On my most recent trip home to Houston, my parents and I went to Clear Lake for an evening sail on our boat. The weather was good, the waters calm. After a busy day, we were looking forward to the relaxing rhythm of the waves and the fresh, salty air.

Unfortunately, when we got to the marina, we found several inches of water inside the cabin. Somehow our sailboat had partially flooded! So instead of a leisurely night enjoying the surf and the breeze, we spent two hours with a plastic bucket and a leaky pump, bailing out the stale and murky water.

By the time we finished, we had mosquito bites on our ankles, our clothes were spattered with dirt, and our skin was covered in a fine layer of seawater and sweat. Anyone in their right mind would have been miserable. And yet, my parents and I smiled and joked as we headed to the bathrooms to clean up.

Upon reflection, I realized that in a weird way, I actually enjoyed that night of gross, sweaty work. Because my parents and I were spending time together. Because I was helpful to them.

As an only child, I’ve always had a close relationship with my parents. But now that I live so far away, I see just how much we did as a family, and how hard it is to do that kind of stuff now. Thanks to technology, my parents are never more than a phone call or an email away, but it’s not the same as hopping in the car for ice cream at Dairy Queen, or going to see a movie on a whim, or just hanging out at home with the TV on, all of us sitting in our “reserved seats” on the couch. Things that I used to take for granted. Things that aren’t so easy anymore.

Whenever I visit home, my mom asks if I want to do anything, and my dad asks if I want to go anywhere. Favorite restaurants, new museum exhibits, the beach at Galveston, even Austin or San Antonio. I know they just want me to have fun, but I always tell them not to go to any trouble. They can’t understand why.

That night, after our decidedly not-relaxing evening on the boat, we put our swimsuits on, rinsed off, and then hopped into the community pool at the marina. Beneath a dark sky filled with stars, we floated on our backs and kicked our legs. We sat on the deck chairs and ate cherries. We talked and laughed and talked some more.

I guess that’s the real reason that night didn’t feel miserable to me. That’s why we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything special. Because we’re together, spending time as a family again. And that’s enough.


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