How Did I Get Here?

Paul and I took a couple of days off this week. Well, truthfully, he took a couple of days off. Since the onset of the Covid disaster, I have mostly had my days free. But he’s been working as a therapist in a time of universal angst, and he was very tired.

We decided to take a couple of days and travel up into the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the National Forest Campground where Paul and his family have spent vacations since the 1920s.

While Paul grew up with a love of these mountains, and a passion of camping at their feet, I came to that life in my late teens. Truthfully, I had never camped in my life until I decided that this very cute guy was worth the bugs, the rain, the cold nights and the burned food.

Needless to say, I learned to camp. In fact, I learned to camp at Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest. I learned to pitch a tent. And to cook outside. And to bathe my little ones in a rubber bucket. I learned to lock up the food so the bears wouldn’t get it. And to wash my hair in a bucket of water warmed over the camp stove.

And the years went by. My kids love camping, and hiking. They love Dolly Copp Campground so much. Our extended family has a reunion up there every year. That campground is where I felt the movement of my first baby in my womb. It is where that same baby went into early labor and was rushed off the hospital to have her own daughter, with me at her side. Dolly Copp campground is where my boys learned to fish, and where they learned the sorrow that came with killing another being in order to eat.

We swam in the river that runs through the campground. We made s’more. We sang around the fires. Our little family has so many, many good memories of that place.

And Paul and I went there to camp last night. Only one night, but it was filled with memories and peace and laughter.

This morning, very early, I found myself in the campground’s bathroom. An updated, modern, clean version of the little spaces where I’d dressed my kids so many times.

I looked into the mirror, and I saw my 64 year old self. Not the hopeful, eager young 19 year old girl who first followed her future mate to this place, but the gray, wrinkled, slightly wilted version of that girl.

“I’m 64.” I said out loud. “How did this happen?”

I expected to feel sad, but you know what? Something beautiful happened.

As I stood there, looking at my aging self, I heard a sudden unexpected voice answering my question.

“It happened because for the past 40 plus years, you’ve been busy.

In that time,” the voice told me, “You’ve graduated from college, learned what you wanted to do with you life, achieved a Master’s degree and embarked on a rich and rewarding career.”

I looked back at the image in the mirror, remembering every misstep and every failed moment.

But the voice from my heart continued, “You’ve learned how to teach. And you’ve been a teacher. You have touched the lives of many many children, in ways that you won’t ever know. You have reassured parents, encouraged kids, supported them on their journeys. The years passed because you were busy. You were growing and you were doing good.”

I thought of the kids I’ve loved and taught over the years. The kids who are my Facebook friends, my real life friends, my warmest memories. “OK”, I thought, “I get it.”

But the voice wasn’t done.

“And you’ve raised three kids. Three adults who are healthy and joyful and loving.”

I looked back at my face in the mirror. I saw a mother. A teacher. A sister, a friend, a wife, a daughter.

I saw a life well lived.

“OK”, I said, nodding to my own old self, “OK. I’m 64 years old, and it isn’t a surprise. How did I get here? I got here on my own winding but worthwhile path.”

Really, what more could any of us ask of this life?

How far I won’t go

October in the White Mountains….brrrrrr!

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.

We read this sign, looked at each other, and went to wake up the kids.  We were back at home, soaking in the hot tub, by dinner time.