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  • Jenny

2. A Day at the Races: Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs. My first full memory of a trip. I was 5 years old, not too long after the birth of my sister, and the summer before I entered first grade. I had a difficult time adjusting to being a big sister. After all, I was the one and only child around for 5 years. Not even my older cousins were nearby. So, that summer I left for Saratoga Springs with my Nanny and Poppy (my mother’s parents) to visit some family—a break somehow my parents and grandparents knew I needed to feel a little special again.

We stayed with some relatives in their summer home. I can still remember exactly what it looked like: the light that shone in through the windows; the kitchen table where I was introduced to Cookie Crisp cereal for the first time; the living room where I slept and “secretly” stayed up late to watch Friday Night Videos. I still remember every song and video that was on that night, and even to this day, whenever I hear them, they always remind me of this particular vacation.

I felt like I was a “big girl” and not a baby anymore.

Not because I was forced to grow up and be the big sister. Not because I was now in school and had to be more responsible. But because I was given opportunities to explore new things. (Trust me, trying a cereal made entirely of “cookies” is a mind-blowing treat when you are five!) Staying up late way past my bedtime, watching “grown-up” tv with older family cousins and having a sleepover party were all new to me—and I cherished every part of it. I was becoming my own little person, one who was free to try new things and ask questions and be my curious self.

My Nanny and Poppy were big supporters of my curiosity. That’s not to say my parents weren’t, but their job was to make sure I had all my needs met, a good education, learn right from wrong, and teach me a whole bunch of important lessons I now understand as a mother myself. A grandparent has the freedom

to look outside of the normal parental responsibilities and help guide a young child’s dreams—and they both did an outstanding job. It didn’t hurt that they both loved adventures themselves, and inspired me with their own tales of travels. I could sit for hours drinking tea with my Nanny while she shared all of her stories.

So it should come as no surprise that they tried to expose me to new experiences while we were in Saratoga. Some I was game for—some I was not. I remember Poppy telling me that we could go out fishing on the lake. I thought that was the coolest idea in the world! I loved to go fishing with my father, but it was always from the docks, and never on the water. I remember thinking I wanted to catch the biggest fish ever for my Daddy. God bless my grandfather and his love for me: he spent $50 to get a fishing/boating license for that trip, found a boat, and walked me all the way down to the lake.

He put on my life preserver and had the fishing gear all ready—and what did I do? I started crying hysterically because I didn’t want to go in the water anymore. I was afraid that I would drown and die.

My little 5-year-old self just couldn’t do it.

My Poppy, true to form, didn’t even flinch. He was a kind, gentle man. He had gone through a lot of trouble to get that license (though at the time, I had no understanding of that) but he didn’t even try to force me. He asked if I was sure, but when he saw that the fear ran deep, he just packed everything up, gave me a pat on the head and said, “Let’s go back home and do something else.”

I think that was my first memory of true compassion.

I always felt love and affection and many other warm and fuzzy emotions from my family. But that was the first time that I recall being in a state of fear, and being told simply that it was okay, and wasn’t judged for it or pressured. I didn’t even know at the time that I “should have” felt guilty over the whole situation. All I knew then was that my Poppy loved me enough to take me to the lake, and then to take

me away from it. That’s all that mattered in my little head.

That debacle out on the lake didn’t stop them from still going on another adventure, though. I remember with fond memories being brought to the racetrack to see the horses race against each

other. I remember the newspaper-like flyers with the names of the horses on them and Poppy asking me to pick a name I liked. Then he would go up to the window and bet on the horse I picked. Although I was young, I understood the basic concept that I was trying to guess which horse would win, and if it did, then Poppy got a prize.

And I do believe I won him his $50 back.

I can still remember the whole trip with such vividness. The quaintness of the tiny house that brought many families together under one roof in love. The laughter of the adults as they played cards late into the night. The smell of the salty air down by the lake and feeling the wind as it blew up sand from the dirt road path. The thrill of watching where my horses placed in each race, wondering if I picked the right one. The smiles of my grandparents as they shared this wonderful experience with me,

and restored my sense of importance within my family. I went home a happier girl—ready to welcome the new baby into the family and finally take on my role as the big sister.

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