Four of my grandsons were anxious to return to Maine after last summer’s successful visit. But my son-in-law’s vacation time is divided between Air Force Reserves duty and Jewish holidays that fall on a weekday, and my daughter was understandably reluctant to drive 11 hours alone.
“Why not let the boys come up on their own?” I suggested.
“Great idea!” she replied. I should have been suspicious that I might be getting into more than I could handle when my daughter agreed so quickly. (Just kill me now . . .) My husband and I weren’t planning on returning to our home town for another month, in time for Rosh HaShana, and we didn’t relish the thought of driving them back to our home town four weeks before we were ready to leave. We decided that for the way home, they would fly alone on Southwest from Manchester, NH. It’s only a one-hour flight and I didn’t think too much could go wrong if they were unaccompanied. It was hard to say which was more exciting to them: to spend 9 adventurous days in Maine with their grandparents, or to fly home in an airplane by themselves!
At 10 p.m. on motzei Shabbos (following Shabbat), my husband and I drove both our cars stuffed with clothing, food, our dog, and 4 grandsons ages 5, 7 1/2, 9, and 10 1/2 (divided evenly between cars for less bickering) from our home town up to Maine. Lesson #1: always drive late at night. The kids mostly sleep, so it’s quiet; there are almost no bathroom stops (except by needy adults who drink too much coffee); and there is no traffic. My husband and I did need to pull over about 5 a.m. due to exhaustion, but after a 15-minute catnap at a rest stop we were good to go the rest of the way and arrived in Maine by 9 a.m. We gave the kids some books, games and breakfast and told them to play quietly while we adults caught up on some sleep. After about 2 hours we felt refreshed and were ready for Day One of the Great Adventure to begin!
While I organized and unpacked, my husband took the boys on an easy hike to nearby Sabbatus Mountain Trail. The great thing about this hike is that they could brag that they climbed to the top of a mountain; it’s an easy climb, yet there’s a great feeling of accomplishment. They loved it!
They spent the afternoon catching frogs near the woodshed, which is any little boy’s idea of heaven.
These being little boys, they are at the stage in life where they absolutely loathe the idea of taking a bath. So I made a deal with them that put me on their hero list for life: if they would swim every afternoon at the lake, which has clean, pure water, they wouldn’t need to take a bath. What a deal! “You don’t have to take a bath” was a thrilling concept to them, but frankly I think it is soooo stupid. Who wouldn’t rather take a nice warm bath instead of a swim in freezing cold water? Go figure. They really were clean by the end of the swim, they got plenty of exercise, and they had so much fun.
Day One was a whopping success.
Too bad my grandchildren don’t understand the concept of “sleeping in.” I am struggling with the temptation to lace their bedtime cocoa with Benadryl. Meanwhile I decided to make use of the free child labor. After buying child-sized work gloves on clearance at Lowes, I put my grandsons to work stacking wood. In our absence, our local handyman had (for a fee) gathered all the fallen trees on our property, cut them into logs, and then split them, dumping them in a huge pile in front of our woodshed. It was up to us to stack the wood in the woodshed so it would dry properly (called “seasoning the wood”) so we could use it in the woodstove to heat our house this winter. This is not difficult work in terms of skill level, but it is very cumbersome. There were literally thousands of pounds of wood to be moved and stacked. I figured if my grandsons devoted 30 minutes a day to the project, we could be done by the time they left the following week.
It didn’t take long for them to organize an efficient system for getting the wood in place. They formed a “bucket brigade” and in assembly-line fashion, they passed the wood from child to child until they reached my husband or myself, who stacked the wood higher and higher in the shed. Much to my surprise, they thought this was tremendous fun and we all reveled in their accomplishment. I was amazed at how such young kids could contribute so significantly to a necessary and burdensome chore. I was really proud of them!
After a morning of wood-stacking and more frog catching, I took them for a free tour of the Loki Wolf Refuge located about 20 minutes from my home. These wolfdogs eat 35 – 50 lbs of meat every 2 – 3 days. The meat is donated by markets (meat that is beyond its expiration date), farms (livestock that has died), and roadkill. Although the boys were able to come close to a few of the wolfdogs, most were not tame enough to be approached, and could be seen only from a distance, if at all. The boys were fascinated by the many different wolves they saw. The refuge is in a gorgeous location on the ME-NH border in the Evans Notch region of the White Mountains, and the views were spectacular.
Afterwards I took them into town, where they picked out postcards to send to their parents. They loved being able to buy the postcards, and I thought it was a good way for them to have a permanent memory of their trip, keep up their creative writing and reporting skills, and let their parents know that they hadn’t (yet) been eaten by a bear. We made sure to send different postcards each day that they were here.
The day ended with another swim in the lake, and we all went to bed happy and tired. Rule #2: A busy kid is a happy kid, and a tired kid is a happy caretaker.
Day Three: My daughter was so worried that the kids would be homesick, and would want to call her every two minutes. So on Day 3 when she still hadn’t heard from them, she called. “Is everything okay?” Of course I had called her in the interim but she had yet to speak to her children directly. The reality was that they were too busy to even think about home. The boys were outside and it was only with great reluctance that they came inside to talk on the phone. My daughter couldn’t believe it. “I knew the older ones would be okay, but people told me that I am crazy to let my 5 year-old sleep away hundreds of miles from home for so many days.” Um… Mommy who?
On Day 3 I took them on another hike, this time to Black Cap Mountain off of Hurricane Road in Intervale, NH. They loved climbing all over the granite outcroppings at the top of the mountain. In the afternoon they went for their swim at the lake, but this time I took my closest neighbors’ three children along for the ride. My neighbors live 1/4 mi. away. Until we came along, their children had never in their lives grown up with the concept of “neighbors.” Their parents’ ancestors, like so many people from this Maine village, have lived in this area since the Revolutionary War. My neighbors’ mechanical talents, love of the outdoors and rural life, their ability to hunt and fish, and hardworking nature is typical of these parts, but they’ve never been exposed to any places further afield, nor any other culture besides their own. Certainly, they had never met a Jew until we came along.
The neighbor children asked my grandchildren’s names. “Well,” I explained, “their names might sound a little different than the types of names you’re used to: Yisroel Meir, Yehudah, Eliezer, and Avrami.”
The little girl’s eyes got big as saucers. “Those sound like China names!” she exclaimed, completely flustered. “I think I’ll just call them ‘Bob.’