The summer of my discontent
‘O, wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us!” Scottish poet Robert Burns once wished.
Um, thanks, but no thanks, Robert. I've had that kind of summer, and I can you tell you from experience, seeing yourself through the eyes of others is highly overrated.
It all started when 3-year-old Evie Adelson, a weekend guest at our lake cottage in Maine, looked at me and then asked my wife, Marcia, this: "Is that white-haired guy your dad?"
But it wasn't just toddlers who were posing ego-shattering questions. Another came when I went to the JetBlue counter at Logan for a gate pass so I could wait with my 12-year-old nephew until his flight back home to Houston boarded.
"Have you and your grandson had a nice visit?" the airline agent asked.
Grandson? Grandson? I mean, I wouldn't care if I were mistaken for his father, but grandson?
Next up: A (former) friend, who, after I related all the lake-related adventures Kyle and I had had during his vacation visit, commented: "It sounds just like 'On Golden Pond.' "
No, it doesn't. Not one single bit like that. In "On Golden Pond," Henry Fonda is a cranky old codger who bonds with a 13-year-old boy over fishing. They weren't out tubing together. Or snorkeling. And they sure didn't go on that six-story-high ride at Funtown Splashtown where the floor drops out from under you, sending you plummeting straight down at speeds of up to 40 feet a second until the tube finally curves out and deposits you in an aquatic slow-down lane.
In retrospect, though, I suppose I should have seen this coming. The better part of a decade ago, when I was trying to cajole some friends' kids into trying a back dive, Miranda Hunter, then 8 or 9, piped up: "Scot, how does it feel to be an old person who still thinks he's young?"
Just for the record, I harbor no ill will toward Miranda for the query. No indeed. Now that she's out of high school and off to college, I simply hope that Boy Scouts will start calling her "ma'am" and offering to help her cross busy streets.
As for her question, honestly, back then, it felt pretty good. At least I wasn't being mistaken for Marcia's father. And she was right: I still did consider myself relatively young.
I mean, I was regularly out slalom skiing and all. That's young, right?
Then came this summer. Fourteen tries to get up on one ski. Thirteen unsuccessful attempts — and one brief run that ended in a brain-jouncing face plant.
"How does it feel not to make it up?" my impish niece Kate, 10, asked when I climbed back into the boat after my first five or six failures.
Hmm. Let's see, Sassy Boo Boo. Maybe the same way it would feel if I threw you right out of the boat.
Why, the entire summer, there was only one kid question that made me feel good.
"Scot," asked 8-year-old Cazzy Oliver, looking up at our cottage roof, "do you remember when you climbed out there and poured a pail of water on my head?"
Remember it? The contortionist's bend required to make it out the bedroom window carrying the plastic pail of H2O? The perilous journey edging across the slippery cedar shingles, one foot on each side of the ridgeline? The long, patient, muscle-straining wait holding the brimming bucket until my unwitting quarry walked into range? Do I remember the most daring maneuver since General Wolfe's men scaled a steep St. Lawrence River cliff and launched the sneak attack that let the British take Quebec City from the French, you ask?
Yes, I do, I wanted to declare — and that will teach you to never again squirt me with your Super Soaker. But that's not the kind of thing one can say to an exuberant grade-schooler. Not with his parents listening quizzically to the conversation, anyway.
"No," I said. "You must be thinking of Marcia."
"Uh-uh. It was you."
I shook my head. Not me.
But maybe, just maybe, it was that white-haired guy who's sometimes mistaken for Marcia's father.