It was love at first sight.
For days we had been driving, looking for the perfect town to move our family, up and down the coast from Portsmouth to Plymouth. Newburyport, Marblehead, Hingham, Cohasset – all beautiful in their own way. Lots of harbors.
“What the hell are we going to do in a harbor?” I asked Phil. “We’re from Philly.”
“There’s one place we didn’t hit. It’s off the beaten path a bit – Scitu-ate? I’m probably saying that wrong.” (He was.)
“Ok, sure, we’re here, might as well.”
That ain’t no harbor. I turned to Phil: “This is it.” He smiled. He knows I don’t mess around.
Things moved fast, as they tend to do when you know what you want. Our courtship was complicated. Sacrifices had to be made before we could make it official. Like the temporary lodgings we found online – in a house that happened to be on a marsh.
But we did it willingly, because love is blind, and you were worth it. I braved the late night marsh sounds of a coyote mauling an egret because I knew we could do this, we could make this work. And then, serendipity stepped in. We met the right agent who happened to know of a winter rental in a neighborhood overlooking the ocean called Third Cliff.
Phil looked at me and shook his head. After a decade of living in a landlocked state, he knew I was a goner. I think I was weeping. “We’ll take it,” he said to our realtor.
Of course, no relationship is perfect. We had some bumps in the road, like a hurricane
and a blizzard.
But somehow these challenges seemed more like adventures. They made us feel tough and resilient, like we could roll with anything life threw our way. And for the times when our energy flagged, the right people always seemed to come to our aid.
When I discovered that the big blue house across the street was for sale, I imagined myself living in it. I saw Phil and I with cocktails on the wrap-around porch after rolling back from the beach, sandy and starving. I imagined the girls dozing in a hammock, being lulled to sleep by the clang of the ocean buoy. I actually printed a picture of the house and carried it in my wallet – my own little secret fantasy.
I didn’t think it would actually come true.
But it did – all of it.
The sandy walks home from the beach…
While I hoped it would last forever, I fought back feelings of impermanence. It all felt too magical to last. I blamed my fears on my pessimistic set-point, on my leanings toward fatalism – that everything good is just one heartbeat from being taken away. But in my gut I think I always knew that we wouldn’t last forever.
And that made me pay attention. For the first time in my life, I was present. For every sunrise and sunset, for every run on the cliff or walk on the beach, I was there. I didn’t want to miss a thing. When I look back at my photos from this experience, I notice that I am always walking behind.
As a mom, I often find myself behind things: a swing, a stroller, a wobbly kid on a two-wheeler. Phil likes to lead the charge, but I love to walk behind. It’s where I can see everyone, where all are accounted for. I can read their body language – if they are happy or tired or holding something in. I think mothers prefer the panoramic view. The big picture.
And in the big picture, our move back to Philadelphia is the right decision. My instinct was probably right all along – this was a passionate fling, a summer romance, not a long-haul kind of commitment. But for a blissful 18 months, we found ourselves on your rocky shores. Why? What did we come here to learn?
You taught us awe. To have our breath taken away daily by nature. To truly comprehend the vastness of the ocean and how small we are in comparison. Hopping from rock to rock on the cliffs became a meditation for me.
Especially when I stumbled upon messages I felt destined to discover:
You taught us that people are good, welcoming, and kind. I have yet to meet a Masshole. Ok, there was that one. Our neighbors – loyal like family – kept us from feeling orphaned. They even attempted to make sailors out of a bunch of Philly landlubbers.
You taught us to be brave.
To try new things.
To take care of each other.
To feel alive.
But mostly, you taught us how to be together. Just us. And have that be enough.
Better than enough.
It was here that Phil, Emma, Phoebe and I learned how to depend on each other. And while we may not always get along, we are all we’ve got. Moving someplace new is like a Family Immersion Program. It is exciting and terrifying, and at times, really fucking lonely. But we road that roller coaster together. We learned by trial and error when to make someone laugh…
Or give them a hug
Or just leave them the hell alone.
You taught us how to be a family.
And for that, a piece of my heart will always belong to you.
Happy Valentine’s Day.