I grinned as I walked the perimeter of the semi-deserted campground with my crew of excited kiddos. The only other campers were three older couples with pull-alongs that had impressive pop-out this and thats, large TV antennae, paint fresh from the factory. They kept immaculate campsites and were as kindly large-hearted as anyone you will ever meet. One of them had a puppy named Vinnie. “Go ahead and pet him. (Now, Vinnie, stop jumping and licking!) He does that because he is still a pup, you know. Did you see him run? And he has a really great nose!” (Conversation quoted verbatim.)
There was our campsite, an aging, borrowed RV, popping with fresh children, no extra entertainment needed. There were strollers and sand toys and camp chairs strewn around, and a picnic table loaded with stuff that was not food. I took a camera and completely forgot to use it until it began to pour and we needed to hunker down inside. So all I have are these vignettes in my head. In twenty years, we could be the couple with only a shaggy haired puppy, saying, “Oh yes, I remember the days when we used to take our kids camping.”
I will think of my 7 year old, intently studying the campground map as we walked. “I know exactly where we are! See, there is number 23, and there is the bathroom and the trail.” And I thought, “I know just where we are, too, my son. We are one month away from 8, gap toothed and dreamy, rocks in our pockets, just grown up enough to dare to venture alone down the trail for a little while.”
There will be the snap shots of my oldest son, responsibly hauling the baby back to camp when she wandered, organizing a bucket brigade to bring warm water for washing dishes, and most importantly, chopping kindling to keep that fire blazing!
I will remember my little girls with curls flying as they gave their dollies rides on the swings. There was the endless play with a bag of plastic frogs from Salvation Army, bathing them tenderly in soapy water and giving them names like “Otis” or “Panko”. Then I will see them, curled up like commas under mounds of warm blankets, sleeping off the utter exhaustion of running full tilt all day.
Last, but not least, how could I ever forget the night Gabe and I spent with a little Human Bean in our bed? … the one with the sleep habits of a cricket with an itch. Her floor bed wasn’t working out so well, as she whacked her head against the bed frame and the cold wall by turns. The wails and sorrow kept waking us anyway, so we hauled her up between us, where she could whack her head against the warmer, softer bodies of her parents. She didn’t mind in the least, and neither did she quibble about sleeping next to a source of nourishment. Because we were camping, we laughed and shrugged it off, “Oh well, that is why we do NOT allow our children to sleep with us! Normally.”
I spent my time trying to keep everyone fed, reasonably clean, with jackets zipped and shoes on their feet. I developed a migraine and couldn’t eat my mountain pie, and I made a lot of runs to the bathroom with various people who needed to go. We hiked one slow mile down the trail, where I hauled someone piggy back for a long time and bribed her with fruit gummies if she would walk on her own legs. We also collected a lot of camp under our fingernails and a humongous hamper full of dirty laundry.
As I was cleaning out the camper and running serial loads of washing through the laundry room, I muttered a bit about how ridiculously much work this made, and was it really worth it? On Monday morning, Gregory answered that question with a sighing observation over his math book, “Why is it that the fun stuff goes so, so fast and the boring stuff lasts soooo long?”
I guess I wasn’t the only one storing up memories over the weekend, and in the end, that is what matters.