There are lots of things I love about Vermont. Last night it was the fact that, on the drive home from the airport, we did not encounter a single other car. Well, there was a cop, but that doesn't really count. The point is that the roads were quiet and empty, the way I like them. I love traveling, but I love, even more, coming home to this wee green state, to my tiny little life where Daisy greets me at the door and the stars are bright and sparkling in the sky.
It was a really beautiful weekend out in California. For sure it was a long way to go to be with two of my three siblings, but so very worth the trek. For a small family, the O'Briens are fairly spread-out. Dedication to vocation, love of other people, and a healthy curiosity for what Might Be have taken us four in many directions over the years, and though it is rare that we all come together, I wouldn't have it any other way. Naturally, I miss my sister, but my selfish longing to have her closer to me is far surpassed by my pride in who she is, as a scientist, professor and mom, way up in Alaska. We have so much to talk about when we do get together -- her life, a wonderful and colorful mystery to me. We laugh, endlessly, over nightmarish stories of dating at mid-life; we wonder why we each have yet to find The Man, whose endearing combination of intelligence, wisdom, sense of adventure, humor, kindness and desire to bring us coffee in the morning makes us want to hunker down with him for the long haul. We talk about raising boys and our most recent dreams (she: explore the Brooks Range and raise chickens; me: drive the Ring Road around Iceland and raise chickens). It is comforting to know that a smarter, tougher version of me is out there somewhere, living her academic, wilderness explorer life with her two fabulous boys.
Our younger brother, Steve, is settling nicely into his California life with his young family. He and his wife, Erika, lived in a very cool part of the West Village in New York before they headed west in search of a healthier, sunnier place to raise kids. The Silicon Valley area, where they live, is positively humming with intellectual energy. Being there with him exposes me to an entirely unknown and fascinating way of life. They're house-hunting now, in a place where a tiny, modest ranch-style home can easily run 1.5 million. I asked him how they liked a house they looked at on Saturday. "It was actually nice inside," he said, 'Like the people who renovated it had taste."
"What do you mean?" I asked, "What do the houses usually look like inside?"
"Modern dork," he said, "No one here cares about any of that stuff."
What an incredibly refreshing way of life, I thought. To live in a place where people are so engaged with designing and creating and solving that they don't give a crap about what jacket you're wearing or what upholstery you have on your dining room chairs.
If my siblings had all hovered close to home, for sure I would get to see them more often, and that would be nice, but I wouldn't have the kind of life-expanding, wonder-filled times like this past weekend, when I got to play in Stevie's world. I wouldn't have moments like Saturday morning, when Mom and Kristin and I drove to the coast together. The sisters wanted to know more about Mom's take on love as she and Dad just celebrated 51 years together. We listened quietly while she described their early days of dating, how Dad would call her each evening from a pay phone; how, over time, their love morphed into a kind of deep and meaningful sense of caring for one another. When she talked about how Dad took such thorough and tender care of her after her eye surgery a few years ago, I listened, and cried, feeling deeply and wholly blessed that their devotion to one another has provided the rest of us with the foundation upon which to launch ourselves out into the wide world. The fact that this story played out while we navigated a winding road through a Redwood forest only heightened the magic.
I love these brave, curious people to whom I am tethered by blood--like crazy--and I am deeply enamored of the places where they have landed. I know that if they all lived near me our relationships would hold a lot more crazy and a lot less love, so I'm glad they're all out there in the world, doing their creative and important stuff. And I want the exact same thing for my kids. When the time comes, I want them to go. Like their aunts and uncles before them, I want the next generation to spread their wings and fly, as far as their bright minds and courageous hearts will take them. And then I will take whatever planes, trains and automobiles necessary to see them. To visit them. I will happily wake up in California and go to sleep in Vermont, to watch the story of this family become richer and riper and wider. I didn't bring people into this world so they could hover around me and waste their lives checking to make sure I'm OK. I might want them nearby when I'm close to the end, but until then I will continue to remind them that they're here to make the world a little more interesting, a little more colorful, a little more O'Brien-ish, and that I've pretty much got those bases covered here at the Maison de Chaos.