The kids still have a few more days of school, but our household is more than ready for our annual summer visit to my parents in Virginia. For a few weeks now, we’ve been playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in the car. America is definitely on our minds. I love this trip to my childhood home; it’s exciting to share all of the things I remember enjoying so much while growing up with my kids and Radek.
Before Anna goes to sleep each night, she asks me to tell her something nice she can hold in her head about America while she’s falling asleep. Together we remember swimming in the Atlantic in South Carolina, building sandcastles on the beach and playing with her friend Grace in the hollowed out branches of my parents’ old forsythia. Anna has carefully written a must-do list that includes these things, and she has already put it in her suitcase. She has also written a letter to her cousin Carson Anne and wonders if Carson will be as happy to see her as Anna is.
On more than one occasion when playing “Born in the USA” the children have dissolved into tearful fights over the rights of its ownership. Their patriotism is as urgent. Can the song belong to Oliver, too, even though he was born in the Czech Republic, Anna asks? While Oliver hits her with one hand and belts out the chorus at the same time, I remind them no hitting and tell them that no one can “own” the song, but we can all enjoy it. I’ve recently stepped up my efforts to correct their English, and I’m particularly fierce each time one of the older children lazily slips a Czech word into an English sentence. I warn them that they’ve got to be prepared for an entire summer of English and encourage them to practice. They nod their heads seriously and go back to contently speaking “Czechlish” just out of earshot. They know better than I do that their English will come without effort once we are immersed with my family in America.
Each year when we arrive the children are greeted as mini celebrities, lavished with attention. They are asked to sing songs and to recite poems in Czech, to tell stories about their Czech babička and děda, and to point out anything that’s different in America from their life in Prague. Usually, their answers come more spontaneously, as when they shed their clothes to run naked through the sprinkler, surprising my grandmother. Or when they wonder aloud why no one in my parents’ neighborhood has fences around their “gardens”, using the word garden instead of yard. My father takes them to see his “real” garden, a tangled abundance of vegetables on a piece of land out in the country, where they’re invited to pull up carrots, shuck corn and pick string beans for the night’s dinner. One year my father caught a ground hog in a safe-trap. He loaded it into the back of the truck so he could dump it further into the woods, Oliver cried in sympathy of the ground hog, while Anna asked if she could sit beside it for the ride.
This year, in preparation for our visit, my father has found bicycles for the kids and my mother bought an inflatable waterslide for the backyard. I’m not sure whether they’re trying to roll out the red carpet or subtly trying to keep us outside as much as possible, so that their usually calm home won’t be marked by greasy fingerprints on their windows and sticky crumbs ground into their new carpet. I suspect the former, but I’m prepared for the later, too. Especially, after our newness wears off.
Each year, the days fall into a comfortable pattern. The mornings are slow and lazy with fresh blueberries or black-raspberries for breakfast, afternoons are whiled away at the swimming pool or local lake, and bedtimes become relaxed leisurely affairs, with endless stories borrowed from the library, and an occasional late-night bowl of ice-cream, even after their teeth have been brushed. This kind of schedule is sustainable for duration of our visit. Then, as summer fades, we ease back into the more regimented school time schedule.
This year Radek and I want to take the children up the mountain to the knob overlooking the lake where we had our wedding ceremony. We also hope to take them to Grayson Highlands for blueberry picking and a hike up to Mount Rodgers, the highest spot in Virginia, where there are still wild ponies and plenty of huckleberries. We’ve talked about camping, perhaps at the lake, or even just in my parents’ backyard when the house gets a little tight. Who knows, if it all goes well we could even end up doing a bit of water skiing.
We tend to keep ourselves busy enough to forget that we’re missing summer in Prague, when the city’s streets and parks are strangely bare since many Czechs are in the mountains relaxing and enjoying nature. The kids will miss the tábory (summer camps), with their alluring Wild West names and promises of outdoor adventure. They’ll miss their friends, and they’ll miss summertime in the neighborhood. But having two places to call home comes at a price. We’ll return in time for end-of-summer barbeques and weekend swims at the village pools in August. There’ll be time to see friends, and hopefully we’ll even catch a few hot days before the next school year.
Ever since Samuel and I took my mother to the Prague airport in late May, he’s been asking, “Where Grana go?” and looking for her in the sky as the airplanes pass. I explained that he’s going to ride in an airplane too and now he points to the planes and shouts with excitement, “Sammy, airplane too!” He paces the upstairs hallway pulling Anna’s old suitcase, waiting to be given orders to “hit the road.” Meanwhile, Anna’s already begun packing her carry-on with her favorite Hawaiian doll and all the essentials her doll might require for a visit to America. She says she’ll figure out where to put her own clothes later. Oliver keeps asking if Grana and Opa still have the house with the trampoline that he remembers from last summer. He grins when I reassure him that they do. The children’s excitement is contagious.
Then I got a frantic call from Radek who realized he’d inadvertently booked the wrong ticket for himself. After an initial bout of hysteria when we realized the mistake, we tried to rebook the ticket, despite the cost. Radek offered to stay home, but the thought of doing everything we’d planned to do without him just seemed like no fun at all. Plus, I couldn’t bear to disappoint the children as well as the family in America who were all counting on seeing him.
We spent an afternoon on the computer and phoning with my mother, to compare prices and ticket times. My mother generously offered us the use of some of her frequent flyers miles to offset the cost of the new ticket. Grateful is too mild a word to express our relief. Disaster averted, we have resumed our pre-packing enthusiasm. But the ticket-mishap hasn’t gone unnoted. I am reminded that I need to check all of our logistics more carefully. I’m also reminded that in the big scheme of life, keeping those who are dear to you close, matters more than having things go exactly as planned. Regardless of what we end up doing in America, our fantasies are already running wild in eager anticipation for the unknown adventures that lie ahead.
Wishing a very Happy Father’s Day this Sunday to all fathers, in all your various forms – we love you!
Wishing all “Half n Half” readers a fantastic summer, whether you spend it in Prague or your respective homes. Look for more “Half n Half” stories in September.