During the summer, Manhattanites leave the city in droves for weekends, weeks, months, even the whole Memorial Day to Labor Day span. They drive, train, or Jitney it out to houses upstate or on Long Island or up in Connecticut or, yes, even out on the Jersey Shore.
Every year, Steve and I, too, kick around the idea of renting a house for part of the summer somewhere and every year, one or both of us ends up finding one reason or other for never getting around to doing it. This has not, however, stopped us from staying as guests at some of our friends’ houses outside the city, although admittedly, these invitations have been fewer and further between since we’ve had three children.
When my friend, Peggy (also a mother of three young children, roughly the same age as mine), invited Charlie, Vivi, Jack, and me up to the house she and her family had rented in the Hudson Valley for the month of July, I hesitated about three seconds , quite possibly even less, before accepting.
Plans were made. Details were ironed out. Bags were (mostly) packed. The day before we were scheduled to drive up, Peggy called. “It’s looking like rain for the next couple of days up here. There is nothing to do if it rains.”
We were going on something like our fifteenth day in a row of 90-degree temperatures in the city. I was hot. I was cranky. I didn’t want to take the subway ever again and, by Golly, I was 95% packed already. We decided to go for it, with a rain contingency plan suggested by Peggy firmly in place: an hour-long trek to the county seat of Kingston to wile away the rainy hours at Barnes & Noble, Michael’s, and Target.
The first full day of our visit was absolutely spectacular: sunny, without a cloud in the blue, blue sky, and blessedly cooler than it had been all month in the city. The kids had a ball. Charlie and Vivi played hide-and-seek in a wee, unfinished house on the property where I imagine Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would have lived had they lived in the Hudson Valley and not in some forest in Bavaria. They searched for frogs in the pond and climbed rocks and tried to catch all sorts of creepy-crawlies. They cannonballed into the swimming pool. Jack sat on a blanket in the grass, uncharacteristically living up to the “Mr. Happy” T-shirt he wore. It was a much-needed respite from the city. Granted, the kids had engaged in all of the above-described activities and it was only 8:30 a.m., but still—why exactly had we always balked at renting a house in the summer? I contemplated this as I lay next to Jack on our blanket.
It's Mr. Happy
Then Peggy poked her head out the screen door. “Soooooooooo—I’m ready to go to Barnes and Noble. What do you think?”
“Peggy,” I said. “I thought Kingston was our rain plan. It’s beautiful out. Plus, none of my kids are whining this second. Why don’t we just stay here?”
Peggy looked defeated. “I’m going crazy here,” she confessed. “I. Have. Got. To. Get. Out. Of. Here. Immediately.”
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that three children five and under are a hell of a lot of work no matter where you are, but that fact was brought into high relief for Peggy this summer at their house in the middle of nowhere. They had no cellphone service or Internet access. The dishwasher didn’t work. The walls of the old farmhouse were paper-thin and consequently, no one seemed to sleep much. The pool was a nice perk, but dead mice and frogs had to be fished out of it periodically. Running out for milk became a major undertaking. They didn’t know another soul out there. Instead of enjoying an idyllic summer retreat, Peggy, a native New Yorker, was bored out of her gourd and counting the days until she could return to the city.
We didn’t end up making our Barnes and Noble/Michael’s/Target run and the kids pretty much spent the day outside happy as larks until storm clouds gathered and rain came down in blinding sheets and the electricity flickered on and off . Peggy and I did, however, break open a bottle of Prosecco earlier than we (probably) would have in the city and did head back earlier than originally planned the following day.