“He doesn’t want that black one to get anything” observes my husband.
“Probably a racist” I respond, taking a sip of iced coffee. We are sitting on our comfortable porch early in the morning, watching squirrels steal food from an open trash bin across the street. We are wearing the clothes we slept in (the blinds are rolled down) and sitting in sprung chairs; aside from the fact that we have all of our original teeth, we might easily be taken for a contemporary, Midwestern iteration of the Snopes family. This, my friends, is Staycation 2012.
We are not really “poor,” certainly not by today’s standards. We have jobs, we have a house, we have cars and we have enough to eat. Compared to most of the worlds’ citizens we are incredibly wealthy, and compared to those Americans who have lost jobs and homes and hope, we are damned lucky. The thing is, staying afloat has involved a great deal of thrift and a general downshifting of dreams. Some things I kind of enjoy, like making my own dish and laundry soap and learning to repair and re-make clothing rather than replacing them. I am kind of geeked about the whole Make it Do or Do Without thing my dad has been talking about for fifty years. Just yesterday my husband rigged a fix for the washing machine, and we were both pretty pleased. We rarely eat out or go to the movies, and, these days, our vacations are spent right here at home.
There are other things, too, that keep us at home. My parents are not well, and I am convinced that if I left for more than a night something terrible would happen. To those who doubt, I will say this: we spent ONE NIGHT at a local hotel for my son’s birthday and I had to leave to make a hospital run. So if the hotel had been six hours away, well, you can imagine. We have animals that need to be fed, walked and monitored when we are gone. We have a 15-year-old son who is too old to have a babysitter, but too much an adolescent boy to be left alone in the house for any length of time. Could we work it all out? We could. We could make sure my parents had emergency backup, we could hire a pet sitter, and we could make some kind of arrangement for the tethering and monitoring of The Kid. It would be exhausting, some of it would cost money, and right now it’s making me exhausted just thinking about it.
The fact that we have been travelers in the past makes this summer bittersweet. We know we are lucky, and believe in more travelling years to come, but there are times when jealousy flares as Facebook friends post pictures of their families frolicking on the beach or eating street food in Asia. Mine was a travelling family, and with them I spent summers in Europe and Maine, and saw French cathedrals, Civil War battle fields, Mediterranean beaches and Times Square lit up at night. As a couple, my husband and I have seen places from the wild splendor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the beaches of Maui, and we share a wealth of memories including the apparently traumatized whole fish served to him at the restaurant in St. Thomas, our toddler son sitting among the vendors outside the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe, and a magnificent weekend in Cleveland (seriously).
We would love to go more places. I would like my husband and son to see England, I would like to see India, and Seattle and Portland, and we speak often, and longingly about visiting friends and relatives in San Francisco, where I have never been. There are times when I have such a fierce longing for beach and water that I think I might weep. The fact that we have gotten away and seen new things makes us lucky indeed, but it also makes it hard to content ourselves with a staycation. When people ask about “summer plans” I know that they mean travel, and I often wish that I could offer them a tantalizing preview of a week on a lake or cheap tickets to London.
For now, for this summer, we will be happy with the cool breeze on our own front porch, the colors of the local farmers’ market, and the outdoor music festivals that pop up like wind flowers at this time of year. We have planted a garden, we’re going to paint the porch, and we experiment with grilling every vegetable known to mankind on a series of sultry evenings.
If we plot and scheme and save we will have at least one overnight to someplace close enough to get home easily, but far enough to refresh and renew. We are about an hour away from a multitude of lakes, and from the struggling phoenix that is Detroit, Motor City. It might happen; I hope that it does. I believe that the day will come when we board a plane again, twitching with the anxious thrill of flying into the unknown, worrying about burners left on, inadequate packing and finding the right trains. For now, we will remind ourselves that we are very fortunate, in the great scheme of things, and that there is much to be said for the appearance of fireflies in a night garden or gang wars among the squirrels. It is a small life, right now, but it’s a beauty.