Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.Rumi
My regular readers will know that I was a single mom for most of my twin daughters’ lives and that they grew up with only myself to shepherd them through childhood challenges. When my marriage to their father ended they were six years old and had finished kindergarten. It was early July, and I was just beginning to figure out what this new life would be like. I wanted more than anything to show them a life like the one I had enjoyed, a life that included camping trips every summer, lazy days at the lake, roasting marshmallows around the campfire in the evening, and I had to make all these things happen by myself.
So it was just a few days after the divorce was final that I set out with my two little girls in the backseat of our Volkswagen Rabbit, the trunk packed with camping equipment, and our course set for Kalaloch Beach, part of Olympic National Park’s wilderness coast.
The weather forecast was dismal, but I was undaunted. We were going to go camping, and we were going to have a good time. I grew up in western Washington. I was not about to let something like rain interfere with the life I wanted for myself and my daughters. We found a campsite at the popular campground only because many other campers had left in anticipation of the rain that was imminent.
It started shortly after I got the tent up, my little two person backpacking tent, which was all that I had at the time but one I reasoned would be big enough for a mom and two six-year-olds. The drizzle quickly became rain, which became a downpour, and so it lasted for the rest of the day. I had brought a children’s set of playing cards: Crazy Eights, Animal Rummy, Old Maid, and Hearts. Most of these games they had not played before, so one by one I taught them the rules, and spread the cards out on the floor of the tent, our sleeping bags pushed aside to make room for our rainy day entertainment.
It was raining too hard to walk down the road to the restroom when one of us needed to go, so Annie and Leah had their first lesson in camp lore, how to pee in the woods. This seemed to be great fun for them, hiding in the dense underbrush behind our campsite, and I was glad I could turn the day’s challenges into something useful. Every little kid needs to know how to do this. It was starting to get dark. We had not yet had dinner. We were finishing up a game of Old Maid, which I had lost. I picked up the card of the woman with the frizzy red hair, a green cap on her head with a pompom that circled it like sputnik, and a toothy grin. “Is that what people think of me now?” I wondered. I was sitting cross legged in a small tent with my daughters, where we had spent the entire afternoon, leaving its shelter only to squat nearby under the trees. You might say it was not the best time in my life. I wanted more than anything for my children to carry with them the memories of magical moments in the woods with their mother. I was trying hard to keep the tears from flowing when Leah held up her cards, each one of the pairs perfectly matched, and said to me, “Mommy, this is the funnest day of my whole life!” She had a look of celebration on her face. She meant it. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.
We put on our rain gear and made our way along the pedestrian trail to the convenience store at the resort, where I bought hot dogs for the three of us so that I would not have to prepare a meal in the rain. This walk became a fun part of the funnest day. In fact, it just kept getting funner. After our hot dog dinner we walked along the beach, still in our rain gear. We leapt from one log to another, trying not to step on the sand, which both girls insisted was “hot lava.” I seemed to forget that I was miserable.
The next day the rain stopped, and we drove up the Hoh River Valley and went for a hike in the rainforest. Annie and Leah pronounced the tall trees as “awesome,” a word that in the early eighties was only beginning to be used in popular parlance and seemed absolutely fitting for the setting.
When we headed for home the next day we stopped by my mom and dad’s house to return the Coleman camp stove that I had borrowed. “What was the best part of your trip?” my mother asked both girls. I expected them to tell about hopping from one log to another on the beach or playing cards in the tent on a rainy day, but instead Annie looked at her grandma and replied, “We got to go potty in the woods!”
My mother looked at me. “You always liked that too,” she said.
There would be more camping trips, though never as frequent as the ones I had enjoyed as a child. It was just too complicated with one parent and two kids. Leah and I started backpacking together when she was ten years old. She and I section hiked the Washington portion of the PCT a few years ago. It turns out I did not need to create magical moments. They happened on their own. Camping with two little girls got a lot easier when I figured that out.