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We were 30 feet from the house, just nearing our mailbox.  Time enough to turn this van around, unload and simply pretend we’d gone camping.  We could throw the tent up in the yard.  Have a hot dog or two.  Shine flashlights into each other’s eyes.  All that.  But we didn’t.  Turn the van around, that is.  That would’ve been wise.  Sane.  Easy. 

Did I mention wise? 

Right.

Sane?

Oh, okay.

So my kids and I (one already a broken record pleading for ice cream and one wanting to know how many more minutes), hit the road.  For a night of camping.  In a tent. Two hours and thirty-seven minutes away.  Near a river. So help us God.

We weren’t technically camping alone.  We were meeting my sister and brother-in-law and their two boys at the campground.  They’d chosen the campground, reserved the site, packed the tents, invited us along.  All we had to do was show up.  And survive.

Which became tricky.  The only place it was crashing with thunder and zipping with lightning was directly over our campground.  And there was my son with an open umbrella.  And me holding tent pegs.  And the whole gang of us watching my brother-in-law rig a tarp.  Utterly fascinating…if you’re camping.  So I took a picture, which flashed, and which made my sister think our camp had been struck by lightning.  When it hadn’t.  We’d been there ten minutes.

Nevermind that the mosquitos had smelled me coming.  Which meant that everyone else could prance around in shorts, while I held my hands like cymbals in smack position for the next 22 hours. 

I won’t belabor my sudden worries about the river. Or the fact that it rose to flood stage in mere minutes and then receded in the same hour. Or the fire pit.  Or my children in flip flops near the flame’s edge tossing in sticks.  Or my daughter learning to ride her cousin’s bike, wobbling from the ditch on one side to the grassy field on the other.  Or the four of them digging with shovels, two of them barefoot.  Or sharing a tent with my son who had neither napped nor stopped talking about ice cream. And who’s body would eventually crowd me off my paper-thin mattress pad, pee in my sleeping bag and make me pray for the light of day. Because I think it all just goes with the mothering territory. 

Or rather that maternal instinct to protect ‘our kids’ whether we have children or not.  We communicate with ‘be careful’ maxims that we hope our kids will pocket.  And all the rest of the time we suck in our breath to stop a fall we cannot reach with our hands; we jump in the direction of a familiar cry; we continuously scan for sight of their clothing, and we exhale only when they’ve fallen asleep.  Even if it’s six a.m.  This. morning.  

Ain’t camping swell?

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