Sharing the great outdoors with the kiddos is amazing!
Yes – it’s schlep-mania all the way through – from prepping and packing and cooking, through being there and making sure the toddler stays alive, and staying warm at night, making sure the dog doesn’t freeze to death (when you check the forecast and it shows a low of 55 but it ends up being a low of 34), making sure everyone stays hydrated, feeding everyone, cleaning up, hiking (even though you forget a carrier), and all the way to breaking down camp, and getting back home with holiday traffic.
But seeing them make up games together with sticks and pine cones and leaves and rocks, talking to the spirits of the forest, and making crowns from weeds – that, for me, is the meaning of life itself.
No matter what I do or don’t do, the day before leaving for a camping trip is stressful. There’s always another trip to the store, even if I went twice already this week, plus the Farmers Market. And I no longer just pack for myself – there are two other bodies I need to keep warm enough, and cool enough, and sun protected enough, and water proofed enough, with clothes we won’t be too sad to see getting totally destroyed, but cute enough to look good in pictures.
Between food shopping, the cooking, the packing, the organizing, the water, the dog food, and the equipment – even the great system that we developed over the years doesn’t save me from the insanity of prepping.
The kids run around the store while I try to focus on reading the ingredients of this raw granola, and make sure there’s enough protein and not too much sugar, so that it could pass as breakfast. Try not to forget anything, including the organic bug repellent that we all know won’t work.
“Put it back on the shelf please!” I barely manage to keep the health food store undamaged. Why did I give in and let the toddler out of the cart? Oh yeah! The screaming. Screaming or running – which is better? At this point I’m not sure.
They jump on my back while I cook. “Go play with each other! What did I make you a brother for?”
I hear them fighting in the other room. Usually they play beautifully. But on stressful days, when there’s a lot to get done, they somehow find it appealing to scream at each other so loud, that the dog runs to the kitchen and gives me that look that says: “Do something, lady!” But I don’t do anything. I just rinse the carrots and the celery and the radishes, and the fennel, and if I wasn’t worried about the water on this planet, I’d just let the water keep running, so that I hear less of what goes on in the other room.
I imagine all the peanut butter that these rinsed vegetables will dip in. It gives me a sense of calm and delight. Tomorrow I’ll be in the mountains with the trees.
FUCK!!!!! PEANUT BUTTER!!!!! You forgot peanut butter?!?!? How could you forget peanut butter?!?!? It’s on every fucking list you have. And you went to the store three times already this week. Of course you didn’t look at the list – you were chasing children around the store. There was no looking at your phone to check the list app.
“Don’t forget to text him about the peanut butter.” I tell myself.
Of course I forget to text him about the peanut butter.
The morning goes pretty well. We only need to feed the children, walk the dog, go get ice, pack the cooler, pack the car, feed the children again, stop at the store for peanut butter and just three other things I forgot, and we leave the house only two hours later than planned. And we’re not even killing each other. Pretty fucking good!
Six hours and lots of snacks later we’re there, in the Sierras. I hear Muir whispering through the breeze as it moves through the forest. We pitch our tent. We make it cozy. We stoke a fire. We make our dinner. The little one is a little scared. It’s dark. He wants to go home. I put him on the boob and he falls asleep before we even clean up after dinner. We manage to do it. One hand cleaning is a skill I’ve mastered in the last seven years. The sky is filled with stars. A moment of awe. Then we all go in the tent. Put long underwear on everyone. It’s getting cold. Get in sleeping bags. Hopefully no one has to get up to go pee. Cozying it up in our little nest in the woods.
4am. “Mama! I need to pee!”
It’s 34 degrees.
There’s no fucking way I’m getting out of this sleeping bag.
Andrew takes her. My king!
I, on the other hand, have a two and a half year old glued to my frozen nipple the entire night.
When we finally give in to the jumping beans inside our sleeping bag and get up, it’s already 9am. We slowly defrost. Why does coffee taste SO good when camping? It’s not the best coffee I’ve ever had. But it’s the best coffee I’ve ever had! You know what I mean?
We want to go hiking. We will. Of course it takes the better part of the day to get ready for the hike – even though we’re already here, camping by the trailhead. Gotta make sure everyone eats well. Then there’s sunscreen, and snacks for the hike, and filling up water bottles, and filling them up again because by the time you’re ready to go they’re empty again. And there’s the camelback, and the first aid kid, and the diaper pad, and the diapers, and the bag to take for used diapers, and the essential oils, and the lip balm, and the camera, and the lenses, and the warm layers for everyone, and the headlamps – just in case, because even though we’re only going for a couple of hours, you just never know.
But as much as I want to go on this hike, the priority is to SLOOOOOOW DOOOOOOWN.
I can hear in my head my daughter’s voice in therapy in her twenties: “She always rushed me.”
Why can’t I stop with the rushing????!!!! It’s a heavy weight on my life, and it’s a burden I can feel myself passing on to this gorgeous fairy girl that I have the privilege to call my daughter. I watch myself do it, and as hard as I try, I don’t stop. There are always places to get to and things to do and lots to take care of before the next thing.
And here we are with the trees and the rocks and the soil and the winds. My rhythm responds to the landscape. I can feel layers of stress being shed. And the demands of the world quiet down. The ants are not in my pants, but rather walking their paths within the forest. And the way that I respond to the call of the next thing, is not by missing out on the beauty of this moment.
We don’t go far on our hike. We go deep. We walk slow. We make stops. We take pictures and throw pine cones into the stream and sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the forest. I nurse my toddler and let him nap in my arms as we watch the water flow in the creek.
When we’re back from the hike I watch Andrew and the kids stoke the fire, while I wrap potatoes in foil, and stir the soup I made at home and brought with us. I take in the moment. Breathing in the youngness of my children, knowing that by the time I exhale they’ll be older. Soaking up my love for my family, and the preciousness of this time in my life. It challenges my every cell, yet nourishes me into the depth of my bone marrow and the expanse of my soul. And I allow the dusk to tell me ancient stories of the cycles of darkness and light.
I have to stop rushing. And I have to stop beating myself up for rushing. Slow the fuck down. And fuck the guilt that creeps into my internal organs when my tendency to rush takes over like a storm. Love my daughter who lives in fairy time. And love myself as I navigate through the harshness of real world time.
Maybe one day I will breakthrough the intensity of constantly feeling like there’s not enough time. Maybe this will always be a negotiation space, where I have to face my flaws and her rhythm, and the ways in which we trigger each other. And maybe this friction between the twinkle of time within the world of magic, and the stress of time in the mundane reality of modern life, can become the gateway into deeper relationships.
We put the potatoes in the fire. Fifteen minutes later I poke them with a stick. “Why aren’t they ready already?”