Because the Sober Husband had workish commitments, I ended up taking the children to Camp Mather alone. The Sober Husband had helped us pack the day before, and frankly that turned out to be a mistake. By the time he left for his own trip in the afternoon, we'd been working for hours at packing, and it felt really wrong not to be leaving ourselves. We drifted about for the rest of the afternoon, disaffected and out of sorts, finally wandering down to the Spaghetti Factory for some pasta.
On Saturday we had only our last minute cleaning to do. Because I use the world's most professional petsitter, one who worries greatly about my poor mangy cat Al and about my parrots' nutrition ("Most people have me cut up fruit for their parrots." "Umm, my parrots hate fruit"), I have to try to hide my shame. I had both girls restrain poor Albert while I throughly groomed him, and I tried to give the parrots' cages an extra good scrubbing. I made sure to put out the parrots' calcium supplement very prominently, sort of a Potemkin Village of avian nutrition.
We hit the road with our car loaded so heavily that there would have been no room for the Sober Husband. "I thought we weren't bringing more than last year, but we must have," I said. The car was so densely packed with things that I couldn't extricate the Harry Potter tapes I'd planned to play on the road. We stopped at a supermarket for some snacks for the road ("We can't get too much, "I cautioned. I don't know where you're going to put it"). At the store, I realized I had forgotten my checkbook, and I always pay by check for the children's riding sorties. I drove back home. My beloved next door neighbor, whom we'd cheerily bid farewell earlier, laughed at me. "Didja miss me?" he called.
I ran into the house and quickly got both some checks and a different set of Harry Potter tapes and spent a few minutes giving Frowst, our most glamourous cat, some belly rubs. "I hope you don't see us again," I called to the neighbor. This time we really were on the road.
We made record time driving up to the Sierras. "See how much faster it is when Mommy drives," I gloated. Ahead of time I had cautioned the children that since they were traveling with only one grownup who had no sane adult backup, it was very important that they not plague me with cries of "how much longer" and "how far are we", as is their custom. With unbelievable self-control, only once were the syllables "how much" heard, and the child who spoke them bit them off before uttering "longer" and quickly changed the subject. I was never so proud.
With the Drunken Housewife at the wheel, we were able to stop for lunch. (The Sober Husband, for mysterious reasons of his own, is bitterly, solidly opposed to ever stopping at any restaurant while driving between any Point A and Point B, regardless of how far apart those points are or how whiny the children may be).
Up at Camp Mather the children rose to the occasion and helped me unpack the crammed car and set up our cabin. I was initially a bit dismayed to see our cabin. The last couple of years, we've had really plum locations, cabins with plenty of space and pleasing views. This cabin was jammed check-to jowl with other cabins, and the picnic table from our neighbors' cabin was right up by our tiny front porch. I recognized the neighbors, who were grimly playing cards on that picnic table abutting our cabin. It was a large family who have often been at Camp Mather the same week as us, a multi-generation family which is given to lots of shouting at the children. I quailed. “It's going to be SO NOISY,” I whispered to Iris. “Listen, that woman has SUCH A LOUD VOICE.”
This reaction made me feel horrible about myself and guilty. A better person, a warmer, friendlier, kinder person, would have been happy to see these familiar faces. After all, every time I'd ever interacted with that family, they had been polite and friendly. Only a bitter hag wouldn't welcome being next to a large and exuberant clan. [And of course my higher self was right: these people were delightful neighbors. I'd love to be next to them again].
We decided to move our picnic table behind our cabin, which would hopefully be quieter, and create a hangout zone there. I hung up our two hammocks by the picnic table, and Iris helped me figure out how to set up our bug tent, which was tricky. We moved the furniture around in our tiny cabin and unpacked all our things, organizing everything as we went.
And then we were done. “Look! We got everything done faster without Daddy!” It was amazing. “I want you to be sure to tell Daddy that Mommy got you here faster alone and got our camp set up faster alone."
We tried out the hammocks. The children swung in reclining ecstasy. Then we were off to dinner and the welcoming bonfire.
At night we heard the unmistakable sound of bears poking around the outside of our cabin. We were home here, all right.
The next day the children swam a lot and ate a lot. I read and enjoyed the hammock, as well as watching the children. We called their father collect from the little payphone by the office, and it turned out that he'd been worried we'd gotten into an accident. “We got here in record time! And we had a really great lunch in Oakdale on the way. I found a great Mexican restaurant, “ I bragged.
The mother in the cabin behind us (not the big, noisy family beside us, but another, less friendly neighbor) had a meltdown of sorts in the evening. “You will find me much more accommodating after I've had a gin and tonic,” she said repeatedly to the many small children surging around her. Her language grew plainer and plainer, until she sent them all away and forbade them to approach her until she'd had at least one gin and tonic. Over her gin, she fretted to her husband about how they'd manage their cocktail hour the next day. Evidently they had planned a daytrip, and the woman was really tightly wound over how she'd manage to fit in her drinking. “Should we bring the stuff for cocktails with us? Can we do that? What time will we get back?”
“And your father thinks I drink too much, “ I whispered to Iris. “Get a load of that woman!”
On Monday the Sober Husband was due to arrive, riding up with the father of one of Iris's friends who were coincidentally also at Camp Mather that week. All morning the children were on edge, waiting for their father. The other family's wife told me that she “wondered if they were going to stop at our favorite thriftstore on the way up. Chainsaw and I got three bags of stuff there on the way. We always stop.” She predicted her husband would be excited to show this thriftstore to the Sober Husband.
I said to Iris later, “I can't imagine them thrifting.” I thought it was more likely they'd stop for ribs on the way up, before the Sober Husband was reunited with his vegetarian family. As it turned out, they had only stopped for gas. The other husband drives slowly, like an old person or my husband, and doesn't like to stop for lunch or snacks, also like my husband. “You're my husband's driving soulmate,” I said to our friend. “He's much better off driving with you than me.”
Having their father back made the children lose their industrious, uncomplaining attitudes. Soon they were lolling on the hammocks and calling for their father to bring them chocolate milk. These were the same children who had taken turns being a self-proclaimed “Service Robot” and laboring for the good of the group. I suggested to the Sober Husband that he was influencing the children to be lazy and poorly behaved, but he instead took credit for their prior good behavior. “They did that stuff because I told them to. I told them to be good on the drive and help Mommy.”
The reintroduction of the Sober Husband brought up another age-old source of conflict: waiting in line at the dining hall. The days he wasn't with us, Iris and I waited patiently in line for each meal. “We are linefolk,” observed Iris. We allowed Lolz to read her book nearby as long as she kept an eye on us and joined us when we got to the front of the line (there is a tall rock near the dining hall where last year Lola had the best reading experience of her life, “The School of Fear”, and she was determined to recapture that magic). But the Sober Husband thinks lines are for idiots, for sheeplike people. On one morning I chose to skip breakfast in favor of a quiet cup of coffee outdoors alone, only to have Iris storm up in a state of outrage. “Daddy won't wait in line! He says that if we wait long enough, there will be this magical time when there isn't any line but they're still serving food! And Lola just ran off!”
I advised Iris, “Ignore them. Just get in line and get your own breakfast. Let them do what they want.” Iris trudged back, still in a rage.
Later the Sober Husband tried to make up for this. He pandered to Iris by getting into line before lunch began, so the children were practically the first ones in. “See how good I am?” he pointed out.
“We waited in lines every day before you got here!” Iris and I informed him. “And we didn't brag about it!”
The SH would make Sideways look like Thelma and Louise.
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