We took Elle camping this weekend, down a meandering dirt road ribbed with washboard to a quiet reservoir, plunked in the middle of ranching country, beneath the silhouette of Lone Cone.
There were no big plans. We brought a fishing rod and a little inflatable raft and a yellow plastic bucket. We didn’t hike, or bike, or stray too far from the shoreline where we had parked our dusty camp trailer when we rolled in on Friday night. Elle waded in the water and piled dirt in her plastic bucket; we floated around in our little raft just a few feet from shore, built campfires, and ate French toast and strawberries for breakfast.
Watching Elle from my shady vantage point, as she studied the elaborate dimensions of a yarrow’s bloom, I vowed to carry this tranquil camping tone into our life at home. The most important parts of camping life, at least, like eating breakfast together and asking for things nicely and making plans to make no plans. The part where we take a minute to watch our daughter explore the world blossoming around her.
I carefully carried this serene camping air home with us on Sunday, tiptoeing around the seeming inescapable aspects of life that tend to make us feel rushed and short-tempered. I baked cookies with Elle that rainy afternoon, in lieu of doing the laundry. I took a nap, curled up with the scent of Elle’s reservoir-bathed hair, rather than unpacking. We snuggled on the couch and went to bed early, after our dessert of home-baked chocolate chip cookies and milk. I even left the spent cookie sheets in the sink.
Then it was Monday.
We woke up late, but instead of rolling out of bed to make French toast we could only manage to fill a bowl with the powdery remains of a box of cereal before things like work and daycare – and the associated packing of lunches, locating of raincoats, and forgetting of cell phones – necessitated we move at a faster pace. A Monday pace, which is twice as fast as a weekend pace and three times more rushed than a weekend camping pace.
To fight the brisk flow of Monday morning would, I told myself as I quietly hurried Elle to daycare before circle time started (to no avail), go against the universal nature of all things related to Monday. To try and alter this harried beginning-of-the-work-week tide would likely create more strain than simply surrendering to its momentum. We will (this is what I told myself) return to the tranquil tempo of camp life as soon as we rode out this raging rapid that is Monday Morning.
Settling into the benches at The House (as in A Tavern) Monday evening with a glass of wine, I felt like perhaps now we could all slow down again. I’ll just change this diaper right quick, busy Baby Elle, then we can both get back to what we were doing – me, sipping wine and Elle, doing her baby work.
I’ve done it a thousand times, the Standing Diaper Change. It entails the quick tearing off of the slightly wet diaper, the surgical positioning of a new dry one, all before the ice cube you just dropped into your pinot grigio has had time to melt. No biggie.
Except this Monday, Elle was still in the camp life frame of mind, which for a one-and-a-half year old means that as soon as that diaper comes off you squat for Nature Pee. I applaud her dedication to potty training, don’t get me wrong, I just had hoped she would have realized that there was a difference between peeing in the dirt at a campsite and peeing on the floor of a restaurant.
Attempting to halt the encroaching feeling of being frazzled at my daughter’s misunderstanding of the “nature” part of Nature Pee, I calmly sopped up the puddle, good as new! Elle’s pants were wet, but, c’est la vie. No big deal.
Our dinner arrives. Excited about the chopped tomatoes on my salad, Elle grabs a handful – but they are apparently not what she was looking for after all, letting them fall from her mouth onto the table. No biggie, that’s what baby wipes are for. She then shoves a too-big quarter of hard-boiled egg in her mouth, gags, spits it out on the floor. I put down my fork, clean up the egg. She takes another quarter, and before I can stop her, has plopped it into a houseplant.
“Elle, come sit next to Dada, we’ll have some French fries.” As I clean up, Craig attempts to contain the chaos of a child accustomed to eating meals strapped into a high chair. Or sitting on the ground at a campsite. “Here’s some ketchup…”
Alas, I am too late to tell him that Elle has very recently begun to love ketchup too ardently. As in grab full handfuls of it, forgoing any kind of vehicle to transport it to her mouth. Ketchup is very difficult to keep within the fist of a toddler, on the journey from plate to mouth.
I am happy I have brought a full package of baby wipes. We have nearly expended the contents of our table’s napkin dispenser, I notice, just before noticing that Baby Elle is sucking ketchup off one of the now flimsy ketchup-coated napkins we have used to clean her.
Does ketchup count as dinner? Could a paper napkin be considered a vegetable, coming as it does from a tree? Should we tell our friend Steph, who comes to our rescue mid-meal by picking up a straying Elle, that the reason her hip feels wet is because she’s holding a child who just peed her pants?
These are the questions I ask myself as I struggle to find time to drink my glass of pinot grigio – forget about finishing the salad – while acting as the frowning, frazzled dispensary of baby wipes-cum-restaurant cleaning cloths.
While checking the plant for stray egg yolks and the floor for errant ketchup-napkins, all the while hoping Elle is still in the building, I am struck by the memory of my pledge to carry the tranquil pace of camping life back home. It is, I must confess to myself, not always possible to live frazzle-free with a child. I manage to wipe all the ketchup smears from the table with the last wipes in the package (I believe we started with 80) and locate my daughter, who has found her way to the deck.
From my vantage point standing in the doorway leading to the deck, I watch as Baby Elle gives “knuckles” to a group of total strangers; making the rounds with her chubby fist pointed outward like Super Woman, unself conscious, carefree and totally not frazzled.
I start out the door to snatch her up, then stop myself. The tempo of camp life may be impossible to recreate at home, or at The House, but I can at least hold onto the important parts of it. Like taking a minute to watch my daughter, who is now playing peek-a-boo with strangers and giggling the pure, uninhibited giggle of a kid completely unconcerned about tempo or time.