Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Best Thing About Love (Belford, NJ)

Tuesday was my first day back on the road after 48 hours of rest in New York City. In honor of a more gradual return to my concrete and asphalt existence, I decided to take a short cut. This trip is more about the people I meet than it is about walking every literal yard between West Hebron and New Orleans in an unbroken line. So there is always room for a little improvisation. In that spirit I decided to walk to the Wall Street dock and take a ferry to Belford, NJ. It turned out to be a perfect plan for three reasons:

1. It saved me from having to battle through the industrial corridor of NJ which parallels Manhattan.
2. It forced me to temporarily face my irrational fear of being out on boats in large bodies of water (for back story please refer to: Ferry, Catalina Island and Boat, Lake Atitlan)
3. It meant that I only had to walk 7 miles instead of my usual 18, thereby giving me more energy for my evening in Belford with Tyler and Chelsea.

Tyler and Chelsea Baxter are two of my favorite kids in the world. That isn't surprising since their parents Don and Karen are two of my favorite adults. The fruit never falls far from the tree. Tyler is 4 and Chelsea is 2. My nephews Marco and Ivan have long since sped past that age range on their race toward adolescence, so Tyler and Chelsea are now my primary entree into the world of the boundless energy of youth.

It should go without saying that I no longer put the word boundless in front of energy when talking about myself. That ship sailed somewhere during the Reagan administration. Now I have situational energy. I can summon it for fits and bursts when I am around kids, but give me a Saturday afternoon by myself and I will be making casts of my face in the nearest pillow. That's just how it is.

When I arrived Chelsea was taking a nap, but Tyler was there to welcome Garf with open arms. (Kids under five tend to replace my "th" with an "f") Even though Tyler had been awaiting my arrival, I was spared an all out assault by Karen's constant reminders to him that I had been walking for a long time and needed some rest. So Tyler was content to run and jump and ask questions like a moon in my orbit without trying to use me as a trampoline. We played with my camera. We shared some grapes. He helped me stretch. Chelsea awoke from her nap and joined the party, sitting with me on the couch, showing me her doll and doing her 2-year-old best to talk with me about her favorite subject - her mommy.

Then there were the hugs and kisses. Lots of them. For their sometimes exhausting energy, kids have the unique ability to love freely and unself-consciously. That is a quality I could learn from. It seems like everything I do is saturated with consciousness of what others around me are thinking. It gets tiring. Maybe that lack of excessive pride and self-consciousness was one of the things Jesus was referring to when he said that we should become like children or not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Any way I look at it, I was on the receiving end of tons of love Tuesday night. Between Tyler and Chelsea's hugs and kisses and the way Don and Karen went out of their way to make me feel at home and fill me up with delicious food, I was one very blessed soul.

When my eyes opened the next morning at 6:55 am, Tyler was patiently standing sentry next to my bed, careful to follow his Dad's instructions to not wake me up. But as soon as he saw I was awake, he launched into a conversation about what was on his mind. I thought to myself, I don't know how parents manage to juggle it all raising two young kids. I would be ex. haus. ted.

I'm 36 and have not yet had the urge to have kids of my own. Right now I'm still leaning more toward a coconut tree as my legacy to the world. (If you don't know what that means, find a Ghanaian). But on visits like this I can peek in on family life and appreciate the beauty, joy and discovery that come along with the more challenging aspects of raising young kids. At dinner the night before Don had turned to Tyler and said, "Do you remember what you told me the best thing about love was buddy?" Tyler paused for a second, then responded, "sharing it."

Well said, buddy. I would give Tyler credit for encapsulating the lesson of this journey in a simple two word answer, but I doubt he would care. He has couches to jump off of. Leave it to the grown ups to ponder the meaning of everything. Kids are too busy living and loving in the moment.


  1. I'm loving your way of seeing and experiencing so much beauty and love. It would be unfortunate for you to deny a soul (or two) the opportunity to have you as a father. Then again, the world can always use another coconut tree:-)