Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Report From The Wilderness

Once again, our semi-intrepid Drunken Housewife has taken to the woods, to reside in a rustic cabin without internet access or cats. Can the Sober Husband bear to be away from his beloved employer, Doggyo for an entire week? Will the children drive their mother insane with their ceaseless, high octane sibling rivalry without that delightful sedative, television? And will the Drunken Housewife’s sparkling wine cache hold up? Let us see.

Camp Mather Day 1

The theme of the day was figuring out our transportation needs. In olden times, camping was easy. One had only to put the camping stove, tent, Thermarest, camping dishes, and food supplies (not forgetting the booze) into any available vehicle, preferably four wheel drive. You would think that staying in little cabins (huts, really) with the meals supplied would render the packing even more inconsequential, but no. Once one has procreated, everything is harder. The children need to bring clothing, books, art supplies, pool toys, towels, bicycles, bike helmets, at least one stuffed animal apiece, etc.., etc… If you are a parent of the Drunken Housewife persuasion, you need to bring a large number of books (on the theory that you can’t know ahead of time what you’ll feel like reading) and a large quantity of booze (keeps the nerves steady), as well as a good hand-quilting project (always nice to have something to do with the hands. I used to smoke cigars, and it was truly delightful to fidget about with my cigar cutter, cigar case, and lighter. I stopped cold-turkey when pregnant with Iris Uber Alles and never picked the habit up again, but I remember it fondly).

My comfort at Camp Mather is enhanced by having that object so despised by serious campers, a dining canopy. There are a lot of biting, biting bugs at Camp M., and a well-maintained dining canopy provides one with a delightful refuge. A proper tablecloth (mine has a lemon motif) and a lantern, as well as a citronella candle, give a civilized air. This dining canopy has excited a lot of envy this year at Camp Mather. “I got it at a Walmart in the Central Valley,” I confess to its admirers, which seems to strip it of its glamour.

There used to be a tradition that everyone decorates their cabin with Christmas lights, but that seems to be dying out. This year I’m the only one with lights up (and those tasteful and subdued ones featuring little bugs and flowers). I like having the lights because the children can always find their cabin easily at night, if they go off by themselves.

This year there is a very exciting addition to the equipment: my new bicycle! With its retro-styling, wide handlebars, added-on market basket, and leopard print seat, it’s definitely the bicycle Bettie Page would have ridden. It is not possible to transport this bicycle (or indeed the chldren’s bicycles) in our modest-sized Volvo, which lacks a rack. Therefore we needed to have a trailer hitch installed and rent a cheap U-haul trailer. This, a task delegated to the Sober Husband, was left to the last minute. This caused me no end of stress in the days before our departure. Dealing with the U-haul people was no joy for the husband, either, as they lost his order (and they denied having lost it, contending instead thast it had never been made). Towards the end of the week, he paid through the nose to have special parts overnighted for Saturday delivery.

In the end, on the very day we were supposed to leave, there was no hitch and it wasn’t clear whether there would be one. The Sober Husband proposed that we give up, leave our bicycles at home and bring the smallest amount of things possible which could be crammed into the modest trunk of the Volvo. I refused. Basically the main point of Camp Mather for an urban child is bicycling about freely, with minimal supervision. We would be constantly reminded of our bikeless stature, as everyone else would be carelessly jetting about on wheels. Around this point our friend Phil arrived to drop off the Baby Violet’s trike, which we had agreed to transport before. (I heard later that Phil reported to Joyce, “It’s really grim over there”).

I demanded that a Plan B be put in place, and at my nagging, the Sober Husband called Rent-a-Wreck and determined that a pickup truck could be obtained for the week. I suggested he get this, but he was determined to see out the U-haul process. He drove out to the U-haul facilities, leaving me at home with the children in a sort of limbo. The children constantly interrupted me at my labors with endless whining, “When are we going to Camp Maaaather/When are we leeeeeaving/when are we going to Camp Maaather.”

Over at U-haul, the hitch was installed, but then the electric system for the car would not work properly. After that was fixed, the Sober Husband discovered that the hitch would not mate with the U-haul trailer. This required more work. In the end, he spent nearly five hours at U-haul.

Finally the Sober Husband drove home with a trailer, and we were able to hit the road around 6:30, just in time to get tied up in heavy traffic around the Bay Bridge. We didn’t stop for dinner on the way, making do instead with bags of popcorn and Doritos (Lucy waged a campaign to eat at a real restaurant which was overruled peremptorily by the Sober Husband). I dozed off intermittently in the car, awakened by the peremptory cries of the children: “How much looonger? How many hours?”

Around 10:30 we arrived, driving slowly and seeing many deer by the road. It was too late to drive into the camp, so we carried what we could back to our cabin. The camp staff had kindly left a map for each latecomer with our cabin highlighted. Even so, in the dark I tiptoed up to a few cabins, squinting at the numbers, before finding the right one. We set up the beds, with Lucy finding to her dismay that our cabin lacked a ladder for the bunkbeds. She still insisted upon taking the top bed (at home, Iris occupies the top bunk), but she must be lifted up and down from it a thousand times a day. As we were all settling into bed, Lucy realized that her stuffed animal, Bearie, was missing. The poor old husband had to trek back to the car and root about in the U-haul for Bearie.

Day 2

We found our friends Joyce, Phil and Violet right off the bat. Indeed they found me as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee before officially checking in. Unlike us, they’d arrived in good time the afternoon before and were already acclimated and relaxed.

Once we drove the car over, emptied the U-haul, formally registered (I complimented the office worker on her lovingly highlighted, personalized maps) and unpacked, the children were off to the pool. The Sober Husband heroically inflated the massive float toys I’d obtained. I towed Lucy back and forth on a giant inflated lobster, singing silly lobster lyrics to the tune of “La Habanera” from Carmen.

I presented the Sober Huband with a vacation gift: “Garbageland” by Elizabeth Royte, a nonfiction account of what happens to the solid waste of New York City. He was soon riveted.

At the pool, we discovered an ominous boil on poor Iris’s side. This had gone unnoticed in the city, under her school uniform, but was all too obvious in her new Goth bikini (featuring skulls with little pink bows perched jauntily on their bony foreheads). This appeared to be the same as a rash the old husband has been treating with antibiotics (our physician attempted to take a sample from one of his boils, and the Sober Husband won’t let us forget it. “She tried to stab me!”).

I had a bit of a vegetarian snit at lunchtime. This was supposed to be hamburgers and gardenburgers served by the lake, but there were no gardenburgers. Very late in the game some grilled cheese sandwiches were presented, but these were nabbed instantly. I did score two for Iria and Lucy, but the husband and I went sandwichless (we did eat some lackluster potato salad and potato chips).

After lunch, I drank a Red Bull and then fell promptly to sleep. The rest of the family followed my example, with Iris curling up next to me.

Over dinner I drank a bottle of blanc de noirs with Joyce (our husbands having a small glass) and got a bit silly. We made an attempt at games night to play pictionary, but the Sober Husband was highly critical of my attempts to depict “swamp” and “Russian” (irritatingly enough he guessed “Moscow” but couldn’t expand that to “Russia”).

For reasons which remained opaque to me, Lucy ended up sharing the double bed with me, while Iris and Anton used the bunkbeds. I woke up in the night stabbed by Lucy’s flashlight, and there was also a kicking incident.

Day 3

The Sober Husband was hellbent upon making a conference call this morning. We’d been hearing about this conference call for days, and so we were all cooperative. He asked me to take Iris to the camp doctor for an examination of her boil, but I suggested he was the right person to do it, having had his own diagnosed and treated. Off they went, stressed over fears of lancing (Iris) and of missed conference calls (the husband), but they returned all smiles. It turned out that the camp doctor had been lounging about playing the guitar and was pleased to have a patient to consult. He presented Iris with some antibiotics. “Free medicine!” Iris said over and over again with glee. “Free medicine!”

Off went the husband on his bicycle, carting his laptop along, to proceed a mile down the road to a hotel with internet access. Lucy and I played cards, drew pictures, and read (I was engrossed in Mary Roach’s “Bonk”, a nonfiction acount of how sex has been studied over the ages). We sent Iris off to the pool alone. Earlier than expected the husband turned up. In the event his conference call had been pushed back to Friday, and he’d found the slow internet connectivity to be frustrating.

We all set off to the pool for a swim before lunch. Coming back, I had the egotistical pleasure of being recognized by a reader. “I read your diaries of Camp Mather,” a man said. He explained that he had put two and two together from hearing me address Iris and Lucy.

“Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed them, “ I said. Then I reconsidered. It was quite an assumption on my part that he had enjoyed them. “I hope you weren’t one of the people who left a comment saying you hoped you’d never be here the same week as me,” I said. He assured me that no, he enjoyed my blog. I was quite full of myself for hours and wished only that the husband, Joyce, and Phil had witnessed my being recognized.

However, I wasn’t the only family member with a following. A man recognized “the Amazing Iris!!” at the pool, having remembered her from last year’s talent show (using me as her stooge, Iris amazed all at the children’s talent show with a mindreading trick).

In the afternoon, we tie-dyed. This is always a traditional joy at Camp Mather, but irritatingly the children never seem to wear their tie-dyed t-shirts the rest of the year. This time, Lucy tie-dyed a pair of socks at my suggestion, promising that she would wear them nonstop.

Later I sent the husband on a rescue mission. A father was angry with his child and stalked off (I heard this exchange from afar). The child, a boy of about 5, burst into loud tears and screamed for his mommy. I dispatched the Sober Husband, who kindly escorted the boy to his cabin (thankfully the child knew the right cabin). This was a tricky mission, as the boy initially, quite reasonably, greeted the husband with a loud, “I DON’T WANT YOU! I WANT MY MOMMY!”

At the end of the afternoon, Iris and I biked over to the pool. We found Lucy splashing happily in the shallow end and the Sober Husbandchatting with a pleasant father, whom I’d met the day before (this fellow is another co-op preschool veteran). The Sober Husband whispered to me later, “He’s the father you thought was so neglectful earlier.” I was shocked.

Dinner brought another vegetarian snit on. The vegetarian entrĂ©e, eggplant parmagiana, was long gone before we arrived. We had side dishes of carrots and potatoes (served in small portions, also). The children filled up on cake, but I passed. It is a truth known to all vegetarians that meat-eaters always say that they don’t want vegetarian food, will when asked order non-vegetarian food, but when presented with vegetarian food, they eat it OVER the meat-laden crap they had previously insisted on ordering. The same people who complain bitterly how obnoxious vegetarians are and how they should never expect anyone to cater to them are the ones who eat the last slice of cheese pizza or take the last eggplant parmagiana. “Maybe it’s just that people like eggplant pamagiana,” said Joyce, who is actually a food writer. “NO! it happens every time! Remember the grilled cheese sandwiches?” Joyce’s face closed off.

Realizing that not even the Sober Husband, who gets laid now and again in recompense for putting up with me, wanted to hear this, with a massive exercise of will I shut up. The Sober Husband filled in the conversational gap, entertaining the crowd with tales of maggots and corpses from the “Garbageland” book. I wished I had never in my act of loving kindness bought that book for him.

After dinner, we set off on the traditional hayride. One of the fathers, a man with thinning gray hair very carefully arranged into sculpted sideburns and little spikes who was sporting a “Thin Lizzy” t-shirt, said to his tiny daughter urgently, “These are REAL COWBOYS, so be careful what you say.” This man had a tiny gray soul patch, towards which his elaborate sideburns pointed, and I had to force myself not to stare at it in horrified fascination.

One of the mothers present, the sort who wears thick socks under Tevas, was very stressed over the seating arrangements. Even though her family was sitting on the opposite side of the cart and in no way was affected by how my children sat, in tones of great urgency she bade us to bunch up closer together. Out of politeness, the Sober Husband rearranged our children. Since no one else got on, the extra space created was not used.

We were fascinated to hear the cowboys refer to one of the giant animals pulling the wagon as a mule. At the end of the evening, we asked, and yes, one of the team was a draft horse and the other a mule. “I never knew mules could be so big,” I said. The kindly cowboys had a good chuckle at the city-dwellers’ expense. “He’s out of a Percheron!”

Late at night there was the weekly Staff Talent Show. I missed Forrest, who for the last few years had held the audience in the palm of his hand as he performed “Random Forrest Moments”, stunts such as running on the stage to show that he had affixed over 50 clothespins to his face. Where is crazy Forrest this year? He’s not washing dishes at Camp Mather. Meanwhile some of the slack was picked up by an adorable pair of blonde teenaged dishwashers, who wrote words on their thighs and upper arms and did the Robot.

A band fizzled out during “Funkytown” and failed to finish the song. It was eerily reminiscent of how when one performs badly when playing “Rock Band”, the game forces you to quit in a humiliating manner. Thankfully the Camp Mather audience, composed largely of small children, is easily impressed. Iris even said, face aglow, “That was SO COOOL!” while applauding the failed “Funkytown.”

Day 4

In the night there was a horrendous crashing, which woke us up. Evidently a bear had ventured onto our tiny porch (alternatively a sadistic San Francisco camper ran amok). Thankfully we hadn’t left any food or drink out, but I theorized that an aroma of coffee clung to my empty tin mug.

This reminded the Sober Husband to tell me that I’d missed a camp announcement the night before. Someone threw away an empty pizza box in the bathroom right by our cabin, and of course a bear sniffed it out and strewed the trash about. There are bear—proof garbage cans, but the bathroom garbage, intended for just paper towels, dental floss and the like, is not bear-proof. I could see myself making that same boneheaded mistake and felt glad it wasn’t my humiliation used as a constructive lesson for the entire camp.

I woke up in a lot of pain, evidently having slept on my shoulder wrong. How is it that the human body can injure itself when sleeping? Why can’t our brains signal our bodies to readjust?


hughman said...

oh thank god you posted. i was totally having withdrawal symptoms.

you smoked cigars? how cool! i've only smoked a cigar once and it was with 2 female supermodels who totally made me into a wimp with their passionate love of cigars. we drank a lot too.

avoid the bears!!

JKG said...

What an incredibly exhausting "vacation."

I suggest you pick up smoking a pipe. More pleasant aromatically and more eccentric.

Missy said...

What a perfect family vacation. Lots of memories, exhausted mother, last minute crises. (or is that crisis?)

I'd be upset about the vegetarian meals running short, too. If that's what you ordered, you should get it. Period. Mr. Texzmissy would've had a full blown fit which would not be pretty or pleasant for anyone.

How did the bike work out? How's the homecoming?

Captain Steve said...

Okay. I love your bike. I want to steal your bike. Just so you know.

I read "Stiff" by Mary Roach, is "Bonk" good? I didn't know she had any other books out!

Does this count as your bear incident or should we be on the watch for more bear goodness?

Finally: love the cabin lights. LOVE them.

Amy said...

I love your camp mather reports :)

Eli said...

That was pretty whiny =\

You should probably make sure your kids eat meat while they're young. My mom tried to make me a vegetarian when I was a kid and it gave me this weird reaction to meat. Fortunately I managed to triumph over that little disability, and now I eat cow like it's going out of style.

Moral of the story: Don't make your kids eat some weird hippie diet, they'll just resent you for it when they get older. I certainly do.

Silliyak said...

Ah, the levels of irony. H, was that YOU?

hughman said...

um, no. it was (yet another) commenter who doesn't regularly read this blog and know that the kids CHOOSE to eat veggie.

and the elegant tapas the DH makes are hardly a "weird hippy diet".

hokgardner said...

I initially got sympathy hives at the thought of spending a week camping, but Camp Mather actually sounds like fun. I'm all for camping as long as it doesn't involve sleeping on the ground or cooking over a camp stove in the rain, like we had to on our last trip.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Eh, children have issues no matter what their parents do. My Iris Uber Alles is the alpha vegetarian in the home; she outranks me in vigilance and energy.

If my children want to eat meat, they may, but they emulate their mother.

My parents didn't have a television for years, hit me, and had an extreme religious point of view (I hated family laying-on-of-hands and faith healing as a child). I have all sorts of issues from that. My kids will have issues around my vegetarianism, the fact that we send them to a uniform-requiring school, and Lord only knows what else.

hughman said...

your family "laid on hands"??? gad-ZOOKS! you poor thing. and here i thought i had a weird childhood. i just had to learn a bible verse every day (great for parties, BTW).

yeah, your kids will turn out pretty normal and rebellious. just don't let them be republicans.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. One of those blondes is my daughter. But pride goeth before a fall. The Funkytown bass player is my son.....

the Drunken Housewife said...

pmurphy, your children seem adorable! I hope mine are half as neat when they are teens.

Please post sometime, if you can, and let us know how working at Camp M was for them. Mine are fascinated by the prospect of working there.