Elle looked wistfully out the open window as Arches National Park’s otherworldly scenery floated past the car. As we drove, she seemed to sense it all would quickly fade away. Not just the statuesque rock towers and skyscraping arches highlighting the scenery outside her window, but also this blissful, no-cares summertime feeling that had hung around us like a heady perfume all of last weekend.
A short weekend camping trip wasn’t nearly long enough for Elle, thus her desire to stretch this little trip out to the end of July – which, in a 4-year-old’s realm, is about as far into the future as they can imagine.
Her desert sand-wrought curls blew crazily around her face, and in that moment she was the sweet. sunny embodiment of summer freedom. No work, no school, no obligations, no rules, just a carefree little girl in a pink sundress gazing out an open window.
That blithe summer break feeling was soon left behind, just a short series of magical memories sandwiched between Friday and Sunday, like fire-roasted marshmallows stuck between two graham crackers. By the time we settled back at home, it was time to jump feet-first back into the working-for-a-living grind.
But summer weekends spell freedom, and our 4-year-old could sense last weekend that the little bit of time we spent away from home on this early summer getaway was indeed special. Something you might want to do until the end of July.
I settled comfortably back into the passenger’s seat as we drove homeward, peeking back at my sun-kissed eldest daughter and her pink-cheeked little sister until they both fell asleep. I silently gave myself an attagirl: Way to go, mom, in pulling this one off!
The easiest course of action, certainly, would have been to keep things simple last weekend: We could have put our breakfast plates in the dishwasher, our children’s feet would not have turned into grimy little organisms, and I surely would have had less laundry to do on Sunday evening. True, it was just a weekend camping trip, but getting there nearly caused a parental breakdown.
I can’t quite understand why leaving home with two small children is as convoluted as it always turns out to be. For the uninitiated non-parent wondering what I could possibly mean, a young family’s first summer weekend’s camping trip could be akin to a single person preparing for an unsupported trek through the jungle, or a month-long drive across the Northwest Territories: It is extremely difficult to prepare for. Everything you could possibly need must be thought of, found and then not forgotten in the crazy rush to get out of the door.
And on a trek through the jungle or a drive across the Northwest Territories, one can’t forget items like potty chairs, sippy cups or pink princess Band-Aids.
Upon returning home from a weekend away with two small children, a parent like me comes to the demoralizing realization that in addition to the cereal bars squished into every corner of her family’s vehicle, and the sand hiding in every crevice of her children’s bodies, she also neglected to wash any dishes, pick up any toys, put any one of her daughters’ discarded outfits back into the closet or otherwise effectively controlled any part of the maelstrom that ensued within her home while preparing for this short weekend camping trip.
Tired, gritty and smelling like a strange blend of campfire and barf bag, I tried to put the pieces of our life back in order before Monday morning came around. Was it worth it? I pondered, digging out what a pair of little socks that now resembled sodden brown slugs out from between the seats in the back of our vehicle.
Then I evoked that picture of Elle in the back of that same vehicle, wind whipping her hair around, and her simple little wish to stay in Arches until the end of July.
And I vowed to go camping with my family again next weekend.