When I first started dating my husband, way back when we were innocent seventeen year old children, he introduced me to the joys of camping. The canvas tent, the leaky air mattresses, the sputtering inconsistent heat of the two burner table top stove. I didn’t necessarily love it, but I went along. I wanted to impress this very cute boy, of course, but I also really did love the connection to the mountains and streams where we most often camped in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.
Over the years, the tents have improved, changed to a camper and then come back to the world of nylon tents again. The stoves have improved, too, and I have mastered a long list of delicious meals that can be whipped up and served on that two burner stove. Our kids have grown up with camping, and they love it, unquestionably. It’s become a family ritual for us; the s’mores, the wood smoke, the bug bites, the charred shoes and singed fingers.
When the kids were still kids, and we all lived here in this house, I was able to exert some control over the trips. I got to choose some new locations, to move us beyond the White Mountains. I was able to choose the dates and make sure that we were away long enough to justify the two week preparation period, but not so long that we started to smell/mildew/choke each other.
And I absolutely held the line in terms of weather: I did NOT camp in the cold! No way. For me, camping was all about the sun, the summer, the starry warm nights. My few experiences with lying curled in a fetal position, shivering and trying to hold my head inside the sleeping bag while still breathing cured me of any desire to camp out in cold weather. We did go up to the mountains a few times in October, but we had a camper with a HEATER when we did. And I still complained.
This year was sort of different.
This year, my kids brought up the idea of camping out at our favorite spot near Mt. Washington for the Columbus Day weekend. They thought it would be fun to get us all together for a final salute to the summer of 2012. To my husband’s great surprise, I jumped at the idea.
And I bet you know why.
It had absolutely nothing to do with camping or the mountains or the end of summer. Nope. For me, it was all about having a chance to get my kids together for a few meals and some hours of family togetherness. Even when my middle child, Matt, had to back out of the trip for work commitments, I was still excited and enthusiastic.
As it got closer, the weather report began to look more and more glum. Heavy rain, high winds, cold temperatures. From the warmth and safety of my nice house, I brushed aside any concerns.
“We have down sleeping bags!”, I chirped. “I’ll make hot chocolate, and hot cider, and oatmeal! We can gather in the big tent and play cards! I have lots of red wine to keep us warm!”
And off we went. And we had a great time being together, laughing, eating, enjoying the fresh air, feeling secure in our little rain fly. We had a great dinner and then stood by the fire, toasting the season’s last marshmallows. And then it was off to bed, under a sky filled with perfect silver stars.
And the wind howled. I curled up like a caterpillar, holding the edge of my sleeping bag over my icy nose, wrapped in four layers of clothes and desperately trying to ignore the raging of the wind as it shook the tent and rattled the pots and pans on the picnic table.
“It’s worth it.”, I kept repeating to myself, “I have two whole days and nights with my kids! It’s worth it, it’s worth it, it’s worth it…..”
And then in the frosty light of dawn, Paul and I took a walk around the campground. We came to the site where the campground hosts were huddled in their giant RV, generator humming. We found a weather report, tacked to a tree stump.
And I finally found the limit of my maternal love and devotion. I found the point beyond which I simply will not go.