The last time I went to Mackinac Island, I was maybe twelve. We went with family because I have been going up to Michigan every year for as long as I can remember, up to its north woods and rolling bright green hills, just a few minutes away from Lake Michigan.
The only thing that my twelve year old self remembers from that ferry trip, which was my first, was the pink. The sun was setting bright pink behind the Mackinac Bridge, the waves cradled the bright clouds on top of them, and the seagulls wheeled above me on the beach, black against the bright clouds. The picnic tables threw long shadows onto the pink sand where we stopped for a few minutes. I remember making my way up to the front of the ferry, the wind and the beauty whipping away my breath.
This last time I went again a few weeks ago, and it was nothing like that. The dark clouds threatened rain the moment we started driving, and they were spitting when we hit Mackinaw City. Joe grumbled about taking the bikes down and proclaimed we would regret the decision, and it did look like it would rain the whole time. (But it was my birthday so we went anyway.)
But it didn’t. The rain stayed away, but left its colors, the blues, the greys, the mists swirling around the bridges. The winds threw the waves against themselves and in our faces, and some passengers in front of us clutched at the rolling of the boat; but Lincoln laughed and Eliot fell asleep.
It was a second chance in the same place, a place where my four year old was just as experienced as myself, far more knowledgeable about water and ferries and islands then when I was that age. He won’t know the things that I did; the constant watching for the shapes of deer at twilight, the noise the corn makes in the wind, the eagerness of waiting for the first snowfalls.
When I told Lincoln that we were moving to Florida, and that it was a long way away, he got very excited. He’s been asking and asking to go on a plane again, and if Florida was a long way away, then he knew that that we could fly there. So I had to explain to him that no, we couldn’t fly, because we had a car now, and how would the car get to Florida? He thought for a minute and then said confidently, “That’s ok, Mom, we’ll just put it on the ferry.”
He’s grown up doing that; just putting our car on ferries, and it’s something a childhood me could have never imagined, something four year old me didn’t even know existed.
The contrast between my growing up and his is wide, and seeing childhood again, in a different light, is like a second coming. There are many ways to do a life again, and one of those is parenting. Not a redo, not a writing over something worse, but just a chance to try something again, to live it again in a different way.
When we do things once we don’t have a comparison, we don’t have any knowledge about what we’re actually doing. On my first ferry ride, it was pure amazement and no knowledge.
But when we do things a lot of times, it becomes all knowledge and no amazement. Like our drive to work, like the view out our front windows, our brains start to filter out the normal things, the things we do and see every day. It’s natural, a way to protect us from being constantly on the alert. A way to let our minds rest. It’s its way of saying, ‘oh, we’ve seen that, you don’t have to waste resources on it’. Even if the view is the ocean out our front windows, or a ride on a ferry.
But that time in between; the things we do for the second, the third, even the eighth time, it’s still new enough to keep the amazement, and yet still old enough to give us context.
So the second trip to Mackinac Island, so the childhood of our children. It can be pink and blue, different colors of the same islands. We can live a childhood of cornfields and of waves.
Second lives with the same genes, second views of the same places.