Friday, July 2, 2010

Re-discovering Connecticut: A New Childhood Summer Sojourn

My summertime boy relaxing on the deck

In the past 3 1/2 years that we've lived in London, we haven't really made an effort to go back to the US during the summer, and this for several reasons:

1. We always go back for Christmas for a month which uses up most of Matt's vacation time

2. We always go somewhere in Europe during the summer, to take advantage of our temporary proximity to places like Greece or Spain.

3. The spring/summer is the only really nice time of the year in London, so why miss it? :)

This year, with our permanent departure from Europe increasingly more imminent (t-minus 2 weeks), we decided to do a month-long, gardening-leave-inspired visit to our two home states, the first of which was Connecticut, followed by Texas. It's the perfect opportunity to reminisce, take in some sun, visit with loved ones, and look at our old haunts with a new lens...

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Summer is magical everywhere. But it is never as magical as in the place you grew up.

Going back to your home town in summer is like dipping yourself in a personalized fountain of youth for a brief but magical moment. However short-lived the high is, it's an experience that
brings back that addictive and contagious childhood anticipation and wonder that I consider the world's most natural and effective cure for unnecessary stuffiness and sometimes inevitable boredom.

On the other hand, going back to your home town in summer with your first child is like accidentally turning the knob to turbo in the fountain of youth jacuzzi (roll with it). It makes the whole nostalgic ride a little bumpier, funnier and altogether more intense and definitely all the better for it. As you watch your son see and do all the things you saw and did as a child, everything is transformed into a magical 3-dimensional world where senses are heightened and wonder abounds.

There are many small, idiosyncratic aspects to Matt's hometown that make me enjoy visiting: it is the original founding place of Yale University, was home to Katherine Hepburn most of her life, and even has the first pharmacy run by a black female dating back to 1790.

We spent two idyllic weeks on Long Island Sound in Southeastern Connecticut with Matt's family this June. The weather and company couldn't have been better for our first summertime return.
Here are our top 5 moments in Connecticut this summer before the Abu Dhabian adventure begins, with Roman in tow.

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Re-discovering Connecticut: The Top 5 Moments
seeing it all and loving it all again, for the first time

5. The Sox & Hat
Matt's brother and his girlfriend surprised us with tickets to a Matt's favorite baseball team our first night in New England (which was spent in Boston). We dragged a jetlagged, practically catatonic 1-year-old to the Boston Red Sox vs. Phillies game. He was a total ham - smiling and waving at all our neighbors and incredibly still and patient as we cheered and consumed copious amounts of beer and hot dogs in the cramped bleachers.

The Sox & The Hat

And for his time, he even got a bonafide infant Red Sox baseball cap to match his daddy's out of the deal.

4. The Verdant Plushness
The first thing that struck me when we arrived at Matt's parents' house in Connecticut was the beautiful contrast between their white 19th Century home and their perfectly kept, almost blindingly verdant lawn and backyard. It is so plush. The kind of grass that pretty much guaranteed Matt would lounge on the ground half the time, and even almost made me want to join him despite my fear of chiggers.

verdant and plush

Roman spent many a sunny Connecticuttian afternoon crawling on that lawn or pushing his Radio Flyer wagon all over it. Matt waxed poetic about the flower beds he'd planted in high school that were still there (he fancies himself an amateur landscaper) and showed off every inch of his childhood labor to his son. I very much enjoyed working on my tan and snapping aesthetic dalliances from the comfort of the lawn chairs, surrounded by the verdant plushness of it all.

3. Surf & Surf
Another extremely charming and- for Matt - nostalgic aspect of spending time in Connecticut is boat culture. Matt's family grew up with a sailboat and spent many weekends swimming and
fishing in Long Island sound. These days they own a motorboat made in Nova Scotia - a slightly smaller but equally charming little tugboat look-alike that offers the convenience of speed and therefore access to great swimming spots, tranquil sunset lookouts, and fun day trips trawling for blue fish or gathering mussels and clams.

Enjoying the boat with Nana

They took us out on the boat twice and both times bore fantastic spoils: the first time we got to experience a wonderful sunset on the Connecticut river (the only river of that size without a major city at its port, incidentally) accompanied by cocktails and appetizers, and the second time we got to swim / go out on the dingy for shell-collecting and beach exploration, plus Matt caught a blue fish to which his mother hilariously exclaimed: "Tonight we eat!"

Roman was a natural - fearless and possessing sea legs from the time he hit the deck, but unfortunately was not as big of a fan of sleeping on the boat which made extended trips out...interesting. Here's to the Hannah May and her new miniature skipper.

2. Water, Water Everywhere
Even before we got to Connecticut, Roman's kiddie pool was sitting in his grandparents' garage
waiting to be set up and taken advantage of. I ordered it online and purposely made sure I got one with cup holders and big enough for the whole family to get into. Shameless, I know. :)

Having grown up too far from the beach to go as often as I would have liked, pools were always my great escape from the summer heat. Roman got a taste of kiddie pools in London with some of our friends, but he thoroughly enjoyed having one all to himself in the beautiful setting of Nana and Grand's backyard. One day, in desperation, Matt and I joined him, but most of the time we just looked on as he splashed, half-dove and generally galavanted around the pool as if he were the next, significantly better looking, Michael Phelps.

We also got to spend some time on the beach with Matt's sister and her husband. Aunt Hannah is a beach expert. She knows the best spots and showed definite expertise in explaining and displaying the coolest most interesting aspects of the beach to a little kid: seaweed, sand sifting, castles and sandbars. Uncle Jim delighted Roman with a shockingly accurate display of the good old elementary school gym class fav: the crab walk.

Walking with Aunt Hannah

The beach we went to is in a state park so there are no floaties or kites allowed, but we had a wonderful time splashing in the cold water and snacking on apples as sand was gleefully flung in the air.

1. Connecticuttian Mystique
There's a certain je ne sais quoi about Connecticut summers that had been forgotten. One night as Matt and I walked down Main Street looking at the giant maples and the towering pines that inevitably make up most of the skyline over the charming colonial architecture that harkens back to the times of forefathers, witch trials and constitutions, he pointed out all the places he'd gone as a kid. And then he told me how much he regretted not taking part in the beautifully quotidian aspects of his town more when he was around to do it.

"It feels so luxurious," he said " to be at home, taking part in every day life during the summer while everybody else is working - I haven't done this since I was fourteen."

But none of that everydayness - the local fish markets, drives on the causeway, the cheesy Italian restaurants, shooting hoops at the park or even the family outings and drives down memory lane - seem that appealing when you're a young adult looking only ahead at your future rather than at your surroundings. All of those things are seemingly bland details that simply make up your reality - the only one you know, and therefore the one you take for granted. It is being able to go back to that reality, now distant and cherished in its every minute detail, and seeing it anew that makes you really appreciate it.

the good old childhood park

And maybe, just maybe, though you might long to be there a lot more often, it's enjoying those simple luxuries just a few weeks a year that helps keep home's true mystique intact forever.

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More aesthetically pleasing shots of our time in Connecticut

New England Beaches

An American Yard

Seaweed on the Sandbar

"Tonight we eat!"

Old Saybrook Lighthouse
on the CT license plate

Mystic, CT Flag

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Happy Early 4th of July!
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  1. Happy 4th to you and what a great recap and review of the joys of going home. I bet it was incredibly special to share the experiences with Roman.

    How exciting that your big move is coming up. Can't wait to hear the details but expect that won't come for a while.

  2. This post is a primer on the perfect summer: baseball, beaches, pools, and family! For all that he's still such a youngster, I have to imagine that Roman will remember his Connecticut idyll and he will have even more in Texas. Thank you for sharing! 8-)