
Me: “Yes! People come from all over the world every fall just to watch the leaves change color in Vermont. Aren’t we lucky that we live here and don’t have to go that far?”
Kids: “Okay, Mom… but when are we going to get there?”
Me: “This IS the ‘there’!!!!!”
*Sigh*. You get my drift. This conversation repeated itself a few times on our drive through Smuggler’s Notch and into Stowe. As planned, we got out of the car and took a little walk on the bike path.
For my son, then 9, and my daughter, then 5, “walking” meant anything from a painfully slow shuffle to me sprinting to catch up with them before a bike ran them over.
A scuffle ensued, with whining, and crying over who got to carry the Goldfish bag and who got to dole out the crackers. In other words, we “enjoyed” a typical outing with kids.
Despite their complaining and the Goldfish drama, the beauty of the colors and the leaves falling all around us overwhelmed me in the most positive way and brought me a sense of peace. Finally, my daughter joined in on my sense of wonder.
She found “pink” leaves on the path and quickly discovered that pink leaves are the backside of red leaves. “Mommy, look. Pink” (turning leaf around) “red. Pink, red.”
Good girl. That’s the spirit. When we got back into the car, my son wanted me to point out the red trees to him while he read in the back of the car. World’s laziest leaf peeper. Teenage years here we come.
After we all got home, I found myself reflecting on my answer to their persistent question of “are we there yet”? “This is the ‘there’.” Because, after all, it’s all about the journey, right? Parenthood, childhood, it’s a journey. There is no “there”. Every fleeting moment is the “there” and inherent tensions exist in that journey.
They want to grow up, be independent, move on, be in charge. They want to get “there”. I want them to stay little, to need me, to create memories, to enjoy our time together. I want them to hang out “here”.
Vermont is a great place to raise kids. On top of all of its ingredients for a charmed childhood, Vermont also reminds parents to pay attention to time passing. Seasons change, spectacularly, and Vermont makes the passing of time hard to ignore.
In the midst of the messiness and chaos, and the joy and insanity of raising little kids, Vermont forces us to look up and see what’s around us.
Lift your head, open your eyes, and look at the leaves – for no other purpose than observing them in all their colorful glory. They make us feel connected to something bigger. Those brilliant leaves also represent a fleeting moment in time – just like childhood, and if the little voices in the backseat complain, that’s part of it, too. This is the “there”. Take time to enjoy it because, just like fall foliage, it doesn’t last forever, and you wouldn’t want to miss it.
How do you enjoy the journey? How do you encourage your kids to enjoy it with you?