No matter where you go, there you are.
Last week we drove to West Texas to visit my grandmother for her 80th birthday. I haven't been to her house since childhood, and as cliche as it sounds, it looked tiny to me. The "long" hallway to the back bedroom was actually about three steps; the "huge" front room that used to house unimaginable mounds of Christmas presents and decorations was actually a little crowded even without all of the holiday paraphernalia; the back yard we'd spend hours in as kids shooting water guns and swinging on hammocks was actually about half the size of what I remembered. Still, though, there was so much about it all that felt familiar and unchanged - the smells in the house, the constant din of my grandfather's TV in the background, the voices, the phrases, the conversation, the food, my GOD, the food. What was most interesting to me about the trip was how profoundly comfortable the kids were - my kids, who thrive on routine and order and familiarity - in this new environment. When we walked in, they hugged my grandparents as if they'd known them all their lives, then immediately found the toys my grandmother had bought for them, which were in a guest room in a house they should have had no clue how to navigate. They conversed with everyone (basically) politely and made themselves at home. Unfortunately when my kids make themselves at home, their great level of comfort results in lots of yelling and running. But true to form, my grandmother was thrilled to have them there anyway. My grandfather's oscillating moods were met with the same calm, joking manner the whole family has learned to adopt with him, and the kids seemed to pick up on this as well. It was uncannily peaceful, and - despite the challenges of a long trip with young kids and the light of smallness that adulthood shines on childhood memories - very familiar.
During one of our hours-long driving treks this week, we stopped in a tiny town for John to take some pictures and the kids to terrorize as few living beings as possible with their insistence on exerting their life force upon every particle of matter with which they happened to come into contact during our drives (car door using one's foot? cotton of one's shirt using one's furious claw-like fingers in protest of something admittedly innocuous? mom's ear using one's uncannily superhuman screaming ability? too many choices.). While we were there, it was so quiet and still, except for the occasional truck whizzing by on the state highway, sometimes stopping at the town's lone (but apparently popular, judging by the number of cars consistently in the gravel parking lot) restaurant. John and the kids walked around the old prison and the courthouse while I sat on the courthouse steps and looked across the highway at the antique/junk store owner who sat on his porch and swatted flies. I wanted to think about how awful and stifling that existence would be, and how every fiber of my being would rail against it, but all I could think about was how very peacefully quiet it was. It wasn't the quiet of relief I notice after the kids are asleep, like, "thank god THAT's over now" or the quiet of fear that I notice in the split second after one of them has fallen and is waiting for the pain to register in his brain - both of which I experienced on this trip, by the way. It was just a quiet of still acceptance, one that said something to me about how no matter how much things change, they ultimately stay the same, regardless of space, time, and new elements.